Troc - s/t. 1973 France

Troc - s/t. 1973 Cy

CD reissue: 2013 Frémeaux & Associés

Packaging: Originals come in a nice gatefold cover. While scarce, they're not terribly expensive, and prices consistently are in the $50 to $70 range. I was a bit cool towards this album when I first heard it in the early 90s, so I didn't bother to own one until the recent CD came out. This is UMR's first encounter with Frémeaux & Associés, a large publishing house who have quite an extensive catalog of jazz oriented CDs. And they did a fine job on this CD, with unique liners in both French and English, great sound, as well as two short bonus tracks. 

Notes: Drummer Andre Ceccarelli is joined here by the Magma alumni of Jannick Top, Francis Moze, and Claude Engel - all apparently slumming in the (then) trendy soul oriented jazz-rock waters, that no doubt had Christian Vander shaking his head in disgust. The vocals are sung by Scotsman Alex Ligertwood, who would provide a similar white boy crooning on Brian Auger's albums shortly thereafter (and later more famously for Santana, who was performing similar music by that time). Ligertwood also gets credit for most of the compositions presented here. Other key members are Henry Giordano on Fender Rhodes and Jacky Giraudo on guitar, who honestly do a lot of the heavy lifting here on the solo front. There's quite a bit of talk about Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, and Soft Machine in the liner notes to the CD. Those are what are known in the literary world as red herrings. Radio friendly blues numbers such as 'Old Man River' tend to keep albums like this from being recognized as the stone classic it could have been. Oh well, missed opportunity. A good album that comes recommended, but with reservations as stated above.

Maxwells - Maxwell Street. 1969 Denmark

Maxwells - Maxwell Street. 1969 MPS (Germany)

CD reissue: 2003 Long Hair (Germany)

Packaging: The original is housed in a very nice gatefold cover and was released on the fine German jazz label MPS. Maxwells was an odd choice for the imprint, indicating an exploration into different markets at the time. Originals are surprisingly not too expensive, somewhere in the $75 to $100 range will score you a sweet copy. The only reissue is the excellent Long Hair CD, complete with full liners, photos, etc... This is the only version I own, though I probably will get the original at some point too.

Notes: Really fine exploratory effort from Maxwells, a band that continued to progress musically via the Rainbow Band moniker and even further as Midnight Sun. The music here is definitely inspired by the cutting edge horn rock movement as portrayed by the Chicago Transit Authority, but with an avant garde edge in places, perhaps recalling Friend Sound on their "Joyride" album. Splendid little album that demonstrates once again that Denmark was about a full year ahead of their Continental European contemporaries when it came to innovations in rock music.

Socrates Drank the Conium - On the Wings. 1973 Greece

Socrates Drank the Conium - On the Wings. 1973 Polydor International
Socrates - On the Wings. 1973 Peters International (USA)

CD reissue: 1996 Polydor

LP reissues: 1991 Polydor; 2008 Anazitisi

Packaging: As you can see above, the record labels seemed to have fun playing around with the images and poses. The top is the Greek original; the middle is the US original with a different photo and a shortened name (that they were later to adopt); and the last photo is the CD which reverses the silver and black. True Greek originals are very rare, and I've never actually held one, and they go for multi-hundreds in auction. Like the Sahara album we spoke of before, the Peters copy is likely to be the introduction for 99.5% of American collectors. I found mine at a Dallas record show in the late 1980s. I did sell it eventually a few years later, and that looks to be a mistake. While most Peters International albums are still cheap and easy to source, Socrates would have to be considered the exception, and copies have been known to sell for well over a $100 in mint shape (though that can be tough to find given the black cover). I was surprised to learn of the '91 LP reissue, given that vinyl was becoming extinct about that time. The 2008 release is a gatefold apparently, so that would appear to be the desired reissue. As for CDs, the '96 major label release is all there is. Like the other CDs on Greek Polydor, they are straight reissues with little more than what was on the original LP. But they are from the masters! I had forgotten about this album until a good friend of the UMR had one for sale recently, so I nabbed it. This is the only copy I own.

Notes: Socrates' third album shifts from the blues rock of their first two albums to full throttle hard rock here. In some ways, On the Wings could be considered a distant cousin to the Icecross album we recently spoke of. It's not quite as sinister, and Socrates hasn't quite yet abandoned its blues rock background, but there's no denying this is a pioneering album in the hard rock genre. I appreciate that Socrates occasionally uses Greek scales within their guitar melodies. This is a good one for fans of early 70s aggressive hard rock.

Contraction - s/t + La Bourse ou La Vie + Live 1974. 1972/1974 Canada

Contraction - s/t. 1972 Columbia
Contraction - La Bourse ou La Vie. 1974 Deram
Contraction - Live 1974. 2009 ProgQuebec. 1974 archival recording

CD reissue for Contraction: 2005 ProgQuebec
CD reissue for La Bourse ou La Vie: 2005 ProgQuebec

In addition to the ProgQuebec release of Live 1974, there's a mini-LP version on Belle Antique (Japan).

I originally had planned on featuring each of these separately, but then as I thought about it, they are intrinsically linked together.

Packaging: The debut was released in a single sleeve, a gatefold, as well as an English language version. The latter is pretty scarce, but the others are relatively common. La Bourse ou La Vie was released as a gatefold only. My first LP copies of each go back to the early 1990s. Modern dealers will try to pump these up as rarities, but there is a lot of supply, especially in Quebec. The tricky thing is finding mint copies. Canadian covers used the same materials as their American counterparts, and as such, the cardboard is subject to ring and edge wear, as well as seam splits. Many of these have languished in Montreal record stores for years, and have been worn down by being picked over and over. If they weren't stored in plastic sleeves prior, the situation is hopeless. Unfortunately I've never owned mint copies of these. As for CD's, ProgQuebec was the first to market, and closed the book on what needed to be done. The debut CD only features lyrics, but no history. I think the prevailing thought was that anyone who buys the first will most assuredly want the second (and honestly I have to agree, I can't imagine somebody liking one and not the other). And as such, La Bourse ou La Vie does feature a brief history, which is also included on ProgQuebec's website. The Live 1974 CD, that was released 4 years later, actually sounds better than the studio albums (it was a radio broadcast, so that partially explains why), and it features more unique liner notes. All 3 CDs are essential IMO.

Notes for Contraction: To appreciate Contraction it helps to enjoy the unique Quebecois songwriting style. First half of the album is a classic early 70s period piece, with the beautiful voice of Christiane Robichaud adding some sunshine to the otherwise dreary and smoky clubs of Montreal. The melodies are gorgeous, and the Franck Dervieux (his "Dimension M" album another must listen from the region) influence is quite apparent. Second half focuses more on instrumentals. Contrary to what may be my common inclination, I tend to favor the first side here.

Notes for La Bourse ou La Vie: And continuing with the contrary theme, I tend to disagree with my fellow peers, and I think the more straightforward debut is the (slightly) stronger album compared to the more overtly progressive La Bourse ou La Vie. I think the songwriting on the debut is a bit more engaging. However, the side long epic on La Bourse ou La Vie is their strongest moment across both albums.

Notes for Live 1974: "Live 1974" is a splendid radio recording, perhaps even better than the studio recordings proper. Most of the material is taken from their terrific debut, with the lengthy title track of the second representing the tour de force. Opening track is the English version of 'Chant Patriotique' from the first album, and since I've not heard the English version of the album, it's interesting to hear it with the different vocal inflections. As if to underscore that point, the second track does a bit of franglais, as it mixes French first / English second, which is entirely unique. Then there's the three unreleased tracks: 'Solid Shine', ' Le Temps Fuit comme une Ombre', and 'Sagesse' (and the latter also gets the studio version treatment), that are all unmistakably Contraction, and great to hear after all these years. The live renditions play it pretty straight to the original album recordings, but it's still a superb performance, with perhaps better sound, and significant unreleased material. Definitely a worthy addition to the collection.

The Word of Life - Dust. 1995 Sweden

The Word of Life return with their sophomore, and ultimately last effort, Dust which is somewhat different from the predecessor. There'...