Snowball - Defroster. 1978 Germany

Snowball were a supergroup of sorts. Formed out of the Curt Cress Clan, which featured Passport veterans Cress and Kristian Schultze, along with former Embryo (and other German fusion/rock bands) bassist Dave King. These three from CCC were joined by none other than Nektar vocalist/guitarist Roye Albrighton to try their hand at the more commercial late 70s jazz funk sound that permeated the era. Opening in dubious fashion with the woofer 'Hold On', the album suddenly becomes a surprisingly enjoyable, but still somewhat typical, late 70s funky fusion album. There are plenty of good melodies coupled with a few decent breaks, and well-done vocals from Albrighton that separate this one from the common KrautFunkFusion rat pack. Excellent unison playing from all involved. While a good album, one can find better examples from Germany in this style such as Embryo's Bad Heads and Bad Cats, Missus Beastly's Dr. Aftershave and the Mixed Pickles, and the Real Ax Band's sole album.

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Sireena

The Sireena reissue comes in a fine digi-pak with great sound, lyrics, photos, and newspaper clippings.

Chillum - s/t. 1971 England

Chillum is basically the third Second Hand album - and is in reality - a series of loose instrumental jams while auditioning for a new guitarist. Urged on by a French industry friend, the band was encouraged to release the tapes as a mysterious underground group. And thus the legend of Chillum began. So while conservatory compositional awards are out of the question, the album does work well within a 1971 English underground context. The epoch's instrumentation, production styles, and attitude are in abundance here. Good period piece that delivers exactly what it promises.

Personal collection
CD: 2010 Sunbeam

Originals have always been scarce, and each single sleeve album (with a flapback design) is individually spray painted with a stencil framework. My first copy was a cheap 80s bootleg LP, before upgrading to the See For Miles CD (second photo). This version contains fine liner notes and extra bonus tracks. A few years ago, I decided to purge it, and that was probably not the best decision. Fortunately Sunbeam placed the album back into circulation, and I was able to snag one recently for a bargain price. This issue comes with a fresh new set of historical liners, unique photos, and another group of bonus tracks - some overlap with the SFM, and others are unique to this release.

Noa - s/t.1980 France

Like Gutura, Noa features a histrionic female vocalist, piping the French language and enunciating syllables like another instrument. The music of Noa is of the jazzy Zeuhl variety, with plenty of sax (some shrieking), soaring flute, and the expected rhythms of the genre. A pretty experimental record that could have only come out in France during this era.

Personal Collection
CD: 2011 Soleil Zeuhl

The original is housed in a somewhat typical late 70s / early 80s French austere single sleeve cover. New copies of the LP were still available from a couple of US mail order houses in the late 1980s at a normal import LP price - and so I nabbed one back then. Since I've owned it for a long time, it was a regular entry on my CDRWL, until 2010 when we first announced the intention of a CD. Soleil Zeuhl came through with a fine reissue, as they always do, that features superb sound and unique historical notes. Sadly there are no bonus tracks. Interesting to note that my (old) review above was used as part of the advert to sell the CD.

2017 update: I have decided to sell the aforementioned LP and just keep the CD, which is more than sufficient in this case.

Comus - First Utterance. 1971 England

Here's an album that, in today's world, would almost have to be considered "common fare". And yet it wasn't always that way. Not by a long shot. I'm completely fascinated by the transformation that First Utterance has had in the public eye. As such, I don't need to write anything further about the music - there are hundreds of reviews out there - many of which will say what I would say. So I'm going to talk about its rise in popularity (see Notes section below). I personally think that many of these "once obscure" progressive rock albums will undergo a similar trajectory in history. We may not be alive to see it, but it's my prediction that the progressive rock movement will not be viewed with the ridicule it received in its own day, and perhaps even now as we are about three generations in. But every year, it seems more and more acceptance is being projected onto certain albums - by a younger generation. Those who would have more of an objective viewpoint of music from the past (while no doubt struggling with their own contemporary sounds, just as any generation does).

Let's talk about the popularity of the album. RYM - which has hundreds of thousands of users - ranks First Utterance as the #18 highest rated album for 1971!!! What? I don't think I have to announce to you all what a great year 1971 was for music. Many argue it was the greatest year ever for music, and I may be one of those. But there's First Utterance with an extraordinary 4.01 rating with 3,533 ratings and 202 reviews (I have 5 stars on it myself). The majority of RYM users are much younger than myself. If we go to Gnosis, which is a select group of raters with a progressive rock slant, First Utterance comes in at 8th place (stripping out the deluxe issues) (my current rating is a 13 - though sometimes I give it a 14 depending on my mood - both equate to an RYM 5 star). I find all of this utterly fascinating. In 1988, First Utterance was no different than many of the albums that I eventually collected over the years: Obscure and long forgotten except by a select few diehards like myself. And here in 2014, Comus' debut is truly a "cult classic", an album that is ranked amongst the most known and heralded albums of its time (Zeppelin, Sabbath, Stones, The Who, Doors, Pink Floyd, Yes, Tull, etc...). No doubt First Utterance is musically unique even in the context of obscure 1971 albums. One has to ask, though, how many others will rise in a similar fashion in our lifetime? I could see an album like Algarnas Tradgard taking hold in a similar fashion (though it's already at #140 for 1972 which is phenomenal in of itself).

Just like the master painters of the past - sometimes the best works weren't praised until long after their passing. Comus got a head start on that at least.

Personal collection
LP: 1998 Get Back (Italy)
CD: 2002 Victor (Japan)

The original on the high class Dawn label is housed in a fine gatefold cover, and the second photo shows the full original package with insert. Hard to imagine now, but this was a $100 record in the late 1980s (I have the catalogs to prove it), and only sold in mail order lists that you may have lucked into finding in the back pages of Goldmine. Still far beyond my budget in those days. By the time I did have some disposable scratch, this album had already gone up exponentially. And it continues to do such. The selling price of the album in the second photo? $2,700. While this was an exceptional copy, the album generally sells for well over a thousand dollars in decent shape.

---So it's always been a rare album - therefore how did it get to be so known? Your first inclination might be to think via CD reissue - but that's simply not the case either. The first legit CD (1989) was on a little known Japanese label called Teichiku. It was a straight jewel case, and didn't even have a backplate. And it was a bitch to find back then. It took me a couple years to source one, and it wasn't cheap. It wasn't until 1995 that BGO finally put out a proper reissue that was more readily accessible. But even today, the majority of the CDs on the market are high priced Asian imports.  I personally upgraded to the 2002 Victor mini-LP, which is a beautiful rendition of the cover. I would recommend, though, that you consider one of the Arcangelo mini-LPs as they feature a second disc with the Diana EP. The 2005 CD pairs First Utterance with their inferior second album To Keep From Crying, and also includes the Diana EP. This would appear to be the definitive CD reissue. As for LP reissues, the Italian label Get Back was the first to market (1998). And it was a splendid exact replication that did include the Diana EP as a separate disc (which is why I didn't upgrade the CD). I bought that copy upon release, and that along with the Victor CD is my personal collection.

Skywhale - The World at Mind's End. 1977 England

Skywhale's sole album is one of the rare non-Canterbury UK fusion albums that sound more in line with what was happening over the Chan...