Fireballet - Night on Bald Mountain + Two, Too. 1975-76 USA



Night on Bald Mountain: Though from New Jersey, Fireballet sound like most of the progressive rock bands coming from Midwest America during the mid 70s (as I've painstakingly documented before). Yes is the major influence here, as it was for countless bands across the fruited plain. In this way, Fireballet were to the USA what Druid were to England. It's 1975, and it's time to release the followup to Relayer, because there will be one right? Right?? The long classical interpretation will of course recall ELP, another band that used to get props (though not so much in recent times). King Crimson gets plenty of cameo's as well throughout.  I'm a sucker for groups from my country going all-in progressive, even if not a single one of them ever made much headway in the Billboard charts (other than Kansas). But based on the number of copies still out there for sale in the wilds, it does appear they sold quite a many copy anyway. Maybe not one of America's best, but certainly a fine straight-down-the-middle progressive rock effort. Can't go wrong here for fans of the style. As for the bonus tracks on the Inner Knot CD, the opening one is 'Robot Salesman' from 1977, and has a fully orchestrated pop sound. Had this been their decided direction on the new album, it's highly likely not to be well received - especially now, but even back then I think. The other track is their 11+ minute live cover version (from 1974) of King Crimson's 'Pictures of a City' (pre-Night on Bald Mountain album). It's a muffled recording, so hardly essential, but a nice curio piece (perfect as a bonus track). The Arcangelo CD extra bonus track is called 'Say Anything', which I know nothing about and obviously haven't heard.

Two, Too: Perhaps predictable in retrospect, Fireballet scrubbed all the edges off their first album for an even more accessible second effort. Yet, it's really as progressive as the debut, minus the overt displays of grandeur. Tighter... more professional. As stated about Night on Bald Mountain, Fireballet have the sound of Midwest America down pat (despite their Jersey roots) - one that combines progressive rock with FM radio sensibilities. Interestingly enough, Fireballet's "commercial take on Yes" approach sounds like early Starcastle here - so once again we have parallel groups gathering similar data inputs, and spitting out a similar conclusion. For me, perhaps because I was a child within the generation, this type of music grows in stature with me as the years go by. The ridiculous original cover no doubt shaved one full star from this album for many folks right out of the gate. The band was smart enough to apply more appropriate art for the CD. Give this one a fresh pair of ears - you may be surprised. There's only one bonus track on the Inner Knot release 'In My Craft and Sullen Art / Mars' which is a (short) interpretation of the Holst classic. It's a live recording, from the same 1974 concert as the 'Pictures of a City' interpretation as found on the debut CD reissue. The Arcangelo CD adds 'Tears', a track I'm not familiar with.

Personal Collection
LP (Night on Bald Mountain): 1975 Passport
CD (Night on Bald Mountain): 2014 Inner Knot
CD (Two, Too): 2014 Inner Knot

Both albums are single covers and are common records in the US, often still found in the few used record stores that exist. With the smallest of searching you should be able to net one for under $10 - and less than $5 with a little more hustle. So one would presume LP reissues will never be needed. But on CD - now that has proven to be a challenge. Until finally this year, as announced on the CDRWL, we finally have legit CDs to buy and own, after years of watching pirate editions fly by. It's even more curious when you realize that band member Jim Cuomo is still heavily involved with the music industry. We first heard about the Japanese reissues, and while I haven't seen these, they each feature one extra bonus track not found on the US issues. The CDs are stored in a digipak, and each are adorned with embossed covers, which is a nice addition. As you can see, the second album has been redesigned (3rd scan), tastefully extracted and repurposed from the Night... cover. And who can blame them given the ridiculous original cover (second photo)? I'm sure it seemed funny at the time (to someone?), but it hasn't aged well. For purists, the Japanese CD, as is their protocol for mini-LPs, reissued the CD with the original cover. Each CD includes the lyrics and recording detail, but no history or other archival media, which is kind of a bummer. It would have been nice for them to spin their tale of woe (perhaps with some added humor) for us all. The sound is very good to my ears anyway. Good CD reissues, but perhaps they could have done a bit more. Don't want to complain though - it's way better than nothing - and certainly a step up from what you would get from Wounded Bird for example.

Klan - Mrowisko. 1971 Poland

Klan, like Czechoslovakia's Flamengo, were one of the pioneers of the exploratory progressive movement beginning to emerge in the Eastern Bloc, before the authorities declared this kind of music too subversive for a healthy State. I hear music like this with a bit of sadness, always wondering what could have been for those countries left to suffer behind the Iron Curtain while the rest of Europe was being "turned on". Klan's effort is a mix of psychedelic, radical progressive, horn rock, jazz, orchestral rock, and emotional vocal pop. Fuzz bass, crazy drumming, impassioned vocals, flute, and some killer swirling organ define this amazingly mature work for the time and place. An album that should be held up as a national treasure, recorded at a time of despair and little hope.

Personal collection
CD: 2008 Metal Mind

One of only a handful of gatefold albums coming from the Eastern Bloc. It's still super thin (based on what I've read), but this kind of luxury item was typically frowned upon by the State. My introduction was the '87 reissue that I bought right around release time, originally coming out near the end of the regime, though now housed in a single sleeve. I quickly ditched this cheaply made reissue vinyl for the first CD to hit the market (1991 Digiton). The Digiton release is fine, and certainly suffices as the only copy anyone would ever need - especially considering it includes the sought after 1970 EP as bonus tracks. I had no intention of buying this album again, but I recently had a chance to source the lavish double CD on the fine Polish label Metal Mind for an attractive price. It comes with a full booklet with lyrics and extensive liner notes (mostly in Polish though). The extra CD only contains the 11+ minute EP and seems a bit wasteful (ironic isn't it?) considering both albums combined total only 50 minutes. I didn't really need to upgrade in this case. Interesting to note that the old state label Muza is still alive an kicking. Glad they were able to transition to Capitalism successfully it appears. I haven't seen or heard their two CD versions of the album. (Also be sure to read the comments where UMR friend Bas offers up even more CD info regarding this landmark album).

Blackbirds - Touch of Music. 1971 Germany

Blackbirds' second album is a bit more UK and Dutch oriented than the usual 1971 German organ bang fest. Now nobody likes a German organ bang fest as much as moi (especially when the organ is a Hammond), but there's always room for a band like the Blackbirds' more classically oriented styled progressive rock. And it's quite the keyboard extravaganza too. References to Trace, Rare Bird, and The Nice are necessary. And the dour atmosphere of the vocals recall bands such as Procol Harum and Still Life. Touches of violin, flute, and recorder adds much needed color to the canvas. The CD version includes the rare 1970 single, where Blackbirds prove they were quite a force in the ways of psychedelic music as well with a searing acid guitar sound and gruff vocals. Very good album.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Long Hair

Long Hair is the only label to step up on the reissue front, and they did a fine job on the CD, adding full liners, great sound, photos, and two bonus tracks from a rare 1970 single. I suspect the reissue LP to be similar (except it only features one bonus track).

Steve Linnegar's Snakeshed - Classic Epics. 1982 South Africa

What's most telling about Linnegar's album is just how out of sync the album was with its release date of 1982. The psychedelic guitar, optimistic vocals, folky acoustic guitar and violin overlays, and overall songwriting point to an album that could have been released in 1974 England. Classic Epics is a crafty mix of folk, psychedelic, progressive, and AOR. Best track is the lengthy 14 minute psychedelic space rocker 'Desert'. A wonderfully out of touch album, perhaps due to its remote location on the (then) shunned South African subcontinent. The new reissues on Guerssen really open this album up from prior bootleg copies, and even from the typically dirty South African originals. Be sure to hear this album as it was intended before passing quick judgment.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Guerssen (Spain)

Originals come in a gatefold sleeve. Albums coming from South Africa are hard enough to find, but privately pressed ones are even that much more difficult. I was first sent a cassette of this album in the late 90s, and I've had it in the CDRWL since its inception. And as first reported on that site, via Linnegar's sister Diane, we learned of these Guerssen reissues. The album sounds great (from the master tapes) - much better than my old cassette which came from the crappy bootleg LP I'm sure. The album features a detailed review from Acid Archives contributor Aaron Milenski, as well as the full set of lyrics, newspaper clippings, and photos. The LP reissue, it appears, replicates the original in every way. Don't miss these reissues if there's any interest at all in this album.

Opus III & Friends - s/t. 1970 Sweden

What strikes me most about Opus III & Friends is how much it reminds me of an American album circa 1970 as found on labels like Paramount, Rare Earth, and ABC. It actually sounds like a horn rock album - without the horns if that makes sense. But the compositions have that similar flavor about them. It's clearly a post psychedelic release and many elements of that genre are present, most fortuitously on a couple of the guitar solos spread throughout the 8 tracks here. The instrumental tracks go for a quiet introspective electric guitar trio sound. Which is a logical conclusion when you realize the band is headed up by no less a luminary than the legendary guitarist Jan Schaffer. And the "Friends" part of the moniker includes none other than Bjorn J-Son Lindh on piano and flute. This is definitely not the subversive underground Sweden of Parsson Sound, International Harvester, Algarnas Tradgard, and Flasket Brinner. Not much is unfortunately. A good album though, and well worth picking up if you see it.

Personal collection
LP: 2013 Sonet / Universal

Very rare album that is stored in a basic single sleeve cover. This has been part of my CDRWL for over 4 years now, ever since The AC fed me a copy. So you can imagine my surprise when I found 2 sealed copies of the LP in a local record store recently (!?!?!). I go record hunting locally about.. ohhh.. once a year maybe? And I look for common $5 stuff that I don't feel like mail ordering because of postage costs. But Opus III? I had no idea it had been reissued in any form. The LP reissue is straight up - not even one hint of an extra, liner notes - or anything for that matter. But it is absolutely from the masters (sounds great), comes in a limited release of a 1000, and even uses the original Sonet orange and purple trumpet label. 100% legit release for the skeptical out there (and none are more so than I). However, it stays in the CDRWL as there is still no CD.

Dakila - s/t. 1972 USA/Philippines

Despite looking like the bad guys from a vintage Hawaii Five-O episode, Dakila were a band from the Filipino immigrant community residing in the Mission District of San Francisco (a generation later, another Filipino group would emerge from the SF Bay Area, and that would be the excellent thrash metal band Death Angel). But this was 1972, and given the Latino influenced culture of the area, Dakila put no less a luminary than Santana on a pedestal and made a similar go for their fortune. The music contains copious amounts of passionate sustain guitar, chunky Hammond organ, fuzz bass, active Latin percussion, and soulful vocals. The latter sung in Tagalog, Spanish, and English. Dakila definitely have that Lowrider Soul culture in their veins as well, and Carlos' brother's band Malo is also very much in play here. Personally, I cannot possibly hear enough bands in this style, and many are favorites, especially Chango. Other reference points would be Macondo, Pantha, The Antiques, Naked Lunch, Azteca, and Broth. Absolutely killer stuff.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 Epic

Single sleeve major label cover that lends itself easily to ring and shelf wear, like the cover above (and my personal copy is this way too - I bought it in a local store well over 20 years ago for about a $1 and never bothered to upgrade). No legit CDs have surfaced, which is a real tragedy, and thus has been a standard feature on my CDRWL.

Fusion Orchestra - Skeleton in Armour. 1973 England


Fusion Orchestra aren't a jazz, nor chamber, rock band. Rather they represent, to me at least, the swan song for the Post Psychedelic, Proto Progressive with Female Vocals sound, as I've documented via the link provided. Fusion Orchestra are a spirited bunch, and the music borders hard rock, with blazing heavy psych guitar at every turn (with some great solos). There's also a jazz undercurrent, and Jill Saward's voice (and she plays a mean flute too) is husky in that blues sort of way that was popular at the turn of the decade. This is one of the most kinetic albums of the genre, with multiple fast paced meter shifts and a wealth of ideas, and no fan of any of the genres mentioned above will walk away disappointed here. Jill Saward was just a cute teenager when she joined the band in the early 70s. Later she went onto be the professional blond bombshell leading the slick, and very popular, 80s jazz funk band Shakatak.

Personal collection
LP: 1973 EMI
CD: 2009 EMI (Japan)

UK originals come in a wonderful textured gatefold (first photo). As with a few of my albums, I actually found a new original LP copy at a local record store here in Dallas in the mid 1980s. I almost didn't buy it because of the unrepresentative name of the band. But as fortune would have it, I gave up a dinner that night, and now still proudly own that copy. As for reissues, they have been the sole proprietorship of the Asian market. Not sure why this album hasn't been treated to a UK specialist label like Esoteric with full liner notes, but these Asian reissues will suffice until then. The Japanese mini-LP I own is a perfect reproduction of the original in miniature.

Joe O'Donnell - Gaodhal's Vision. 1977 Ireland

Joe O'Donnell's debut is a much unheralded album, but it's quite good. All instrumental fusion driven by O'Donnell's e...