Happy the Man - Crafty Hands. 1978 USA

Happy the Man - Crafty Hands. 1978 Arista

CD reissues: 1988 Edison / Arista (Japan); 1999 One Way; 2000 Musea (France); 2005 Strange Days / Arista (Japan mini-LP); 2012 Esoteric (UK)

In 1978, every American band on a major label were looking for their next - or first - radio hit. Not Happy the Man. In fact, Crafty Hands is even less commercial than the debut. Of course the conclusion to such antics was predictable, and they were booted off the roster over a "3 martini lunch" as the band recalls. At least they went off in style.

Though the album is arguably more progressive oriented, that doesn't necessarily translate to better in my book. But the debut is a high bar to hurdle, and I'm afraid they ran right into it. There are once again 3 types of music to be found here. One is a majestic, classically oriented symphonic sound, with occasional Asian scales interspersed. Like a cross between The Enid and mid 70s era Jade Warrior. You'll hear this sound on the opening two tracks, the closer, and 'Open Book'. Then there's the twisted, technically oriented prog rock like found on the debut, and these are represented by 'Ibby It Is', 'Steaming Pipes', and 'I Forgot to Push It'. Which leaves the odd track out. It's the only one with vocals this time, and an unusual sound for Happy the Man. 'Wind Up Doll Day Wind' takes a page of out of the Trick of the Tail playbook, and infuses it with a modern energy and instrumentation. By God if Happy the Man didn't predict the neo prog movement by 4 years or so. Not something I'd ever associated HTM with before, but a close listen revealed something new.

In the end, a very good album. Borderline 3.5 to 4 stars. Going with the latter, figuring one good craft beer will take it a half star further anyways.

I've somehow managed to cobble together 4 versions of this album. The newly acquired Esoteric version provided this listen. Based on my experience with the debut, the Japanese CD will sound better. What I need to do, though, is compare against the 2 Japanese CDs. If the mini wins, off goes the jewel box version to the sell bin. Otherwise, probably will keep all 4 now, as I do like the Esoteric liner notes. Crazy as that sounds. I've owned the LP since the mid 1980s.


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