Il Cerchio d'Oro - Dedalo e Icaro. 2013 Italy

Despite having a heritage that dates back to 1974, Il Cerchio d'Oro seem to be paying homage to the 90's Italian renaissance rather than the original 70s movement. Odd, given that many of their peers are looking back 20 years further. Il Cerchio d'Oro reminds me of bands such as Malibran, Barrock, and Nuova Era. In my estimation, certainly better than the former two but not quite up to the standard of the latter. The analog instrumentation isn't convincing, the drums are more rock oriented rather than jazz, and Dedalo e Icaro definitely has that bright, digital sound. All the same, there's no doubting that Il Cerchio d'Oro plays in the classic Italian style. The constant thematic shifts within each composition, the lengthy instrumental interludes, and the rough hewn vocals (in Italian of course) all underscore the region's characteristics. There are better albums from Italy being created now, but Il Cerchio d'Oro's sophomore release is no slouch. Conditionally recommended to fans of the style. Of which I'm one.

Personal collection
CD: 2013 Black Widow

Liquid Wolf - First Light. 2012 Finland

While the keyboards are definitely retro (Hammond, Moog, Mellotron), I think it's only fair to let everyone know that there's plenty of chugga chugga metal riffing and androgynous nasally vocals here - putting it more squarely into the 2005 time frame than 1973. Certainly nothing wrong with that, but the descriptions I've been reading in cyberspace seem to skip that aspect of their sound.

With that out of the way, Liquid Wolf provide us with an excellent album, primarily instrumental (thank goodness, as the vocals are awful IMO - sorry to say) with plenty of long and creative instrumental runs. Lose the vocals and the metal sounding guitars (and I love metal - but not in this setting), and Liquid Wolf would probably be a 4.5 to 5 star (Gnosis 12+) band for me. And probably sell 30 albums, so don't listen to me! :-)

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Samsara

The Freeborne - Peak Impressions. 1968 USA

The Freeborne represents some of the finest songwriting of the 60s psychedelic movement. There's echoes of the Doors, but in general, The Freeborne were one of the more innovative of the groups of the day - all operating with the context of relatively short songs (final track on each side sees the band stretching out a bit). Fine guitar, organ, vocals - everything you want in a psych album, but rarely get. Highly recommended.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Arf! Arf!

The definitive reissue, with a booklet filled with historical liners, mono bonus cuts, as well as 3 reunion tracks. You will often times see this album listed as from 1967. However the CD corrects the record so to speak. There are multiple references and proof of a 1968 release. For example: "Notes on the master tape box imply that the mixing and editing of the album occurred on March 27, 1968". Another reference is a half-page advertisement in the July 1968 "New England Scene" magazine that blares out that Peak Impressions is "Just Released !!"

Earthen Vessel - Hard Rock Everlasting Life. 1971 USA

Earthen Vessel were a band from Lansing, Michigan who got caught up in the "Jesus Rock" movement. Whereas 99% of the bands operating in that territory are pretty wimpy, Earthen Vessel cranks up the amps and the guitars just wail on here. One of those albums that fall between hard rock and heavy psych, the first 25 minutes of this album just blazes throughout. Only the final short 'Get High' (On Jesus) will remind one of a typical church youth group hymn. And these guys aren't "sort of Christian" either, they're preaching the Gospel from the mountaintops, with dual female/vocals all through. And yet it doesn't distract in the slightest, unless you have religious issues. Easy recommendation to fans of the aforementioned genres.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Gear Fab

Fine reissue with historical liner notes written by one of the members of the band. Original LP's are a small fortune.

Group 1850 - Polyandri. 1974 Netherlands

One would expect that after 5 years on from Paradise Now, a band would have changed directions radically. Especially in an era when musical trends changed with the seasons. Perhaps a fusion album? Hard rock maybe? Pop? But not Group 1850. Still going after it with their unique brand of psychedelic progressive music. In fact, Polyandri is more refined and varied while still being a primarily instrumental album . This album features an array of sounds from complex progressive rock compositions to simple bluesy workouts and onto trippy psych organ based excursions similar to their first 2 LP's. Wonderfully out of touch for 1974!

Personal collection
LP: 1974 Rubber
CD: 2017 Universal (as part of the 2 CD set called The Golden Years of Dutch Pop Music)

The LP comes in a folder cover. To talk about the date: There's no date anywhere on the LP except a mention in the insert of a recording time of January, 1974. By deduction, one could conclude this was released in 1974. However, according to the Pseudonym CD liner notes for Agemo's Trip to Mother Earth, they place Polyandri at 1975 (as does The Golden Years of Dutch Pop Music 2CD set). They could be propagating bad data though. Does anyone know for certain?

The CD version of this isn't the best sound (doesn't sound like it's all from the master tapes), but it does beat the Twilight Tone boot by a long mile!

Group 1850 singles / Mother No-Head. 1966-1975 Netherlands

Group 1850 were always ahead of their time by at least 2 years. Peter Sjardin is no doubt one of the creative geniuses of our era, a man with no commercial ambition whatsoever, but one who never lost his mojo. The fact 'Misty Night' came out in 1966 demonstrates the point at hand. This track could have easily fit on the Agemo's opus that was to arrive 2 years later, and it too is a pioneering effort. This is prog psych, before the former term existed and the latter term was just entering the lexicon in regards to music. 'Look Around' is a bit more typical for the era, in a punk garage sort of way. It's still very good for the style.

I'll mention this once for all the Group 1850 singles (and note exceptions on their individual entry if applicable): There's a few good ways to obtain these, without having to buy each 45 individually (and expensive at that).

The first to market was Pseudonym's fantastic CD reissue of Agemo's Trip to Mother Earth (1997) - which contained no less than 13 bonus tracks. You even get the 3-D cover and glasses!

Second was the individual CD/LP release of the singles (plus demo varieties) known as Mother No-Head (2012)

Third, and the most inconspicuous, is a double CD release called The Golden Years Of Dutch Pop Music (A&B Sides And More) (2017). Not only does this CD contain all their released singles, but it also has reissues of Paradise Now (which already had multiple releases) as well as the very first legit CD reissue of Polyandri! It was the latter that compelled me to buy this, but it also reminded me to revisit these great singles.

Worth noting that the tracks '1000 Years Before' and 'Dream of the Future' were left off the Golden Years CD. These two songs (both excellent) were never released originally, and first appeared as bonus tracks on the Agemo's reissue. I'm not sure of their provenance honestly. Perhaps it's discussed on the Mother No-Head reissue, which I've never owned.

I'm not quite sure why the psychedelic era had so much infatuation with the French nursery rhyme Frere Jacques*, but Mother No-Head is Group 1850's interpretation. Apparently the name is a bastardization of the Dutch "Vader Jacob" with some free association to English. OOKAAY then. Uncut drugs I presume. In any case, from what I understand this was Group 1850's most successful single. It definitely is a unique variation of the jingle and is quite good. 'Ever, Ever Green' is the most normal song Group 1850 ever did, and the only one I'd probably skip over in their entire ouevre.

* The German psych band Bokaj Retsiem dedicated their name (Meister Jakob spelled backwards) and their one album to the rhyme.

Another brilliant pair of tracks from these Dutch cosmic travelers.

The pinnacle of Group 1850's singles. 'Little Fly' is the same version as on Agemo's Trip to Mother Earth, and is brilliant. And 'We Love Life' is the perfect encapsulation of Group 1850's ability to consolidate many psychedelic ideas into 4 and a half minutes.

The second best of Group 1850's singles (after Little Fly/We Love Life), this captures the band at their peak (and probably peak experience if you know what I mean).

This is the only single left off the Agemo's Trip to Mother Earth CD reissue. And they are not to be missed either. Two more great tracks (especially 'Don't Let it Be') from an otherwise silent year in Group 1850's discography.

I think there can be no doubt Arthur Brown was on their mind when they did 'Fire'. It's not just the song title, but also the style. A surprising copycat move from a band who were always innovators. It's still a great track despite this. The highlight here though is 'Have You Ever Heard', which basically consolidated the "?!" track from Paradise Now into a song with lyrics. Of course it doesn't have the long trippy organ and guitar parts, but it's great to hear how they recycled some of the themes.

The only single from Group 1850 than can be ignored, if you already have these two tracks from earlier releases (1967/1971 respectively). This appears to be a cash-in job recycling their most known hit 'Mother No-Head', but this time sung in half-French, which is where this single was released. 'Fire' is the exact same as the '71 single. By 1975, Group 1850 was barely a cohesive entity anyway, and their brilliant Polyandri album had absolutely zero commercial potential, especially for 1975!

Personal collection
CD: 1997 Pseudonym (reissue of Agemo's Trip to Mother Earth)
CD: 2017 Universal (2 CD reissue known as The Golden Years of Dutch Pop Music)

Snakes Alive - s/t. 1975 Australia

In the early 70s, the music world was teeming with jazz fusion / jazz rock bands. The major two schools were a) The technically proficient, as defined by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, and Weather Report. And b) The Miles Davis long track deep groove, with many followers in Germany (in particular the MPS label), Poland, Italy, USA, and beyond. These were jazzers who were fascinated with rock's rhythms and power. But finding rockers who were fascinated by jazz was a much more rare breed. Snakes Alive are a rock fusion band. Of course bands like Mahavishnu still come to mind. Even early Zappa and Xhol Caravan to be honest. But, you know, Finch came to mind too. There are vocals, but they are sparse. Trumpet, sax, flute, organ, and guitar are the solo instruments. And it rocks with a capital R. This is a good one, that's now receiving its just notoriety.

Personal collection
CD: 2017 Belle Antique (Japan)

The CD is housed in a single sleeve mini-LP. Originals are extremely obscure and it is in reality a demo pressed in a quantity of 50 without a cover. A cover therefore has been appended in modern times (via the Poor House Record shop and subsequent bootleg), and this is what the official CD issue used as well.

Yajuh Ohkoku - Live. 1997 Japan

Yajyu Ohkoku - often times stylized as Yajuh-Ohkoku, in kanji 野獣王国, literally translates to Beast Kingdom, or colloquially Animal Kingdom - are a hard hitting fusion band from Japan. Unusual in that they debuted with a 2 CD live set. So this is nearly 100 minutes of instrumental jazz fusion, which is a monthly dose for moi. The style is 1990s digital all the way, so for those looking for 1970's raw wah wah guitars, fuzzed out Rhodes, or Hammond organ, you'll have to look elsewhere. This is Yahama land and pig squeal guitar all the way. Still, for what they set out to accomplish, Yajyu Ohkoku does an admirable job at doing such. If you're a fan of the Japanese fusion scene of Side Steps, Prism, Fragile, and Exhivision, then "Beast Kingdom" is well worth seeking out. The band continued on to release 6 more studio albums, each more obscure than the last.

Personal collection
CD: 2013 Clinck

The CD is stored in a double mini-LP gatefold. My copy is part of a 4 title box set called J-Fusion Masterpiece Collectors' Box that includes the 2 Keep albums + the Hiroshi Mirukami & Dancing Sphinx album. I bought it for the Keep albums, and like the name itself, I'm keeping all of these for those 2.

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 electric violin. There are smokin' parts offset by what could be best described as cinematic atmospheric pieces. Best tracks for my tastes include 'The Exodus', 'The Battle and Retreat Underground', 'The Fair', and 'The Great Banqueting Hall'. One of Ireland's best albums.

Personal collection
LP: 1977 Polydor (Ireland/Germany)

There are a few LP pressings of this album. The Irish presses are all housed in German gatefolds strange as it may seem, and that's what I'm keeping. The UK press is a single sleeve. There's also a German pressing as well, which I will be selling shortly. There also exists an obscure CD reissue released by Rory Gallagher's Capo label in 2004.

Melody - Yesterlife. 1977 France

Don't overlook this one! Or rather - don't judge a book by its cover. Given the 1977 date, the band decided on - or were forced - to use the rather atrocious looking Earth & Fire styled disco album cover. But in the end, Yesterlife is a far more professional album than their debut Come Fly With Me, in both composition and production. There's a high level of sophistication beneath the gloss. In fact some of the songs are re-recordings of tracks from said debut. Sure it's mitigated somewhat by the ambition of its producers, but the end result predicted the best aspects of the upcoming neo prog movement. Recently I visited the superb Edge - Suction 8 album from my collection, and Yesterlife recalls that fine album many times over. Woody bass, complex rhythms, loud fuzzy guitar leads, Mini-Moog lines, and powerful female vocals.

Unbelievably - for those that already know the Tapioca mispress of Come Fly With Me - which contains half of the avant-garde Mahogany Brain album, would you believe that Vogue switched the first two tracks on this album? Yea, 'Welcome to Wonderland' is the opening track. Jeez, these guys got the same breaks as those trying to leave Gilligan's Island...

Personal collection
LP: 1977 Vogue

Comes in a fine gatefold despite the otherwise mundane typical era cover. The older tracks that have been re-recorded include: 'Merry-Go-Round', 'Run Faster', and 'Yesterlife'.

Quiet Sun - Mainstream. 1975 England

Quiet Sun's sole album is about as good as it gets when melding the tuneful Canterbury style with that of a ferocious jazz rock band. Love those thick fat analog fuzz tones throughout! The title seems to come from the rejection of the album by multiple record companies who were more interested in obtaining a hit record. Though it appears the A&R gentleman from Warner Bros quite liked the sound and was at least interesting in hearing them live. Island, on the other hand, trashed the sound so. And that's the label it ended up on. So go figure...

Personal collection
CD: 2008 Arcangelo (Japan)

The above mini-LP is basically the exact same as the Expresion reissue (Manzanera's own label) with similar liner notes and exact sound. The only difference is the better packaging of course.

Medina Azahara - s/t. 1979 Spain

One of the 3 pillars of the Rock Andaluz scene of the mid to late 1970's, Medina Azahara's debut is filled with the energy of southern Spain. Great fuzzy tones and an urgency similar to Mezquita, and the passionate Arabian vocals recall Triana at their very best. 'Hacia' Ti' is the 5 star highlight, but 'En la Manana' and the closing two tracks are in the running. A brilliant album throughout.

Personal collection
LP: 1979 CBS
CD: 1994 CBS/Sony

The gatefold LP cover is just as gorgeous as the music itself, and is a fixture on my "wall of albums". The CD is nothing special but gets the job done, and is taken from the masters.

Cast - Nimbus. 2004 Mexico

Nimbus is the 12th studio album from Mexico's Cast, and was released by Mylodon in Chile and Musea in France. At their beginning, Cast...