Electric Orange - Misophonia. 2016 Germany

Misophonia is Electric Orange's 11th proper studio album. They were one of the first Krautrock revivalists from the Fatherland, and have more or less stayed on script throughout their 25+ years career. I started with the band at the beginning, and have dutifully picked up all their albums to date. And the all instrumental Misophonia definitely has the right sounds, with rumbling drums, and grungy Hammond organ to the fore. So it comes as a surprise to me that I really don't enjoy this album very much. It's certainly good enough, but for Electric Orange, it's a sub par effort. I picked up the CD upon release, and heard it last year for the first time - and have stuck with it now for over a year. But the needle isn't moving.

So what gives? Well... I've struggled to put my finger on it, but for one thing there is no songwriting. Now with Krautrock that certainly isn't de rigueur, but most at least intersperse a few melodies among the chaos. Electric Orange did not do that either. But if there aren't any songs, then one would look for a climatic payoff of some sort - a build up to an intense jam for example. Nope, not here. Then there's the lack of tonal diversity. A flute, saxophone, or more electric guitar would have helped immensely. The latter is there primarily to set the tone, but doesn't play a major role in the album. In effect, Misophonia is one of those albums that has all the right ingredients, but doesn't taste right. To be honest, it's a bit dull. If I were to characterize the album - it would be something of a new genre - Ambient Krautrock. Not electronic in the slightest - definitely a rock based album. But it's very static. I do think that's what the band was striving for. To create the mood of the original early 70s Krautrock movement. To that end, they succeeded then. But that's all they did. Overall, I expected more.

Quintessence - In Blissful Company. 1969 England

Quintessence isn't a band you hear much about when talking psychedelic and progressive rock, and that has to rank among one of the great mysteries of music collecting. I had passed over their albums in the bins for years and years. I never remember anyone talking about, referencing, nor recommending the band. Not via catalogs, nor any like-minded friends. So I just presumed it was a sort of hippy dippy folk rock with maybe a Indian singalong or two.

It wasn't until late 2014 that a friend virtually elbows me and asks: "Have you heard Quintessence before?". And so off I went to some discount seller and retrieved In Blissful Company on CD per his recommendation. How on Earth could this be so obscure - and yet so common? I have no idea. So here we are in 2018 on my second revisit, and I've probably played the album 5 times in a row. It's really an excellent example of the psychedelic / progressive rock crossover blend.

For 1969, Quintessence definitely possessed a pioneering sound. The key sound components are electric guitar (often times fuzzed out) along with flute. And sonorous vocals. It took me awhile to figure out who they reminded me of most - but then it hit me last night. Quintessence laid the groundwork for a similar type sound that Marsupilami pursued a short couple of years later (the vocals were the giveaway). And given this latter band is one of my all-time favorites, then it stands to reason as to why I enjoy In Blissful Company as well. Listen to tracks like 'Manco Capac', 'Body', and 'Pearl and Bird" and compare. Other than 'Chant', which is the obligatory Hare Krishna moment, the rest of the album is divine so to speak. And yes, of course, it has a strong Indian element to their sound, which I see only as a plus.

Personal collection
LP: 1969 Island
CD: 2004 Repertoire (Germany)

The CD is a fine digi-pak with excellent liner notes from Chris Welch and includes 2 bonus tracks which made up the single release. A couple of years ago I also picked up the LP. It comes in a fine gatefold, with a 12 page die-cut book. My copy is the palm tree label which dates it to 1970 most likely, but technically copyrighted 1969.

Phantom - Phantom's Divine Comedy Part 1. 1974 USA

April 27, 2018 update: I recently received a very nice note from RD Francis, who has written a book about "The Phantom". Looks very interesting, and nice to know the facts are now coming to the fore.

Phantom were in reality a Detroit area band slumming around with the name Walpurgis. Vocalist Tom Carson had an uncanny resemblance in both voice, and even appearance, to Jim Morrison, and thus Capitol thought it might be a good idea to exploit the myth that Morrison was still alive. It's hard to imagine a corporate entity such as Capitol getting in on such sophomoric antics, but it does appear that's exactly what happened. Naturally the whole idea fell on its face, and Phantom disappeared as they came, through the ether.

The sad thing about this ruse, is it was entirely unnecessary. Phantom, in fact, were really quite adept on their own accord. In effect, Phantom are a hard rock band, with psychedelic and progressive characteristics. So the Doors comparisons begins and ends with Carson's voice. The rest is somewhat unique for an American major label band from 1974. The opening track 'Tales from a Wizard', 'Spider's Will Dance', and the last 16 minutes of the album are the highlights. It's just this kind of mystical hard rock that is now being recreated by a new inspired youth. So while Capitol were trying to exploit history, Phantom were actually predicting the future. Wonderful irony.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 One Way

Relatively scarce US major label album. Single sleeve that lends itself easily to ring wear. As you can see, the label itself lists the band as Phantom, which to me solves that debate at least. The only legit CD is the bare bones One Way, which I obtained in the 90s and is the only version I've ever owned. It's long gone, and rarer than the LP at this point. Naturally, there are pirates all over this one. So watch out if in the market for one.

Originally published: July 25, 2015

Peter Baumann - Romance 76. 1976 Germany

Even though Baumann joined Tangerine Dream in 1973, he was still only 23 when he embarked on his first solo album. It was Edgar Froese who encouraged him to pursue other creative paths, and Baumann basically setup right where T Dream did. A few years ago I had noted in my review of Edgar Froese's Macula Transfer, that he had diverted a bit from the standard Tangerine Dream sound. That is to say, Macula Transfer was not his interpretation of Stratosfear. Instead, we get Baumann's interpretation of Stratosfear. Side 1 is unmistakably the sounds, themes, and sequences that define one of Tangerine Dream's landmark albums. Which is telling, in that it demonstrates how much influence Baumann had by then on TD's overall sound. Side 2 however is a bit different. Primarily in that he chucked the mellotron and hired his old man - he himself a mover and shaker in the more formal areas of music - to secure a choir and orchestra for his son. So in effect Baumann went Jean-Claude Vannier here. Why bother with a sampling tool when one can just have the real thing? Once the ears adjust, the composition style emerges somewhat the same, minus the electronic equipment. 'Meadow of Infinty' Part 2 confirms this for us, as Baumann was back in the studio with his trusty synths and mellotron, and closes the album in a similar fashion to how it started. Overall an excellent album in the Berlin School tradition, but not one that strayed too far from the script after all.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Bureau B

A common album on LP, and was released domestically here in the States, where I first picked up a copy during my original Tangerine Dream discovery phase while still in high school (early 80s). CD's however is a different story, with only the afterthought Virgin release from 1990 going OOP and staying that way for years. It wasn't until 2016 that not only one, but 2 CDs appeared on the market. I picked up the Bureau B version, which comes in a digi-pak, and features excellent sound and informative liner notes.

Rousseau - Retreat. 1983 Germany

The older I get, the more I appreciate bands like Rousseau. They exemplify the simpler joys in life. Of course not everyone shares this positive outlook, witness one RYMers wonderful and uplifting review, pasted here in its entirety for reference: "This symph rock abomination should come with a barf bag. Avoid it!". But music doesn't have to be discordant, angular, and complex to enjoy. For certain I'm not promoting banal music to gain position with commercial radio either. But one can still fall well within the guidelines of the broad based term progressive rock, without having to possess a doctorate degree.

Listening to tracks like 'China', 'Yago', and 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' makes you just want to crawl into the cover painting, sit under the large tree with a bottle of wine, a beautiful girl, and simply watch nature go by. No insane taxation, stock markets, nor geopolitical tensions to worry about. Just beautiful life. Sigh.

Of course one cannot escape the influence of mid 70s Camel in any discussion about Rousseau, a band that shares their romantic side. But also early Genesis at their most pastoral comes to mind. The addition of vocals on 3 tracks was not a good plan however, and completely ruin the vibe. 'One of a Thousand' and 'Incomplete' are good songs otherwise though. The album closer was a truly bad decision as it appears Rousseau was going for some sort of New Wave pop hit. Double dumb actually, and a terrible way to end an otherwise splendid album.

One personal story: In 1991 while backpacking through France, I spent a full Sunday in Retonfey (near Metz) at Musea's home. During the day, various musicians appeared in what seemed like an eternal revolving door. It was quite extraordinary actually. Very casual and fun. The last band to arrive were two members from Rousseau (closing out the reissue of this album actually). That night I had planned to train to Luxembourg. Instead, these two gentlemen drove me there on their way back home to Germany. A fond memory for certain and great conversation along the way!

Personal collection
LP: 1983 Sri Lanca
CD: 1991 Musea

The original comes in a single sleeve. Sri Lanca later in the decade tried their hand at heavy metal before shuttering. The Musea CD is fantastic as usual, with full liner notes. No bonus tracks this time unfortunately.

Ozric Tentacles - Strangeitude. 1991 England

Long ago (1989-1992), a buddy and I hosted a monthly 6 hour radio show on Dallas' local NPR station (one of those Saturday night fill-the-airwaves from midnight to 6 gigs - and I did it as a volunteer...) showcasing underground progressive rock, jazz, and electronic music - pretty much the oeuvre I write about here minus hard rock and metal. It was in 1990 that we were first introduced to Ozric Tentacles via a mutual friend who had just purchased the 2 LP set Erpland. We were both mightily impressed, immediately picked up its predecessor Pungent Effulgent (the earlier cassettes weren't widely available back then), and proceeded to play choice cuts from each album. We did get many requests for them, as Ozric has a sound that is immediately likable.

A year later, we were super excited to learn of their new album Strangeitude. And it did not disappoint at all. 'White Rhino Tea' is as progressive a track as Ozric ever penned, with constantly shifting themes and meters. 'Bizarre Bazaar' is this album's 'Kick Muck' - tight and energetic. And they finish on a high note with the blistering 'Space Between Your Ears', where Ed Wynne really lets loose, and is one of their best tracks in their entire canon. For my tastes, I've never been a big fan of Ozrics' pure electronic work, and here there are two, including the title track and fan favorite 'Sploosh!'. The latter does have a foot stompin' beat, but would have been more effective at half the length I'd estimate. So not perfect, but still an excellent 3rd album, and showed the world that they still had plenty more to offer from a creative standpoint. This latter element would slow over the years.

Personal collection
LP: 1991 Dovetail
CD: 2010 Madfish

It was the LP that I first purchased, and later on added the same year CD. A couple of years ago while rummaging around ebay, I found a cheap copy of the Madfish release. A wonderful package, it comes in a hardbound digipak cover with photos plus an extra disc of live material from this era.

Museo Rosenbach - Barbarica. 2013 Italy

I have not heard Museo Rosenbach's first reunion attempt with Exit (2000), but it would seem to be a typically underwhelming reformation album, where the band tried to be relevant, and yet seemed to have no understanding of its real audience. I've seen defenders of the album as well, though no one would be willing to fall on their sword for it I'm sure.

Perhaps the Exit album was a lesson learned for the veterans of the original Museo Rosenbach. Because Barbarica not only addresses its past, but also its future. We've talked about reformations here in the past, and generally they are abject failures. From Italy, Alphataurus and Le Orme have been glaring exceptions as their respective reformations successfully captured the spirit of the original band without them resorting to caricature. Barbarica is similar - except even more successful to my ears. Alphataurus had the added benefit of an unfinished 1974 album to work with, for example. Museo Rosenbach was starting from scratch. Original bassist (and now keyboardist) Alberto Moreno and drummer Giancarlo Golzi are the only steady members across their entire discography. Joining the reunion was original Zarathustra lead vocalist Stefano Lupo Galifi. The latter himself coming fresh off the debut by Il Tempio delle Clessidre which no doubt revived his interest in progressive rock - and most certainly he was held in high reverence by the much younger band that surrounded him. Ego boosts after age 60 don't come as often as they once did I'm sure. Even for myself, I was shocked at just how great his voice still sounded. And he continues to belt it out with the best of them on Barbarica. These three old warriors were then augmented by a new quartet of two guitarists, bass, and keyboards.

What amazes me most about Barbarica is how much the new material represents the spirit of their past, without copying it. The instrumentation is a mix of new and old - and the latter is often represented by the former. One of the most amazing aspects of Zarathustra was their ability to write jaw dropping breaks. Those kind where everyone looks at the stereo and says: Did you hear that? Well, guess what? You'll be doing that with Barbarica too. Like all great bands, it was the synergy of the collective whole that made that 1973 opus great, rather than a collection of soloists. Barbarica is exactly that. It's a true group effort, that retains their brilliant songwriting capability. The band sounds bold and confident. I've read some bellyaching that Barbarica isn't the same as Zarathustra. Well I hope not! While I'm not willing to say it's on the same level either - there are just too many parameters to consider where it would have the same effect on me - I will say that Barbarica may in fact be in the Top 3 of all the great Italian albums released in 2013. And that's a huge achievement given the competition. For me, the best ever reformation album coming from Italy. Yea.... Wow.

Personal collection
CD: 2013 Immaginifica

The CD is housed in a fine gatefold mini-LP with cover art that recalls their Zarathustra past, while also looking forward. Just like the music itself.

Grobschnitt - s/t. 1972 Germany

The German group Grobschnitt were one of the more famous bands from the classic 70's Krautrock era. They had a long and varied history that spanned over 20 years and were quite popular in their native Germany. Their music was characterized by theatrical sequences, space rock jamming, a large dose of humor, along with creative songwriting.

Grobschnitt's self-titled debut was a dynamic opening for the band, and is simply a superb slab of heavy prog rock. Hard psychedelic driven guitar and Hammond organ lead the instrumental parade, whereas the crack rhythm section push the proceedings along with constantly changing and complex rhythms. Guitarist "Lupo" has a very sharp edged sound and plays in a constant fiery/heavy blues mode, while drummer "Eroc" is a master of creating and maintaining the tempo for the complex yet energetic compositions. The four tracks contained within recall other heavy German bands of the day like Orange Peel, Prof. Wolfff, 2066 and Then, and even Inside era Eloy. Had this been Grobschnitt's only album it surely would've gone down as one of the great one-off Krautrock classics. As it turns out, it may very well have been their shining moment, though no doubt much great music was to appear in their future, including the can't miss space rock suite 'Solar Music'.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 Brain
CD: 1998 Repertoire

My first copy came from a record store while backpacking in Switzerland, and was the single sleeve copy on Brain (black label). Such was the situation in 1987, where an album like this was impossible to find back home in Texas, and yet it was something of a commodity in Europe at the time. Indeed, Grobschnitt's debut was in print for the entire duration of the Brain label, and is still easy to source well into the 2010's. Over time, I eventually scored the first press original gatefold green label with Metronome under the logo. The Repertoire CD was the first to market, and was mastered by Eroc himself (who is now quite noted for doing such). It's a superb reissue with full liner notes and a 29 minute bonus track - with excellent sound as expected.

Triangle - s/t. 1970 France

Triangle is one of the earliest of the French progressive rock bands. At one point they were lead by the diminutive Alain Renaud on guitar, though he left after a few singles, and explored his more experimental tendencies - most notably with Richard Pinhas and Heldon.

Their debut is a consistently excellent album, that mixes French and English lyrics, with a hard psychedelic bite in the guitar work. The vocals have a slightly gruff sound that recall Family, and especially fellow countrymen Ergo Sum, who they share a similar sound overall with. The highlight is also the longest track. 'Cameron's Complaint' sees Triangle take on a more jazzy sound with additional flute, that recalls the Canterbury scene, and predicts the coming of bands such as Moving Gelatine Plates.

This debut is generally considered their best album. I haven't heard the second album, and it's been many a year since I heard Homonymie, almost to the point I don't trust my rating there.

Personal collection
CD: 2010 Culture Factory

The LP is a single sleeve with a catalog "tab" in the back. Like the RYM photo, mine has the 1971 sticker, so that would indicate a later press. The album sold well in its day, so it isn't too scarce. July 2018 update: Decided to sell

For an album that was once popular, it had been surprisingly ignored in the reissue market, save for the always lame Mantra CD. This travesty was finally addressed by Culture Factory. The CD comes in a fine mini-LP styled cover, with an insert and a small history (in French). Best of all is that the CD has all 3 of their singles prior to the album proper, and each is just as good as the LP itself.

Bodkin - s/t. 1972 Scotland

Bodkin were a major discovery from the mid 1980s, though the album was known to exist prior in very small quantities. The story goes that a German collector had befriended Scottish music engineer and label owner Jim West, and to his amazement, he still had in his possession plenty of vinyl - and no covers. So the story of the LP and the reissues is quite fascinating. See below for further detail.

As to the music, Bodkin hit near the bulls-eye of that organ drenched heavy prog sound. Think of all of those 1971 albums on the German Bellaphon or Philips label. Or the original Vertigo Swirl label roster. Even the Canadian band Warpig. It's got that sound. All 5 tracks here are well played, with memorable melodies and progressions, and fine performances from all. The vocals have that husky "lost" tone, that was popular is those blues infected days. For reasons I could not articulate back to anyone, I didn't care for this album much when it first hit the CD circuit in 1989. My stance softened about 10 years later, and it has grown in stature since then. To me it definitely earns the Excellent rating.

Personal collection
CD: 1991 Witch and Warlock

As mentioned above, the story of the album itself is interesting. Popsike lists precisely one copy that has sold with the original cover (in 2012 - photo #1). It went for a cool $2300 and change (not shown on RYM as I write this). Most original copies out there in the wild did not have an album cover, and go for a much cheaper $1k (smirk) (photo #2). Sometime in the late 1980s, the album was released on vinyl in very limited quantities with paste on custom green or orange covers (photos #3 & #4), but weren't widely distributed at the time (at least that I can remember). In 1989, the German label Witch & Warlock debuted their catalog with a CD reissue of the album (with yet another different cover - photo #5). Ah, but you say, I know Witch & Warlock is a pirate concern right? Perhaps they ended up making poor decisions, but they didn't start out that way. Witch & Warlock are in fact the same guys behind the German Oak album. And I think we can safely presume they did not bootleg their own privately released album (though another story emerged in 2018 about this). The next CD on the label was Dom's Edge of Time, and while I later upgraded to the Second Battle versions (LP and CD), it's pretty apparent from the short notes on the CD that the members knew each other. Most everyone accepts this version as legit (though the sound wasn't improved upon at all). This was followed by an archival German Oak album, and then finally they decided to try their hand at needle drops and foregoing obtaining legal permission. (Confession: I still own their CD version of Diabolus and patiently await for a legit version to surface). They also issued two other albums from Scotland: Soho Orange and Tentacle - both of these being archival releases. Most websites consider these to be legit. And it makes sense, when you consider the German connection to the Bodkin album, as mentioned above. In any case, the CD was repressed multiple times, and it was many years later I picked it up again - mine being one of those reissues (originals are numbered with a different backplate).

Next up was the Akarma release (of course they'd get involved with something like this). And now we have our 5th unique cover (last photo)! This time it's quite extraordinary as the LP opens up as a multi part cross (similar to Necronomicon or Heaven's Brass Rock 1). This most assuredly is the definitive edition right? Wrong! What an utter disaster of a reissue. A needle drop (fine), but with skips and scratches (in the mastering!). C'mon, really? How stoned do you have to be? I eventually parted with it...

There is a legit LP that recently surfaced from England on the Acme label (and replicates the orange paste-on cover). I wouldn't have high hopes for a sonic revelation at this point.

Eduardo Bort - s/t. 1975 Spain

When I started collecting rare progressive rock in the mid to late 1980s, Eduardo Bort's album was considered by many a dealer as Spain's single best progressive rock album - and mighty expensive too (and often times in the dealer world - most expensive=best). So I pounced on the first reissue commonly available, the Fonomusic CD, and anxiously awaited "this best" prog album from Spain. Huh? My inherent cynicism kicked into gear quickly, and my initial thoughts were more akin to "the xenophobes' choice of best album from Spain". In effect, it was in the comfort zone of your common 80s psychedelic dealer who dabbled in prog, but never could really accept any lyrical language but good ol' Engrish ("What's the point of music if you can't understand the words?"). Yes - I've read genius statements like this in the past. And with Spain, it's not just one language, but multiple, each adding a unique spice to the region they come from.

Over the years, I began to embrace Bort's album on its own terms, ignoring the cultural backdrop. The irony here is that Bort had no business singing in English, and is really the only weak element on the album. The music here evolves greatly from the psychedelic folk rock of 'Thoughts', onto the progressive hard rocking 'Walking on the Grass', and finishes in superb symphonic fashion, with multiple themes, meter shifts, and mellotron galore. Overall an excellent pan-European styled progressive rock album and definitely well worth owning.

Personal collection
CD: 1989 Fonomusic

I never did improve upon the initial CD, which is as basic as it gets with a single tray card. But the sound is fine and from the master tapes. Original LPs come in a fine gatefold, and I wouldn't mind owning one myself, but as noted above, it's always been a bit pricey. Incidentally Fonomusic is Movieplay Ver 2.0.

Worth noting that the original and early reissues do not list a definitive date beyond the recording date of 1974. Later reissues appended a copyright of 1975, which appears to be the correct release year.

Feliu i Joan Albert - s/t. 1977 Spain

Feliu i Joan Albert's sole collaboration puts together two classically trained musicians from Barcelona. Joan Albert Amargos was a current member of Musica Urbana, and played keyboards and woodwinds for them. Prior to that he'd guested on saxophone on the 1971 Jarka album. Feliu Gasull provides the Spanish guitar. For the majority of the album, the music is acoustic, beautiful, and serene, with a big sound and some unusual arrangements. One will hear references to George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, no doubt an influence from their own formal training. There's also a feeling of what the original New Age movement was about, before the term was bastardized. Perhaps a bit like same era Popol Vuh, but without the overt spirituality. Closer 'Els Barbers Indignats' breaks out the electric rock instrumentation (with Musica Urbana in tow), and is quite jarring in this setting, and is a great way to end the album. Though one wonders what it could have been were it a pure play progressive rock album. The reissues to date have not yielded any other recordings, so it will have to be left to the imagination unfortunately.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 PDI

Al Di Meola - Elegant Gypsy. 1977 USA

In my junior year of high school, way back in 1981, there was a new kid in school and we became instant friends.  But he was different than all of us. He was rich. Very rich in fact. I never even knew anyone that was wealthy, much less had a friend like that. While I certainly never missed a meal growing up, we definitely didn't have much disposable income - and lived quite modestly. The fact is, rich kids didn't go to schools where I lived. The reasons are multiple, but that's for another time (and drinks presumably).

I bring all of this up here in an Al Di Meola review, because this new chum also brought an entirely new music perspective with him. Unlike myself and my running set, he had no use for FM radio (i.e. AOR/MTV/Corp Rock), hard rock, or heavy metal - the latter being my first foray into collecting underground music. Oh no - this guy was already a well schooled audiophile, who had thousands of dollars of stereo equipment throughout the 15,000 sq ft mansion he lived in. He read all the magazines, and absorbed the music culture that went with it. And jazz fusion was the music of choice. I wouldn't have known what fusion was had it hit me in the nose back then. And his favorite guitarist was, ta-dah - Al Di Meola. And Elegant Gypsy, along with Casino, were LPs he played constantly while at his house shooting pool or playing ping pong. Eventually I bought up the Di Meola line through Electric Rendezvous, and then I exited for college.

There in college, of course, I met more people who were quite informed about music. It was also about the time that a one Yngwie Malmsteen entered stage right (who friend above and I discovered via the somewhat disappointing Steeler album). Then came all those tiresome debates, ones it seems I engaged in for far too long in life. Like "who's the fastest guitarist". And off went the arguments "Malmsteen only plays chromatic scales.." "Di Meola is a one trick pony". "Oh yea, well John McLaughlin blows them all away!"... Who's that I ask? And then I found myself loading up on Mahavishnu Orchestra albums. Ah you kids and the internet. In those days it was talk (none of this was on the radio) and used record stores if you wanted to learn about something.

Eventually I got worn out by all of that, and held Al Di Meola responsible for me not liking music that seemingly was all about technique. And it was in college that I was first discovering Krautrock and European underground prog rock - pretty much the polar opposite of the slick, audiophile friendly jazz fusion.

None of which was fair to our subject matter at hand. Eventually I went back to Elegant Gypsy and revisited it on its own terms - sold off the dogeared LP and purchased the CD - and heard it with a fresh pair of ears. Honestly the chops are only a part of Al Di Meola's repertoire, but I do think he's quite unheralded when it comes to songwriting. He's quite adept at that too, and every song here is enjoyable (with like-minded cohort Mingo Lewis penning the opener 'Flight Over Rio'). And 'Race with Devil on Spanish Highway' is what everyone else says - a brilliant track, the perfect combination of jazz fusion and prog rock. I don't agree with those who state Di Meola was retreading ground that Santana laid out. To me, we're talking two entirely different branches of Latin influenced music.

Nowadays, I may hear the album every few years, and this listen just confirmed again how enjoyable Elegant Gypsy really is. After knowing the album very well for 37 years, I can say that with conviction.

Personal collection
CD: 198? Columbia

One of those old school-no info CD's that proudly state "Now Made in the USA!". If you recall, CDs were originally made in Japan (and expensive at that), so it was something of a big deal when they became a domestic product. It's really too bad folks have moved away from CDs. I would expect a renaissance at some point.

Curtis Knight - Down in the Village. 1970 USA

Who is Curtis Knight you ask? Well he was a cohort of a one Jimi Hendrix before he became "Hendrix" if you know what I mean. So Jimi plays guitar and Curtis Knight sings is the way the late 60s soul albums were portrayed. And now 50 years later, few know who Knight was. Perhaps you've heard of the other guy?

And that's really too bad, as Down in the Village is quite an aural document. It's also one of those one song albums that will live on long past any of our lifetimes. In this case - as with most of the others I will mention - it has yet to be truly discovered. But even taking out said song, what we have here is a fine psych-blues-soul rock album from 1970. The title track is a good opening, but it's the potent 'Lena' that you will hear the mean psych streak that is an indicator of what to come. 'See No Evil' is another winning track. 'Goin Up the Road' is a decent blues rock song. The other 2 songs are throwaway soul numbers. Side 2 is much more consistent, with the final two tracks 'Hi Low' and 'Goodbye Cruel World' competing vigorously with 'Lena'. As a whole, this would be a 3.5 star album if it were not for...

...'Give You Plenty Lovin'' Oh my, what do we have here? The ultimate combination of freaked out psychedelic jamming with screams of madness, that's what. We are talking what Isaac Hayes and The Bar-Kays did with the face melting 'Do Your Thing'. Or when Del Jones goes deep into the abyss with 'Cold Turkey'. Or John L's pleas for help on 'Flowers Must Die'. We are talking goosebump inducing insanity of the highest order. It's hyper, intense, chaotic, and scary. I almost want to give this 4.5 because of it. I probably will one day. Maybe a proper reissue will unearth similar recordings... Oh we can dream can't we?

Personal collection
LP: 1970 Paramount

Never reissued legally, though the original LP can still be had for a reasonable sum. A gem in the rough if there ever was one.

Splash - s/t. 1974 Sweden

Splash's self-titled second album from 1974, takes the band from their American horn rock styled debut, and stretches out into 3 lengthy tracks. It gives us the listener a what-if scenario as to what Chicago Transit Authority might have sounded like were they part of the European jazz underground rather than held hostage to commercial aspirations and AM/FM radio demands.  Of the 3 aforementioned pieces, the highlight for me is the near 14 minute closer 'Sambahmadu', with its intriguing mix of Latin styled jazz rock and Asiatic themes.

Personal collection
LP: 1974 PLA

The single sleeve cover features a wonderful fantasy design. Still not reissued in any legal form.

Cyklus - Planet of Two Suns. 1979 Germany

Don't let the goofy-guys-in-the-back-of-the-VW-bus-cover scare you. Cyklus' sole album presents an interesting mix of styles. On one hand there's the typical late 70s funky fusion, with the added benefit of a high melodic quotient. This is then juxtaposed against a backdrop of the early 70s Krautrock freaky underground. In aggregate one can wire Cyklus closest to same period Aera - who they share a band member and label with. This is especially true during the time when Embryo's Roman Bunka was also Aera's guitarist. I also hear a bit of the Real Ax Band and same era Alcatraz, which can only be considered a good thing. There's some nice shredding guitar work here as well, which recalls Syncrisis (yet another fine guitar centered Kraut Fusion act) at their most fiery.

Personal collection
LP: 1979 Erlkonig

Single sleeve. Not been reissued legit on LP or CD as I write this post.

Goodthunder - s/t. 1972 USA

At its core, Los Angeles based Goodthunder are a straight up hard rock band, with folk and pop trimmings. If that's all they were about, then they certainly wouldn't be reviewed by me. No, Goodthunder weren't content to settle for lowest common denominator music to strictly appeal to the masses. With a prominent keyboardist in the band, and a wide range of dynamics, time shifts, and colors - Goodthunder somehow managed to create a sophisticated hard rock album when no one was paying attention. And the guitar is pretty heavy for the era, including some nice riffing, in an almost proto-NWOBHM metal style. Not to mention the chunky Hammond organ moments (a bit like the Krautrock Message on their first 2 albums). There's even a bit of late 60s psych carrying over, as found in the vocal harmonies. The progressive breaks are - especially given the setting - quite surprising, and it's these kind of contrasts that makes this album work on a number of levels. In some ways, you could almost compare Goodthunder to what Culpeper's Orchard were doing in Denmark. They never quite reach those highs (and who does really?), but it's definitely in that ballpark. 'P.O.W.' and 'Barking at the Ants' are right near the top of the mountain. Get it.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 Elektra

Originals are housed in a single sleeve and come with a lyric insert. There is also a CD reissue on Wounded Bird (2009) that I might pick up eventually.

Chasar - s/t. 1983 Scotland

Yes, this. This is exactly the type of NWOBHM music I'm looking for. Ambitious, yet amateurish. A clear product of the early 80s cassette culture. Some lads from Scotland get together in a room, listen to Rush's Permanent Waves, and decide on the spot to create a band in the spirit of Iron Maiden, Saxon, et al, but with a bit more creativity and free flow of ideas. Perhaps a label like Neat took a sniff, but couldn't comprehend the complexity of the music, and politely declined (in the vernacular "No fookin' way you bloody wankers"). And so the band went about releasing it on cassette, where it made a name for itself among the trading set of the day. This was then picked up by the confusingly named UK based American Phonograph for LP - except they had no metal history, and less distribution skills. Finally, now 4 years later, the ultimate bottom feeder Mausoleum decides to release it, but with a new cover and title (Gypsy Roller). And then... off into the mists of obscurity it went. And has yet to be discovered 35 years later, awaiting a proper reissue of some kind - any kind.

As noted about the music above, it definitely wears its Rush patch proudly, as well as adding some metal crunch. Nothing too heavy mind you, and there's plenty of guitar solos in the 70s hard rock tradition. One can hear the same embryonic steps that Manilla Road were taking at a similar time, different place. Another reference would be the obscure Florida based group UHF. Easy recommendation for those predisposed to these kind of sounds. And we know who we are - don't we?

Personal collection
LP: 1987 Mausoleum (as Gypsy Roller) (Belgium)

The LP above is about the only affordable copy available. For a long while I hadn't realized it was the same album, and continued to wait for a decent priced copy of the original. Duh. Well anyway, I finally figured it out, and here we are. This one isn't going anywhere for a long time.

The first scan is the cassette, followed by the American Phonograph and Mausoleum LPs respectively.

Light of Darkness - s/t. 1971 Scotland

Light of Darkness were Scottish exiles enjoying the Germany hard rock scene of 1971. Black Sabbath's debut is the first reference that comes to mind (blues based heavy fuzz guitar w/harmonica), and the vocals have a passing resemblance to Ozzy - check out 'Ain't No Place Where I Belong' as one prime example. But with a bit more energy, perhaps recalling Elias Hulk in the process. There's definitely a late era psych vibe here too, especially in the melodic/harmonic aspect of each composition. The album was not well received upon release, and thus its rarity today. But a revisionist look displays many rewards for fans of the 1971 Krautrock and UK Vertigo sound.

Personal collection
LP: 2014 Long Hair (Germany)

A rare album in original form (on Philips). The reissue comes in a fine gatefold (like the original) with a short history insert. It appears the two CD reissues on Second Battle have become difficult to source.

Clivage - Mixtus Orbis. 1978 France

The intimate nature of Fertier's Indo Jazz album Regina Astris is expounded upon here on Mixtus Orbis with no less than a full orchestra. The jazz elements are downplayed somewhat, and flute takes center stage, along with the Indian instrumental accompaniment. Some of this album gets very trippy, with echoed vocals and orchestras coming at you from speaker to speaker. There really is no other album like it, which makes it almost impossible to classify. In general, I typically find albums like this satisfying on an academic level, but not emotional. Mixtus Orbis is exceptional in that it resonates at core instincts. Really excellent material here.

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Gratte-Ciel

As I write this, no legit reissue exists in any format.

Supersister - Iskander. 1973 Netherlands

Iskander is Supersister's 4th LP, and steers the band from an insouciant Canterbury styled group toward a more traditional prog rock concept album. Still, on close inspection, one can hear similarities to their first 3 albums, and there's plenty of familiar rhythms and melodies that one recognizes from the world of Soft Machine. It's just not as overt. So if one thinks of Iskander as played by neighboring Trace, rather than the predetermined expectation of what Supersister should sound like, the album opens up in a big way given this new perspective.

Then there's the presence of American WWII vet and famed jazzer Charlie Mariano on sax and flute. He was in his own discovery phase of life, moving on from his hometown Boston and his underground psych/prog/jazz group Osmosis, and digging deep into the European scene. It appears he spent most of 1973 in the Netherlands, first jamming with flutist Chris Hinze, before hooking up with Supersister - an odd combination that doesn't necessarily gel as one would hope (Supersister weren't a jazz group for certain). Mariano was to eventually head back to Germany and jam with Embryo for a couple of years, which was a better fit for the talented saxophonist.

Overall, Iskander is more consistent than its predecessor, but lacks the charm of the early albums. Objectively though, an excellent album if you approach it on its own terms.

Personal collection
CD: 1990 Polydor w/Spiral Staircase

Oddly this one I've never owned the original LP for even though it's not very expensive or hard to find. I should probably rectify that situation. My first copy was the French press (also from 1973) that I bought in the 80s. The CD is as basic as it gets, and shares a single disc with the lesser Spiral Staircase (IMO, one many disagree with). But the sound is excellent, and to my ears anyway, is better than the recent Esoteric remasters.

Xhol - Hau-RUK. 1971 Germany

Here we find Xhol, as my imagination will have it mind you, in some smoky club in Hamburg, preferably on the Reeperbahn in the St. Pauli District. Organ and electric sax rule the roost here and no one gets to leave the club until they start seeing inanimate objects move. Psychedelic jazz blues is where it's at - especially on the sublime 'Breit'. The Garden of Delights CD is the way to go here since it introduces us to the 20 minute bonus track 'Suden twi Westen'. This track was recorded in 1974 with Hansi Fisher (of Embryo) on flute along with future Missus Beastly bassist Norman Domling. It's quite possibly the best piece Xhol ever did (and that's saying something!) and I didn't realize that Xhol were still active this late in the game. Highly recommended.

Personal collection
CD: 2002 Garden of Delights

I did once own the original LP, but traded it away for something presumably better. What that was, I cannot say. I want it back.

RUK really is an acronym, and stands for Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser. Obvious now, isn't it?

Circus 2000 - An Escape From a Box. 1972 Italy

One of the more misunderstood albums from the Italian progressive rock scene. Mainly because it has nothing in common with what one expects from the land of PFM or Banco. Circus 2000 are the European extract of prime Jefferson Airplane, but with a distinct progressive rock element similar to Julian's Treatment, Mad Curry, or Sandrose. Escape From a Box is one of the most creative albums from this niche. Laid back, sensuous, hypnotic, and mesmerizing. Resident hottie Silvana Aliotta provides the sultry, and witchy-squeaky (trademark pending) vocals. Hippy dippy opener 'Hey Man' is the only slip up, and even most of that tune works well once the instrumental engine starts to roar. 'You Aren't Listening' is seductive, 'Our Father' has intense Gothic choirs, and 'When the Sun Refuses to Shine' draws you into the vortex of another universe. Brilliante.

Personal collection
CD: 1989 Vinyl Magic
LP: 1999 Akarma

Well, the LP gatefold reissue is certainly nice looking. Would prefer an original, but this will have to do for now, given the exorbitant cost of such. I bought the CD upon release based on the reputation in various mail order catalogs of the day.

Rob Thomsett Group - Hara. 1976 Australia

Rob Thomsett is, by most measures, an ordinary citizen. He was in the military and had a successful career working for the Australian federal government. And he also happens to be quite the talented guitarist - with an enormous imagination and creativity rarely seen even among the more avant garde oriented populace. He'd played in a couple of progressive oriented bands prior (Astral Plane and Oak), neither of which lasted long and there's no recorded history. Living in the relatively isolated government town of Canberra, there was no "scene" to which to attach to, or clubs to express one's new artistic vision. So Thomsett looked inward toward the Aboriginal legends and myths. With that, he created one of those 6th Dimension type recordings we talk about often here - for more on that release see here.

Hara is the followup album, and demonstrates Thomsett moving toward a more professional type sound. Ostensibly a jazz fusion album, it still hasn't lost the magic touch that Yaraandoo had, and tracks like 'It Might Have Been - it Will Be!" and the title song would have fit perfectly on its predecessor. In other places an acoustic otherworldly vibe is brought forth. On its own accord, Hara is excellent, though it will always pale in comparison to Thomsett's master work. Well worth pursuing, especially since you can own the whole album along with the aforementioned Yaraandoo (see below).

Personal collection
CD: 2017 Now-Again (w/Yaraandoo)

Was released on LP+CD, or just the CD by itself (which is what I own - since I already had the LP reissue on Roundtable of Yaraandoo). According to the liner notes of the CD, Hara was released in 1976.

Rob Thomsett - Yaraandoo. 1975 Australia

I'd like to type out some of the liners from the LP reissue. If this doesn't get you going, not sure anything else I say will. I wish I could write like this! "Australia's burnt landscape is sketched in hypnotic washes of Moog oscillations, Bamboo flutes and tape delay. The 40,000 year-old sound of antediluvian Aboriginal folklore is channeled through Mellotron, dilatory jazz guitar solos, and Avant cross rhythms, all symbolizing the harsh and isolated landscape of rural Australia. Yaraandoo is a bold sound exploration never attempted this adventurously again with this country." Wow!

This is one trippy album, I'll tell you that. And there's some Canterbury like grooves mixed in here too and you'll hear a couple of Nucleus / Soft Machine style runs. One thing to note - Thomsett assembles no less than 9 people to play on this album. This isn't a private bedroom affair, but a full scale psychedelic work. This is one of those six dimension type albums that I love so much. The real-deal freaky underground. You'll recognize the pioneering field tapes of Agitation Free's Malesch and the otherworldly-ness of Algarnas Tradgard. For my tastes, this album is genius.

Personal collection
LP: 2011 Roundtable
CD: 2017 Now-Again w/ Hara (USA)

For Example - SWF Session 1973/Cancelled 1972. 1973 Germany (archival)

In the wake of the massive success of Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears, Germany was one of many countries to experience an explosion of horn rock bands. Round House, Emergency, and Creative Rock are a few that leap to mind. For Example was one of those brass rock bands that came from this scene, but never managed an official LP release.

Now this is one very confusing CD issue, I will tell you that. And the liner notes do little to clear things up, though the history itself is well told. But the recordings themselves are not explained well. First of all, the "Cancelled 1972" part means nothing more than there aren't any recordings here from 1972. Supposedly they were shopping for major label support for an entire year, but failed. Only a passing mention of this is told in the liner notes, and is later fleshed out in the advert for this CD release.

The first 3 tracks are the clear highlight here, and are the only ones that are truly the "SWF Session 1973" - adding to the confusion. These 3 tracks are like the best of Chicago with ripping Terry Kath like leads and complex horn charts. After a short piano ditty, tracks 5 through 12 are the real head scratcher. The credits say it was recorded at the "Horst Jankowski Studio Stuttgart" sometime in 1973 - but it's clear to be a live recording. And the audience reaction is either ridiculously over-exuberant, or it's been piped in as a phony. Now as a former high school stage/jazz band performer, I can say that the student body would often react in an overly positive way to show support (especially since we were recorded live on radio). But it doesn't sound anything like an audience at a club show, for example (no pun intended). As well, the style of music is noticeably different from the first 3 tracks. It's still horn rock, but at the other end of the spectrum. Rather than jazzy, complex brass rock, we have here a soul based pop rock with horns... ...with a fake audience. Track 13 is labeled as coming from a radio show, but it sounds like a similar live recording to tracks 5 - 12, but musically is a bit closer to the first 3 songs.

Runaway Totem - Affreschi e Meditazione. 2012 Italy

A very odd new release for Runaway Totem. Those coming to this album looking for their trademark Zeuhl sound will be sorely disappointed. It's mainly an electronic album (heavy on the brass sounds) with acoustic nylon guitars, all heavily filtered - and could almost be considered an ambient release. There are a couple of rock moments, with Italian vocals, but overall this one is a real curveball. That's not to say it's a bad album - it is indeed a very forward looking and progressive release in the truest meaning of the term. Not sure where I stand on it. Definitely not what I expected so I stand confused. Decided to sell after all....

Ars Nova - Android Domina. 2006 Japan

I realized after buying The Goddess of Darkness real time in 1996 that Ars Nova had little more to offer from a creative standpoint. Somewhere down the line I ended up with the next one The Book of the Dead, and my opinion remained unswayed. And here we are with Android Domina - a Japanese mini-LP I only bought because it was dirt cheap. Now we have the girls in full S&M regalia, and opening the album with mock orgasmic sounds. Honestly, they sound - and act - like a bunch of silly Japanese girls at a pajama party. Why they must tease the middle aged male dominated progressive rock crowd, is anyone's guess, but I suspect it is yet another "Lost in Translation" scenario. Because once that bit of tomfoolery is over, our gals get down to the serious business of keyboard dominated instrumental progressive rock. And they still have nothing new to offer. Can't dock them for the performance, it's all very good. Like Ozric in that way....

Kontrast - s/t. 1986 Germany

Kontrast was Out of Focus Ver 2.0, and at this point in their career they sounded more like Embryo than Embryo did! Kontrast band leader Remigius Drechsler had been with Embryo for about a year, so perhaps not so surprising. Strong ethno prog/jazz rock with flute, sax, stringed instruments, with Asiatic/North African melodic themes. Some fusion and more than a hint of the psychedelic. Very much out of its time, and decidedly non-80s sounding.

Personal collection
CD: 2008 Cosmic Egg (UK) w/Volume II

Volume II is a full album of archival material. A bit more loose than the album proper. I did own the LP up until March 2018, but decided to let it go, and just keep the CD.

Pig Newton & The Wizards From Kansas - Still In Kansas. 1969 USA (archival)

Still in Kansas is an interesting archival album from The Wizards From Kansas. Originally released by Rockadelic (and the version I'm listening to now) with band participation. The lion's share of the album contains essentially early versions of tracks (1969) found on their 1970 Mercury album. Though I own that album on CD, I'm not overly familiar with it, and I didn't do a back to back to hear the difference between them. Given their individual short duration, I wouldn't expect anything revelatory here. The other 3 tracks were recorded elsewhere reputedly in 1968 and 1969 with 'Clouds of Exchange' apparently being their lead-in demo song that landed them some marquee gigs. Again, more interesting than exciting.

The LP comes with 2 inserts, one a history of the band, and a second features photocopied newspaper articles and advertisements. For those that don't know: Pig Newton isn't a person, but rather it was the original name of the band. When they toured, they became known as Pig Newton & The Wizards From Kansas. Mercury dropped the Pig Newton appellation later. Even more interesting, to me at least, is that when they played live at Fillmore East in New York, they simply went by Kansas. How history could have been altered had they maintained any notoriety with that moniker!

If you're looking to hear these songs on CD, the legal reissue by Sunbeam in 2012 features them as bonus tracks, which is really what they should be (there's also a 2 LP set from the label). There are discrepancies in the dates, and the Sunbeam issue states the "early album" recordings are also from 1970, whereas the earliest date is 1969 rather than '68.

So a fine package if you already own the the primary album on LP, and would like the "bonus" tracks separate.

The Blue Bus - Your Mind's Moving Too Fast. 2001? Germany? (archival)

Honestly my BS Meter is in the red zone on this title (perhaps I should make this an iPhone app?) by The Blue Bus. I find it somewhat hard to swallow that a full LP's worth of tracks from the 60s has absolutely ZERO corroboration anywhere (including looking up band members). The album was released in 2001, by a German label with no other releases (and allegedly from the US if RYM is to be believed - but I think that is wrong (see below)), but there's no backstory of the band provided. Just a faded photo (how quaint...) of 3 dudes (not convincingly authentic 60s looking to be honest) sitting in a suburban backyard, presumably in southern California (why is anyone assuming this from Los Angeles anyway? Where exactly does that come from?). And then a German label comes along and suddenly has access to these tapes? But no story to tell? And now it's 17 years after the LP has been released, and yet nothing has emerged. Not buying it....

OK, so if having the wool pulled over your eyes isn't a problem for you, what of the music? Well, I have to agree with other reviews I've read, it sure the heck does sound like 1960s garage psych music (so kudos for that). Whoever is behind these tapes is where the real story is. I'm much interested in the provenance for certain (see below for my guess). "The Blue Bus from Los Angeles" - probably not that.

There is a website for  the label on the LP: www.vinyl.de  Go there and you tell me what you find?

This album is BS to the core.

I think here's the real story:

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...