sabato 24 marzo 2018

Big Sleep - Bluebell Wood (2007 Esoteric Recordings) 1971

Biography Neither their 1968 debut Crossroads of Time nor their proggier, Quincy Jones produced follow-up In Fields of Ardath brought the commercial success Eyes of Blue so sought. Although the Welsh quintet were losing hope, their label head and manager Lou Reizener wasn't throwing in the towel yet. In his view, only a new moniker stood in the way of stardom; thus Eyes were renamed Big Sleep and set to work on their third and final album, 1971's Bluebell Wood.

Even in a time of feverish experimentation, the group had an incredibly unique hybrid sound that seamlessly stitched together pop elements, classical, R&B and blues, psychedelia and rock with incredibly tight and egalitarian arrangements. That latter was important, as every bandmember was a virtuoso, and thus each deserved the space to shine. Unusually, the group boasted two keyboardists, but forget comparisons to the likes of ELP, as Big Sleep's numbers often counterpointed lavish organ passages with R&B styled piano or electric keyboard, underpinning their numbers with a jazzy or bluesy aura. Acoustic guitars further enhanced the rich atmospheres, and usually followed the organ's lead. The electric guitars arrived well into the pieces, a further musical counterpoint that accentuated psychedelic organ passages or pulled the numbers into rock. Although there's an improvisational feel to it all, the songs are, in fact, very tightly structured, including the fiery guitar solos that wind around the keyboards. The band's pop sensibilities are evident too, especially on the catchy chorus of "Aunty James," passages within "Death of a Hope," and particularly on the clap along R&B of "When the Sun Was Out."

However, it was the epic eleven-plus-minute title track that sent prog rock fans wild, a showcase of Big Sleep's many styles and talents. Filled with the kind of dynamics that any modern emo band would die for, quiet passages give way to grand up-tempo segments, downbeat blues shift into raging psychedelia, and strings pile onto ballads before the band breaks into rock and the splendid vocals fill the air: Bluebell Wood had it all. Yet the album still failed to excite the masses. The band never even took the stage under their Big Sleep name, and folded soon after the set's release. So much talent would eventually find homes elsewhere (notably with Gentle Giant and Man), but it's no wonder the album has been long sought after by collectors. Now remastered and sporting its original artwork, everyone can venture back into this stunning Wood.

01.Death Of A Hope 5:36
02.Odd Song 3:54
03.Free Life 6:29
04.Aunty James 4:45
05.Saint & Sceptic 6:36
06.Bluebell Wood 11:26
07.Watching Love Grow 2:35
08.When The Sun Was Out 3:42

Phil Ryan - organ, piano
Ritchie Francis - bass, piano, vocals
John "Pugwash" Weathers - drums, vocals
Raymond "Taff" Williams - guitar
Gary Pickford Hopkins - vocals, guitar

giovedì 22 marzo 2018

Fat - Fat (Radioactive Records) 1970

Biography Engineered by legends Roy Cicala who worked with Genya Ravan, Lori Burton, and John Lennon, along with Shelly Yakus (spelt Shelly Yokas on the album jacket) of Stevie Knicks and so many others fame, Fat is comprised of five men who, other than this outing, appear to have remained pretty much unknown. According to urban legend, this production by Eddie Jason saw only 400 copies released by RCA. For a band coming at the end of the debacle known as "The Bosstown Sound," this actually plays better than Eden's Children and Ultimate Spinach. With a cover photo of five dudes dressed like they are going camping, no image whatsoever, these longhairs deliver a decent set of tunes, despite the fact they aren't stellar musicians. There is a spirit here, however, from "Shape I'm In" on side two, to the lengthy "Journey" and "Highway." "Black Sunday" is inspired and has a sound very influenced by Quicksilver Messenger Service. Via default they seem to have created a strange amalgam of East Coast blues and psychedelia that Ultimate Spinach was searching for. "Country Girl" has Cream riffs galore, and where you might expect a folk tune, it rocks out. Where Alive & Kickin' released the same year on Roulette and were woefully deficient on the musical side of things, these cats have a style and a sound. Peter Newland's voice and harp reflect the darkness James Kaminski and Michael Benson lay down with their guitars. Not a bad recording for a band with no look and riffs that Bachman Turner Overdrive would explore and exploit just four years later. "Duck Sweat" is the bluesy rock that the cover indicates, but "Lonely Lady" and "Mine Eyes Have Seen" take the group into other directions. An interesting artifact.

01.House On The Corner 3:06
02.Black Sunday 3:20
03.Mine Eyes Have Seen 4:11
04.Lonely Lady 4:46
05.Journey 5:02
06.Shape I?m In 2:29
07.Country Girl 5:44
08.Over The Hill 3:12
09.Duck Sweat 4:04
10.Highway 6:05

James Kaminski - Guitar
William Benjamin - Vocals, Drums
James Kaminski - Guitar, Vocals
Guy DeVito - Bass, Vocals
Peter Newland - Vocals, Harmonica
Michael Benson - Guitar

domenica 18 marzo 2018

Island - Pictures (1996 The Laser's Edge) 1977

Biography The only album by legendary Swiss group Island has recently been re-released by The Laser's Edge for the benefit of the current generation of prog fans. The biggest influence for Island definitely seems to be Van der Graaf Generator, and the band certainly approaches progressive rock from the darker end of the spectrum. In a similar fashion to VdGG, the group relies on saxophone and other wind instruments for heaviness rather than guitar, and goes for a quirky, sometimes dissonant, but strangely melodic feel. Unfortunately, the fire behind VdGG was always Peter Hammill's seething lyricism and incredible voice, as well as that band's ability to effortlessly build up into moments of raging apocalyptic fury. Island just doesn't go the distance the way their heroes do, preferring to meander along with well executed arrangements, and a merely acceptable vocal delivery. The band also evokes Gentle Giant in many of their more overtly complex moments, which can be superb at points but cold at others. While compositionally solid and often quite interesting, this isn't a release I find exactly bursting with intensity, and sort of loses me if I'm not making the conscious effort to listen attentively.

"Pictures" is the album centerpiece, and an expansive, intriguing track at that. Some very addictive themes weave in and out occasionally, along with tasteful playing throughout, but it is also bland at points. "Herold and King/Dloreth" is another long track that demands basically the exact same description as "Pictures". Ditto with "Here and Now" which opens with a nice piano solo, but then drifts back into familiar territory. Pictures does have some great moments however, but all the cuts start to blend together and start sounding the same. I found myself having to skip to each track independently to really focus on what was going on. Once delved into and examined closely, the songs begin to reveal themselves more, the problem is that I still didn't find them all that enjoyable. It demands more of a casual "Oh yeah, that bit's cool" reaction rather than invoking an emotional response, or a need to play the album repeatedly to pick up on its subtlety. Of course, this album is very highly regarded, even dubbed a true classic in come circles, so there's probably quite a few of you out there who can really get into this one. To me, it's a dense and impenetrable work without a hell of a lot of payoff for my investment of time.

01.Introduction 1:26
02.Zero 6:13
03.Pictures 16:51
04.Herold And King (Dloreh) 12:14
05.Here And Now 12:16
Bonus track
06.Empty Bottles 23:31

Benjamin Jäger - lead vocals, percussion
Güge Jurg Meier - drums, gongs, percussion
Peter Scherer - keyboards, pedal-bass, voices crotales
René Fisch - sax, flute, clarinet, triangle, voices

lunedì 12 marzo 2018

Five Man Electrical Band - Absolutely Right (1995 Polydor Records) 1970 - 1972

Biography Best known for their 1971 anti-establishment hit "Signs," Ottawa, Canada's Five Man Electrical Band featured guitarist/vocalist Les Emmerson, bassist Brian Rading, keyboardist Ted Gerow, and drummers Rick "Bell" Belanger and Mike "Bell" Belanger.

Five Man Electrical Band had their roots in an Ottawa band called the Staccatos. Rading and Rick Belanger formed the Staccatos in 1963 with Dean Hagopian and Vern Craig. After a year, Hagopian departed the group and was replaced by Emmerson, who wound up sharing singing duties with Rick Belanger. The Staccatos released an independent single in 1965 and then moved to Capitol Canada, who put out "Small Town Girl" that year. "Small Town Girl," "Move to California," It's a Long Way Home," and "C'Mon Everybody" all hovered in the twenties on the Canadian charts in 1965 and 1966 but their big break happened with the 1967 hit "Half Past Midnight"; their first attempt at stateside success came that year when they recorded A Wild Pair with the Guess Who. The album sold well and "Half Past Midnight" was released as a single in the U.S., but the group was dismissed as sounding too much like the Beach Boys.

Adding keyboardist Ted Gerow and leaving behind Vern Craig, the Staccatos released their second album, Five Man Electrical Band, in 1968, and renamed themselves after it the following year, partially at the suggestion of Rading. They continued to record for Capitol Records, traveling to L.A. to record singles such as "It Never Rains on Maple Lane." After switching to MGM and relocating permanently to L.A., the group released several other singles that received very little chart action. One of those singles, "Hello Melinda Goodbye," featured "Signs" as its B-side, which was inspired by the proliferation of billboards on America's freeways; though it garnered some airplay in L.A., it failed to do much when it was reissued on its own.

By 1971, the group was close to splitting when their new label, Jimmy Webb and Dallas Smith's Lion Records, reissued "Signs" as a teaser for Five Man Electrical Band's full-length debut, Goodbyes & Butterflies. This time, "Signs" reached number three in the U.S. and number four in Canada, and sold more than two million copies internationally. The follow-up single, "Absolutely Right," also did well, reaching number three in Canada and the Top 20 in the U.S. However, their later albums didn't receive much attention outside of Canada; "Julianna" and "Money Back Guarantee" both reached 17 in 1972, while "I'm a Stranger in Here" made it to two that year.

Absolutely Right: The Best of Five Man Electrical Band In 1973, after struggling to get another American hit, the original Five Man Electrical Band finally packed it in; Emmerson recorded using the group's name for another two years. Subsequently, he tried his hand at running a label, Perfect Records, played with the Cooper Brothers, and began a solo career upon his return to Ottawa. The original lineup re-formed in 1986 for a benefit concert and for occasional tours of Eastern Canada. Emmerson bought the rights to the group's material and released the best-of Absolutely Right in 1995.

01.Signs (LP Version) 4:05
02.Dance Of The Swamp Woman 4:01
03.Hello Melinda, Goodbye 3:19
04.Moonshine (Friend Of Mine) 2:12
05.The Man With Horse And Wagon 4:48
06.Absolutely Right 2:21
07.Coming Of Age 4:19
08.Country Girl Suite 10:41
09.Julianna 3:42
10.I'm A Stranger Here (LP Version) 3:43
11.We Play Rock 'N Roll 4:49
12.Money Back Guarantee 3:25
13.Werewolf 3:36
14.Signs (Single Version) 3:06
15.I'm A Stranger Here (Single Version) 3:22

Ted Gerow - keyboards
Brian Rading - bass
Rick 'Bell' Belanger - drums
Les Emmerson - vocals, guitar
Mike 'Bell' Belanger - 2nd drums

domenica 11 marzo 2018

Circus - Movin' On (2017 Big Pink Music) 1977

Biography This is a true overlooked gem of progressive rock by a highly distinctive and original band. As other reviewers have pointed out, in 1977 the music industry was obsessed with the punk and disco bandwagons so a largely acoustic prog band from Switzerland were unlikely to attract much attention.
The sound of Circus is highly distinctive, probably because they have neither a keyboard player or a lead guitarist. At times they sound like Gentle Giant, particularly the use of tuned percussion and wind instruments, whilst the bass and sax interplay is reminscent of Kraan. The shorter songs could almost be by a band like Supertramp - mid atlantic accents, strummed acoustic guitars and tasteful sax breaks, while the longer tracks call Zappa, King Crimson and VDGG to mind. For all of that, Circus have a sound and style that is very much their own. The first three tracks are pleasant enough acoustic rock songs. The playing and arrangements are very imaginative, but the material itself is rather ordinary and an album of material like this would be nothing to get excited about. Track 4, Dawn, is the only entirely instrumental piece on the album, and it is on this 8 minute composition that the album really comes to life. At times this could be an unplugged version of Zappa's early to mid 70s MOI with Ruth Underwood and Napoleon Murphy Brock, featuring John Wetton and Bill Bruford as the rhythm section. The whole thing is played with a surprising lightness of touch, and never becomes dark and dissonant although it does get quite avant garde. The real meat, though, is the 22 minute title track, that stands up well against any of the better known side long epics from the golden era of prog. This track has an almost Canterbury feel, shifting from section to section with a logic all of its own. It's largely instrumental, with some wordless vocals sung in dazzling 3 part harmony and an almost conventional rock song buried somewhere in the middle. The playing is exemplary throughout, and each member shows off his multi instrumental skills without too much pointless noodling.

There's something on here for fans of just about any sub genre (with the possible exception of prog metal), so I would urge every member of the forum to get a copy and give them some long overdue recognition. progarchives

01.The Bandsman 4:30
02.Laughter Lane 4:14
03.Loveless Time 5:37
04.Dawn 7:56
05.Movin' On 22:25

Marco Cerletti - bass, basspedal, guitar
Andreas Grieder – flute, alto saxophone, tambourine, vocals
Roland Frei - vocals, 6-,12-strings acoustic guitars, tenor saxophone
Fritz Hauser - drums, vibes, percussion

sabato 10 marzo 2018

Circus - Circus (2017 Big Pink Music) 1976

Biography Formed in 1972 in Basel, Switzerland - Disbanded in 1980. Coming from the NW Switzerland on the language border between the Alemanics and the Romands, this unusual quartet of musicians has a strange line-up. Hauser is one of the better percussionists (still playing but in jazz bands nowadays), and bassist Cerletti (the only non-Alemanic in the band) is certainly excellent plays also acoustic guitar. The other two, Fri and Grieder, share the wind instruments with the vocals. That's it! No KB and almost no el. guitars, at least on the first two albums. This group is one of the real gems still unknown to most progheads, developing a fusion between classical and rock much like early MANEIGE did but also includes some influences from VDGG (mostly the sax but sometimes also the singing) and also KING CRIMSON to a lesser extent. While having some success locally, they only managed three studio albums of which the first two are now on CD. Of those two albums "Movin' On" is their best but their debut is also excellent. CIRCUS is certainly recommended to everyone who loves great interplay between musicians and to progheads not afraid of a little adventure in their musical endeavours. progarchives

01.Stormsplinter 2:54
02.Nowadays 10:52
03.Sundays 6:59
04.Dawntalk 5:13
05.Room for Sale 15:03

Marco Cerletti - bass, basspedal, guitar
Andreas Grieder – flute, alto saxophone, tambourine, vocals
Roland Frei - vocals, 6-,12-strings acoustic guitars, tenor saxophone
Fritz Hauser - drums, vibes, percussion

giovedì 8 marzo 2018

Gábor Szabó - Mizrab (2006 CTI Records) 1972

Biography Hungarian guitarist Gábor Szabó have a distinctive and utterly sweet tone, albeit one imbued with deep sadness when the occasion called for it. After issuing some great records for Impulse!, Skye, and Blue Thumb in the ’60s and ’70s, he moved to Creed Taylor’s CTI label and smoothed out a bit, as per that company’s overriding aesthetic. But with Mizrab, Szabó cut the definitive version of the title track. You need this LP for that dazzling cut alone, but there are other delights here, too, even though this isn’t the man’s best full-length. (Still trying to decide if it’s Spellbinder, Bacchanal, or Sorcerer.)

Recorded in the Van Gelder Studio with CTI all-stars like Bob James (electric organ), Ron Carter (bass), Hubert Laws (flute), plus fusion drummers Billy Cobham and Jack DeJohnette (playing in a much mellower style than they did with Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles Davis, to say the least), Mizrab boasts an odd mélange of material. It starts with “Mizrab,” which is quite simply one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Szabó and company find the sweet spot among free-flowing raga rock, Central European folk, and pop jazz. Cobham’s drumming is agile and busy, touching on Latin shuffle and funk, while Szabó’s tone is crystalline and loaded with pathos. This tune never fails to trigger watery eyes and throat lumps.

“Thirteen,” another Szabó composition, is a lovely minor-key lament, as pensive and melancholy as a walk home after being fired from your job. You can hear some of Szabó’s mellifluous picking and piquant tone here in the oeuvre of former Sun City Girls guitarist Sir Richard Bishop; a high compliment. Unfortunately, that’s it for Szabó material on Mizrab. Next comes Carole King’s “It’s Going To Take Some Time,” a lightweight and syrupy orchestral jazz pop confection. You can feel the heavy hand of Taylor’s commercial directives at work here, although Cobham is always worth hearing, no matter what the context. That fluff is balanced out by a hip, Deodato-esque rendition of Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Concerto #2.” It’s a dynamic study in structure and mood, carried aloft by those rich CTI strings and Bob James’ deft arrangement.

The album closes with Seals & Croft “Summer Breeze.” This played-to-death, oft-covered 1972 hit single gets a fairly straightforward treatment, although DeJohnette adds all sorts of tasty accents and fills amid his martial-funk master rhythm and Szabó scrawls delicate calligraphy around the main melody. Again, one wishes Szabó had the clout to include more of his own work on Mizrab. Nevertheless, this is still a cool interpretation of that airiest of psych-pop baubles from the dusk of the hippie era although I’ll take the Isley Brothers’ version, push comes to shove. 

01.Mizrab 9:35
02.Thirteen 9:15
03.It's Going To Take Some Time 4:14
04.Concerto #2 7:20
05.Summer Breeze 6:06

Gábor Szabó - guitar
Bob James - electric piano
Ron Carter - bass, arco bass
Billy Cobham - drums
Jack DeJohnette - drums
Ralph MacDonald - percussion

mercoledì 7 marzo 2018

Gábor Szabó - Dreams (Blue Moon Records Digipack) 1968

Biography Gabor Szabo was one of the most original guitarists to emerge in the 1960s, mixing his Hungarian folk music heritage with a deep love of jazz and crafting a distinctive, largely self-taught sound. Inspired by a Roy Rogers cowboy movie, Szabo began playing guitar when he was 14 and often played in dinner clubs and covert jam sessions while still living in Budapest. He escaped from his country at age 20 on the eve of the Communist uprising and eventually made his way to America, settling with his family in California. He attended Berklee College (1958-1960) and in 1961 joined Chico Hamilton's innovative quintet featuring Charles Lloyd. Urged by Hamilton, Szabo crafted a most distinctive sound; as agile on intricate, nearly-free runs as he was able to sound inspired during melodic passages. Szabo left the Hamilton group in 1965 to leave his mark on the pop-jazz of the Gary McFarland quintet and the energy music of Charles Lloyd's fiery and underrated quartet featuring Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Szabo initiated a solo career in 1966, recording the exceptional album, Spellbinder, which yielded many inspired moments and "Gypsy Queen," the song Santana turned into a huge hit in 1970. Szabo formed an innovative quintet (1967-1969) featuring the brilliant, classically trained guitarist Jimmy Stewart and recorded many notable albums during the late '60s. The emergence of rock music (especially George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix) found Szabo experimenting with feedback and more commercially oriented forms of jazz. During the '70s, Szabo regularly performed along the West Coast, hypnotizing audiences with his enchanting, spellbinding style. From 1970, he locked into a commercial groove, even though records like Mizrab occasionally revealed his seamless jazz, pop, Gypsy, Indian, and Asian fusions. Szabo had revisited his homeland several times during the '70s, finding opportunities to perform brilliantly with native talents. He was hospitalized during his final visit and died in 1982, just short of his 46th birthday.

About Dreams album Gabor Szabo ambitiously pairs his outstanding quintet (featuring Jimmy Stewart) with Gary McFarland's subtle string and horn arrangements in a collection of originals, pop covers, and classical reinterpretations. The result is a sort of accessible third-stream music. Szabo has many fine moments, and provides nice spaces for the beautiful guitar solos of Jimmy Stewart.

01.Galatea's Guitar
02.Half The Day Is Night
03.Song Of Injured Love
04.The Fortune Teller
05.Fire Dance
06.The Lady In The Moon
07.Ferris Wheel

Gábor Szabó - guitar
Jim Stewart - guitar
Louis Kabok - bass
Jim Keltner - drums
Hal Gordon - percussion

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