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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 21 September 10, 1969

Records — Transcendental Tones

page 10


Transcendental Tones

Last time it was Blood, Sweat & Tears, this time round its Spirit with The Family that Plays Together, another gas album on CBS (SBP 473635). Line-up is bald-headed Cass Cassidy, John Locke (no relation), Mark Andes, Jay Ferguson, and, would-you-believe, Randy California. Producer is Lou Adler, a guy who's rather particular whom he works with. The sound is generally heavy and varies from the driving "I Got A Line on You" by California to Ferguson's more lyrical "Silky Sam". The music rises and falls as the songs tend to start off slowly, then explode—"The Drunkard", for instance, and "Dream Within a Dream" ('stepping off this mortal coil will be a pleasure'). I liked the funky piano on "It Shall Be" and a sort of Israeli chant from the kibbutz called "Jewish". The track switches are effective. It's all their own work too, except for the horns and strings, here and there, which counterpoint with the harsher guitar work.

A West Coast group that got lost in the rush of psychedelia from Frisco, Mad River produced a first album that didn't do much business in the States. But they're pressing on with a new one, "Paradise Bar and Grill", with guest artists Richard Brautigan (poet) and Carl Oglcsby (SDS) to gain a little more pull. Their first effort, simply titled Mad River, is here now on Capitol (ST.298g). It has all the right titles, transcendental ones— "Eastern Light", "Merciful Monks", trippy ones—"High All the Time". "Amphetamine Gazelle', and a stab at Vitnam—"The War Goes On", which is true, too. There are good sounds on it all the same: a tortured tinny voice over long dissonant improvisations; a stoned recitative leading into I'm a gazelle .... nice instrumental work on "Wind Chrmes" and "Hush Julian".

Al Kooper stands alone cunningly disguised as the statute of liberty on I Stand Alone, CBS (SBP 473674). Sample of the self-composed 'Line her nodes':

He left and she left
and they left and you 1eft
and he left and she's right
They all left ...
I was bereft.

Al recorded these tracks in New York and Nashville (not much country influence though) with soul sister vocal backing by the Blossom in Los Angeles. He handles half a dozen of his own pieces, including a four-minute hammond organ solo "Soft Landing On the Moon", with a dabble of weird sound effects a la 'Revolution No. 9' and violin arrangements a la "Eleanor Rigby". That odd song by Harry Nilsson, "'One", gets the treatment, and Kooper attacks Stevie Winwood's "Coloured Rain". Then there is this ineredible version of "Blue Moon of Kentucky" ....

Some artists have an inherent authority in performance which signifies that something of value is being produced even if at first hearing it annoys or repels. Jose Feliciano's stylings of pop songs are a case in point. Buffy Sainte-Marie has this authority. Her voice is one of a kind, with a peculiar sort of vibrato, but she knows what she is doing and produces a beautiful album in Illuminations, Vanguard (VSD. 79300). It is almost a religious statement with songs drawn from a biblical theme. Opening with a poem by Lcandard Cohen, "God is alive, magic is afoot", set to her own music, the record runs through "Mary", "Better to find out for yourself', "Adam" (by Ritchic Havens), and "The angel". Also, "Suffer the little children" ('take a little drink from the liar's cup"), a harsh anti-establishment — push-the-kids-into-society song. There are good sounds behind the voice, especially the guitar on "The dream tree". Buffy's unique vocal style is pushed further out by the electronic modulations of Michael Czajkowski, synthesised from the singer's voice and guitar. The gentle echoes on "Poppies" are very trippy.

Another lady with a voice and guitar, though not quite in the same class, is Julie Felix. She has rather odd phrasing and she comes on a bit strong for my taste. But she does have material by a first class line-up of contemporary writers on her two albums currently available, Flowers on Philips (TY886449) and The World Goes Round and Round, Fontana (TY886480). Songs by Phil Oehs, Ewan MacColl, Tim Hardin, Joni Mitchell, Donovan Leitch, and Dylan. The one I liked best was her treatment of The Incredible String Band's "Painting Box", double-tracked.

The Blues is perhaps the most monotonous from of music devised by man. It is a simple from which gives scope for subtle embellishment. It is a basic and fundamental influence on much or today's popular music. It is durable, it can very expressive. But it is in a rhythmic rut. Even the instrumentation, piano, harmonica, slide guitar, the occasional strangled brass, allows for little variation in overall sound. If you like this sound in great doses, fine, these records are for you. From my point of view, the main importance of the blues is it influences on the hard rock groups and in the tradition of folk. As the sole content of an LP it begins to pall unless played by really accomplished bluesmen. The worst effect of the late blues boom is the appearance even in recorded form of groups imitating the style of past masters without experiencing the impulse which inspired the original creators. The result is synthetic emotion. "Blues is a feelin", and unless there is some feeling to be comunicated, the blues is nothing.

One of the nothing groups is the Climax Chicago Blues Band on Parlophone (PCSM7069). They're English boys despite their name and they're derivative to little point. A thin sort of sound, they tackle Broonzy's "Mean Old World", Sonny Boy's "Don't Start Mc Talking" and Chester Burnett's "How Many More Years" as well as some self-penned pieces. The keyboard work is the redeeming feature on one or two tracks, and in fact it was only the piano/organ/celeste/harmonium of Arthur Wood, the most mature member of the group I suspect, which got through to me. The long track "And Lonely" has a soulful Procul-type grabbing organ behind some slick guitar licks From lead Peter Haycock and a reasonable vocal by Colin Cooper. They should have stuck to this groove. The last track is a ghostly honky-tonk piano instrumental called the "Entertainer"— weird! These boys deserve the support of all you blues neophytes.

Happily, Chicken Shack do not take themselves too seriously on their latest album. O.K. Ken?, CBS' (SBP473632). To link the tracks they have Stan Webb doing improvisations (Harold Wilson, Kenneth Williams, et al) which are faintly amusing in general and hilarious as the intro to "Sweet Sixteen". The Shack is a four piece, group (plenty of session help here) which has recently hit the British Charts with "I'd Rather Go Blind". Vocalist Christine Perfect has since left the group, though she sings several things on this album. Her departure will be a loss. She has that inherent authority, which shows through attractively on "Get Like You Used To Be" and "Mean Old World" (this time credited to W. Jacobs). The others handle their instruments competently and throw in an instrumental or two, like "Remington Ride". They seem to be on a rock 'n' roll kick on Burnett's "Tell Me". Stan Webb wrote something called "Fishing In Your River".

Chester Burnett pops up again by providing the name for Smokestack Lightnin', a group on Bell Records with an album Off he Wall, (SBLL 116). A certain kinship to the Box Tops can be heard They're more soul than blues (if we're using labels)—and the Blossoms are in there singing frantically. There's even a Mamas and Papas feel to some parts of the backing— which is not so surprising with the production in the hands of Bones Howe (MP's engineer), organ and piano from Larry Knechtel, and percussion by Hal Blaine. This is especially attractive on "Long Stemmed Eyes (John's Song)". The guys have a real grunter and groaner of a vocalist in Ronnie Darling who does his thing on Willie Dixon's "Three Hundred Pounds of Heavenly Joy" and Ike Turner's "I Idolise You". Art Guy is on drums, and here's Kelly Green (bass) on Ric Eiserling (lead guitar):

'Stone scorpio
Blues freak
Well read, well fed
"I went back to surfing and Bryll

We met in Hermosa Beach before it was closed by the police in 1965". There's a twelve minute rendition of Burnett's "Lightnin'" and they also treat his "Who's Been Talkin' ". It's a good party record in its way, too.

Who's king-pin these days, though? First Bing Crosby, then Tom Jones, now Elvis recording McCartney's "Hey Jude". Have you noticed the latest Tom Jones LP cover (writhing on stage with background of name in huge lights) and compared it with the sleeve of the Presley TV show soundtrack (writhing on stage with background of name in huge lights)? Verrry interesting! The King comes back. But it's clear that record covers are on a trip of their own these days. We're getting more and more fold-out sleeves even on single LP's. The Shack and the Spirit albums, for instance, out of the load reviewed here. With montages and collages and designs, which, however asthetic, are always exciting. And some taste is returning after the psychedelic splurges of a year ago. A good sign.

Look forward to these albums.

• the Blind Faith LP which has already hit the million mark in the States despite hassles over the cover which features a very relevant bare-breasted 11 year old chick. "It's the music that matters" crows the ads.

• an album by Jack Bruce, Songs For a Tailor, all self-penned with Pete Brown.

• a new album from Procul Harum, with the magnificent "A Salty Dog" as the title track.

• an album from super-group Crosby, Nash and Stills on Atlantic.

• Joe Cocker's With a Little Help LP and Noel Redding's album with his new Fat Mattress group.

In an age of supergroups and continual splits, some of the traditional four-piece combos are more together than ever. The Who have completed Tommy. Forget the Teenage opera, forget the cute Amazing Technicolored Dreamcaat, forget that Broadway thing called Hair, forget The Mothers of Invention—this is the real rock opera. This talc of the deaf, dumb and blind bay promises to be a milestone in pop history. There's a fantastic rap with Pete Townshend on the subject in the July 12th issue of Rolling Stone. No doubt it will be delayed in New Zealand because of the triple-fold sleeve and the ten page booklet that goes with it, but it has already become the fastest ever selling double album in the U.S.

Despite Harrison and Clapton gigging on each others discs (it was George On "Badge", Eric on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps") and McCartney working with the Steve Millar Band on "Brave New World" and with Chris Barber on "Battersea Rain Dance" the Beatles are still making music together. The Get Back LP, in 'rehearsal' format, has been completed some time now and is only wailing on the TV show for release Meanwhile, they've got another album ready, Abbey Road, with sixteen tracks like "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", "Mean Mr. Mustard", and "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window". UK release next week.

Things are looking up.

By the way, the experimental FM station at the Display Centre, which broadcasts in stereo, is worth a visit. Most of the heavy rock in the U.S. is aired by FM band stations.

PPS—Beethoven was a black man.