23 December 2010

Gary Lewis - 1967 - Listen!

Quality: 4 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.75 out of 5

Gary Lewis was the leader of the Playboys, a group I have to admit I know absolutely nothing about, but it's clear from this LP that the man knew how to make some great sunshine pop on his solo outing. Lewis' voice belongs to the A-list, the musical side of the songwriting is generally top notch, and the better tracks here rival the work of Curt Boettcher or the Beach Boys. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that the legendary Jack Nitzsche was on hand for the arrangements. That rarefied late 60's L.A. pop-psych production sheen is on full display here as well. It's a shame this album didn't share the charts with folks such as the Mamas and the Papas or Spanky and Our Gang - the chops are certainly present and I'd be willing to say that this is a stronger album than those groups typically managed.

There are many fine tracks present here. A few of my favorites are the opening widescreen pop blast of "Jill," "Look Here Comes the Sun," which managed to rip off the Beatles' title before the Beatles had even written their Abbey Road song, and "Angel on the Corner," which could have fit perfectly onto one of the Beach Boys' late 60's LPs. There's an early attempt at country rock with "Reason to Believe," and a bit of a doo wop vibe on "Young and Carefree." Only the bubblegummy "Happiness" comes across as particularly annoying, and the production sheen almost makes me want to give it a 'get out of jail free' card.

I don't typically see this album trumpeted as an A-list sunshine pop LP, but it really is one of the better ones I've come across. Be prepared for an overdose of happy vibes, but that's almost always a prerequisite for this sort of album anyway. Truly I say unto you... Listen!

David Hemmings - 1967 - Happens

Quality: 3 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5

Actor David Hemmings, best known for his starring role in the classic Blow-Up, accepted the call that many other actors have heard, and attempted to cut an album. Fortunately for us, it's a psychedelic folk-rock oddity - certainly of more interest to my loyal blog readers than the musical rantings of Bruce Willis or David Hasselholf (although the latter's drunken video rantings are worth a listen). The main thing holding this album back from greatness, however, is Hemmings voice. Actually, his tonality and expressiveness are pretty solid, but I'll be damned if the man ever managed to sing a note in key. But this album fortunately has a few perks to get your attention. Hemmings enlisted Byrds Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman to help out along with their manager Jim Dickson, along with a pretty fine outtake from former Byrd Gene Clark.

This album basically carves up into three slices. We get a cover of Gene Clark's "Back Street Mirror," which is a great track, and some pretty good folk-rockin' takes on Tim Hardin's "Reason To Believe," and Bill Martin's "After the Rain." There are then a few versions of tradition folk songs, which are perfectly listenable save for the fact that Hamming can't quite hit the right note. They definitely don't compare to the Byrds' takes on traditional folk. When a few of the aforementioned Byrds do show up on "Good King James," "Talking L.A.," and "War's Mystery," they seem to being trying their best to recreate Tim Buckley's Goodbye and Hello, which would have worked out much better if Hemmings had perfect, or even ok, pitch. Well, maybe "Talking L.A." is more like Hemmings trying to sound like Jim Morrison if he woke up one morning and found himself Bob Dylan. On the plus side, you do get a large serving of McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker playing in its prime. You probably won't feel the need to append these tracks to Younger Than Yesterday or The Notorious Byrd Brothers, but they do make for a nice curio.

David Hemmings solo LP is far from an embarrassment, and serves as a hip signifier of the Summer of Love, but I would like to send him Auto-Tune through some kind of time transportation machine (and this is coming from a man who typically loathes Auto-Tune). Byrds historians of course must hear this, and they won't necessarily have a bad time either. That said, for Hemmings at his best, go rent Blow-Up.

Daevid Allen - 1976 - Good Morning

Quality: 4.25 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.25 out of 5

This solo album from Gong luminary Daevid Allen date from about the time that he originally left that band. Unlike the earlier solo album Banana Moon, this album has more of a stylistic consistency, focusing on a kind of pastoral space folk-rock. Granted that description has enough adjectives to make listening to this worth anyone's attention, and as usual Allen does make a few detours. Gillie Smyth of course contributes some vocals, and I'm pretty sure percussion whiz Pierre Moerlin is artfully banging around on the vibraphone at a few spots.

The opening duo of tracks does a phenomenal job of establishing the space folk groove. Allen does sound a little reigned in here, and the atmosphere reminds me a bit of the quieter tracks from Pink Floyd's Meddle. "Spirit" starts out sounding like an outtake from the Beach Boys' Smile before shifting into another section that features some entertainingly menacing vocals from Allen. "Have You Seen My Friend" and "French Garden" return to more pastoral fields, but this time with a healthy dose of freaky 70's analog synthesis. "Wise Man In Your Heart" goes for the epic vibe of the more relaxed extended tracks on Gong's You. It's not as good as those classic tracks, but very few psychedelic prog songs are. After a brief slough through music hall kitsch on "She Doesn't She...," we get CD bonus track "Euterpe Gratitude Piece." It's a foray into Berlin School electronics that doesn't quite fit with the rest of the album, but I like it and it does provide a nice sonic mindbath to close things out on.

Although Gong's early to mid 70's albums are the main event for fans of Caterbury psych-prog, Daevid Allen did a fine job of staking out a little patch of personal sonic space on his solo albums. Good Morning is no exception. There's no doubt that this is the same man that fronted Gong during their golden years, but it's definitely not the same thing.

16 December 2010

Daevid Allen - 1971 - Banana Moon

Quality: 4.25 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5

Daevid Allen is best known as the ringmaster of Gong's more psychedelic periods (as opposed to Pierre Moerlin's jazz-rock version of the band), although this LP dates to a period before Gong had really coalesced as a band. As such, the sound is very much in transition between Allen's involvement with the psychedelic ballroom sounds of the early Soft Machine and the prog freakout of Radio Gnome-era Gong. In fact, Robert Wyatt of the Soft Machine makes a few appearances here as does Canterbury scene standby, Pip Pyle and Allen's special ladyfriend and Gong fixture, Gillie Smyth.

Side one of the album seems to reflect some of the more 60's forms of psychedelia, while the second side anticipates what Gong would be doing in a few years. "Time of Your Life" is an awesome, full-tilt acid rocker, propelled by what is some of the best drumming I've heard out of Robert Wyatt (who also sings lead on "Memories"). "All I Want Is Out Of Here" makes me think of the Muppets' Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem after Animal made them all take the brown acid, an "Fred the Fish" is the only track on this album that I'd like to take out back and execute. I can't find anything saying that Kevin Ayers is taking on the vocal for "White Neck Blooze," but if that's not him, then Daevid Allen must have a Kevin Ayers aping superpower or something. It would have fit seamlessly on Ayers' similarly titled album, Bananamour. The end of this song also engages in some entertaining, stoned-out absurdity. "Stoned Innocent Frankenstein" and "I Am A Bowl" would not have been out of place as poppy highlights on a Gong album - although 'pop' is a relative term here as the songs are still pretty far out there. For the total freakout mirror of Gong, we get the twelve minute long "& His Adventure in the Land of Flip," complete with Gillie Smyth's cosmic bellowing and Allen speaking gibberish. I think it comes close to the deranged level of Frank Zappa's "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet."

This is every bit as essential as Gong's early albums such as Magick Brother and Camembert Electrique. Actually, I prefer this album to the latter - it also gets bonus points due to Robert Wyatt's drumming contributions. So yeah, stick this one in your ear.

Sagram - 1972 - Pop Explosion Sitar Style

Quality: 4 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.5 out of 5

...And so my sitar obsession continues. Here we have so British boys coming together to play with the sounds of India. Sagram consisted of a sitar, guitar, and tabla combo, and sitarist Clem Alford apparently spent time in India receiving some proper training. I'm sure an Indian musicologist could find some fault with this music in respect to formal structure and such (I did notice that "Morning Glory" pretty much directly quotes the Beatles "The Inner Light"), but it all sounds pretty good to my ear. The cover art suggests straight up psychedelic exploitation, but the music is something entirely different. There's not many pop or rock sounds on this LP, if any. I love psychedelic exploitation art, but usually find the music included to be crap, so I consider this a nice surprise even if the art and music don't match. And no, the well-mustached harem king on the cover is not a member of Sagram, although it would be kind of awesome if he was.

While the music here is very well performed and pleasant, the sounds are pretty uniform. You certainly won't hear the variety you might expect from someone like Ali Akbar Khan or Ravi Shankar. It sounds kind of like the house band at a groovy Inidan restaurant in London, with the music floating on well-played, but non-confrontational table grooves - the better to digest your curry, y'know. "The Universal Form" does manage to take a different direction, propelling itself on a much airier, ethereal sound.

While there's nothing here to write home about, this is a very enjoyable album for you sitar fans to explore. As a side note, the musicians here also made up the backing band on the Magic Carpet LP, which you'll find here. There's a lot more Western influence on that one, but Sagram finds a more comfortable home on my turntable (well, mp3 player really).

14 December 2010

File Hosting Services

Ok, my Rapidshare account is expiring, so I'm very open to using a new hosting service. I know a few of you have mentioned some others to go with, but if you could comment here, that would be most useful. Thanks!