27 October 2011

Seventh Sons - 1968 - Raga (4am at Frank's)

Quality: 3.75 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.25 out of 5

The somewhat unverified claim behind this album is that it was actually recording back in 1964, making it one of the first (if not The first) white boys ragas put to tape at a time when the Beatles still just wanted to hold your hand. If this is true, then these boys certainly deserve some props, although later folks of various colours would certainly top the achievement of sound found here. Still, this is a very groovy raga and coasts along nicely as it bops through your brain. It makes me think of that time about ten years ago when I visited San Francisco and jammed with a bunch of hippies in a century old house. If nothing else, this rather short album will likely send you into that psychic zone as well.

We've got two tracks here, although it's a casualty of a vinyl split and really amounts to one tracks. Really, the whole thing is a sonic mantra and pretty much stays in the same groove with some cycling instrumental and vocal parts wafting in and out of the mix. You've got your trance-like acoustic guitar augmented by bongos permeating the entire thirty minutes. There's also plenty of bohemian flute cropping up competing for time with some stoned, wordless chanting vocals. Honestly, that pretty much constitutes the beginning and end of this release. There's really no variation, but the gentle floating, western raga will transport the minds of those of you inclined to follow this thing.

Really, after the first thirty seconds, you'll have a pretty good idea if you're into this or not. I find it a pretty enjoyable affair, but it all comes down to a question of taste. Are you down with the manically strumming hippies or aren't you? Fortunately, the smell of this thing is more of the nag champa variety, and not that patchouli scent that makes me run out of the room in terror.

16 October 2011

Dr. Strangely Strange - 1970 - Heavy Petting

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

I suppose one of the strangest things about this collection is how addictive it is. This a relatively above average set of Irish folk rock. Typically, that wouldn't interest me too much, but this album does have a few aces in the hole. While it's squarely rooted in Irish folk, a few San Fran psychedelica hallmarks make an impact, with some of the male/female vocal leads coming across like Grace Slick and Martin Balin, as well as a few great acid guitar leads hiding away on the disc. It probably doesn't hurt that psychedelic/folk deity Joe Boyd was behind the boards as the producer. The drums in particular have an awesome, crisp sound.

While the band does stick mostly within the folk millieu, they do manage quite a few diverse sounds in that context making for a fine variety of sound on this album. 'Ballad of the Wasps' will likely become stuck in your head forever with its great melody. There are some distinct echoes of the Incredible String Band on 'Kilmanoyadd Stomp.' Although Dr. Strangely Strange doesn't quite match the manic minstrel vibe of the ISB, their result does seem more 'groovy' to me. The mostly instrumental 'Sign On My Mind' gives us a fabulous folky space rock jam. Maybe this is what mid 70's Floyd would have sounded like if they'd stuck with the folkier tunes from "More" or "Obscured By Clouds." I really dig the very pastoral instrumental of 'When Adam Delved' as well. The band finally blasts out some full-blown rockin' on "Mary Malone of Moscow,' which is punctuated with some fine acid rock guitar leads and a billowing organ.

This is definitely a top-self set of folk rockin' Irish style. I'd claim this as one of the highlights on Joe Boyd's resume. Come to think of it, I'd wager that this is more or less what the Essex Green (whose early albums we covered on this blog some time ago) was using this album as a template, especially as their sound and album cover wasn't too far removed from "Heavy Petting." Here's the gold though - it's more authentic and very groovy.

13 October 2011

Various Artists - 2000 - Stone Fox

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

When this compilation came out, I was DJ'ing at the University of Georgia and had some serious label love for Emperor Norton Records. They specialized in quirky, rubbery electronica and reissuing some of the albums that inspired it. I always tended to grab the CDs with their mark, and this one just happened to be in the free bin. I'm usually not a huge fan of the 'various artists' sort of set, but this one has always done it for me.

Arling and Cameron has the greatest presence here, They'd recently released an album of fake soundtrack music, which is represented by the Esquivel-by-way-of-Paris "Le Flic Et La Fille." Some remixes of tracks from that album also appear here, with Fantastic Plastic Machine's original mix of "Take Me to the Disco" trumping the album version, while the remix of "1999 Spaceclub," while entertaining, does not match it's album brother. Speaking of fake soundtracks, you'll hear a bit of the non-existent 'Logan's Sanctuary' with "Metropia." In the 'real soundtrack' department, there's an alternate version of Air's great "Playground Love," recorded for 'The Virgin Suicides,' lurking around here. For playful blasts of retro-electro-psychedelia, DJ Me DJ You's "Set the Controls" should hit the spot, and Takako Minekawa gives us a nice image of Bjork passed out in a Shibuya gutter with "Fantastic Voyage" while simultaneously referencing Lou Reef's "Walk on the Wild Side." Some oldies but goodies show up with a bit of homemade synthesizer guru Bruce Haack in the form of the kids' song "Upside Down," and Walter Murphy's "Dancin'" is ambiguously destined for an educational film of a sort-core adult movie- it's really hard to tell. And let's not forget, "Citroens 'n' Sitars" has sitars! Yay!

The Emperor Norton story is a tale that I think everyone might have forgotten. But I remember it, dammit! It's a little goofy at times, but I find it charming. In the top 40 of my mind, Arling and Cameron, DJ Me DJ You, Fantastic Plastic Machine, and Takako Minekawa were superstars!