There was for around a decade long fascination with American bands in the UK and for me these bands fell into one of two categories. On one hand there are amazing bands who just so happened to have been knocked out by CSNY in particular Neil Young and the Westcoast Folk Rock movement that also spawned much earlier The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and later some of the more "epic" sounds of Quicksilver Messenger Service and or the electric period of Bob Dylan. While I am not a fan of the Bay Area bands in general nothing was wrong with getting it together in the country or in following Dylan's trend of story telling lyrics. It really was Dylan and the Band and Paul Simon who made an impact. On bands like Northwind and Dog That Bit People and The Parlour Band the influences were of this former category and the music something that can never be matched. On the other hand there are pale imitations of Americana and bad singer songwriters like Ralph McTell were around in profusion. You unfortunately had to weed through about 50 to 60 English Leonard Cohens to get to Northwind and that other side. The painfully insincere sincerity of bad country rock albums was sadly a disease that bit a lot of bands everywhere. Where Earth Island fit in is an American band who sounded English with an American LA slant. They could have been mistaken on many of their tracks for the British Kaleidoscope which is a damned sight more splendid than the American band of the same name who brought us at least 4 albums of musical boredom.
Northwind were one of the first UK bands to become unbelievably expensive. Not only was the album at the $500 to $600 mark in 1995-1996 it was impossible to find. I first heard Sister Brother Lover.... the Glasgow Scotland area's sole album on CD and couldn't make sense of it before falling in love with it. What I heard and still hear very much in Northwind is some strange kind of sexuality and easiness- a laid back groove with a very sinuous kind of ethereal sensual power. It's hard to describe. Brian Young's voice and the combination of two guitars (Young on acoustic/electrics and Hugh Barr on electric a lot of the time slide) and organ lead to a tight and yet very carefree sound that is as commercially viable as radio could have been at that time yet which never found an audience thanks to the poor distribution of the EMI Regal Zonophone label. While their album is at times an epic work of progressive psychedelic folkrock some songs are so damned catchy that you wonder how they managed to miss a hit in the UK and how this went by without a US release. They would have been fucked because the label in the States probably would have done them no service, but on listening to my original copy and the CD Northwind continue to stun me with how much potential they had for stardom and how it all escaped them in what seems like a split second. Most American dealers rate this one really low. Well, most Yanks don't understand music if it bit them on the ass.... While a million bad private press singer songwriters and jam band wannabes get huge raves from the likes of Acid Archives Northwind aren't just unpopular with the idiots who prefer American rubbish, they're downright hated by them. I spent $500 on a copy and considered it a great deal. That's a bargain compared to the going price of 700 to 1000 for it. The album can fetch over 500 pounds! Northwind's inability to make any noise outside their Scottish rural fan base is probably both the band's and the label's lack on their part to try and build a foundation on which they at least could have had the chance of making a dent in the history of successful British bands. Scottish bands have always had a rough time of it. The few that break through are great bands like The Marmalade, Pilot, and Blue- bands that have superb songs and great memorable hits, but for every Pilot or Blue there's about 20 bands who never move out from Scotland and who perish because of that. Most of these bands unfortunately can't hold a candle to the Mainland competition and I'd be one to put Heavy Pettin', Holocaust, and earlier Tear Gas down as laughable attempts at "Heavy Scottish Style." Unfortunately, while bands like Clouds and Beggar's Opera damage our view of Scottish music there is the isolated masterpiece such as Hate or Northwind- especially the latter. Northwind's tight ensemble playing, creative arrangements, and Epic Westcoast atmospheres are the best thing this side of The Parlour Band, Dog That Bit People, and the best of The Marmalade's work, but while they are a collectors group like the first two bands just like how bizarre and sad the lack of success of those bands is with Northwind it is downright staggering. I would have to give this the "Classic To End All Classics" as there isn't one note I'd change on Sister Brother Lover... The cover is a lovely thick leather textured thing of beauty to hold in your hands, but the music speaks for itself and speaks volumes. Find it, pay any price for it, for it does not get any better.
So all my raves about UK bands probably have you thinking I hate all American bands. Well, I don't, but I must admit that I'm wholly unimpressed with most of them. This makes Earth Island as important for what they are not than for what they are. They are a band forgotten by time, neglected by collectors, and even in the current "Hype Everything" mood of dealers barely even touched. The album went from somewhat hard to find to a real rarity, but I don't even know what the current price on this gem is. I frankly don't know anything about Earth Island save for the album came out on US Phillips and was a Kim Fowley connected production making it even more shocking that nobody knows about it. Now, I won't praise Kim Fowley too much- he was a hack who destroyed the careers of a lot of talented artists, but the recording on We Must Survive by Earth Island is absolutely brilliant. Earth Island's serene beautiful 4 part harmonies meet very engaging song structures and well written environmentally aware lyrics on their one album. The sound is I would say a cross between British Kaleidoscope and some of the more forward moving American albums like say Green's excellent 1st and the softer parts of the amazing Over The Hills by Saint Steven. While most American psych is uninspired jump on the flowers and acid trip bandwagon nonsense with horrible vocals and dreadful songs if they even qualify as that here is a breath of fresh air amongst all the smog and pollution. It ain't a secret that LA had better bands, but together with Love and the great first two Doors albums Earth Island were like an American Northwind almost in the sense of being the best and getting no recognition at the time for their amazing contribution to music. It does not get better and if you love The Beatles around SGT. Pepper and Abbey Road this is compulsory listening. Particularly fans of Kaleidoscope upon hearing this would have to agree that the vocal sound is uncannily similar to that of their mastermind Peter Daltrey. I'll freely admit that I don't think American bands can do heavy psych any justice hardly ever and prefer softer more introspective bands like Earth Island, but Earth Island also are not complete softies. They have energy, they have enthusiasm, they have a strong and direct and very together sound. While most bands from the States come oozing out of your speakers with inept horrible vocals, nonexistent songs, pretentious lyrics, and a sound as outdated as a bad too much fudge and frills ice cream sundae here is something you can sink your teeth into without vomiting. An American psych band who don't make me feel nauseous is pretty rare for me. I have my favourites and I have my least favourites and if I stacked them up against England and Germany the Yanks wouldn't come close, but Earth Island are right up there with world class killers both American like Gandalf and Kak, German like Epitaph's 1st 3 albums, and all the great British psych toytown albums. This album demands attention- listen to and you'll be amazed at just how good it is. Nuff Said.