Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Blackwell and Deccenium two very different bands from two very different countries do both share one major thing in common- they are not very well known even amongst the most elite of record collectors of 70s progressive/hard/psych rock yet they are two of the best albums ever recorded during that turbulent period of time which saw so much change occur during the 10 years the 1970s were around.
Blackwell came from Houston Texas which would seem an odd place for an art rock/progressive band like their sort to come out of and they were packaged in one of the year of 1970's least flattering album covers. Comprised of writers Johnny "Rabbit" Bundrick (keyboards) and Vocalist Glen Gibson along with Jimmy Smith (lead guitar), Terry Wilson (Bass), and Randy De Hart (Drums)
they were one of several bands around the 1970-1971 period to combine hard rock/progressive material with a later, more sombre British influenced popsike sound that made for an exciting mix of power and substance. Borrowing from an eclectic wide range of influences (how many bands can make you think of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, The Bee Gees, attempts at a late westcoast rock sound, and Cream on the same record?) they were obviously a unique band, unlike any other and so it wasn't long before a record company (Atco) thought they could cash in on the band's mix of ready friendly pop art and underground hard progressive rock.

Unfortunately, Blackwell weren't on Atco proper, but
the only release on the short lived subsidiary Astro records. Perhaps someone heard the group's rather dark lyrical subject matter on songs such as "Dirty Story" and decided to give them the boot, or else it just was bad luck for the band, but a lack of any kind of promotion and the label's demise as soon as it came led the band to just release this one gem.
Based around the soaring, unearthly, and haunting vocals of Glenn Gibson and tight ensemble playing they could jam with heavy Hammond B3 action, but like European bands such as Asterix and my previous write up Leafhound (From England), this lot preferred to keep it to songs. Having mentioned both these bands Blackwell were both heavier and more poppsych oriented, but obviously full on into the underground vibes that were coming from across the pond where the music coming out was much more revolutionary than most American bands of that era. Clearly a beautiful, sad, and incessantly catchy song like "Something Real" or the amazing cleverness of "Heaven Or Worse" would have made for a great chart hit and just as clearly the band could be all out art rockers with late 60s psych roots still showing on the brilliant "Dear Mr. Jupiter," "Fake," and the sad ode to suicide written by their producer "Almost Gifted" should have made them huge, should have had them not just on Atco, but right up there with the cream on Atlantic. It just wasn't to be, unfortunately for Blackwell. They may have been too good to make it in the States, and certainly music of this sort would be pretty unwelcome with all the rednecks in the South. Worst of all, with Glenn Gibson out of the picture and Blackwell gone the group would first become the poor Southern rockers Bl**ntz and then the equally awful UK based Back Street Crawler/Crawler enjoying success and raves that Blackwell never had. Such is the music business. I've tried every album I could by with Bundrick on it hoping for the magic of Blackwell to come through, and there ain't none to be had of it. So it's best just to focus on this band as they were when they were young, hopeful, and fully Anglophiles in Blackwell. Gibson is clearly the band's major strength- his voice is unique and enigmatic as he flies above the inspired, tight, flawless ensemble playing of the group. The lyrics tend towards the fantasy side and a darker fantasy side I should add. "Dirty Story" is a great anthem for the combative and depressed with the following line:
"Promise Me One Certain Something That I Have Wished For All My Life/An Isolated Deep And Dark Grave Where I Can Spend One Peaceful Night"
This whole song is full of eerie lyrics and even eerier, freakier harmonies and music. Then there's the flip side with the celebratory, joyous, all out power pop brilliance of "Wonderful." This song is  one of the best on the album- a song with a hint of the Left Banke somewhere in the melodies of a mainly power chord driven pop ode to a day of perfect happiness. Blackwell had it all. There are no flaws to be found on this record and even when they delve into jazz/blues rock free form hysteria on "Long Long Ago" they never fail to impress. The going price is around $75 and up now. Buy this album at any price you find it at as this is a truly dynamic, creative record worth its weight in gold.

Decennium is a group I picked up for $40 at a great record store out in the wilds of Eastern PA who were a dutch quintet on the small Pandora label. I know nothing about them but the superb album cover and the amazing music contained within Song Of The Sad Times, which to my knowledge is their only release. Let me know if I'm wrong there.
Where I know I'm right on is that for twin guitar led melodic progressive/psychedelic rock this album is the epitome of what made for so much exciting music in Northern Europe and England during an amazing time of revolution. When I look back to the past decades I never witnessed in musical and social terms the most strangely lopsided, opposite image time was the 70s. On one hand in Europe/England a dream of a freer, more honest, more carefree approach to life and more music for the sake of really adventurous music was rampant, but in America all was falling apart trying to keep the struggling structure of better values and better music that had been the 60s from being something wiped off the face of that country. I'm talking all the rubbish that was on the radio. Disturbing mean spirited bullshit like "One Tin Soldier" and "Run Joey Run" or the equally pop throwaway hits by The Osmonds and their ilk were the order of the day. If you wanted quality pop the best you'd get would be a miraculous masterpiece like "Precious And Few" by Climax. Basically, it was a dormant world for chart hits that were good in the early 70s, but vibrant for underground bands trying to make a living in the lean mean world of rock 'n roll. You had bands with the whole backing behind them like Smoke Rise whose album The Survival Of Saint Joan put a whole double album together of  the masterful. There were bands like the previous rant on Blackwell. You had Styx and Boston polishing their skills then in probably a few underground bands waiting till their takeover and the ascent of pomp rock as we know it in the mid 70s. Decennium didn't have to worry about chart success or no chart success. They could freely make their music without big money tiny brained American record executives telling them what to take out, and what we have here is some of the most exciting and tuneful progressive rock ever recorded. An album of 7 fairly long tracks the music is full of a similar vibe to their countrymen Cargo or bands like Northwind (Scotland) and Wishbone Ash (England) who combined jamming cooking guitars with a little bit of rural/country rock in there. There's definitely a country element to Decennium, but not like you'd hear in the dreadful Band or in the deadpan homages to early C&W Americana in The Byrds, Burrito Brothers, or Poco. Rather, this is just a more laidback and softer progressive rock with enough energy and drive to save it from the "too mellow to get out of our rocking chairs while we pass the hash" sound of folkrock. "Oriental Weeping Woman" which begins the album is full of beautiful vocals, heavy clashing guitars, and magically skilled transitions from the difficultly dexterous to the straight on attack of epic rural prog at its best. The rest of the album follows a similar path with the accent clearly on excellent songs and harmonies with long time lengths leaving room for epic jams. The use of a Fender Rhodes electric piano may occasionally bring to mind Canterbury progressive for some, but it's worked into music in a much less obtrusive manner than say Hatfield and The North or National Health. This album is still completely unknown. I honestly don't know a thing about this band other than the sheer excellence of the music contained on this album and for me that's enough. Find yourself a copy at any risk and it will be more than enough for you too.

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