I can still remember how shocked and horrified I was the first time with bad timing that I heard Stonehouse's one album Stonehouse Creek. It was back in the winter of 2001 and I had traded my copy of Fresh Maggots for it to the record dealer known perpetually around here as "The B.F.M" which stands for "The Bastard From Maryland-" no further comments on this nasty obnoxious rip off from Hell. He told me he had a copy of Horse which was a lie and I ended up with Stonehouse. I simply didn't understand the album and- get this- didn't think it was "heavy" enough!!!! What the F*ck!!!! I hated it. Fast forward now and I don't exactly hate Horse, but I sure don't love them at all anymore and Stonehouse I'd rank as the best hard rock/bluesy hard rock/Proto Metal album ever- and one of the heaviest records ever recorded. How things do change... And for the better this time.
Some bibliographical information (is that the word?). Stonehouse became Asgard in 1972. They shared vocalist James Smith and drummer Ian Snow with that band. Ted Bartlett, the second lead vocalist of two in Asgard had also been a member of Stonehouse before James Smith. They came from Plymouth in the West Country of England and were masterminded by guitarist/vocalist/writer Peter Spearing. Stonehouse must surely be the best album on British RCA and that's against some tough competition. They are the one huge rarity on the label I've really become bent on never letting anyone ever have as I've lost the other ones. Horse is an overrated and very uninteresting pedestrian heavy psychedelic album compared to this one. Now, some people use the word "Psych" for Stonehouse while others say they are "Progressive" when they are neither. They are coming from a blues rock base which is always the right place to start for this music and are a hard rock band very nearly so hard they are early metal. Until this year my copy was a beat up piece of shit with bits of a yellowed facsimile cover pasted onto a generic inner sleeve and no real cover. This looked really ugly. To make matters worse the record was in really not good at all condition. I finally ditched it then finally got a Mint original. What a way from the copy I learned to love to a beautiful original that looks and sounds beyond love- now I am undoubtedly of the opinion this is the classiest of all British hard rock records especially from the early 70s Proto Metal scene. You'll have to give this one a chance. It's a little intimidating and if you don't know what to expect from James Smith you may be in for a major headache after your first playing of the album. Now we dispense with the personal info and go onto the music.
-Stonehouse Rock Harder Than A Monolith-
In the early 1970s in England around 1970/1971 there were a lot of blues bands who had grown tired of "My baby went and ruined my whole love" type stupid lyrics and who no longer were satisfied with a blues standard set as their major inspiration and reason for existence. Two of the best bands undoubtedly would be Leafhound and Black Sabbath the latter of which everyone knows. Even Ozzy and Iommi Ward and Butler had begun by going from British pop to heavy blues and then to their trademark slow dirge heavy metal assault as Black Sabbath. Sabbath came out of Cream and so did Stonehouse. It's a hard choice between this and Leafhound, but I'd give the #1 position to Stonehouse even though both bands are amazing. Stonehouse recorded just one album for RCA in 1971 called Stonehouse Creek. What an album!!!! With the late Ian Snow playing a tremendous round on drums and Terry Parker's foundation laying thick heavy bass on top of a solid stalking foundation you can hear Peter Spearing's blasting guitars which recall heavily Page and Blackmore and James Smith's banshee wail. Smith is the most extroverted, crazy, over-the-top dramatic singer I've ever come across on an album. I wonder if Steve Grimmett of Grim Reaper/Lionsheart and all the other lame metal screamers heard this guy and were doing a poor imitation, but one thing I do know is that along with Kal Swan who I'll discuss sometime soon he is THE BEST HEAVY METAL SINGER BAR NONE EXCEPT OZZY. James Smith screams his tonsils out in a passionate swaggering manner and the excellent, well written compositions are given an extra edge from his powerful voice. Stonehouse begin and end with the only Spearing sung track the mellow rural rock of "Stonehouse Creek" with its environmentally concerned lyric. I think it's here to trick you. Start and end mellow, but bash your head in with the whole entire rest of the album. "Hobo" sets the pace for Stonehouse with a hard driving boogie blast rhythm guitar, confident vocals bordering on the maniacal in the verses, and two passages of blaring guitars and James Smith screaming his head off. He literally goes crazy and starts wailing, screaming, howling, just letting it all out with so much passion you can't believe the guy is going to last for the whole album, but he does. I love here not just Spearing's brilliant thick fuzzy heavy riffing and Smith's outlandish vocals, but I also must give full credit to an excellent job done by the rhythm section. Terry Parker is a superb bassist and I'd say that Ian Snow who died sadly quite some years back was a great drummer. This isn't much like Asgard, but it's cut from the same adventurous cloth.
"Cheater" is another track of high pitched screaming, wailing, shouting vocals with this time around a very slow burning guitar riff which goes into a Sabbathy sounding chorus guitar/bass/drum sound while James Smith goes "CHEEEEEEAAATERRRRRR!!!!! LIIIIIIIIIAAAAR!!!! YOU'RE NOTHING BUT A CHEEEEEAAAATERRRRR!!!!! LIIIIIIIARRRR!!!" that's the closest approximation I can give you of what he sounds like. And I thought Robert Plant was the craziest singer in all of hard blues rock! James Smith doesn't sound like Plant. He's very different and he certainly isn't an idiotic talentless screech like Ian Gillan. There's no other singer quite like him, but he is coming from Jack Bruce or sometimes an exaggerated Paul Rodgers. Stonehouse were heavily, heavily influenced by Cream and Free with two major exceptions: They are much harder than Cream and also Peter Spearing wipes the floor with Paul Kossoff's inept 3 note leads. "Nightmare" which follows "Cheater" is one of the only fast numbers on the record with charging, bashing guitars, screaming vocals, and clever lyrics. Compared to what came before it it could have been a hit like Deep Purple if they had sacked Gillan for somebody who really had talent, but it's pretty intense stuff. I especially like James Smith's thick English accent and Spearing plays some tremendous multitracked guitar jams here. My pick for a single would be Side One's closing track "Crazy White Folk." Stonehouse are fairly political, but tastefully so. They don't come after you and try to get you to be this that or the other thing so the lyrics are merely a statement of fact. "Crazy White Folk" is about impoverished English working class life, petty crimes, and racism. While not in a heavy handed way addressing racial issues the song is all basically written on the idea that poverty is poverty whether you are black or white. There's more great riffing and some tasty vocals from Smith who screams a little less here although he does scream quite a bit towards the end before the last of 3 (!) guitar solos. Spearing gets every fill, every riff, every solo perfect right on this track and hardly ever slips up. He's amazing. Even if you find this kind of music intimidating admit it- you'd throw this on for some friends and they'd be asking you to play the whole record over loudspeakers and have a big party. It's catchy- really catchy.
Side Two doesn't pale at all in comparison to Side One. Some of the bluesier aspects are still in place, but the change is that James Smith sings with the same passion and also seems to be finding more ways to trick the listener with shock value even then on Side One. While he may scream a bit less that's not a bad thing- he proves he is an amazing rock singer and the killer guitar playing goes on for the whole duration of the album. Stonehouse really didn't luck out. They could have been huge, but RCA undertook no promotion for them. No singles were lifted from the album and it sank without a trace. Frankly, it's rarer than Gnidrolog's second and actually rarer than Fresh Maggots which truthfully gets blown away by two I recently acquired- Hunter Muskett's second and 9.30 Fly. "Down Down" is the first track on Side Two. The wrong listing of songs including one called "Move Away" which isn't even on here is proof that RCA did nothing for Stonehouse. "Down Down" features heavy hard bluesy riffing and some great leads from Spearing along with a strong, confident wail from Smith. It is "Ain't No Game" with strong vocals, more exceptional guitar work, and very clever anti war lyrics which will be quite a few hard rock fans' favourite track on Side Two. It's up there for me. There's some more experimentation on Side Two including an instrumental guitar extravaganza "Topaz," a Sabbath style hard rocker called "Don't Push Me," and a heavy boogie track "Four Letter Word" with more political lyrics to end the vast majority of an amazing album. "Stonehouse Creek" just to tease you again closes the album. This record is very rare. It won't be easily found, but is essential listening and give it a fair listen. Don't be the judgmental idiot I was on first listening and think just because the songs are real songs it isn't "Heavy" or that James Smith is too histrionic- flamboyant or passionate are better words. This is the best hard rock record ever with spectacular songs and everything else needed to make it an astonishing record.