Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Nothing to trash or slander this time just pure complete brilliant great music. Back in the 1960s and 1970s there were some of the best bands and worst bands and together with solo artists the voice was often a reason for why they were brilliant or why they were dreadful. It probably isn't a surprise that some of the most commercial bands had the best singers whilst some of the most "progressive" or the wrong kind of "psychedelic" had the worst. It would be hard for Grace Slick to hold her own against someone like Linda Rondstadt and The Stone Poneys were always miles better than The Jefferson Airplane. The same goes even more for male vocalists. The psychedelic boom in England differed from that in America in that the whole bedrock foundation upon which British Rock was built was completely unlike the American psychedelic rock of the same era. Most British bands began as beat groups or began as pop groups. Most American bands began as garage rock or folkies who went electric when Dylan did- a big difference. A lot of American psych is great and a lot of it is grating. Many of my favorites don't get rated too highly because they took more of a pop/rock approach to psychedelic rock and were more influenced by bands/artists/sounds from "across the pond." That isn't to say that there aren't great bands that sound "American," but the wrong kind of American is pretty hard to listen to. Macho and you say you're a "hippy?" No way. Most British and European bands both successful and unsuccessful in the 1960s through the 70s didn't have an ulterior motive. The music and fun was the reason for making it not to make a quick bundle of cash off of a "product."         
       You have to understand that a commercial British band like Magic Lanterns really came from a soul/beat background and that they were making music that may have sold at the time better than a lot of other artists did, but that it has stood up better when you hear it now. I'd go straight for SHAME SHAME and pick this album up if I were you. I own the American version of it and since the title track was a huge hit in the States it may only have been released with this track listing in the States. Magic Lanterns DID NOT contain THE Ozzy Osbourne and it's sad that the main selling point dealers use isn't the music contained herein but that a guy looks like Ozzy, but isn't Ozzy. For one thing Ozzy didn't play bass and for another his real full name is John Osbourne with a "U" not Mike "Oz" Osborne with the "U" taken out. More interesting than any of the lying "Ozzy's first band" claptrap is that of the two lead vocalists in the band Jimmy Bilsbury would just a year later go to Germany and form Megaton! So if you're looking for an explanation for that great little album's hooks and killer vocals it was Bilsbury doing Paul Rodgers and Robert Plant!
     Jimmy Bilsbury cowrote all tracks on Megaton, but Magic Lanterns didn't write their own material. That doesn't detract. In fact there isn't anything that detracts. The music has a bit more of an edge to it than other great British pop, but also there are some soul influences particularly in Bilsbury's classy vocals. Of the two singers Bilsbury sings the grittier stuff and I think it's "Bev" Beveridge who has a smooth very English voice that reminds me of Mick Richardson in Forever Amber. Perhaps Forever Amber sans psych adequately describes songs like "Impressions Of Linda" and "Brunette Lady," but I would say there are some psych undertones to the tracks on the album and I'd also have to note that of the 12 selections I wouldn't change a note or line in all 12 of them. This is solid great stuff. Yeah "Pussy Willow Dragon" may be a twee track, but I'll take it any day over the garbage that some other bands went for when they were trying to be clever.
   The beat boom had its survivors who barely survived like The Koobas who were already throwing the towel in when they made their record and it had bands like Vanity Fare and Magic Lanterns who were determined to make it no matter what they had to do. In both cases had they been writing their own material it would have lasted for one or at most two albums of solid melodic hard rock, but the outside material meant they made great pop/rock that was far from AM radio cannon fodder. There's no Jimmy Webb or Association covers on SHAME SHAME just strong quality real music with catchy melodies and fantastic arrangements. "Impressions Of Linda" is one of the most perfect songs I've ever heard and is a great way to start the album. The harmonies are amazing and the lead voice is very sympathetic, crystal clear,  and devoid of pretensions. "Shame Shame" follows and why the song has been forgotten by radio since shortly after it was a huge hit completely eludes me. There are two versions of "Shame Shame" and Magic Lanterns' hit version way beats out the previous flop by Thee Prophets. There's some songs on the SHAME SHAME album that try for clever vocal themes and one of the standouts is the closing track on Side One "Give Me Love." This track tries to not just say love and sex are the answer to everything, but that from the dawn of history on through Napoleon it has been the reason for existence. The whole second verse about Napoleon and Josephine is priceless. Napoleon is smiling down on you Magic Lanterns! It says that Napoleon won every battle he won because Josephine seduced him before every one of them! "Never Gonna Trust My Heart Again" is the 3rd track on Side One and would have made a great follow up single to "Shame Shame" with some very appealing vocals from Bilsbury and horns used tastefully, even bordering on somewhat experimental. Magic Lanterns only had one hit in America and unfortunately in England they also never rose above a cult following. Most bands would have given up, but they stayed together for a long time and made several elusive records that I've never even seen in England. They came from Lancashire and that puts the whole Ozzy thing firmly in the ground as Ozzy/Sabbath were all Brummies (that means from Birmingham).
     My favorite tracks on the album? "Impressions Of Linda" definitely great pop psych that should have been on a Rubble compilation is one. "Shame Shame goes without saying. There also is "Out In The Cold Again" on Side Two which leaves me breathless thanks to the sharp guitar chords and Jimmy Bilsbury's amazing soulful voice. A Really great pop/rock track with muscle. I used to hate the closing track "When The Music Stops" and condemn it as "overblown," but now I see that the art song attempt has its merits and really is a good song with a lot of serious ambition to it. You may hear from a lot of dealers that this record is common, but it actually despite the huge promotion put into it at the time and huge pressing is surprisingly hard to locate. You should scour every record store for it or search for it online and find it for cheap.
    Your $25 on this is gonna buy you much better music than $5,000 on Apple's An Apple A Day which just doesn't work. Just like the much more progressive and psychedelic FOR FOX SAKE by The Fox SHAME SHAME isn't given a fair chance or a fair rating simply because there are American copies around sometimes. Apple I have never seen. I would love to hold it in my hands, but the truth must be faced: Apple had a few wonderous tracks like "Buffalo Billycan" and "The Other Side" with a whole lot of boring filler material thrown in. Had Apple been a band with a more substantial track listing they may have gone further and the rarity is partly because Apple were just another band who didn't take off. I've always wondered about just how small the pressings were in countries like England, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, The Netherlands if the label wasn't behind the band. A safe guess would be brutally small.
    Here then is an exception as it came out in America and not just that it had a big hit to make them press a whole bunch. This won't be in a "prove it exists" file for long if you look hard enough.  The slight psychedelic edge and vibe of Swinging London makes this album a real winner and one of the best pop albums ever made. Even "Pussy Willow Dragon" is good with its way sub Move pop psych and the soul oriented stuff like "Sarah Wear A Smile"and "Missing Out On You" is great.
     Renia never had a hit. Blame that on a melodic rock/progressive blues rock band on a folk label (Transatlantic). Comprised of brothers Peter (keyboards/vocals) and Malcolm (Bass/vocals) Sutherland, John Robinson (guitars/vocals), Kenny Stewart (lead vocals), and Dave Matthew (drums) they lasted long enough to make FIRST OFFENDERS which could be the best melodic progressive rock album ever recorded by a British band. The great hooks and melodies are abundant in every song. The commercial vibe and Free like bluesy rock influences sound great when paired with the brilliant songwriting and great vocals and there is a happy, friendly atmosphere to the whole record. I've written a few raves on this album before, but here I'll go into detail.
   The liner notes on the back are from the heart and not just a gimmick to sell the record. In fact, Renia's FIRST OFFENDERS is one of the rarest and most poorly promoted British records especially of the early 70s. The songwriting is up there with the best and I actually prefer this album to Dog That Bit People. My major complaint about Dog That Bit People I have said is that it simply tries too hard to cover too much ground and please everybody. This album has more of a really melodic progressive hard rock direction to it from start to finish.
     Renia stick to a solid program of Free influenced melodic hard rock and soaring melodic progressive pop/rock on FIRST OFFENDERS and they remind me a bit of Fable or England if they went commercial and there is nothing wrong with commercial when the songs are this impressive. "You'd Best Believe It" is about everything going wrong for a guy, but in a humorous kind of a way and you can just lay back and have fun listening to it. Renia make you want to crank the speakers up and dance. They have an infectious quality and will pick you up when you feel really down. I'd say play this and Mike + The Mechanics and you can't go wrong. There aren't any Genesis influences, but in the same way that Mike Rutherford was trying to get away from the shlock of later Genesis Renia are trying hard to play progressive rock devoid of pomposity. That may sound hard to do, but this is Shape Of The Rain and Fable styled progressive rock not Beggar's Opera or Curved Air crap. There is a big difference.
     Nowhere near as heavy in fact not heavy at all when compared to Leaf Hound Renia are almost a pop Leaf Hound or Leaf Hound if they'd lasted long enough to mellow and mature. That group weren't given even half a chance. Decca fucked my good friend Pete French and Leaf Hound over and destroyed their career, but Pete French rebounded. Unfortunately, when lead vocalist Kenny Stewart rebounded in Dirty Tricks after Renia he developed a bad habit of screaming his head off in blatantly poor Robert Plant imitations in the Led Zeppelin wannabes Dirty Tricks who after a good start became just another bad broken down loud blues band.
     The blues influences in Renia are subtle, but Free often come to mind for Kenny' s awesome singing and the catchy earthiness of the songs on FIRST OFFENDERS. The best tracks are hard to choose, but a lot like "Friend Out On The Road," "Shelter," "Cowboy's Dream," and "Slow Down" beat the living shit out of most of what was popular on the radio at the time. To Hell with The Doobie Brothers and Lynard Skynard this is real music. Yeah, I'll readily admit I prefer European and British bands to successful American music in the 70s, but there is a good reason for that. Most of the best American bands of the 70s commercial or uncommercial failed to make it because of poor promotion and record label skullduggery, but there are exceptions.
    I always break into a smile hearing Daryl Hall And John Oates because their music is so tasty. Both of them would love Renia. Soul influences can hurt if the guy is trying to be James Brown, but if he's trying to be Steve Winwood or Motown it can be brilliant. Winwood has a perfect voice, but even he would go in a bad direction later on when he resurrected himself as out and out pop around 1987. "While You See A Chance" and the album it came off of ARC OF A DIVER are undoubtedly his best after the best of Traffic. Traffic, Free, a little Deep Purple without obnoxious Ian Gillan, earlier Spencer Davis Group Steve Winwood, it's all here and it's really brilliantly done. I like Free, but I don't own any of their records. I tend to think that Free always sounded like a band who may have been better if their sloppiness had translated into excitement more often.
      John Robinson in Renia is a pretty slovenly guitar player, but he sounds miles better than Paul Kossoff did. There also is a bit of Spooky Tooth and Uriah Heep in the driving organ and piano, but not with the heavy metal bombast of those two bands. What Free, Uriah Heep, Spooky Tooth, and Traffic have in common with Renia is the high energy and a great heart with a lot of soul put into the music. Every track is amazing on here and some of the harder rocking ones like "Breakneck" and "Drive Me Wild" are tuneful hard rock at an absolute best. "Mighty Queen" closes the album on a splendid note with awesome vocals and an amazing melodic sense. There is no doubt about it- Renia are the best kept secret of 70s British melodic rock.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


It's amazing what a period of time, if long enough, can do to a person's taste and even do to their whole lifestyle. Back in 1998 I was harping away about losing my copy of the travesty called NOVA SOLIS by Morgan you are about to hear me trash and then two years later after getting it the previous year it was my favourite prog album and I found England's GARDEN SHED to be horrific. There couldn't a wronger opinion or a worse take on what progressive rock is all about. I spent years trashing England even after I disowned Morgan to a certain extent. I also spent years just collecting records in the right way and not going crazy with them and falling into a trap that leads to depression and illness. Maybe my love of England and determination to go back to a collector and not an addict is a sign that I WILL come around. I certainly hope so.
         -Morgan's NOVA SOLIS The Worst Insult To Progressive Music There Is And Will Be-
    Prog Rock as it is called is probably the most double-edged music form in all genres of rock and whilst I can say that "Heavy Metal" is mostly by definition bullshit Prog Rock is mostly brilliant, but that said it can be just as bad. That's where Morgan come in. Formed by ex members of The Love Affair Morgan Fisher (keyboards) and Maurice "Mo" Bacon (Drums) they soon found themselves a group and recorded this stale as a loaf of bread left on a street corner for 2 years album in Italy although the band were English. Their overbearing brand of prog rock not surprisingly has some things in common with the worst of Italian prog, but I don't think even that was this bad. Since the Italians love noodling more than anything else it probably isn't surprising that Morgan had a lot of encouragement there. Their line up unfortunately and disturbingly contained the once brilliant Tim Staffell on vocals who had been Freddy Mercury's precursor in Smile- the band that became Queen once Mercury came in. That this is the same Tim Staffell who was so good in Smile and sounded great with Brian May's guitar was one of the biggest shocks when I heard this album again.
    I can't believe I ever saw anything in one note of NOVA SOLIS as there isn't one second here that isn't cluttered up with nauseating drooling synthesizers, strained pompous vocals, and humorlessness turning this album into something I can't even listen to. Morgan Fisher is the most tasteless  boy-with-a-toy-synthesizer keyboard player I've heard, is totally unmusical, and his tendency towards inconsequential little noises and sounding like he is masturbating with his synthesizer puts even other bad keyboard players who fell victim to the worst indulgences of a synthesizer to shame. The fact is that rarely is a synthesizer tastefully used, but rarely is it on this level of tasteless. There is no guitar in Morgan except the occasional acoustic being strummed by Staffell so Fisher gets to dominate all of the 4 tracks mercilessly and the whole album is based around him not surprisingly. Also, Morgan are a band with a NO SENSE OF HUMOR RULE. All the lyrics to the 3 tracks on Side One and sidelong epic disaster title track on Side Two are the wrong kind of over serious. Sometimes German bands or Dutch bands or even other British bands are dark and disturbed, but this album sounds gratuitously so in a Holier than Thou Heavier than Thou way. I've heard bad lyrics that make me laugh hysterically, but Staffell's pompous jottings made me instantly hate NOVA SOLIS even more hearing it again with a feeling of pain deep within my soul. I put this album straight in a big pile, but not as big as it was in the past, to go to the one person I deal and I can't imagine what his reaction is gonna be to NOVA SOLIS if he plays it except that I seriously doubt it will differ from mine.
    So with all I've said against Morgan did they have anything going for them at all? Is there one little ray of hope here that suggests the word "music?" No. From the pretentious opening track "Samarkhand The Golden" there are even overt traces of a middle finger to the progressive audience and not just the genre itself. This is so offensively bad both musically, vocally, and lyrically that how I ever thought it was good is something I'll never be able to fathom. You can skip over this album and never hear it and be a much happier person. I wouldn't recommend this to even the most die hard progressive freaks who specialize in boring Canterbury prog bands like Egg or their next venture National Health. Egg may have been bad, but they were a lot better than this! While I'm at it let me tell you about Morgan Fisher again. While Egg were organ oriented there is no classic Hammond B3 on NOVA SOLIS and if you, like me, think Morgan Fisher did irreparable damage to Mott The Hoople when he came in (except for when they became Mott with a new singer and the guitar really took over again) just imagine the worst aspects of their later work with no guitar at all. Egg possessed a truly gifted keyboard player in Dave Stewart and their problem was a lack of good songwriting. If you want tastefully done all keyboard progressive rock Morgan is going to make you long for a guitar to come in with screaming feedback and high velocity soloing before you even get through the first track. Avoid this album at all costs and put it right down there with Warm Dust and Deep Feeling (the 1971 album/group) as the worst ever. I've yet to hear something as dire as this except for those two within the progressive genre and I'd put the easy listening cocktail jazz of Samurai on Greenwich above Morgan. At least Samurai is pleasant and has a sense of fun. Unpleasant and humorless Morgan is not what progressive rock should sound like. Tim Staffell seems so obsessed with death and destruction that it seems like he is being sadistic towards you and just trying to bring you down. He definitely doesn't sing like he did in Smile instead opting for a histrionic approach more reminiscent of Martin Griffiths in Beggar's Opera. Musically speaking, Morgan make me long for Emerson Lake And Palmer as there was a true virtuoso in Keith Emerson even though he often went over the top. There are no similarities to ELP as Morgan is fully synthesizer driven and seems to be attempting some kind of bombastic electronic music that makes Kraftwerk sound brilliant to me who doesn't like their music much. Avoid this album at all costs. It certainly isn't worth spending as much time looking for it as I once did and you might if someone pointed you in the wrong direction to pick this one up.
          -A Band Called England Make The Best Ever 3 years Too Late, But Still Great-
    Now this is an album that I trashed for years and found "terrifying" that must be an album I missed the point of and underrated more than any other album in the history of my listening to music. England are another 4 piece band, but that's where any similarity with Morgan abruptly ends. Guitarist/vocalist Franc Holland, bassist/vocalist Martin Henderson, keyboard player/vocalist Robert Webb, and drummer/vocalist Jode Leigh comprised England and they were a band of high spirited, intelligent, and thoughtful musicians who could write out of this world material and add to that the fact that all 4 of them can sing lead!!!! England would have made a big splash in 1973 or 1974 which is when this album sounds like it was recorded, but not only was 1977 too late for recording such a symphonic and grandiose progressive pop masterpiece it was the year that punk destroyed music. In 1977 a lot of bands were about to go out the window for a period of tastelessness and gimmicks that Ray Davies summed up perfectly in his parodies of punk. He even wrote a song called "Prince Of The Punks" to show his disdain and Ray Davies and The Kinks were on Arista at the same time as England which is a funny little coincidence. Arista didn't really ever buy into punk. In fact, when the label launched a mega successful act several years down the road it would be Air Supply! So it may not be a surprise that Arista gave England complete artistic freedom on their one album GARDEN SHED and no band could have done more with that freedom.
       England are very much a pop group at heart with a knack for filling heavy progressive/symphonic rock compositions up with great melodies, soaring vocals, and really daring imaginative structures. Their album is disciplined in all the right ways and never sounds stiff or mechanical. Their songs are prone to sudden changes in mood, melody, and atmosphere which together with their amazing musicianship bring to mind the three number one prog rock bands: Yes, Genesis, and Camel. If you love those bands you can't go wrong with England although the one thing that may put you off are the strong pop leanings which for me are a big plus. Jode Leigh plays drums and percussion with a devilish fury at times and at other times with the dexterity of Mike Giles and Phil Collins. Robert Webb's clever and majestic keyboards bring to mind a fun loving Tony Banks and Rick Wakeman at his best in Yes. Bass player Martin Henderson is melodically creative and plays with a driving forcefulness like Michael Rutherford and Chris Squire. Guitarist Franc Holland is just as important to England's music as the keyboards and bass playing with a keen sense of melody and power throughout. Add to that the excellent and devoid-of-pretension vocals and this is progressive rock heaven!
      At times I'm reminded of earlier bands in the outdoorsy/pastoral progressive vein when the lovely melodies are flowing, but when England get heavy they get heavy. I was probably put off by some really dark lyrics to songs like "Midnight Madness" and the over 16 minute long take on The Picture Of Dorian Grey "Poisoned Youth," but England were never a band who suffered from a lack of humor and "dour" is a word that does not apply here. England are only sad in that their England that they named themselves after has turned into something of the distant past. The whole look, sound, and smell of this record is the great wonderful England that is dying off fast. The soldiers are sick of fighting in pointless wars. The country is divided and losing all sense of what it is all about. The crime rate is horrible. People are beginning to develop bad greedy behaviors like the worst of America. Can England be resurrected? Can the true real England come back? I'd say that if the people start trying harder they can bring England back to its former glories, but the music and literature for now along with the aesthetics are keeping it alive and don't fear for one second that we're gonna lose that.
     England the band have a sense of fun that helps out immensely and they also are one of the most ambitious bands ever to play progressive rock. Take for instance the two longest tracks the amazing "Three Piece Suite" and the ominous yet also very melodic "Poisoned Youth." Both these tracks could easily pass for epic suites with their unique and clever songs-within-songs structures. There are about 6 songs in both of these tracks and the instrumental passages are full of melody and devoid of self indulgences. The vocals are great throughout with an emphasis on perfect melodic phrasing and complex harmonies. How could I not have loved such a wonderful album!? There are no weak links on this record and "Midnight Madness" would have Genesis smiling despite a darker lyric than nearly anything they were doing post Gabriel. The Genesis comparison is more in the keyboards and strong melodic sense. The band that influenced England more than any other band I can think of is Yes. Some would argue with me about Yes, but as I see it they are together with Camel and Genesis the Gods Of Progressive Rock. If you come close matching the magic they had at their best you must be doing something right. England have the harmonies, melodies, and essence of Yes and I'll fight that they aren't a "cloning" kind of a band like a lot of people say they are. The obscure band Kestrel also come to mind in a big way as does Aussie band Headband. Both these bands also had the same kind of melodic magic that England have and its really sad that so many great bands with so much potential go by unnoticed. Give England a chance. They'll open your mind and they'll blow it to rebuild it again and make you appreciate the magical splendor of what England the band and England the country are all about.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Walpurgis QUEEN OF SABA An Idyllic Little Dream From Germany That Takes You To A Strange Land

Most German "Underground" or "Progressive" labels in the early to mid 70s put out an alarming amount of high quality music and the scene was overflowing with great bands from all over that country who all had something a little different from each other to say. Brain had some real winners and some dreadful artists signed to their label whilst the parent distributor Metronome mainly had quality acts whose albums are so impossible to find that most of them are in the "Prove To Me They Really Exist" category. One label with a dismal track record however is Ohr- that's German for
"Ear" of the little German I know and I don't want Mythos, Limbus, most of their other rubbish in my ear and WON'T have it in my ear. With a whole lot of mediocre to bad releases Ohr is a label that most will argue with me about and call Walpurgis second division or something like that, but the last act ever signed to the label before it went under are actually from what I've heard the only essential band on the label. For ages I didn't even know that QUEEN OF SABA was on Ohr and assumed it was on the much better Ohr offshoot Pilz. but it actually is on Ohr and was the last record ever released by the label.
                   -The Prejudice Of American Labels Towards Foreign Acts-
 There were a lot of brilliant bands and artists from across the Atlantic who never got a chance at American success because hardly any European records were put out and properly distributed in America and most British bands that came out in the States were a low quality job done by a supposed major label most of the time that remixed and destroyed the music. There were a few exceptions, however, and I'd say Walpurgis could have been one of them, but they only could have made it on an underground level because of the thickly accented vocals. American labels feared bands from other countries since the days of The British Invasion and the fact that The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Zombies et all were foreign groups making a huge splash in the States freaked the major labels and the radio stations because not only was the radio filling up with music from British bands, but American bands were adopting the look and sound of their British counterparts. At some point the patriotism turned Nationalistic in our country and then in England they turned Nationalistic during the heavy metal era and tried so hard to have no American influences that bands who had American influences were often tarred and feathered by the press. The rivalry between here (America) and Europe/England grew worse over the years, but certainly didn't start too friendly when bands such as The Zombies or more later on more appropriately The Move either were banned in the case of the former or ignored/kept-underground in the case of the latter. What would later happen was that most of the best American bands wouldn't get heard by any country outside America and the more I look at it they didn't go anywhere even in the US. This was bad enough. Then British and European acts were taken as a joke by American labels or a threat and went nowhere. A few bands broke through, but you can know for sure that by "a few bands" I mean a few bands. I still don't know how Abba managed it- to conquer America, England, everywhere out of Sweden, but they did thankfully.
                 -Walpurgis And Their QUEEN OF SABA One That Should Be Heard By All-
    Most of what happened with British/European bands was that they focused on their own countries and developed a unique sound. Walpurgis you'd expect to be a dark early metal band from their name probably and you'd think of Walpurgis Night- the German equivalent of Halloween. No. Walpurgis miraculously were a part German part Polish band who played very melodic guitar psych with beautiful leads and lots of chiming acoustic 12 strings. Think about the part German part Polish part. This was a "Forgive And Forget" scenario of the best kind between a country that decimated another country and some people from that other country. In World War 2 I have nothing but sympathy for all countries involved except Japan, but definitely a lot of love and sympathy for Germany. Having said that one of the worst atrocities of that war was what the Nazi regime did to the middle and upper class of Poland by killing off all of them. It was dreadful. When the war ended Germany and Poland began repairing their relationship with each other and from what I've experienced you won't find lovelier people than Germans AND Polish. When Poland was taken over by the Soviets some managed to escape to Germany and it is my guess that this is how leader/main guitarist/writer Ryszard Kalemba and 2nd guitarist/vocalist Jerzy Sokolowksi from Poland teamed up with Germans George Fruchenicht (bass), Jan Sundermayer (congas, flute), and drummer/vocalist Manfred Stadelmann to form the short lived Walpurgis.
    The melodically oriented band lasted just long enough for one brilliant one off called QUEEN OF SABA which should be filed under psych, but not heavy psych. It's pretty heavy in places and the dramatic thickly accented vocals are very emotional recalling Aphrodite's Child from Greece or a few other German groups, but Walpurgis have a light and peaceful way of playing their music that invites you in to enjoy it rather than creating a barrage of noise. QUEEN OF SABA is a very rare record and I am very lucky to have it, but I can honestly say that this is also one of the most enjoyable and beautiful records I've heard from Germany. I tend to prefer really heavy German rock, but this kind of easy going acid laced melodic guitar psych is also a favorite music form and there's a little of the heavy Teutonic vibe here and there just to spice things up a bit.
        The first track "Disappointment" oftentimes gets slammed for not sounding anything like the rest of the album, but I love it. Who ever said there was anything wrong with variety!!! "Disappointment" is a beautiful commercial ballad in the vein of Aphrodite's Child and Procol Harum with sad lyrics about a bitter ending to a relationship and emotionally wailing vocals. Jurgen Dollasse from Wallenstein guests on keyboards and Kalemba plays some lovely ultra tasteful guitar. Take Adrian Vandenberg (he's one of THE BEST GUITAR PLAYERS IN THE WORLD) from The Netherlands and slow him down a bit in an earlier era and that's how tasty the guitar is on QUEEN OF SABA. Instead of a self indulgent approach to their music there is so much freedom in Walpurgis's music, so much hope and joy in their steadily jamming flowing music that I have a sense of fulfillment seldom equaled when I listen to their album. There are even a few moments where the guitar is so close to Boston that it's been said by more than just me that Tom Scholz must have heard these guys and ripped them off!
    Walpurgis do something important for the rest of the album. They play laid back melodic guitar based psychedelic/progressive rock without it ever sounding lazy. At times the jams are Kak level and there is a nice balance between peaceful dreaminess and over the top melodramatic vocals. The vocals won't be for everyone as they are thickly accented and very extreme, but I like that. "Hey You Over There" is a mellow rock number with an unexpected nod to hard rock in the middle which is more characteristic of the rest of QUEEN OF SABA than "Disappointment" is and the interplay between the two guitars, flute, and rhythm section is remarkable. There's a lot of beauty in Walpurgis and it makes me really want to hear this record when Spring comes and the weather perks up a lot. Enough of winter! Most German music makes me either think of keeping warm during winter or makes me think of an idyllic country scene from a long distant place and this album is much more of the latter.
     Recently I've been listening a bit to what was my #1 most wanted record Dog That Bit People on vinyl reissue and I honestly have to say that many other British and European bands outshine that album. I love eclecticism in music, but Dog That Bit People despite their high quality are a bit directionless. After the huge change from romantic ballad to a more friendly commercial rock sound there isn't any feeling of a loss of direction rather there is a progress to this music. "Queen Of Saba" the title track is the heaviest track on the record with driving rhythms, wailing fuzz/wah-wah guitars, and exotic lyrics. If you like German rock more than the kind of cosmic rambling stuff and are like me then you'll rate this one higher than most people who like the crap records on the Ohr label which pass for "classic." Forget about Ash Ra Tempel, this is real music. I've never got into that kind of German music or the counterpart from Britain or America which would be The Grateful Dead or something like that, but when this band jam they get out there!
       The guitar work is stellar, virtuosic. The playing is crisp and lively, the production is sympathetic to the music, and the songs are great songs. The only problem is that when Walpurgis sing they do it in what sounds like the more overemotional British style although the vocals never bother me on QUEEN OF SABA. It does have to be mentioned, though. If you love melodrama Spooky Tooth style or more accurately the previously mentioned Aphrodite's Child it won't effect your love of this album and certainly it doesn't detract from my love of it. What may be the problem is soft music with heavy vocals and how that is such a contrasting sound. Personally, though, I'd say the singing is pretty good on the record and on tracks like "Queen Of Saba" it works wonders. Better to be really emotional than sound like a robot.
   "Daily" is a song about the boredom of every day life and for a topic that has been covered a million times there is a beauty to the song which makes it more poignant than a lot of other tracks written on the same subject matter. The song, as most songs about life do, begins with the day and ends with the night, but the vocals are much mellower and this would be the 2nd softest track on the record. "Daily" has some nice acoustic guitar and features another great contribution from Jurgen Dollasse.
       Side Two contains just two songs "What Can I Do (To Find Myself?)" and "My Last Illusion" which feature the longest instrumental passages of any songs on the album without going into pseudo cosmic rubbish. "What Can I Do (To Find Myself?)" is based around soaring guitars and melodramatic vocals and sounds like it is about the problem of not knowing where you really belong or even who you are. Back when I was a teenager there was the true side of me that I showed every day and there was also the true side of me that was kept hidden and an at-that-time frightening to me secret. I couldn't admit my homosexuality or a few other things that were key components to myself. When I hear this song it sounds very close to how I felt then. Walpurgis are sympathetic band. They aren't pompous or bloated or arrogant. The vocals, as dramatic as they may be, are suitable to the level of emotion in the music. "My Last Illusion" is a beautiful song with very sophisticated instrumental passages and great jams that take up most of the song and will take you to a beautiful place. Think about the world. Think about other people. Think about yourself. Be your own true person, but don't be selfish and snub potential friends. I had some of my best friends become best friends just through my generosity towards them and the huge amount of that which they gave me in return. Walpurgis make me happy and I know that may not be what you expect from a band called Walpurgis, but life is full of surprises. This is one of the best German records and since a M- copy is around $700 I got a VG to VG+ one for way less and it sounds great. That would be the best way to hear Walpurgis as the reissues typically don't get the job done properly. Turn this one up and you can lay back and relax without going to sleep. Walpurgis made a great melodic album that needs to be heard by everyone.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Chet Nichols Is On The Time Loop Of Your MInd- Here's One For You Freaky Folk Prog Fans!

In America and really worldwide in the early to late 70s the solo artist or if you like "Singer Songwriter" came into his or her own with classic releases by the likes of Emmit Rhodes, Carole King, Todd Rundgren, and lesser known masterful artists like Pete Dello and Clifford T. Ward who himself is only lesser known a bit in America. Now there didn't have to be a whole band it could be one person with a whole lot to say and a great melodic sense. If you take away the valuable content and the great melodic or creative sense you end up with some of the worst rubbish ever, but in my mind at least the vast array of early 70s solo artists could come up with some really brilliant and interesting results.
                - Chet Nichols Gets Deserved Respect From Paul Major And From Me-
     Chet Nichols probably got signed to Kama Sutra not because he was a later westcoast San Francisco progressive folk psych mastermind who came up by himself with a full band sound on his one album TIME LOOP, but probably because Kama Sutra thought his eccentricities would be overlooked for the very pleasant and inventive voice he has. Far removed from James Taylor, Jim Croce, Leonard Cohen and the like Chet's music is more comparable to British pastoral on-the-edge folk psych progressive acts like Northwind and their lead vocalist Brian Young and Dog That Bit People's John Caswell. Back in the beginning with Paul Major we didn't agree on everything and certainly he always had a weakness for the inept, but he loved and hopefully still loves great British records and that may be just one reason why he raved about Chet Nichols ages later championing his album TIME LOOP as a work of stunning somewhat strange folk psych.
    When I first heard Nichols in 2002 I was very impressed by the album, but I couldn't believe despite the sparse nature that this was all one guy. Hearing him again now I can say that my opinion hasn't changed. That means something. Paul was onto something that really had merit with Chet Nichols and its a shame that some other dealers don't share his views on the album and have unjustly slammed it. Well to each his own pleasures and prejudices and I'd say this album belongs in every collection in my opinion.
     I recently heard what is supposed to be the big monster on Kama Sutra to most dealers/collectors Hackamore Brick's ONE KISS LEADS TO ANOTHER and what a piece of garbage! I actually got both records from the same record store on the same day and ONE KISS went right out the door with Chet securing a permanent home in my collection. Hackamore Brick sound nothing like The Velvet Underground who they are claimed to be just like. That could have been a good thing since for the most part I hate Velvet Underground and most other experimental New York noise groups like The Godz for instance- I'll admit they were hugely talented revolutionaries, but myself if I'm gonna go out there I prefer something more like Earth Opera. Hackamore Brick is a bad plain country rock record with a few other ideas thrown in that go nowhere and the whole album sounds like the band were in a comatose or just plain sloppy and lazy mindset when they made the album. Don't waste your time and your dough. To get back to Chet Nichols his album TIME LOOP really is special, but it doesn't get enough praise for how brilliant and creatively inventive it is. Initially the album was $50 to $75 and worth it and now the price fluctuates all the time and proves that the price of an album means nothing. I picked this up for $25 mint in the shrink and it is musically even beyond $50 or $75 it's priceless. So now let me give you the lowdown. Are you ready and steady to here my latest rant!? Hold on coz a here it comes!
           -Spinning On The TIME LOOP With Chet Nichols An Extraordinarily Great Record-
     Chet Nichols only used other musicians on one track on his TIME LOOP album and that is the title track with an appearance on piano from the late and brilliant Nicky Hopkins. The title track is a great song, but much more commercial than the rest of the amazing record. Tracks like "Electra," "Tell Me What The Count Is" and the bizarre short closing bit of madness "Quasar Sleeper" are all vocals and instruments by Nichols himself. Even when it is just a sparse backing of acoustic guitar and weird vocal effects somehow this album is far from folky in the bad way and much more roomy, much more progressive. I mean the kind of progressive that was going on in the UK at the time and I apologize for my slandering of Britain in one of my last blogs. I shouldn't let stupid people put me off my favorite country although I think England is really in a bad state of decline now like much of the world. The songs tend to be a bit longer on here than on Dog That Bit People and a bit shorter than some of Northwind's, but both bands with their freaky mellow progressive psychedelic laced sound would be good comparisons especially Northwind. There's a subtle moodiness here and some subtly dark moments that might even bring to mind some of the eccentric ramblings of the aforementioned Earth Opera's Peter Rowan. Unlike Rowan Chet Nichols had a voice that would have been commercially marketable had he not been a really progressive writer and singer with grand ideas and strong leanings towards freaked out wasted psychedelia.
       "Electra" begins the album and is a strong percussive number with soaring vocals and a captivating sound to it that sounds half California half England. The half California half England vibe comes up a lot. It's a shame Paul Major and I have been so long out of touch. I'd like to think that Paul will see this and be glad because Paul is a great guy and I'm sad to no longer be in communication with him. "Electra" has some very out there lyrics and a nice balance between acoustic and electric instrumentation with a nod to the past decade of the 60s and what the counterculture could produce in terms of brilliant music. Stoned looking Chet is definitely not a square guy- in fact you could say he's pretty strange and definitely someone who would defy authority.
   "Water Sand Castles" delves into a nautical mood that is very pastoral and pleasant with excellent vocals from Chet and some great musical creativity flowing from this brilliant man. He is very different from Todd Rundgren because he is coming from a completely different background and a completely different part of the country. Todd started out in a band. They were called Nazz and they were a great band, but Todd abandoned his Angophile phase before his solo career and became the East Coast's foremost pop/progressive/weirdness purveyor before he went completely narcissistic and crazy. I love Todd Rundgren, but I prefer Chet Nichols. Chet has going for him that he only did one album. He has going for him the UK meets San Fran vibe of songs like "Water Sand Castles" with its oceanic sweetness, the environmentally concerned thought provoking beautiful folk pop of "Who Stole The Ivy" and the stark acoustic guitar and voice intensity of "Lonely Woman." Every song on this album tries something new.
   There's a lot going on and a lot of pleasure to be had if you have an open mind. "Who Stole The Ivy" would have fit perfectly on an album from 1967 or 1968, but it is updated a little here to sound more of the early 70s era. Most of the songs on TIME LOOP were written between 1968 and 1970, but the album was recorded in 1972 and came out then. A sure sign that it was the 70s and not the utopian 60s is the lyrically violent musically crazed closing track on Side One "The Ballad Of Diamond Joe" about a guy who kills 3 guys with a saw and then gets hunted down and killed by the protagonist which is of course Chet's character. This kind of old West gone mad vibe was so popular in the early 70s, but it speaks of something that is as dark as the lyric Chet wrote. Altamont had happened (To Hell with the Hell's Angels says I!) and so had Kent State. The 60s were in retreat and getting further and further from the dream of a beautiful world as the 70s went on. There were still places and still dreams of places where there was a more relaxed and open life, but society and authority were closing in leading to paranoia and disillusionment. Side One of this album covers the ground from the hopes of the 60s right on through to the turning back on the world "We've Got To Just Make It Alone" vibe of the 70s. Strangely, it isn't a sad album. In fact, you may like me have a sense of joy or relief even when you hear this.
     Side Two begins with "(Spinning On The) Time Loop" a really catchy commercial number and the only track to use session players including Nicky Hopkins the late keyboard genius who helped out The Rolling Stones and The Kinks. "(Spinning On The) Time Loop" isn't like anything else on the record and it works instead of sounding like something hastily thrown together to fill up space.
      "Tell Me What The Count Is" goes right back into the UK and California gone twisted folk psych progressive vibes with insightful wary lyrics and a real sense of intensity. Nichols does a lot by working by himself. The least full sounding track is the title track with the full backing of session players and something like "Tell Me What The Count Is" speaks a lot for the true eccentric solo artist who does it all ably by himself. I, personally, would probably not sound half as good attempting something like this. I love Chet's voice it is so warm and crystal clear yet so quietly intense. He has that gift for sounding real and human that Brian Young in Northwind and John Caswell in Dog That Bit People have. He gives you the facts. He sings from the heart not the intellect.
      "The Offing" is a very pleasant song with a nautical theme again like "Water Sand Castles" and a really beautifully wasted vocal sound that drifts along just like the sea he is talking about. The lyrics are very pastoral and the sound is very warm and honest with a magical vibe about it that the whole album has. By contrast "The Beetles Are Coming" is a put down character study of someone who has no real personality and is just a loser trying to string other people along into his or her shallow selfish life. I know the type well. The hangers on had become even more stale and annoying than they were in the beginning as the 1960s dream was really getting far from view and it was the beginning of a bad period of people pretending to live in that kind of counterculture way who were just as conformist as those they said they despised. I turned my back on most of the friends I had when I was at my height of Hippy-in-my-own-way because of all the fake people who were fucking my life around with their narrow beliefs and drug abuse. I still have a lot of counterculture-alike beliefs and believe in living my life with a love for nature and other people and an open mind, but it gets harder and harder. "The Beetles Are Coming" nails it. Chet Nichols isn't as pissed off as Bob Dylan's pissed off lyrics, but he certainly lets whoever this was written for know that they are a loser. Even when Nichols is at his most intense he remains more gentle than overbearing although he isn't at all fragile sounding in the way that someone like the brilliant much lamented Clifford T. Ward was/is/will stay. Clifford T. Ward is far from Chet Nichols in the kind of music he produced during his all-too-brief life. Clifford was more British pop at its most melancholic and refined. He wrote sad and tear jerking songs and he wrote a few happy ones too, but Clifford was so British sounding and England oriented that there can't really be an American Clifford T. Ward without the word "Americana" coming into play. There is a little Americana here and there on TIME LOOP, but Chet Nichols is looking toward the UK and then he sends you off into outer space with the crazy mindblowing psychedelic strangeness of "Quasar Sleeper" which is more just strange sounds than a song.
     This is a wonderful album. There's not a track I'd take off or a thing I would change. Everything is so tasteful and so good and Chet has so much talent that I'm glad he is back performing, writing, and playing again with new interest in his music making him smile I'm sure. Nichols never could have made it on a pop/bubblegum label like Kama Sutra and it's unfortunate that back in 1972 his album went largely unnoticed, but I'd like to help out by my rave review here and Chet if you read this drop me a comment and I'll be overjoyed. I will be overjoyed if people go out and buy this record after reading this as it is definitely a masterpiece and a very, very special work of musical art.