Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Wonderful Lacewing from Ohio The Best American Progressive Band There Ever Was!

It's been awhile since my last posting here about Coven. I'm still on the hunt for the very hard to track down Witchcraft as an original as I WILL NOT BUY THE TRASHY BOOT REISSUE. Even that is rare now. Soon I'm gonna have my hands on some incredible stuff after a trip to Philly with many stories to tell after I come back, but at the moment there are two, one of which the entry you are reading is about, that I have decided never to sell that are two of my faves and relatively not in the ludicrous price margin although they will set you back a bit. A little trip back we're gonna take to the hope and despair of the end of the 60s beginning of the 70s.
     Everybody with half a brain knows about what the bastards in the Ohio National Guard did at Kent State University in 1970 and how that was the last disaster and nail in the coffin of the 60s utopian dream, but what you should know is that the Nixon administration and officials in Ohio planned the whole thing. The Ohio National Guard gave and what they did still gives American soldiers a bad name, but in my world they never will have a good one. Don't get the wrong idea I care and I do have some really good mates in the 82nd Airborne, but they are the Elite so they should be the best. No hard feelings to Americans as a generalization, but demolish the bad ones!
      Where Lacewing come into the story is that the band were a progressive folk-rock group from Kent itself and were there at the time of the shootings. I can't imagine how scary that must have been, but the recurring weary and mournful lyrical themes should give you some idea of how disillusioned everybody was about the horrific events that happened. This wasn't Bloody Sunday which was a completely faked out "shame" and a stupid, sick victory for the IRA and Republican movement where the British Para soldiers were egged-on and attacked first and nobody wants you to know that- this was a cold murder of innocence. Lacewing, however, take the right direction on their one album on Mainstream and I wish there had been more. Together with Fifty Foot Hose and Coven they are America's best female fronted psych/progressive/folk-rock band and Mary Sterpka is where things get really interesting...
      A progressive band from Kent, Ohio? That would be unheard of unless you know what a brilliant music scene Ohio had and how the Midwest helped shape progressive music in America. A progressive band with a female singer however is completely astonishing as there are so few if you don't think a long time about it. I never figured it out myself. Mary Sterpka is the singer in question and she had a voice more like a cross between Sandy Denny and the last-entry raved about Jinx Dawson than Grace Slick (horrible!) and Janis Joplin (brilliant and very, very sad story behind her tragically short life) which make her even more different. The two driving forces behind the band's writing consisted of guitarist extraordinaire Bob Webb and keyboard maestro Dave Andress and the group also had one of the tightest rhythm sections around. Lacewing are really something unusual in that they sound much more like a British band than an American one. Soaring vocal harmonies and astonishing guitar/electric harpsichord interplay make this a killer album and the songs are tremendously good! I will hands down say Lacewing is the best American progressive album and they also are the closest we came to some of the best UK melodic prog/psych bands like The Parlour band. In fact, they are good enough to be described as our closest equivalent to peak period Fairport Convention!
        There are just 7 tracks on Lacewing with several of them quite long and complicated, but the album gets off to a rockin' start with the fantastically punchy progressive folk-rock psych of "Paradox" where the harmonies are the best I've ever heard on an American record. This is real. This isn't some band copying and trying to imitate other bands this is a band who lead rather than are led. The lyrics are about confusion, destruction, and the death of the 60s counterculture dream which are themes prevalent throughout: "I Can See The Beginning Has Ended With Our Cries." Mary Sterpka's clear and beautiful voice is very much like Sandy Denny's, but the harmonies would have been impossible for Fairport to duplicate. This ain't off key Jefferson Airplane abysmal moaning and groaning or Grateful Dead country boy up the creek without even a boat ineptitude this is real and surprisingly the production is really good at last on a Mainstream record. Lacewing were not on a label that was going to nurture and care about them, alas. Mainstream bands tended to all be one-offs because Mainstream didn't do anything for them. When the only multi-album band on a label is shithead Ted Nugent's Amboy Dukes you know you're in trouble!
    "Crystal Myth" follows "Paradox" and the band's signature electric harpsichord is very different from the usual heavy organ bashing of the day. Mary Sterpka mournfully sings out another song about the passing of a beautiful dream only there is a dark, haunting, and very atmospheric thing going on in this track which sounds even less American than "Paradox" again bringing about the Fairport comparison. I think this album is of a higher level than even the likes of England's Trees and Germany's Emtidi- this is the best.
      "Our World (It Can Happen)" features more stunning vocals and harmonies with the lead voice of Sterpka now more belting and wailing out the agony of what HAD JUST HAPPENED. It was a million years before I found out this band's story, but I always wondered just what made them go for such a resigned and haunting sound. Having read of Lacewing's coming about in Kent Ohio I now am fully aware of what was going on. Lacewing also may be more British leaning because they were disgusted and sick of America and all the lame country rock bands out there who give that genre a bad name. There is no old time Mama And Apple Pie tired out Americana here and that makes me particularly love Lacewing. "Our World (It Can Happen)" is another song that is filled with soaring harmonies and lyrics about how evil is ever coming about in America making the country a shameful monstrosity, but without the heavy handedness that would make it mean and cynical in the hands of some stupid band like Jefferson Airplane.
     "Time To Go" is a short romantic ballad and the only song with a Mary Sterpka compositional credit (with bass guitarist Jeff Curry). The words are about the end of what seemed like a perfect  relationship with more great vocals and harmonies. This track, perhaps because of the whining guitar solo, reminds me of a premonition of the Little River Band a bit, but much, much darker. If Lacewing had left America, gone to the UK where they sound like they are already from, and settled there chances are their story would not have been such a short chapter in the history of rock. This is not an album to be overlooked or passed up- if you ever see a clean copy (it has to be clean for this kind of mellower music) for offer at a fair price buy this album!
     Side Two begins with a two part suite called "Epicycle (The Storm and Rebirth)" and on this uncharacteristically loud and manic rocker the sadness gives way to some real venom and a slamming of what a lie America had turned into. Mary Sterpka sings it brilliantly and the harmonies are again of the highest quality, but this fiercer track is more like hybrid of Deep Purple and the one time the Airplane were a great band- early on around the time of Surrealistic Pillow which granted is a classic album.
     I'm not a Jefferson Airplane fan. I think they were a band more about spreading hate than love and are overrated, but I will admit that some of their music in the very beginning of their career deserves all the praise it gets. It wasn't like Grace Slick couldn't sing you'd have to be insane to say that it was more like she wasn't as good as she thought she was and had a voice that was too cold and mechanical sounding once they got to the dreadful Crown Of Creation and Volunteers was only a little better.
   After the harsh and crashing sounds of "The Storm" comes one of the first atmospheric experimental passages in American progressive rock "Rebirth" which is all overdubbed instrumental dream-like guitar with a volume pedal and a few other effects bringing to mind Robert Fripp.
     "Play For You" is another different sounding kind of track- a rocker with raunchy bluesy vocals and progressive keyboard/guitar interplay. Sterpka belts it out great and the whole band just take off and cook. No other female vocal American 70s record I can think of has quite the same level of astonishing progressive brilliance as Lacewing. They are the American Parlour Band and a group worthy of  the use of the big word revolutionary.  Lacewing get slammed by most Mainstream freaks because they aren't garage psych, but when Mainstream was getting strange with who they signed was when they were getting tasty! I love all of it both the best of the 60s garage popsike and heavy ones and the 70s underground bands, but as said Mainstream did nothing for the bands they signed up. No promotion is always a bad strategy and something of an American label disease which would later destroy any hope for success and make the whole grunge hype sell millions with the evil labels and evil MTV putting all the effort into shit bands like Kurt "Asshole" Cobain's Nirvana who did a large part of killing off great rock music. Lacewing were a band around at a time when most bands if they didn't make it with one record would just pack it in and go look for regular jobs. It was very good when Eric Carmen and The Raspberries made it in a big way because it opened up so much more room and brought so much more hope to really brilliant bands.
      "Galvanized Midget" is an instrumental and ends the album with cartoon like keyboards and some brilliant guitar work from Bob Webb. I strongly suggest going on a big search for this album. It won't be easy to come across, but is much easier than some of the really impossible to locate records from rock's golden era. You will find on Lacewing some of the best music ever laid down. I sincerely hope all the band members are still alive and actively playing and singing. If you find this album you will find THE BEST!
    I would recommend you to look into the American Midwest bands further as they seem to like the British and they also seem to be good at making Crosby, Stills and Nash sound like amateurs (that's amazing!)! CSNY didn't have great songs all the time they merely had some great songs. It's an eerie coincidence that their best song was Canadian genius Neil Young's "Ohio" which you all are aware of is an attack on Nixon and the Ohio National Guard. Neil and the lads would love Lacewing's album. I'm sure if you like harmony rich music Lacewing and some other great Midwest bands such as Jake Jones and The Damnation Of Adam Blessing will be a rewarding listen for you. The Midwest was a place where bands had to fight against all kinds of evils and so was the South which also produced many of our best bands and many of our worst (I despise nearly all Southern Rock). The East Coast had also many attributes and so did California with loads of great bands, but equal to the great vibes of the West and East the Midwest was where the most progressive music was being created somewhere back in the distant days of musical experimentation with no cares for record sales and the entire emphasis was on making great music. Look for Lacewing and also look for my next entry which should be somewhat less of a huge space in time.

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