The people's band's first two albums and an unissued soundtrack form a rough-hewn delight.
Signed to Clearwater management who also had HAWKWIND and HIGH TIDE on their books, this quartet played a free concert circuit long enough to be well-known among the hairy crowd who loved their music complex yet accessible. SKIN ALLEY could confidently cater for such demands without relying on the chemicals and spaced-outness but relying heavily on jazzy vibe to wrap their progressive rind around as suggested by the band's two first albums from 1970, produced by Dick Taylor of PRETTY THINGS and collected here.
Their eponymous debut possesses a wide scope to take in the jovial baroque of "Marsha", propelled by Krzysztof Henryk Juszkiewicz's organ and smoothed with guitarist Bob James' saxes, alongside the string-coated nerve of "Tell Me", a rare sugar-free ballad. It even has a soulful folk in its cortex, so the graceful "Living In Sin" has TRAFFIC written all over its mix of Farfisa, phased guitars and sunny reeds, while the shimmering "Night Time" dances in the piano moonlight, and "Country Alley" goes much deeper down the rural route. The rolling blues "(Going Down The) Highway" is the only concession to the rock idiom.
If "Easy To Lie", the closer of the second album, "To Pagham And Beyond", keeps a mournful sway in the cotton fields before going off the leash and into a church, "The Queen Of Bad Intentions", the record's centerpiece, is where SKIN ALLEY's transcendental identity crystallizes in a sharp, if mellow, rocking. But there's a nice swing in "Sweaty Betty" and "Big Brother Is Watching You", that hold a pinch of live improvisation in their burning core. More so, the band heroically follow a COLOSSEUM blueprint on a Graham Bond classic "Walking In The Park" featuring a former ATOMIC ROOSTER singer Nick Graham. whereas the gentle "Take Me To Your Leader's Daughter" sees the ensemble blowing country air - and a Chopin shadow - to a great effect.
The band applied their cinematic qualities when they were commissioned a soundtrack to a now-forgotten film "Stop Veruschka" about an infamous model. The results augmenting these two discs, the plaintive harmonies of the ever-growing "Sofa, Taxi and Sand Themes" and the accordion of "Bird Music" get in the heart of Eastern Europe, but the Celtic motif in "Skin Valley Serenade" should make JETHRO TULL fans salivate. Elsewhere, "Russian Boogaloo" mixes all the progressive elements - Renaissance harpsichord solemnity, bluesy guitar flow with a flamenco curlicue and jazzy jive - and "Sun Music", destined to end up on SKIN ALLEY's third album, boasts an infectious pop chorus: for the most part, incidental fodder it isn't, yet a nice addition to the fantastic group's legacy it certainly is.