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THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN -
Strangelands
Reckless Records 1988
Esoteric 2011

A weird attempt to build a sonic universe: the God of Hellfire burning his world to the ground and getting nowhere, and then more.

To start with a hit is a wonderful thing, but staying at the top takes a lot of balance which Arthur Brown just could embrace without losing his identity. He followed the "Fire" single with "The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown" LP, yet found his band at the breaking point, with organist Vincent Crane, Brown's creative partner leaving to form ATOMIC ROOSTER and taking drummer Carl Palmer with him. It would be much later that Arthur would work with Crane again, while in 1969 he engaged drummer Drachen Theaker in what would be CRAZY WORLD's second album. That didn't happen as a new group's chemical-enhanced minds failed to focus on a suite concept Arthur brought to the table.

Here, the idiosyncrasy reigns over all four parts - "The Country", "The City", "The Cosmos" and "The Afterlife" - comprising more ideas than actual songs. And while the leader's theatrical vocals are impressive on the jazzy "Life Jacket" that starts it all, the groove is too barebone to chew on it, and riffs that follow don't cut to a tangible melody. Still, a gentle flute near the end of quirky "All Forms And Distinctions" and the Miles Davis-indebted crawling fusion of "Beyond The Sea" show there was a sound to build on, and a shot of psychedelic organ swirl in "The Lord That Doesn't Want You" possesses a germ of funky drive in its depth. But save for the faux Gene-Vincentism of "Endless Sleep" rockabilly, there's no life in the tracks.

Without a proper records in his hands and no finance to keep the band, Brown lost his drive, especially with some animosity towards him in the ranks. So he vented his grand scale projects into KINGDOM COME, whereas the group continued as RUSTIC HINGE, a British answer to MAGIC BAND as they saw it. But that was a corrupted outlook for, leaderless, the ensemble jammed with no solid point in sight. These session preserved here are hard to bear, with only a track bolstered with HIGH TIDE's heavy, almost orchestral input, the Eastern and Western folk motifs in "Crystallised Petard" and the sharp "Excitation Wavelength", led by Android Funnel's adventurous guitars, there's too little to cling to. Logically, nothing came out of it.

Thus, "Strangelands", unreleased at the time of its recording, serves more as historic document than a real "lost" album. Completists will be happy to have a hold of it; the rest should investigate at their own peril.

*3/4
THE CHERRY PEOPLE -
Whoopin' & aWhoppin'
Angel Air 2011

Out from American capital and into obscurity, a hard rockin' holler finally - and deservedly - heard worldwide.

Blame it on their name that suggests bubblegum yet sweet peas this band Washington, DC weren't in the least. Even in their original incarnation ENGLISH SETTERS who got signed by jazz supremo Lionel Hampton and once backed Neil Diamond, which, of course, speaks volumes of their potential. And they cranked up the volume to become THE CHERRY PEOPLE and get down 'n' dirty for the heavy blues that actually got the bunch nowhere bar the clubs while their former touring mate Ted Nugent rode the same way into the charts. Real contenders, there's enough catchy riffage in the group's 1969-1978 oeuvre gathered here to ram 'em into an experienced hard rocker's mind anyway.

The title cut, "Iowa" and "Mild Ambrosia" lay it all down the line, garage-way, Rick Benick's rock 'n' roll guitar cutting through Doug Grimes' strong, rough vocals, and the 8-minute "You Say To Me" slow things down with Hendrix on its sleeve, while "Look What They've Done To Your Son Mom" shoots for metal. On the jolly side, the glam panto of "Superman", the gloss of "Join The Glory" and the funky grit of "Tuesday Morning" could have made the group big in the U.K. and "Do You Need Me?" shows they were no slouches when it came to the smooth piano-propelled boogie that might have cause a storm on-stage, especially when it breaks into a Solomon Burke quote. And there's a lot of romanticism in another epic, the folk-tinged "Misty Mountains". The sound quality sometimes falters but that doesn't gate the energy within, so fans of TRAPEZE and GRAND FUNK should apply with no qualms.

***
VARIOUS ARTISTS -
Envelopes Of Yesterday
Esoteric / Manticore 2011

...or "The Manticore Records Story 1973-1976": a tale of the most ridiculed progressive band's expansive vision.

Now that every artist seems to have their own record label, it's hard to grasp the audacity of groups of yore who launched an imprint to pursue their vision of nurturing a fellow talent. THE BEATLES had Apple, THE MOODY BLUES had Threshold, LED ZEPPELIN had Swan Song, but neither could boast such diverse and strong roster as ELP's Manticore whose short span is laid down in glorious 158 minutes here. The two discs feature seven acts, plus super-trio themselves who look quite different in this context where unexpected soulness prevails.

It breezes out from Keith Christmas' "Tomorrow Never Ends" and "Brighter Day", full of creepy optimism, and the Texans STRAY DOG's twin-guitars-swaying "Rocky Mountain Suite", while HANSON, led by the "Police And Thieves" author and Bob Marley's sidekick Junior Marvin, and Mike Pinera's THEE IMAGE develop a Hendrix crunchy vibe on, respectively, epic-long "Smokin' To The Big 'M'" and "Show Your Love". Even the Italians from BANCO, sometimes sounding even more serious then the Manticore bosses, shoot the funky grit into "Outside" before taking it to the regular classical-influenced direction, as do their compatriots P.F.M. rocking "The Mountain", operatic-way.

Yet it's ELP who combine their patented art rock with the soul-lifting baroque solemnity in their reading of "Jerusalem" and then loosen a grip on the listener's psyche with "Still You Turn Me" and "Lucky Man", paired here in a live setting, while their part-time lyricist Pete Sinfield infuses his "The Night People" with a sybarite jazz which gets more adventurous as the piece progresses. The same progressive jolt propels STRAY DOG's heavy "Tramp", whereas Keith Emerson turns the pomp on its flat head with "Honky Tonk Train Blues" where his barrelhouse piano gets down to Earth from the usual celestial high, and THEE IMAGE go all glossy with "Fly Away". Despite its commercial jive, as memorable as Greg Lake's evergreen "I Believe In Father Christmas", Manticore failed on financial front. Sad, but as the label's titular monster its legacy still roars like a lion, stings as a scorpion and pricks ears of those who listen.

****
YOUNG BLOOD -
Transfusion
Angel Air 2011

The only EP and other sonic paraphernalia from a band who could have been English BON JOVI but screwed things up.

It was 1983, and NWOBHM stalwarts started giving way to the more curly crowd which suited Durham guitarist Stewart Goodchild just fine. Although he went for the Spartan format of power trio, the music of YOUNG BLOOD as they were called, was to sound big. It did - enough to bring the band to a Marquee stage and draw a few labels' attention - but the personnel instability prevented Goodchild from touching an inkpot. Not that it diminished his touch on strings, for the group masterfully navigate their way among infectious riffs and stadium-wide choruses that are in abundance here, although "Hold On To Love" and other three tracks from the threesome's only EP "First Blood" weigh significantly heavier and cut sharper than the demo-album "Panorama", laid down as SAVIOUR in 1989.

"Run For Your Life" grabs the listener by the lapels with its loose melody and atomic refrain that hold the best the '80s hard rock could offer to the genre purists, even though "Fantasy" plays up too much to a commercial lookout - funky guitar, smooth solo, bass sway - and "Can't Stop Rocking" tries to dissolve its speedy blues in the decade's bubbly. Then, while "Thunder In The Mountain" shoots a dose sleaze in its tattooed arm, "Heartache" and "Talkin' About L.O.V.E." come across as BAD COMPANY's acoustics catering to the poodle metal bombast. Why did success elude the band? Instability intervened once more, and when things straightened the music climate changed. Now, though, Goodchild's BLOOD feels hot and pumping again.

***1/2
TANGERINE DREAM -
Zeit
Ohr 1972
Reactive 2011

An attempt to grasp all things temporal resulting in a cosmos that's out of reach but not out of mind.

While many of their Krautrock contemporaries searched for Zeitgeist in angular intensity, this trio looked beyond the mundane realm to find their collective spirit in chasing Time in its purest form. It meant elusiveness, and elusive the band's third album is indeed. Subtitled "Largo in four movements", it spans two LPs (and is now reissued also on vinyl) and takes in all of the Universe, with influences of abstractionists such as Stockhausen weaved in the broad canvass that's impossible to pinpoint but easy to be space-transported by.

The journey starts with a warped wave of cellos which signal "Birth Of Liquid Plejades", so it's still an earthy look, but then Peter Baumann's organ projects a clarion call to action so spectral that it shimmers right beyond one's fingertips with the spirals Edgar Froese's guitar glissandoing skywards. Once a certain solemnity is formed, the picture blurs for "Nebulous Dawn" where Chris Franke's synthesizers join those of Baumann to ebb in and out of focus, to get dense, dripping wet and then thin in the vacuum, while quarks of quirk send their pulses to a vibraphone to bounce from. A guitar leads the aural excavations of "Origin Of Supernatural Probabilities" in which two VCS3's collide over oscillating drones and tweets to fathom the depth of it all, until the title track draws on an outlandish Moog courtesy of POPOL VUH's Florian Fricke to beckon the stars where time implodes melodiously.

Here comes a tolal mental eclipse in the end, as one struggles to understand what it was that just dissolved into silence, yet the flakes of satisfaction from relishing some moments of eternity are impossible to shake off. An exemplary work, bolstered here with the 78-minute Klangwald performance from the same year - even more abstract and enigmatic.

*****
THE TONY WILLIAMS LIFETIME -
Emergency!
Polydor 1969
Esoteric 2011

Miles' drummer invents fusion and cooks a sprawling masterpiece far ahead of its time.

In 1969, feeling his stint with Miles Davis' was about to end, Tony Williams radiated optimism because he knew where he'd go next: a trio of his own, with Larry Young on organ and bass pedals and an adventurous guitarist. More so, Williams had a name for this new band which had to build on his 1964's solo record, "Life Time", as Tony saw his ensemble as one unpredictable unit. And he made an unpredictable move by snatching John McLaughlin from England to work on Davis' "In A Silent Way" but with a secret agenda of using the Briton's services himself. McLaughlin got all the craft and credentials for such a job, having laid down Jack Bruce's jazzy "Things We Like" in 1968, which yet had to be released, and jammed with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. Still, going for a double album with difficulties on the recording contract front, looked like a step too bold, yet that's why "Emergency!" straddled fresh into this day.

Its title track brings on a rhythm fest on which the melodists spray their strokes, seemingly chaotic but slowly revealing a method to this fast-paced madness from which the leader withdraws for a while to get back behind the raging jive, whereas the reading of Carla Bley's "Vashkar" crystallizes the fusion formula of melding free jazz to rock bravado. Jazz steps back for rock tones to shine through the groovy "Beyond Games" where Williams recites his lines, rather than sings, over meandering guitar - one minute riffing, the other sliding and ultimately dissipating the initial plot. And if in "Via The Spectrum Road" and "Where" the group explore Eastern scales with a trance-inducing, mesmerising result, especially once Young drives his Hammond slightly wild or acoustic armory gets a clang, another McLaughlin cut, the lightning-like "Spectrum", an update of his solo debut's track, paves the way from "Crosstown Traffic" and "Sunshine Of Your Love" to MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA's instrumental mantras as does Williams' blistering but light "Sangria For Three", all 13 minutes of its impressive collective joie de vivre. "Something Spiritual" adds an extra weight to this enigma of an album, to leave a sensation of it begging to be tried again.

****
DOG SOLDIER -
Dog Soldier
United Artists 1975
Esoteric 2011

The venerable British blues institution re-shuffling its wares for the new era, its over-praised album receive a long-overdue re-release.

Many a collector's dream, the only LP by this band didn't draw much attention when it emerged in the mid-'70s, because the starts in the skies couldn't align nicely for the stars in the group. His ensemble having folded a couple of years earlier, drummer Keef Hartley felt like their business was unfinished, the emotion shared by the erstwhile KEEF HARTLEY BAND's singing guitarist, and main composer, Miller Anderson, so with Hartley's old ARTWOODS sidekick Derek Griffiths on second guitar and two youngsters, the old dogs barked again. Not as loud, though, as the times and the label demanded some stylistic sacrifices. "Nothing seemed to go right for us this time, so we just gave up on the idea", says Anderson, yet the allure of their album is hard to ignore.

It may not live up to the hype, housing some American radio-friendly tracks such as the acoustic-sparked "Giving As Good As You Get", where the boogie is distilled with a synthesizer solo, or "Some People" with its funky undercurrent, so typical for the era. But the soulful blues of "Stranger In My Own Town" holds a lot of Wilson Pickett in it to thrill, and in "You Are My Spark" Griffiths warps the gloss with his raw delivery, while vocal harmonies bloom wildly and Mel Simpson unfurls a classical organ mantle until the song reaches its celestial peak only to go rocking before the coda. "Pillar To Post" has an equally fierce swing to it, axes raving on the chopped rhythm and Hammond's burp, the grit and riff all over the swamp, but it's the 11-minute-long "Looks Like Rain" that snatches the laurels here: the cut's heavy, if smooth, drift - bouncing off "Sunshine Of Your Love" figure, adding a cosmic sparseness in its middle and boasting Paul Bliss' bass solo - impresses even in its first run, included here as bonus.

"It was good enough - but not good enough for Keef and me", remarks Miller, yet DOG SOLDIER left a solid monument to their brief existence. Time to unearth the band's BBC tapes!

****1/2
BAKER GURVITZ ARMY
Hearts On Fire
Mountain 1976
Esoteric 2011

The last hurray for the band who could have taken the world by storm if they weren't so creative.

1976 put an end to BGA, and it wasn't just because their manager and the label head died in a plane crash - Bill Fehilly's most famous charges, NAZARETH, weren't shot down by the tragedy - no, the reason was the band's indecision as to what direction to pursue. Their eponymous album saw the group surf heavy rock, its follow-up had the ensemble Americanized, the third found them further experimenting. The title track is a prime example of heroic hard rock, brother Gurvitz wielding its riff in unison, and there's a strong spark in the sharp surge of "Flying In And Out Of Stardom" that proved to be prophetic for the band, but for all its orchestra-and-choir scale "Tracks Of My Life" is purely of its era to date well. Most of the record still sounds bright, though.

There's finally a blissful simplicity in the piano-led "Thirsty For The Blues" and the lucid, THIN LIZZY-esque "Night People" and "Mystery", so "Dancing The Night Away" and "Smiling" might wear its funk bubbles thin and punctured with Paul Gurvitz's bass. Yet the stomp of "Neon Lights" has a right threat to it, and "My Mind Is Healing" is arresting in its cutting twirl. A feeling is, had BGA lasted one more record to send it up with the contagious roll of "Wotever It Is" the live take on which augments this CD, the success would finally fire their hearts.

***4/5
UTOPIA -
Redux '92: Live in Japan
Utopia 1993
Esoteric 2011

Resurrected ensemble of the Neverland revisit their backlog and give old armor a new shine.

Gone in 1996, after "POV" proved to be a creative dead-end, six years later UTOPIA's classic line-up made a brief, if glorious, comeback. Why they failed to secure a new recording deal remains a mystery for the quartet, as this live album - and its companion DVD, a part of the package - shows, not only managed to touch on all but two of their records in the set but take it all to the modern age without bowing to the neo-prog trend. Any band capable of squeezing the urgent grandness of "The Ikon" into less than 5 minutes, all instrumentalists'' spots included, deserve accolades, yet Todd Rundgren and his comrades go to it from the glacial, though captivating, "Fix Your Gaze", its inner flame warming up the proceedings, and draw things to a close with the regular embrace of "Love Is The Answer".

In between lie the almost forgotten gems like the heavy swing of "Trapped", which marries the lyrical soul with the rock 'n' roll guitar solo, and the effervescent "Hammer In My Heart", but, given where the foursome play, the sensual "Hiroshima" overshadow many a riff-laden cut. On the lighter side lurk the groovers such as the singalong-prompting "Caravan" delivered by keyboard player Roger Powell and the perky "Princess Of The Universe" sung by drummer Willie Wilcox, both as infectious as a plague, while the leader excels in the romantic arietta of "Only Human" and the stadium-ripping "Love In Action". And if "Last Of The New Wave Riders" sounds like a self-epitaph, with a killer rendition like this, it's quite a way to go off. A definitive package.

****4/5
RAY THOMAS -
Hopes, Wishes & Dreams
Threshold 1976
Esoteric 2011

The second solo outing from the MOODY BLUES woodwind-shaker sees him ripping the woodshed.

His main band still on hiatus, and his first strike on his own giving a lot of pleasure but generating modest sales, Ray Thomas discarded grand concepts to embrace artistic freedom, and delivered a simpler, more market-focused album. "In Your Song", its opener, weaves the guitar caress around the light disco bop, while "One Night Stand" has a danceable pulse to it, too, with a luxurious female backing, solid electricity and brass rolling across Mike Moran's ivories. But if "Didn't I" sends the composer's vocals to the romantic, trumpet-lightened skies, and piano and orchestra give the waltzes of "Friends" and "Carousel" a patina'ed decadent air of the days past, "Keep On Searching" cuts the jovial rock rag as if there's no tomorrow. Tighter than its predecessor, this highly optimistic record flies off on the uplifting ballad "The Last Dream" that packs the album's charms for a new discovery.

For its author, "Hopes, Wishes & Dreams" would be the last solo project before the resurrected MOODY BLUES took all of his time and talent once again. Retired since 2002, the master may one day write one more chapter into his romantic book.

***3/4
BOX OF FROGS -
Strange Land
Epic 1986
Esoteric 2011

The eclecticism kicks in, another ex-axeman drops in, and the former YARDBIRDS' rein their energy in - not for good.

If this band's debut album tastily marred the '80s molasses with a spoonful of blues, when it came to its successor Jim McCarty, Paul Samwell-Smith and Chris Dreja - who served two decades before under THE YARDBIRDS nom de guerre - went all over the place. The reason was the lack of fresh material and of uniformity to what they came up with, so there's an array of singers on the record alongside John Fiddler whose vocals feature on four cuts, plus cool non-album "I Keep Calling".

The marker of it all is the resurrection, or rather the murder, of their old group's classic "Heart Full Of Soul", now helped by its writer, Graham Gouldman, on rhythm, embellished with Rory Gallagher's electric sitar and warbled by Roger Chapman but never getting near the original's bite. Another shadow from the past is the veterans' erstwhile guitar foil Jimmy Page running the fret on the cavernous and slightly heavy "Asylum", yet the history gets erased with the pale '80s production on "Get It While You Can", where McCarty's ILLUSION partner John Knightsbridge delivers a nice riffage around Graham Parker's voice, and the appallingly plastic rocksteady "Don't Mix Me Up". The most flat offering, "Average", marries Ian Dury's unassuming voice to Steve Hackett's harmony solo to a queasy effect. And though the title track is a good an average ballad as it takes, "dated" might be the kindest word do describe this album's sound, and it's a little wonder it flopped.

**
BAKER GURVITZ ARMY
Elysian Encounter
Mountain 1975
Esoteric 2011

"A meeting of the gods" sees the ranks and the concept expanded but the initial appeal fading.

Mid-'70s was the time of big ideas, not small bands, so when BGA hit on the thought of a coherent song cycle they felt the need to introduced additional colors to their palette and brought in a standalone vocalist Mr. Snips from Andy Fraser's SHARKS and a seasoned jazz pianist Peter Lemer, but somehow lost impetus in the midst of it all. Not sonic-wise, as Ginger Baker's cymbals signal an enticing start to the effervescent funk of "People" that bursts with raw energy in the bonus live version alongside the tremendous, danceable reading of Hendrix's "Freedom", but melodically, especially after the blast that their debut was.

If "The Gambler" can give Eric Clapton a run for his slowhand money and "The Dreamer" zaps with its Americana roll, "Time", voiced by Adrian Gurvitz, falls into an FM-friendly guitar web, and, though its chant break is catchy, the rocksteady of "The Key", failing to show the depths of the band's prowess sounds more like a pastiche. There's something histrionic about "The Artist", too, yet the tempo changes and frenetic playing give it a charge, which can't be said of the insipid tune of "The Hustler". The outstanding track here is a sludgy, if transparent, "Remember" featuring another Gurvitz's vocals that gains momentum with a synthesizers solo, anchored with Paul Gurvitz's bass, and flies off its bluesy bedrock in the BLIND FAITH's way. A long way to go to Olympus or paradise, the album has its moments, but it promises more than actually gives.

***1/2
ILLUSION -
Illusion
Island 1978
Esoteric 2011

A mirage which didn't last, the final chapter in the unfortunate band's brief career.

The softness of touch that ILLUSION revealed on their debut thart picked up where the original RENAISSANCE had left off and shared the title with their second LP, another "Illusion" also signalled the end - at least, from the label's point of view, because a third album was recorded yet remained unreleased for a long time. Late '70s were about things big and bombastic or short and sharp, while the Jim McCarty-led ensemble ploughed their own bucolic field.

With a deficit of new material, the group fledged out their former singer, the late Keith Relf's transparent "Man Of Miracles", but it still was McCarty who brought the most delicious aural food to the table: the highly lyrical lift of "Madonna Blue", trimmed with John Hawken's piano and John Knightsbridge's electric guitar, and the acoustic matte of "Never Be The Same". With the caressing chorus carrying on the weight of "Wings Across The Sea", they easily overshadow "Louis' Theme", the underwater exploration by the titular bassist Cennamo with Jane Relf cast as a siren, but the heavy "Cruising Nowhere" rides an exciting exotic rhythm. "The Revolutionary" harks back to where the band's story began, its orchestral sweep leaving a great aftertaste. Sadly, there was no chaser to it.

***1/2
UTOPIA -
Oblivion
Passport 1984
Esoteric 2011

The adventurousness of Todd Rundgren band's dissolves in rock music's worst decade.

UTOPIA was Todd's progressive outlet to complement Rundgren's smart pop as a solo artist and production work for such heavyweights as GRAND FUNK and Meat Loaf, but come the '80s, the room for the fantasy flights started to shrink, and sonic experiments went simplistic. Thus, "Oblivion" has all the rights and wrongs of its era where most of the songs, even the rather heavy, angry, riffy "Itch In My Brain"- a perfect opener! - are marred by plastic keyboards, while the leader's guitar tries hard to infuse energy into the flow, so the foamy funk of "Bring My My Longbow" rages too superficially, as does "Welcome To My Revolution" in its new wave coat.

The title of "Maybe I Could Change" underlines this hollow hope, its music falling on the right side of pop fusion, but if Prince could have taken "Too Much Water" to the charts and MADNESS could have made a hit out of "Winston Smith Takes It On The Jaw", here they lack the kick which keeps afloat the catchy "Cry Baby". The video of the latter cut is featured on bonus DVD alongside a 1981's concert at "The Royal Oak" that captures the quartet at their most pop-bellicose and rounds the package in a nice manner outlined in the record's closer, "I Will Wait". Its anthemic optimism leaves a long, pleasant aftertaste and is the album's saving grace, but their next outing would be the band's last... or so it seemed.

**3/4
JON ANDERSON -
In The City Of Angels
CBS 1988
Esoteric 2011

The YES warbler finds his winged creatures in the least heaven-like place, but still radiates happiness.

There are many sides to Jon Anderson when he's not trapped in the YES, his most famous band's formula: over the years, the singer's put Celtic and cosmic, Latin and ecological, Native American and Christmas themes in his wonder box. But to see Los Angeles as something exotic or otherworldly takes a special mind and a special voice, which is the Englishman's characteristics, of course, and when it comes to the clever commercial approach who to turn to in LA if not to TOTO (as did another British progger, Greg Lake) to provide some intellectual gloss? So those who prefer their Jon in the "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" mode, there's much to enjoy here, while the fans of the "classic" Anderson can choke on such humidity.

The best track on offer is "Top Of The World", taken to a genuine paradise by Steve Lukather's guitar and David Paich's Eastern keyboards motif, and Michael Landau's riff in the light air of "Betcha" might be sharp and its drive infectious, yet it's hard to cut through the plastic thickness of "New Civilization", almost devoid of emotionality. The '80s futility deflates the soul of the otherwise uplifting "In A Lifetime", so while there's no denying the brilliance of "Hold On To Love", co-written with the Motown legend Lamont Dozier and bubbled with Jimmy Haslip's bass and Lenny Castro's percussion, it's too generic to embrace and love. Still, "For You" and "If It Wasn't For Love" are transparent enough to please everyone with its Caribbean jive, whereas "Sundancing" effervescence lays down a blueprint for the artist's next album, "Deseo", and the hymnal "Hurry Home" is a YES man in his very element. An overall impression is of a life subdued due to a period production, but sounding dated, it's as good an experiment for Jon Anderson as any of his efforts.

***
BAKER GURVITZ ARMY
Baker Gurvitz Army
Vertigo 1974
Esoteric 2011

The power of three accumulated for the belligerent bang of a debut.

It was all about the trios. Brothers Gurvitz, bassist Paul and guitarist Adrian, worked in that mighty configuration of a band with GUN and then THREE MAN ARMY and, once the latest group's skin-kicker Tony Newman had departed when another album was on their hands, they drafted in Ginger Baker, previously of another heavy threesome, CREAM. The combination clicked, as this time there was no personality clashes; more so, Ginger brought his love of the African polyrhythm to the Gurvitzs' hard rock. Of course, listening to drum solo on "Memory Lane" demands an acquired taste, yet it makes the song's mesmerizing groove transcendental, especially on-stage, as the bonus track here proves, whereas the trance-like ride of "Inside Of Me" comes on the slide and bass twine and orchestral swell.

The strings sweep also "Love Is", sleazy yet dramatic, where Adrian emerges as a guitar hero after injecting his pop nous into harmonic chorus of the streamline plea "Help Me", which sets the record's tone nicely. "I Wanna Live Again" adds a slightly cheesy but impressive soul vocals to the emotional mix, but the funk of "Mad Jack", that features the screeching of Baker's car's wheels, and the "4 Phil" blues allow Paul exercise his swing. "Since Beginning", with its multi-tracked vocals and fusion backdrop, closes the journey in a slightly theatrical, but instrumentally rich way. Nothing military here, yet these skilfully armed forces still engage.

****3/4
DEL BROMHAM -
Devil's Highway
Trigger Happy Music 2004
Angel Air 2011

The STRAY leader takes his stringed beast to the crossroads and returns with his soul intact.

With occasional blue lick on the records of his hard rock band, one could hardly tell Del Bromham is a blues buff, but here he is, stuck between the Delta and the Windy City and paying his dues to Robert Johnson and Freddie King in high style. The veteran's steel guitar catches the skin from the opening strum of the title track and keeps the tension well until "Ramblin' On My Mind", the last of the bonuses that give the original record the air of completeness, hits the silence.

The painful sharpness may be lost on Bromham's countrified reading of the prison perennial "Midnight Special", yet the chain gang's desperate ring is all over acoustic "Train". When the master takes to the slider, like on "Whiskey, Wine And Beer", he conjures up the shadow of Elmore James, and you want to bring a smile to Peter Green's face play the man the glossy ballad "Slave" or sprightly boogie "Ain't That A Wonderful Thing", Del's originals. In the cover shed, though, Bromham goes for the root, as in "That's Alright Mama" which harks back to the Big Boy Crudup cut rather than Elvis' version, and "Careless Love" channels Big Bill Broonzy's youthful spirit. With energy oozing out of "What's Wrong With You" and the faux-ancient anger of "40 Acres And A Mule", the STRAY man easily delivered one of the best British blues albums.

*****
THE DOG THAT BIT PEOPLE -
The Dog That Bit People
EMI 1971
Esoteric 2010

From West Midlands to the West Coast, the English proggers veer away from the dead-end prog to ride into the sun.

Rising from the ashes of LOCOMOTIVE whose only album bombed, this Brummie collective didn't want to go down the same doomed path and looked for inspiration across the Atlantic, to California, where the real laid-back action was at the time. Not that it helped, but in taking that route, the quartet sculpted a memorable platter smelling of sweet escapism. It's there in the folky picking and harmonica of single "Lovely Lady" and the blissful tone of "Goodbye Country" that bursts into color with the echo-laden harmonies. Then, a piano-driven "A Snapshot Of Rex" paints the acid-augmented picture, and "Someone, Somewhere" rolls its electric bluegrass the humorous way, whereas the prog vestiges pop up in the many layers of anthemic "Tin Soldier".

But while the arresting "Sound Of Thunder" is pure TRAFFIC circa "Low Sparks", though with twin guitars, plus an acoustic thread courtesy of John Caswell and Keith Millar, it's when the band take to the heavier material, such as "Red Queen's Dance", which shoots psychedelia into the hard rock vein, "The Monkey And The Sailor" with its "Tam Lin" riff and Hendrixian fervor to guitars, that the spirits fly the highest, and the distorted stomper of "Reprile Man". Strangely, two opposing stylistic threads make up for a heady experience now, when these notions don't matter anymore, and the result is still biting.

***4/5
FAIRPORT CONVENTION
with Sandy Denny -
Ebbets Field 1974
ItsAboutMusic.com 2011

A document of the moon on the rise, the greatest folk songstress joins her old caravan one more time - for a short time.

Her shadow crossing all the FAIRPORTS history, Sandy Denny's sojourn in the band spanned only three albums, all released in 1969, but their impact, especially of "Liege & Leaf", has been immense. Not that the singer minded: she went on to form FOTHERINGAY and then sailed solo until, in 1973, the diminishing returns made Sandy return to the fold of her old collective where her husband Trevor Lucas and another guitarist, Jerry Donahue, found shelter once that next "F" endeavor folded two years before. The result of her second stay was 1975's "Rising For The Moon", and some of its material was tried on-stage in 1974, but those didn't make it to this concert album which easily rivals "Fairport Live" laid down several months earlier.

Available before in their entirety but with an inferior sound quality, now the tapes from two Denver evenings, remastered by Donahue, are the best live recording of the Denny-fronted line-up, if only for the tremendous, rocking rendition of "Matty Groves". It's not so representative of the actual show, what with Sandy's extracurricular songs making two of the first three cuts, yet her piano ballad, "Solo", and the dramatic, though slightly of tune in the harmonies' department, "John The Gun" gain a new dimension thanks to Dave Swarbrick's magic fiddle that shines the brightest on the medley of traditional tunes and, supported by Dave Pegg's sprightly bass, "Dirty Linen". More so, Swarb delivers a stunning version of "The Hexhamshire Lass", its jolly drive a counter-balance to Sandy's sprawling masterpiece "Who Know Where The Time Goes" and Jerry's "underwater" solo in "Sloth".

Sometimes, Sandy's voice sounds too frontal but in the likes of "It'll Take A Long Time" the performance is worth it, and instrumentalists add a great shimmer to her gold. It was a perfect combination of talents which, sadly, didn't last long, but while it lasted it left the listeners breathless. Still does.

*****
RAY THOMAS -
From Mighty Oaks
Threshold 1975
Esoteric 2011

The MOODY BLUES flautist got his own album to do, and does it the pastoral way.

The mid-70s saw one the most solid prog rock institutions fragmented: if YES pulled the solo records while keeping the mothership on the wing, their Brummie co-runners stopped in their tracks and took time out. An array of solo records followed, and while Graeme Edge took the most rocking route, his colleague Ray Thomas, the latest among the Moodies, went the opposite way. Devoid of flash of Ian Anderson or Thijs van Leer, the reedman engaged in the endearing pop-Arcadian sound with a warm glow to it, even though the orchestral overture, which is the title track, might suggest a different sort of grandness.

Instead, in the soulful "Hey Mama Life", led by Mike Moran's piano, Thomas opts for reflective croon that brings a gauzy nostalgia to the fore, with choir lending a panorama to the drift's intimacy. Thanks to such sincerity, the '40s style doesn't sound like pastiche even in the vaudevillian "Rock-a-Bye Baby Blues" where B.J. Cole's pedal steel shimmers sweetly, but "Love Is The Key" smells of MOR sleaze. Still, cellos and guitars unfurl a dramatic backdrop to "Adam And I", and "High Above My Head" injects a harmonica-riding boogie swing into the tranquil flow that rises high again with the hopeful surge of "I Wish We Could Fly". Not the kind of album one could expect from a flute-wielding artist, but it hold a lot of light in its soft core, with more diversity saved for its follow-up.

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