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Re-issues Reviews

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HARD STUFF -
Bolex Dementia
Purple Records 1973
Angel Air 2011

The second, and the last, hurray from the underrated, but overcharged, power trio.

Johns Du Cann and Gustafson weren't novices to the showbiz when, together with Paul Hammond, they formed HARD STUFF, and knew the rules of the game too well to hope the band would be big. Yet they couldn't predict all the elusiveness of success for their impressive debut to go rather unnoticed by the audience the trio shared with their touring partners DEEP PURPLE and URIAH HEEP. Perhaps, that's why their next effort demonstrates more light and commercial approach - not lightweight, though, as now, instead of heavy rock, funk reigned supreme in the grooves.

The depth of the band's talent is best fathomed here with a dubby soul of "Libel" which turns the blackness of their first album to a new facet - supple and honeyed - more suitable for late Stax rather than Purple, or the Motownesque sway of "Spiders Web". But there's much of superficial glitter, as Gustafson delivers a pure glam jive of "Ragman", topped with hand-clapping and foot-stomping, and Du Cann follows the suit with the slide-oiled "Jumpin' Thumpin' (Ain't That Somethin')". Still, if the sharp riffs of Du Cann's "Roll A Rocket", a smooth tone-setter, shift to make room for the bass-bopping boogie and harmony guitars, and kick up the excitement, the slow "Mermany" looses the pressure thanks to John D's homemade cello and acoustic guitars until the vocals get a razor edge and John G throws a synthesizer layer in.

The title track ends things (and there's an alternate song ordered implemented during the remastering, the last thing Du Cann did before his death) in progressive chaos, or in avant-garde mode, that harks back to the players' past. And there was no future for them en mass, as a car crash that almost killed guitarist and drummer cost HARD STUFF the momentum they lacked from the off and, eventually, the trio split. Now, with both side of a single augmenting the album, their demented legend is cemented for good.

***1/2
TANGERINE DREAM -
Alpha Centauri
Ohr 1971
Reactive 2011

From Kraut to Kosmos: an endless journey into the unknown yet blissful begins here.

This German band's rising might have been slow but steady. Their debut, "Electronic Meditation", was nothing more than a collective pen-testing for the flight course, yet when a plan had been laid out for its follow-up the chart showed a grand scheme of things. A diagram for "Alpha Centauri" included in this comprehensive reissue shows a science factor in play, and it's here that a unique Deutsche take on rock makes room for one Kosmiche scale Edgar Froese and his colleagues have calibrated ever since.

The three tracks on "Alpha Centauri" create a space of their own, building a crepuscular expanse from the minimalist nucleus of Ligeti and Stockhausen. "Sunrise In The Third System", a relatively short opener, sees Froese's guitar claw its way through the haze of Steve Schroyder's church organ which hangs its hymnal solemnity in the synthesizer-oozed otherworldly oscillations. These ghostly sonics lead into "Fly And Collision Of Comas Sola" and shoot disturbingly through its baroque vibe until a shade of pastoral flute announces its earthly presence and ties the celestial to the mundane that the chug Christopher Franke's percussion hints on. The tension grows until the thunder and lightning of reed and drums shape a purely acoustic soundscape, dry and ominous. Then, an LP side-long title opus collects all the elements but goes for their nebulous implementation in search for a mood rather than a melody; still, when a siren and the screams go to the surface, the pellucid organ and processed bass riffs fathom the aural cauldron's depth, with the flute as a silver lining for white noise that ebbs between the background and the front line to come down as a choral.

After that, casting the downward glance seemed impossible, and the trio temporarily moved to explore time, on "Zeit", rather than space, but the still-innocent moment where every possibility became open for their liberated minds is preserved the best on this reissue that adds a live document of "Oszillator Planet Concert" and both parts of a contemporary heavy-rocking single "Ultima Thule" to complete the album-formed picture.

****1/2
HARD STUFF -
Bulletproof
Purple Records 1972
Angel Air 2011

Edgy, heavy funk from the most comprehensive British answer to Jimi Hendrix's band.

There was a time when power trios trod the Earth, yet only a few of those possessed the real might to challenge the ghost of Jimi. But one year after his demise a true contender rose up, when guitarist John Du Cann, freshly discharged from ATOMIC ROOSTER, joined forces with bassist John Gustafson, just out of QUATERMASS, and took his former colleague, drummer Paul Hammond on board. Thus, DAEMON broke unto the scene to change their name into BULLET who, threatened by an American band of the same title, became HARD STUFF. The music they played is still hard but their debut album seemed quite an easy task because the group's previous incarnation had laid down a blueprint for it. While it became unreleased for almost 30 years, what the threesome had to do was to change some parts and remix the results, and it was this that crystallized their focus.

There's a helluva riffs to get spiked on with a heavy accent on funk. This vibe drives the opener "Jay Time", where the rhythm section creates a vibrating platform for theatrically demented wails, both vocal and stringed, and "Millionaire" that, together with "No Witch At All" which sees two Johns harmonize, should have been a huge concert attraction thanks to the tight but loose interplay lurching into solos. The latter and "Time Gambler" mold the sharpest attack here, whilst the sheer recklessness oozes out of "Sinister Mister" building a rock 'n' roll fantasy castle on the "Foxy Lady" foundation. Most of the compositions show a progressive edge, though: Gus co-wrote one of those, "Monster In Paradise", with his former EPISODE SIX mates, Roger Glover and Ian Gillan who would cut his own version of it, whereas Du Cann's "Hobo", more impressive as a bonus single here, betrays the author's paisley past.

Humorous, all its deceptive blackness notwithstanding, "Bulletproof" still sounds strong - and finally, clear; sadly, with HARD STUFF's second album, these were the last recordings that John Du Cann oversaw a remastering of before his 2011's passing.

****2/3
SOCRATES -
Phos
Mercury 1976
Esoteric 2011

One of the best records from the Balkans, with Olympic thunder and the god of Greek music as a guest.

With a scene as thriving as anywhere in Europe, Greece didn't leave a noticeable trace on the global rock map but presented one mighty figure to the world: Vangelis. Riding high after "Heaven And Hell", he could have been rather picky when it came to choosing who to work with, and it speaks volumes of the maestro's compatriots SOCRATES that he agreed to produce their third album, play keyboards and even take part in writing. The power trio deserved such an effort, though, to fully release their dynamics with a national flavor, as they do on this short, yet impactful classic.

So it's not the romantic, luminous space of instrumental "Every Dream Comes To An End" which Vangelis co-composed that shines the brightest here; more so, cosmic layers that he elevates the soft "Queen Of The Universe" with eat away at its burning folk heart. As beautiful as the master's contributions are, the band unfurl their own sonic panorama to the fullest in the epic "Mountains" - from a cappella vignettes to the transparent guitar pointillism - and reserve some atomic energy in "Starvation" where John Spathas' zither-like axes paint a sophisticated, if traditionally straight, ornament on the big-screen backdrop of bombastic synthesizers and straight pop beat. But "Killer" adds a spiked funk to the elegant mix, "Time Of Pain" relaxes the urgent strain with acoustic pillow, and "The Bride" gives the Balkanic drive more adventurous vibe with its medieval majesty and bassist Antonis Tourkogiorgis' vibrato a la Vangelis' former colleague Demis Roussos, while there's more nuances to the SOCRATES warbler's pipes.

An enchanting record that alone should make Greek progressive rock a real contender on the European scene.

****4/5
BEAU -
Creation Recreated
Dandelion 1971
Cherry Red 2011

A classic LP finally gets its sonic due and expands to embrace previously hidden horizons.

Like Donovan before him, John Trevor Midgley wasn't content to confine his acoustic picking to the folky ball, and, perhaps, it was this hunger for wrapping worldly observations in deceptively simple but, in fact, imaginative garb that made Beau, as the artist is mostly known, a prize runner at John Peel's Dandelion label. "Creation" was his second album for the label but there was more to its story which the veteran is eager to tell now with the LP's enhanced edition available as an official, remastered download.

It may correct the original's problems by four new mixes - a silky sad "There Once Was A Time" removes stereo separation of guitar and voice - but retains its actual freshness. With a great attention to detail, "Nine Minutes" (not the song's length) throws the listener in the contemporary turmoil, its web of acoustic strum stressing the grim situation of vandalism depicted, while the more anxious "Ferris Street" rings with an echoing drone. Elsewhere, a clavioline adds a cosmic edge to the gently textured "April Meteor" and electronic effects take the whispered words of the title track into space. Yet when it comes to real scorching, nothing here equals the surprise arrival of searing acid guitar on "Silent Returns", courtesy of TRACTOR's Jim Milne whose bandmate Steve Clayton spikes the psychedelic soup with mad drumming. That was the climactic end of "Creation".

But now it picks up from there with a universal swirl of "Shadows Of The Moon", synthesizer dancing around a 12-string, an enchanting cut written for that album yet omitted to be recorded in 1978, whereas the waltz of "Rank & File" sees Beau at the firm troubadour grounds as does "The Special Night" from Beau's unreleased record, "High Mass". At the same "Sky Dance" which was to land on that LP, is presented in its original, sulphuric form as opposed to its sweet version issued under the John Trevor name (also included here), and "Able Seaman Sperm", from 1995, shows there's still much creative zip in the veteran.

****1/2
HOT TUNA -
Yellow Fever
Grunt 1975
Esoteric 2011

The second instalment of the band's heavy trilogy: the tempers cut loose in earnest. With cheese and banana on the cover, there's nothing cheese or banal about it.

Slim and hard: while others put on fat by mid-70s, HOT TUNA gained weight other way, by leadening their acoustic bones. The power trio format suit them nicely, as this, the group's second album 1975 suggests. There's much more self-confidence now, the usual addition of covers opening it up with Jimmy Reed's classic "Baby What You Want Me to Do" to challenge the listener with deceptive pandering to one's desire. Effectively laying down a welcoming boogie. Jorma Kaukonen unleashes his riffing over a sensitive groove of Jack Casady's bass while Bob Steeler's drums drive home the JEFFERSON AIRPLANE pair's steamroller for delicious 7 minute, a small but a representative portion of their notorious live jams, while "Hot Jelly Roll Blues" turns the ensemble's traditional acoustic net into an electric hammock with relaxed, if insistent, slide-smoothes charge. Quite a start!

But TUNA's own predatory "Song For The Fire Maiden" overshadows standards with its funky-feathered hard rock and Kaukonen's imaginative fingers work which constantly goes around a new, unexpected bend in search for a new color. Here's the same smiley menace as in "Sunrise Dance With The Devil" that gains heavy momentum and speed as it rolls along from a simple guitar figure to streamline blues to a wah-wah-waving frenzied solo. For a respite, "Free Rein" comes on a like a light country ride and "Bar Room Crystal Ball" revels in its deliberate Dylanism with a psychedelic synthesizer shots into its rustic core. But "Half Time Saturation" takes it one splashy notch up whereas "Surphase Tension" builds its wares on a ballad foundation only to shape up anxiously offering no mercy in the end. Strange yet fantastic.

****2/3
HARSH REALITY -
Heaven & Hell
Philips 1969
Esoteric 2011

A proto-prog ensemble, having suffered in the name of art, finally get their tentative due. Greatness still sags, though.

It was a devilish way to get into the future with such garish, glory cover and a title that, in little more than a decade on, would suggest BLACK SABBATH type, but these Brits played nothing of the sort. There is certain gloom in their music which gets deep as the album evolves yet, in the end of the day, it was the artwork that saved the group from total obscurity and made their sole LP a highly valuable collector's item and a connoisseur's prize. Paul Weller covered the quintet's most famous cut, the flowing, glistening ballad "Tobacco Ash Sunday", written, as well as the title track, by the pre-THIRD WORLD WAR Terry Stamp, but it's the musicians' own stamp that renders the latter a standout and a blueprint for most of the songs here.

It combines the mid-'60s harmonious innocence with a jolly gloom to search for an acoustic light over five delicious minutes and finally find it in the chorus hook and baroque solos. Equally sprawling is three-part spookily transparent instrumental "Mary Roberta" bobbing on first Steve Miller's bass and then musique concrete and interspersing others dark cuts like the murderously memorable "Devil's Daughter" and "Praying For Reprieve", which goes wild on Mark Griffiths and Dave Jenkins' six-string duel and runs for a symphonic quote. Yet the progressive tendencies hardly overshadow the band's soulful take on the post-psych drive of tracks like the latter or "When I Move" where Alan Greed's supple voice rolls over his organ while blues guitars come underpinned with harmonica. Some other passages on the album dated less graciously yet there's still a bliss and a fire in the grooves; sad, HARSH REALITY succumbed to their name's vagaries.

****
AFTER THE FIRE -
Signs Of Change
Rapid Records 1978
Angel Air 2011

A wholly unexpected warm debut from the "Der Komissar" commanders: retro-futurism turned inside out.

Most of new bands have a humble start, all their ambitions notwithstanding, but when ATF emerged on the scene they were quite different from the group that would deliver some classic new wave missives a couple of years later. "Signs Of Change", their debut album - released on the ensemble's own label: an unheard of feat back in the day, - is a prime example of progressive rock, Peter Banks' keyboards propelling the music into the retro future.

It's so clear in "Back to The Light" - graceful, light and looking into the '80s with its lively beat and romantic guitar solo from Andy Pierce, while "Now That I've Found" comes wrapped in the faux orchestral cloth and marries heavy organ with an acoustic guitar. Classical influence are proudly worn on the sleeve also in the title track that's quite funky to boot and boasts a dance-inducing section in the middle. There are jazzy tones to the transparent synthetic jive of "Dance Of The Marionettes" with Pierce's voice anxiously lurking in its shadow before the piece breaks into a baroque reggae and takes on a solemn harmonic mantle to lure the listener in.

Yet the most surprising cut on offer is a "Jigs" where the title says it all save for the fact that ATF could give FAIRPORTS a run for their Cropredy money when, after a Beethoven quote, the authentic instrumental grows into "Pilgrim", an impressive slice of folk rock making an artful turn again as it progresses. So much for the ones who'd deliver "Der Komissar" some years on, but there's much, indeed: three additional tracks from the album's period, including a grand "Samaritan Woman" with its acoustic base and a soulful wail, plus a demo, to make "Signs" last deservedly longer.

*****
BUTTERSCOTCH -
Don't You Know It's Butterscotch
RCA 1970
Angel Air 2011

A songwriters' vehicle that took to middle-of-the-road ahead of its time but came to a halt prematurely.

There's been a lot of pseudo bands created by auteurs who were too busy to get on the road with songs they cherished too much to give to other artists. But the team called AMMO and comprising Chris Arnold, David Martin and Geoff Morrow managed to do the trick once Billy Fury, Cliff Richard and Frank Ifield had taken some of their confections into the UK charts, and formed BUTTERSCOTCH. Their first single, "Don't You Know", charted as well, so a writing of such a quality dictated a whole album, the sole LP by the group as it turned out, reissued now in all its sweet glory.

But there's more to the title: taking their acronym game further, AMMO set a task of writing songs whose titles would begin with the first letter of the band's name - and add their hit to the end of it. It works, even though the record starts with a mellifluous parting ballad "Bye For Now", Martin's honeyed voice riding an acoustic guitar and orchestral wave until the tempo surges. A bit cheesy, sure, but memorably pleasant, just what the public loves, and who can resist the caressing strings and harpsichord of instrumental joke "Theme For A Theme", so serious in its waltz flow or the delicate grace and "moo's" of "Cows"? And if cuts like "End Of My Nose", with all its gentle rocking, or "Office Girl" sound dated now, in 1970 they hit the point other ensembles, like ABBA, would reach only half a decade later, but "Constant Reminder" is a perfect, if straight-faced pop song, while "Reasons" boogies down as if Roy Orbison engaged Chuck Berry for a jam.

Here, the original album is augmented by a brace of singles, the last of which, 1974's vaudevillian "Sunday Won't Be Sunday Anymore", put an end to this nice project but not to the AMMO partnership who by that time had another vehicle, RESCUE CO NO. 1, with other musicians doing their songs - but that's another story, whereas BUTTERSCOTCH's LP still stands as a testament to the trio's tuneful wit.

***1/2
ROCOCO -
The Firestorm And Other Love Songs
Angel Air 2011

The purveyors of diversity go deep and wide into the wildfire of their fantasy.

So many bands, eager to please their listener, think too much of the ways to do it and keep their integrity intact. ROCOCO didn't: created by two music journos, Roy Shipston of "Disc & Music Echo" and Geoff Ward of "Melody Maker", the group were the ultimate entertainers whose image, in their own eyes, wasn't very important. Which resulted in both ensemble's undoing and a trove of brilliant songs they left behind, and while "Run From The Wildfire", their first release on Angel Air, presented an album, this collection spanning 1973-1978 scrapes the archives for more obscure recordings.

Here, obscure doesn't mean the music lacking lustre as there's a lot of glitter in the vaudeville kick-up of "Follow That Car" and the theatrical rock 'n' roll of "Rock-Ola" with its vocal harmonies and harmony guitar. But while "Ultrastar" trembles warm and welcoming, and another take on "Hometown Girls - Downtown Pearls" shines its neon gently and almost jazzy, "Lucinda, You're A Sinner" swings its riffs with a proper menace, whereas the meaty organ of "Wildfire" and the sci-fi jive of "The Hollywood Brats" elevate ROCOCO's rock to progressive heights. Sadly, they shot too far for many to have a glimpse and enjoy their graceful light.

***
GREENSLADE -
Live 1973-1975
Mystic 1999
Angel Air 2011

A double-barrel ensemble in all their might: all stops are extra and no holds barred - save for some bar-room wooziness.

Two-keyboards bands are one rare phenomenon, and the group Dave Greenslade came up with when COLOSSEUM broke up weren't the first. But while PROCOL HARUM patented an organ-and-piano combination, GREENSLADE built their sound on two synthesizers' liaison. In the words of Dave Lawson, the second ivories-handler and main singer, "because our styles were different, it worked more often than not", and this disc is the proof. More so, for the most part of their career the quartet didn't have a guitarist, yet when a string tremble was needed forward stepped Tony Reeves, the original COLOSSEUM bassist whose proviso for the keyboardists was, "don't get in my frequency range too often", so there's a special balance that births magic.

The band were a pure progressive unit, as suggest two drastically different versions of "Sundance", 1973's raw and wild and 1975's more cosmically elegant one, spacey Moogs competing with Hammond's drawl with bass rumble to ebb high and low - or to lead, alternatively fuzzily and smoothly, as in "Melange". On-stage, "Bedside Manners Are Extra" and "Drowning Man" receive a solemn adventurousness as opposed to a studio transparent lyricism, and "Spirit Of The Dance" marries baroque to rock dynamics in its swirl. But "Feathered Friends" goes for Jimmy Smith-like abandon, Andrew McCulloch's drums giving it all a jazz edge and Lawson delivering the most dramatic vocals which somehow get lost in the synthetic, yet folk-tinctured, grace of "Joie De Vivre". That's joy of life, indeed, and it's a pity there's no more concerts tapes in the archives, for even in this rarest of phenomenon GREENSLADE remain a unique proposition 40 years on.

****1/2
ARTHUR BROWN & VINCENT CRANE -
Faster Than The Speed Of Light
Innovative Communication 1980
Esoteric 2011

Former colleagues reunite to change the tack from idiosyncratic to operatic and go from their initial mad place to some other world.

It was 10 years between the demise of CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN and a new collaboration of that band's titular protagonist and his deserter organ-grinder. By the late '70s Brown had become a minor classic while Crane, after his ATOMIC ROOSTER crashed, surrendered by mental illness. Still, for his own good, Arthur pulled his volatile friend out of early retirement to work together on Klaus Schulze's "Time Actor" that planted the seeds for this concept work - grand and elegant.

It's not unlike Rick Wakeman's dalliances with opera singers, as Brown unfurls his rich baritone here on the swell of "Storm Clouds" while the Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra builds tension on Crane's piano which passes its riff to Moog of the bouncy "Nothing We Can Do" where the singer goes for his patented theatrical drama - electric dance with a slight rocking to bemoan the decline of human race. A bit awkward, as is "Timeship" that tries too hard to sound modern with a space mantle over the ivories, but "No" is progressively heavy, the best example of two veterans getting the best of each other, as The God Of Hellfire's going wonderfully mental over the Rooster Master's heady brew.

Yet "Come And Join The Fun" for all its grimacing is an Alice Cooper-like pop panto that grows serious as the strings take over, while the deceptively light "Storm" takes in synthesizer buzz for a thunder, not Hammond that carries the crawling weight of "This Is It" and anchors the "Tightrope" doomy groove to the dancefloor to deliver an atomic solo. The title track returns the drift to the grandiose, operatic lift of the record's beginning which can turn any notion of Arthur Brown the clever clown on its flaming head and shed a shining light on Vincent Crane the arranger. It gave the latter a spark to reform ROOSTER while the former sailed further down his peculiar route. Sadly, their paths never crossed once again.

***4/5
TUDOR LODGE -
Tudor Lodge
Vertigo 1971
Esoteric 2011

A silky masterpiece of British folk rock, the one that time can't forget.

It seems like rock excavation turns up another skilfully hidden treasure every day, but of this band connoisseurs have always - deservedly - talked in reverent tones. The trio's only album balances graciously on the verge of homespun delights and baroque elegancy borne of two male and one female voices caught in the web of acoustic guitars and twined around with Ann Steuart's magic flute. She was that secret ingredient that lofted the duo of John Stannard and Lyndon Green's above the club crowd, but when it came to record, the PENTANGLE rhythm section of Danny Thompson and Terry Cox added the depth to the fantastic suite opening with celestial harmonies of "It All Comes Back To Me" and draws to a close with a delicate reading of Ralph McTell's "Kew Gardens". So it's an urban sort of country spin here.

It's never more obvious than in the fair vaudeville of "Would You Believe" where the rustic rumble meets gentle strum and the ruminative "Recollection" with its three voices given an impressive, ear-embracing stereo pan, before Ann stands alone, awashed with string quartet and sprinkled with piano, in "Two Steps Back". Out from the squall and on the bank, the band sculpt a gossamer charm of "Willow Tree", while their "Forest" looks pastoral yet strict and a little anxious in the woodwind surrounding, and if sometimes the blissful reverie takes over, in such a spare aural context the gloss works, and even an electric guitar thread in "Nobody's Listening" feels natural like a distant lightning during an evening walk. The guitar becomes deliciously wayward to charge the sparkling roll that is "The Lady's Changing Home" and point to a rockier future.

It wasn't to be once Steuart left and her replacement Linda Peters didn't stay long and went out with her husband Richard Thompson. There were reunions and, in the '90s, new music but, while Stannard and his partner keep the flame alive, none of it matches this great album to which a bonus "The Good Times We Had" is a fitting finale.

*****
AARDVARK -
Aardvark
Deram Nova 1970
Esoteric 2011

A long overdue reissue of obscure organ-rolling classic: proto-pop-prog at its best.

Of many young bands that got a promising start but got nowhere further than a debut album, only a few delivered real gems, this being one of those - with a bend. AARDVARK shaped their heavy rock without a guitar, unlike ELP who also put the mighty weight on the organ wizardry. But Steve Milliner, who'd played with Paul Kossoff's BLACK CAT BONES before, saw no use in being flashy leaving the panache to singer David Skillin, and it's there from the first second the hot flow of "Copper Sunset" cuts the silence with its synth plough and Hammond rages over Stan Aldous' bobbing bass. It's not the tune that captivates here, it's the drive that charges the poise of "Many Things To Do" with Frank Clark's FX-ed drumming for more piquancy. But "The Greencap" Eastern groove, where the rhythm section runs amok, brings forth a sweet melodic hook, and the quartet can easily wax lyrical once piano gets under the softened voice in the jazzy "Very Nice Of You To Call".

"I Can't Stop" plants reckless boogie into the astral churchiness, the contrast creating a "fall down to Earth" effect before getting space-wild for the bug-eyed tribal chant of "The Outing - Yes" jolt the joint for more than 9 minutes to ruin the elegant mood with its stoner rock cosmic wonders. And then another contrast, with an enchanting, uplifting gauzy folk of "Once Upon A Hill" that is followed by the monster which was to have become the title track: "Put That In Your Pipe And Smoke It" - removed from the cover, it offers a frenetic organ wigout that places its classically trained executor on the same shelf as Jon Lord and Ken Hensley. Only this band's album flopped to become a rarity, now finally salvaged from the dark recesses of psych.

****1/4
SPEEDY KEEN -
Y'Know Wot I Mean
Island 1975
Esoteric 2011

With the sky to reach for and the air to breathe, the last and beautiful hurray from a star-driving songwriter.

Hit is one hell of an elusive bitch, and John Keen knew it too well: having presented THE WHO with perennial "Armenia, City In The Sky" and notching a smash with "Something In The Air" as part of THUNDERCLAP NEWMAN, Speedy found it hard to reproduce such successes. The title of his solo debut, 1973's "Previous Convictions", made it clear and sealed its fate which didn't prevent the singing drummer to think bold and plan a double concept album. For the artist of his caliber it was too much, so Keen switched labels for Island where Chris Blackwell convinced him to do a concise but tight LP and even produced "Bad Boys", an infectious slice of ska, with Speedy himself taking reins on the rest of the tracks, all self-penned, save for Roy Orbison's acoustic-tinged "Almost Eighteen", and all quite endearing.

The soft parade starts with a country rock roll of "Crazy Love" caressed with B.J. Cole's pedal steel, while "My Love" conjures a web-like transparency from the same ingredients, and "I Promise You" is simple, even rustic in its hay-blowing romanticism, with Rabbit Bundrick's hushed keyboard solo giving it a light swirl. But if "Someone To Love" tones the emotion down only for its chorus to soar from the solid organ bedrock, "Nightmare" rocks its pessimism sprightly over Speedy's former bandmate Jimmy McCulloch's wailing guitar, and "The Profit On Ecology" makes the titular problem hoe-down in the listener's subconscious to call to action in the name of brighter future. A bonus single "Your Love" is a smooth anthem that, sadly, didn't chart, so Speedy Keen lost his drive to bake another album and became a star producer; it's a pity such a talented writer didn't return to the front until his passing in 2002.

****
ARTHUR BROWN & RICHARD WAHNFRIED -
Time Actor
Innovative Communication 1979
Esoteric 2011

The British shock rock original showman joins forces with the grandmeister of electronics to explore the space.

As those into experimental music might know, Herr Wahnfried is a mask Klaus Schulze used to wear to go out from his well-organized sonic playground, so to hear him work with Arthur Brown whose MO always invited a methodical chaos was quite a strange thing. Until, that is, you realize that the latter's cosmic rock and the former's Kosmische music have too much in common. Schulze saw the point as early as 1976 when he asked Brown to grace the stage with him, so three years later, once Arthur was back from his Burundian anabasis that enriched the Englishman's understanding of rhythm, the German savant invited him in a studio to lay down this project.

A concept of temporal theater appealed to both and, with Arthur bringing in his CRAZY WORLD colleague Vincent Crane to handle keyboards and Klaus getting advice from ex-SANTANA drummer Mike Shrieve who he worked with when playing with Stomu Yamashta, the two created a deceptively conventional record that got ahead of its time. On the first glance, the title track submits a regular dancefloor fare where Brown recites over shimmering electronica yet it would be at home at the early '90s rave parties to let the feet rest and a head fly, what with the lysergic wail in the shooting stars of "Distorted Emission I" stricken with a folky cello and madful scat and Arabic operatics in the multi-layered "Time Echoes". The texture almost imperceptibly gets thicker, and metronomic beat turns fuzzy for "Time Factory", a gentle song with a clang and twang keeping its surface tight and ever-changing melodically. This chameleon-like beauty pervades "Charming The Wind" which marries analogue synthesizers' dance to a buzzy gauze of the wired gizmos, while the 15-minute "The Silent Sound Of The Ground" bristles with reggae skank and heavy organ riffing over which Arthur Brown lays nervous words to fully inhabit the titular thespian: a captivating combination with a serene undercurrent to it. After all the years of rolling fashions, "Time Actor" remains a timeless confection - strange but alluring vortex of aural delight.

****
RESCUE CO. NO. 1 -
Life's Too Short
Angel Air 2011

Most of the singles from 1971-1975, mostly hits-in-waiting, and not a single chart-dent.

It's a safe bet to say the time unjustly forgot this British band that were born as a vehicle for a songwriting team of Chris Arnold, David Martin and Geoff Morrow from the able players of ORANGE AIR but quickly overgrew their artificial origins. Remembered - if remembered! - by the compilation's title track, released in 1971 by Mickie Most's RAK label and marrying the psychedelia bloom with the new decade's orchestral flight, there was much more fire in the group's ever-revolving sides. Songs like "Mrs. Mann", "No Man's Land" (1972's cut, not the 1974's remake, also here) and "Gotta Find You" with their glossy memorable choruses and stinging guitars can rank with the best of Ray Davies and Roy Wood's confections.

Some of the other tracks verge on falling the wrong side of the era sleaze but there's almost always a little quirk to prevent such a slide. Thus, "Nothing But The Best" vainly tries to update the '50s ballroom banality for the dancefloor times, but "Esmerelda", combining reckless rocking with a cautious look at the older audience, goes for the glam jugular, whereas "The Race" explores a hard rock formula without actually getting heavy. At the same time "Roll A Bowl A Woman" chugs jolly like a carnival train, with a brass band and a chanting community in tow, and "As Long As You Want Me To" is a tremulous acoustic romp battling indifference. As does all this comp which, in parallel universe, is surely titled "Greatest Hits".

****
TANGERINE DREAM -
Poland - The Warsaw Concert
Jive 1984
Reactive 2011

The German trio get behind the Iron Curtain with their own sort of tapestry - totally unfamiliar but ultimately enchanting.

In the early '80s, Poland was in turmoil, the government-imposed martial law crushing blue-collar opposition such as Lech Walesa's Solidarnosc. The country needed some fresh air and, of course, it was too dangerous to give a stage to the rebel-rousers like THE ROLLING STONES back in 1967, so TANGERINE DREAM looked like a safer option. Not for the the Kosmische musik-makers who, removed from politics and eager to play for the people, suffered from the freeze and electric outage, stunned their listeners with new, previously unheard aural creations.

Documented here, over two discs, the pieces recorded in Warsaw and given a studio smoothing later on don't sound like spontaneous improvisations, especially when Edgar Froese unleash what cuts like a Floydian guitar in "Barbakane" and on "Rare Bird", an encore moved to the end of the first disc for the best impact: there, the sharp art rocking takes place, shooting its beams to cosmos from the memorable, contagious tune. But a clear melodic plan is obvious from the very beginning. In "Poland" the crawling synthesizer motif intensifies over electronic riffage and dry percussion until the flow reaches its abstract delta; then, the drift becomes more playful and the rhythm tighter, the keyboards simulating blues harmonica wail before slowing down for a mesmeric dirge, hushed on drum patterns and transparent yet dramatic.

"Tangent" treats the mood differently as it unfurls its enchanting tune over shimmering buzz and grows magnificent and thicker only to become spare and spacey, and to crystallize into "Polish Dance" for the three protagonists - Froese, Chris Franke and Johannes Schmoelling - to weave a feet-tapping groove and chase their fellow-countrymen KRAFTWERK on the white-noise planescapes. The aforementioned "Barbakane" comes equally cold but holds a promise of adventure in its beating core, the promise realized in the piece's central section, the monumentally uplifting "Warsaw In The Sun". A dawn feeling permeates also "Horizon", so pleasant while it spreads its dancing icebergs around, yet its titular expanse is hard to grasp. But that's the DREAM trademark thing, and it's a sign of great artistry to have overcome the rough conditions to emerge with something as beautiful as "Poland". A few years later, the country will follow the suit.

*****
RANDY VanWARMER -
The Vital Spark / Sings Stephen Foster
Alias 1994 / JVC 2006
Angel Air 2011

The late great hitmaker's sunset oeuvre - light and dark, with the company of luminaries and on his own.

It's a token of quality that your song gets covered by the likes of Dolly Parton but, perhaps, the most heartfelt version of "Just When I Needed You Most" was cut by its author. Or re-cut, as a marvellous bonus on this twofer that comprises two of his late albums shows. American VanWarmer's catalogue might include the hits he wrote for THE OAK RIDGE BOYS but, after years spent in Cornwall, from 15 to 24, before settling down in Nashville in 1979, so when it came to "The Vital Spark" Randy brought in two guitar-toting Englishmen to give his fire a food: Mick Ronson and Shane Fontayne. The result was, indeed, effervescent from the effervescent a cappella harmony of "I'm In A Hurry To Get Things Done" that turns country on its pop head, to Scottish motif-bearing "The Silence Of Her Dreams", through the soulful road-trip jive of "Time And Money", brass polishing acoustic guitar and fervent female backing. It's a good-time music where even the sadness comes out sweetly brilliant like in the piano ballad "I Will Whisper Your Name" or twangy "Used Cars" - what a great metaphor for lovers!

"The Vital Spark" came out when Ronson had passed away; and that was the same with a collection of Stephen Foster songs that saw the release after VanWarmer died of leukaemia, in 2004. His tribute to the father of American music was to reproduce the rustic feel of the 19th century originals but with a modern polish, and they sound exactly like this, Randy playing all instruments himself. And here lies a problem: save for the harmonium-bolstered "Hard Times Come Again No More" which thrives on its folk pivot, the homespun drive of classics such as "We Will Keep A Bright Lookout" gets lost in the electric buzz, although "Angelina Baker" and "The Camptown Races" gain a world music grace here thanks to their echoing soundscapes and a background chant. And it's mostly thanks to the strength of its source material and VanWarmer's alluring voice that his takes on the celestial "Beautiful Dreamer" and "Oh! Susannah" transcend a demo - voice and synthesizer - approach. Yet there's a hidden vigor in these tracks to make them serve a fitting testament to a talent gone away.

***2/3 / ***
THE TONY WILLIAMS LIFETIME -
(Turn It Over)
Polydor 1970
Esoteric 2011

Squaring his act up, the fusion pioneer delivers a streamlined, black-velvet punch.

In the expanse of "Emergency!", a debut album by former Miles Davis' drummer's band, lay its shortcomings: perhaps, the world wasn't ready yet for such unconventional thinking. More so, it was hard to have a label support so, when the sales figure showed the public didn't get the LP, Tony Williams opted for more regular line-up and engaged Jack Bruce as his rhythm section partner. It lent the band additional dynamics, so prominent in the tangle of Bruce's bass and Larry Young's organ on John Coltrane's "Big Nick". Now, there's a balance, as it was with Bruce that LIFETIME's guitarist John McLaughlin went all jazzy back in England.

Curiously, Jack doesn't get to sing on their collaboration with the Americans, leaving it to Tony, and applies his operatic pipes only on "One World", a bonus single, while Williams wraps his voice in the synthetic shimmer for Jobim's "Once I Loved". That's the measure of freedom which is thrown at the listener with the opener, Chick Corea's "To Whom It May Concern", which crawls from heavy, meandering blues of its "Them" part, where McLaughlin's strings and Young's keys run in unison, to the cosmic sway of "Us" where African jive pitches in. This progressive, rocky permeates short "Right On" and stands tall in the riff-laden vertigo of "Vuelta Abajo", both written by the band leader, whereas all the instrumentalists' strains come together in Young's free-falling "Allah Be Praised".

A more compact album than its predecessor, this is more digestible and has more impact in its grooves - from there jazz rock has sprung.

****
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