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Re-issues Reviews

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CRESSIDA -
Trapped In Time:
The Lost Tapes
Rare Record Club 2011
Esoteric 2012

A compact disc debut of a footnote band's first firm footing - a spoke in the reformation wheel.

2011 marked the 40th anniversary of CRESSIDA's sad departure and the group's coming back to life on the wave of renewed interest to their criminally limited output. So, in order to give their fans additional value, the veterans delved into personal archives to discover more than a worn acetate of the ensemble's early cuts: there's a whole treasure trove of songs, a good portion of which made it to their eponymous debut, plus an epic that ended on the second album, now joining the first on "The Vertigo Years Anthology". While those recordings rely heavily - in all senses - on Peter Jennings' Hammond, the majority of these demos feature the band's original keyboard player Lol Coker whose dynamic range is less impressive, more basic on the dirge-like "Winter Is Coming Again" with its soft percussion, yet his enthusiasm in unison with John Heyworth's guitar gives "Cressida" the spin its ultimate take is lacking. Quite often, though, the difference feels perfunctory.

Sometimes, less elaborate approach of the group's initial incarnation works fine for a song's catchiness or absence thereof, and on these grounds "Depression" differs from its later version, yet that would be an underestimation to say the same about "Let Them Come When They Will" that grew from the light, if gloomy, 3-minute romp into a blistering tapestry of many colors. Whereas "Only Earthman In Town" would be slightly improved for inclusion on the album, a clearer change in the sound between CRESSIDA's line-ups is exemplified by the brilliant "Mental State" and "Situation" - an unissued single by the 1969 ensemble and a track by the 1970 collective with Jennings on the ivories and John Cullen's axe. As of the previously unreleased songs, "Sad Eyed Fairy" is too rooted in the '60s psychedelia to stand out despite the six-string acoustic lace, but "Silent Night", a bonus making its premiere here, smells of the '70s sulfur. This collection captures the group in a transient state and, thus, is for collectors, yet there's a wider appeal to it.

***
SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION -
Triad
Harvest 1972 /
Esoteric 2012

The second, and last, album from a band who lived and died according to their name with echo reverberating through the years.

It hardly was a plan from the off, to put out a couple of LPs within a year and fizzle out, yet it turned out that way and turned quite bitter: lack of progress - a paradox for a progressive rock ensemble - made the Margetts brothers quit music, with only drummer Tony Brock remaining a fixture on the scene, from THE BABYS on. Not that COMBUSTION's sophomore effort showed any weakness. Vice versa, as signaled by a two-part single cover of Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance", a bonus here, after their self-titled debut the trio streamlined their act and produced the record themselves but the music stylistic variety, although diminished this time, contributed to the "Triad" commercial failure and has played into collectors' hands for 40 years.

Still, the buzz remains here from the lightweight, if percussion-heavy, riff of "Spaceship" that splices "Hey Bulldog" with "Devil's Answer" for maximal threat, to the mighty cosmic opera of "Monolith" and covers all the stellar odyssey between. Betraying the jammy nature of it all and alluding to some other hits of the day, "Brainstorm" rides a polyrhythmic rollercoaster where a solid hard rock potential gets dissolved by a fuzzy jive as guitar solo combines sharp attack with nebulous funk and vocal chant adds a trance-like layer to the mix. Yet while "Pan" is a post-psychedelic, synthesizer-adorned masterpiece which puts vocals too frontal, "Love And Laughter" comes on translucent to underline, together with another single, "Gay Time Night", the band's radio-friendly facet that, despite a handful of tempo changes, could have actually brought them success. Sadly, it wasn't to be: when too many roads are roamed, the direction is lost.

***
NINE BELOW ZERO -
Live At The Marquee
A&M 1972 /
Universal 2012

A killer debut by the stalwarts of the British blues scene, expanded and restored to a full, blistering glory.

Today, a mention of this band results in reverential hush but, as their latest album, "It's Never Too Late", shows, there's no stopping to their raucous rumpus. Well, there was a stop-gap in the '80s, after more than a promising start when the quartet secured a steady following from all strains of the music spectrum, thanks to atomic energy of their performances, one of which is documented here, on the group's first LP. A third of it chopped due to vinyl restrictions, now the record's deluxe reissue comprises all 21 songs played on that night, originals - "Stop You Nagginí", "Straighten Her Out" and instrumental "Swing Job" with its unison jive - aptly joining the club of nuggets such as Muddy Water's "Got My Mojo Working" or Otis Rush's "Homework", where the crowd who call for their heroes before they begin takes up the infectious refrain. Charging off the bat with combustious "Tore Down", Mark Feltham's harmonica and Dennis Greaves' guitar rarely take the opportunity to loosen their grasp, and when things get slow, like on the whitewashed "Stormy Monday" and "I Canít Quit You Baby", the charge gets no less hot.

The ensemble don't stick strictly to the blues, though, and shine as bright on Motown perennials "Can I Get A Witness" and "I Canít Help Myself", which lose innocence to the playful gravitas of sharp riffs and lascivious harp that swirls a jig for "Ridiní On The L&N". And while the electric blitz of "Wooly Bully" shoulders aside the glitterball of the day, much more unexpected is an incendiary rendition of "Twenty Yards Behind" by the Londoners' kindred spirits DR. FEELGOOD. Hardly a moment to breathe throughout, "Keep On Knocking" wobbles a tad but with "(Just A) Little Bit", NBZ can give SLADE's version a run for their jolly money. It's that mighty. Long may they run, then.

****4/5
TRACTOR -
The Road From Townhead Mill, Rochdale
Ozit Dandelion

Celebrating four decades since their first furrow was ploughed, John Peel's favorites wheel back on the flaming red vinyl with cuts both long familiar and freshly reaped.

Those of us who didn't grow up in the UK may find it difficult to grasp the most famous British DJ's influence on music but, his radio sessions aside, John Peel made a palpable contribution to English sonic landscape when he established a studio in the mill town of Rochdale. Later a home to the likes of JOY DIVISION and known as Cargo, originally it was outfitted for TRACTOR, a duo of Jim Milne and Steve Clayton who started out as THE WAY WE LIVE yet changed their sound enough in the early '70s to prompt a name change - on the same broadcaster's suggestion. Having laid down the backing tracks for their Dandelion label mate Beau's "Creation", the band delivered their own eponymous classic whose legend keeps growing as the years go by. Cue a smattering of archive releases of which this is a crown jewel, ruby-red and red-hot.

A mix of cuts from "Tractor" and its precursor, TWWL's "A Candle For Judith", all making just a half of these two LPs, "The Road From Townhead Mill" puts things in perspective to show's the band's short-time progress from Zeppelin-esque riff-fest of "Storm" and "King Dick", that show Milne's mastery of blues guitar and soulful vocals, to the sharp, arresting drama of "Hope In Favour" and, on larger scale, of "Lost On The Ocean". But while the newly found instrumental "Abode Of The Dead" complements equally eerie "Shubunkin", the duo's soft underbelly, highlighted in "Everytime It Happens" and much rarer "Argument For One" (present here in a more sterile form and in a delicate radio rendition) is revealed in full with the recently uncovered ballad "In The Shadow Of Mills", its wordless acoustic treble tugging the toughest heartstrings before the gentle fuzz goes blitz. And if the epics such as this or "Little Girl In Yellow", combining electric thunder with nervous folk where Clayton's drums serve as a force of nature, sound raw and dirty, that only adds to the tempestuous impression and throws a bridge from TRACTOR to THE WHITE STRIPES and their ilk, especially clear in the dry, countrified "Flames", so one can draw a straight line between the glitzy "No More Rock 'n' Roll" and THE BLACK KEYS. Talk about hidden influences, then.

Grit on the mill, this collection makes a fodder for mind and soul. A glorious celebration.

****2/3
HAPPY THE MAN -
Happy The Man
Arista 1977 /
Esoteric 2012

Across the Atlantic: American art-aficionados' arching album anchors its Anglo debut.

Latecomers on the prog scene, this band, as well as their co-runners STARCASTLE, were perfectly poised to embrace the genre's complexity to give it a polished end. But HTM played their game without frontiers, never more so than on their debut, recorded when Peter Gabriel abandoned the idea of using the quintet as his backing ensemble and MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA associate Ken Scott came onboard as producer to rein complexity in. Close to fusion but not at the expense of melody, as virtuously demonstrate "Knee Bitten Nymphs In Limbo" and "Stumpy Meets The Firecracker In Stencil Forest" which hosts a good-time rocking, the group's eponymous record is a shiny, if see-through, mostly instrumental monolith.

It melts to wrap itself mellifluously around the ears in the opener "Starborne" with a loose, relaxed interplay of Stanley Whitaker' guitar and Kit Watkins' keyboards, and in "Hidden Moods" weaving an acoustic lace around a delicate tune, yet solidifies when the crystalline piano of "Mr. Mirror's Reflections On Dreams" swells into shiny blues. In the vocals department it's pure art rock, though: "Upon The Rainbow (Befrost)" places Whitaker's voice in the flute-smeared folk meadow yet Frank Wyatt's sax leads it leftfield, while "On Time As A Helix Of Precious Laughs" surges quite pathetically for its own heavy, KANSAS-like sake. Yet "New York Dream's Suite", elegiac and sporadically intense, binds all the diverse drifts together just like the city the piece quietly glorifies, and signs off on an inspired note. Amazing grace!

*****
TIR NA NOG -
A Tear And A Smile
Charisma 1972 /
Esoteric 2012

Bolder in motion and broader in scope, the Dublin duo's bid for a Transatlantic appeal.

Setting their folk tent in the urban landscape with their first album, for the second one Sonny Condell and Leo O'Kelly did the Dylan trick and quietly plugged in, even though their refusal to cover the bard's "Maggie's Farm" cost them the debut's American release. Yet "A Tear And A Smile" was too good to not cross over, even though the merry "Bluebottle Stew" runs too close to saloon burlesque to be taken seriously. On the other end of romantic spectrum, "So Freely" emerges as one of the most touching ballad this side of "Fotheringay", its tune embracing blue-eyed soul as well as rustic feel, but immediacy isn't the most prominent feature of the band's sophomore effort.

Songs like "The Same Thing Happening" and faux traditional "Goodbye My Love" sound chamber-like, if light, in their acoustic solemnity, while the swaying "Lady Ocean" adds spark to the proceedings. Still, the pull of "Down Day" takes some time to surrender to and, once the strings are revealed, it's over. But opener "Come And See The Show" gains tension and welcome momentum as it rolls softly, aided by sensitive Barry De Souza's drums, towards the memorable chorus and a glossy violin-and-piano solo, and a bonus single "The Lady I Love" flutters gracefully around the hidden smile to balance the scales of the album's title, yet it remains the saddest of the duo's original hat-trick.

***4/5
CRESSIDA -
The Vertigo Years Anthology
1969-1971
Vertigo 1970-1971 /
Esoteric 2012

One of the most famous of the most obscured groups reassess their assets and make their trip round and definitive.

In the pre-CD era, this British band's legend was secure thanks mostly to the memorable cover of their second, and last, album, and to some extent to their link, via the drummer, to URIAH HEEP. Their records' rarity contributed to it, too, meaning also CRESSIDA's output didn't sell well during the quintet's existence and hadn't been heard as wide as it deserves, yet it's only this double-disc set that, after all previous digital attempts, does justice to the music in both aural and perspective terms. Corralling two LPs, eponymous debut and the aforementioned "Asylum", fleshed out with extra material here, the anthology may ruin the originals integrity by shuffling the tracks sequence, but as the reformed collective's decisions go, there's a certain logic to it.

"One Of A Group" is a perfect starting point: flowing in on Peter Jennings' classically informed organ, its haunting melody ushers in Angus Cullen's honeyed voice, while Iain Clark's cymbals underpin John Heyworth's strum which bristles fuzzy for an acid-fuelled solo before the piano takes it all jazzwards - if the band's MO's could be expressed in one piece, that would be it. Contrast could be the name of the game, because for all their serious soulfulness, "The Only Earthman In Town" and "Home Is Where I Long To Be" combine transparent elegance with pop-minded fun the group used to have, especially on-stage as suggests a couple of live cuts taped for BBC, where "Depression" sheds off the vinyl shades of grief. And if tracks like cosmic "Cressida" might be characteristic of their era and give priority to interplay rather than melody, its vibe and the acoustic virtuosity of folky "Time To Bed" betray much more depth to the ensemble than meets the eye.

The powerful lightness of the group's arrangements is best sampled, though, when the album's version of "Lights In My Mind" is compared with its heavier demo featuring CRESSIDA's first line-up (more of the full-blown sketches can be found on this compilation companion release, "Trapped In Time"), yet the first album outtake "Mental State" and "Situation" demonstrate a magic marriage of sharp riffing and infectious choral singing which would be the focus of the band's second outing. With their vocalist in the main writer's role, "Reprieved" floats in the wordless fusion, whereas humorous "Goodbye Post Office Tower Goodbye" can give PROCOL HARUM run for their surrealistic money. New guitarist John Cullen, who shines on the Beeb version of "Winter Is Coming Again", comes forth as an adventurous foil for Jennings' expanded palette to render the Spain-flavored title track of "Asylum" just slightly short of a masterpiece, while the 11-minute spectacle of "Let Them Come When They Will" and "Survivor" add orchestra to the harmonic sweep to build a high-tension, if groovy, drama, progressive tendencies taking over simpler rock joie de vivre.

The closing epic "Munich" is as far removed from "Spring '69" as it gets for a two-year journey into grand nowhere, a change that would have cost lesser artists a whole decade. Only a few listened, though: in February of 1971 when CRESSIDA's sophomore album came out, the band were no more. A legend was.

****3/4
SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION -
Spontaneous Combustion
Harvest 1972 /
Esoteric 2012

Bursting out in unexpected places, a Greg Lake-produced collector's item gets the treatment it deserves but remains a puzzle in the "file under" department.

Ambition in spades and bucketful of talent, what this British trio lacked was a wider line-up to flesh out their ideas and a decision as to how to focus those ideas. Falling between hard rock charge of the '70s and singalong psychedelia of the '60s, the Margetts brothers, guitarist Gary and bassist Tristan, and drummer Tony Brock, leave a lot of space in their arrangements, but if their debut may sound dated, repeated spins bring a rewarding revelation that the band were actually ahead of their time - most of the time - with FX pedals frequent dismissal an effect in itself.

So while opener "Speed Of Light" tries to steal the thunder from "Speed King" with its rarefied riff and a mighty piano chord, all bathed in echo, it's grand finale "Reminder" that goes for the jugular in its jittering array of various styles, including a Renaissance dance and a country fair bit and underlying the players' immense prowess. It also fills "Listen To The Wind" which, bouncing off the blues figure, softly builds a medieval atmosphere from the stack of voices and the rustle of cymbals and dissolves it into the tight but loose soulful wigout that hangs between prog and fusion, a combination yet to be established on the art scene. Another interesting contrast comes in the shift from raga drift of delicate "Leaving" to a "Down With The Moon" improvisatory rumble, a showcase for each of the musicians, the problem being an overall juxtaposition of the vocals' pop gravitas and heavy instrumental air.

Weird, arresting - unreleased bonus "Lonely Singer" is a hook-laden delight - and deserving its myth, especially with their next record being the band's last.

***1/4
TIR NA NOG -
Tir Na Nog
Charisma 1971 /
Esoteric 2012

Irish broad-minded folk explorers embark on the path to eternity - slowly but surely.

In 1970, when Dubliners Leo O'Kelly and Sonny Condell arrived in London, they already stood apart from the folk crowd. Traditionalists at the first glance, the duo dug deep into the Celtic soil, yet kept their sights on rock audience rather than homespun circles and always balanced on the verge of going electric without going the FAIRPORTS-measured distance. Still, their eponymous debut doesn't bear the pop imprint that, say, TYRANNOSAURUS REX, wore, and its most haunting moment is the titular ballad, for all its whistling, wistful rootsiness the band's original, just like the rest of these songs save for the cover of Ray Dolan's warm "Hey Friend".

Their hearty draw is invoked right from the start, once the soft roll of "Time Is Like A Promise" sets a romantic anxiety which resolves in the quiet of "Our Love Will Not Decay", but it's less bright, though plugged-in tunes, like "Mariner Blues" or eerily urban "Piccadilly", that are brimful with timeless desolation. Acoustic guitars stricken with harmonica for a serious fare, the humorous ditty "Aberdeen Angus" with its Scottish accent and dulcimer is the richest piece in the instrumental department, while sitar makes "Looking Up" a hypnotic focus of it all and "Dance Of Years" the dry spot of light. This reissue pours even more sunshine in adding the duo's inaugural single "I'm Happy To Be" to the almost immaculate piece of work.

****1/2
ACHE - Green Man
Philips 1971 /
Esoteric 2012

Their dancing shoes half off, Danish psychonauts rock the ballroom in a more traditional, and more infectious, way.

Big concepts are the tree that's easier, though not simple, to climb than to get down from. After the stage success of their debut's both parts, ACHE gave birth to another idea but, thankfully, concealed the story from their listeners, so "Green Man" and its personages come as open to interpretations as does the album's closer, a wigout on The Fabs' "We Can Work It Out", toned down from its concert performances yet still deliciously savage. This Hammond-led riff-fest contrasts the histrionic start of opener "Equatorial Rain" which dips all-too-serious vocals into a witches brew that picks up momentum only once bassist Torsten Olafsson adds harpsichord to the mix and lets it rock even sharper in the jazzy wonder of "Acheron".

On the other hand, switching into a character for "Sweet Jolly Joyce" falls flat on its tuneless face, despite a shadowy presence of boogie piano and a tubular bells boom, and it's "The Invasion" that plays out real action in its four parts, especially when Finn Olafsson's guitars rage and soothe, flamenco way, in front of Peter Mellin's organ grind, and when the woodwind step in. But the 12-string acoustic lead into the single "Shadow Of A Gypsy" is, in fact, misleading as the song grows into a '60s-style pop-psyche pastiche that sticks like a sore thumb out of the context, although spices it up a bit. Such wobbly walk logically resulted in the band's break-up: nevertheless, four decades on, there's still much life in "Green Man".

***
STEVE WINWOOD -
Arc Of A Diver -
Deluxe Edition
Island 1980 / 2012

Into the deep for the rainbow's end: a splashy beginning of a beautiful solo career.

For all his bold endeavors in various bands and collaborations, a suspicion arose sometimes of Steve Winwood having lost his self-esteem past teen age. If anything, the singer's self-titled debut under his own name felt like another TRAFFIC record. Three years later, appearing on the very last day of the '70s, Steve's most diverse decade, "Arc Of A Diver" was different: "I really have to carve a new audience out, and I'm starting from scratch. I can't just relapse into my past achievements", said Winwood upon its release, and he did exactly that. Steve followed the McCartney blueprint of playing everything himself but had to rely on Island guru Lionel Conway's advice to bring in Will Jennings, famous for "My Heart Will Go On" now, to fashion commercial, less abstract lyrics for the bulk of the melodies to warrant a hit. And it paid of in style.

Glossy but soulful to the hilt, "While You See A Chance", riding Winwood's trademark organ, jumped straight into Top 10 and retains a lot its vitality to this day, while for the most part the album remains a product of its time, and its only the voice that's the saving grace of disco-tinted songs like the protracted "Night Train". Yet there are many a special moment on offer, such as acoustically-tinctured elegant ballad "Slowdown Sundown", while pride of place indisputably belongs to the groovy, gently funky, if deliciously relaxed, title track, a Vivian Stanshall co-write which ushers in the '80s with its guitar glimmer. But it's the transparent rock of "Spanish Dancer" that perfectly stitches "Low Sparks" with a new era and sounds even better in 2010's radio edit, with additional instrumentation, on the second disc of the Deluxe Edition featuring, alongside a couple more alternative mixes, the 56-minute Beeb doc on Winwood where the likes of Van Morrison and the late Jim Capaldi chime their praise for the man. As his arc still comes on strong, it's easy to share their sentiment.

****
STRING DRIVEN THING -
The Machine That Cried
Charisma 1973 /
Esoteric 2012

Out of idiosyncrasy that got tough a beauty is born - a long cry from where the calm winds blew before.

Formed as folk-leaning harmony band, by the time STD signed to Charisma their progressive credentials were in place but "The Machine That Cried", the group's third album and a sophomore effort for the label, saw the quintet get a rock solid quality with an addition of a drummer. More so, now their very name gained a new meaning thanks to Grahame Smith's wild violin stealing the spotlight from vocals. Together with Pauline Adams' pipes, it shapes "Two Timin' Rama" into an unhinged CURVED AIR; the same vivacious Vivaldi vibe is set in the opening march of "Heartfeeder" led by Chris Adams, Pauline's husband's strong voice. Here and, quite often, elsewhere the music borders on hysterical yet is kept close to home by no less dynamic rhythm section that, in turns, kicks back and tightens up to take in both symphonic and morris elements and to lose those on the shallow jive of "Night Club".

As commercial as it gets, that electric cut doesn't reach the glam of bonus single sides "It's A Game" and "I'll Sing This One For You", while "To See You" dismisses specialness for the heartfelt, if Dylan-marred, balladry. The specialness, though, carries the drama of the 11-minute tension-mounting adventure of "River Of Sleep" and the taut, soul-stinging "Sold Down The River", where the singing duo careen to theatricality but, fortunately, never cross over to such banal bank. And when they come dangerously near to that, as in the time-baiting "People On The Street", the saving grace emerges in the West Coast kind of harmonies mixed with "The Dark Side Of The Moon" cosmic portent. More tangible hippiedom is reflected in the title track with its undercurrent drones, but it's there, in instrumental passages interspersing choral packs, that art rock manifests itself rather clearly and, perhaps, most needlessly, for STD finally carved a niche of their own on this album, and their machine charges still, decades on.

****
SAM APPLE PIE -
Sam Apple Pie
Sire 1969 /
Angel Air 2012

The heroes that never were. A welcome return of the collectors' favorite item.

While many a vinyl rarity's value is based on its scarcity rather than actual music, this record holds a nice surprise. Competent to the hilt, SAM APPLE PIE honed their art on the stage of London's "The Bottleneck Blues Club", which the band owned, and found a moderate success in Europe even before the sextet graced the pastures of the inaugural Glastonbury Festival, in 1970. By then, their eponymous album had pleased a lot of connoisseurs, especially with the brass-wielding 7-minutes blistering murk of "Swan Song" and hot groover "Winter Of My Love". Yet the ensemble remained in the shadows of giants like FLEETWOOD MAC: after all, the PIE had only two guitarists. Mike Smith and Steve Jolly unleash their predatory stomp onto Bob Rennie's bass on opener "Hawk" that sets a stall for a number of impressive solos and frame the firm focus of Sam Sampson's booming voice, while a cover of Elvis' hit "Tiger Man" rides a steel axe and gets propelled to the deranged recesses by future star engineer Dave Charles' drums.

The second half of the record feels less impressive, though, save for the twin lead wrap of "Sometime Girl" and the harmonica jive of "Uncle Sam's Blues" featuring a piano boogie courtesy of Malcolm Morley, who'd find fame as part of MAN later on. But for all its standard feel, the final coup that is "Moonlight Man" ventures off from its hoochie-coochie origin into a flute-embellished progressive field far enough to render all the album special. There were more from this band but nothing as blood-pumping.

****1/3
ACHE -
De Homine Urbano
Philips 1970 /
Esoteric 2012

Grand concept en pointes: young Danes dare deliver dashing debut to dance the night away.

Even today, when many a spectacle are accompanied by rocking soundtracks, a marriage of rock and ballet is often associated with JETHRO TULL's "The Story Of The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles", while they weren't pioneers on the scene. It started with Denmark's ACHE, although not by any grandiose design but thanks to the band's close liaisons with the Royal Danish Ballet Company, an institution informal and open enough to have staged in 1969 a performance that would become this quartet's magnum opus. Spanning across all of the original LP's first side, "De Homine Urbano", praised as a masterpiece by archdruid Julian Cope, is exactly that, and then some, as it sounds much fresher than the aforementioned prog classic as well as other art rock milestones.

As organ-dominated as their contemporaries THE NICE, there's less wildness to Peter Mellin's ivories but Torsten Olafsson's bass are belligerent enough to create a restrained bombast for the teenage Finn Olafsson's guitar fuzz to steam over. And while it's in the less heavy moments that the real melodic wonder of the piece comes to the fore, there's a fantastic Ravel-influenced part where Glenn Fischer's drums arrange a battle only to surrender to harpsichord-and-piano classical allusion and pass it back to the fugue tornado for fading away before a catchy hard rock riffs claims its glory of place. The other epic on the platter, also turned into a ballet later on, is called "Little Things", which might be a reference to relative subtlety of its vocal-tarred rhythm-and-blues slide into Zappa-esque controlled chaos... as well as to an obvious steal from THE BEATLES' "Every Little Thing". Still, compared to YES' take on that, ACHE brew a storm - quite a probe of the depth to explore.

***2/3
DAY OF PHOENIX -
Wide Open N-Way
Sonet 1970 /
Esoteric 2012

Progressive winds blowing in an obscure warm gem from the cool Scandinavia.

Denmark doesn't have a place of honor on the world musical map, which is rather unjust given the quality of local artistry - perhaps, not quite original in its style but anyway. It was this creative air that caught an ear of COLOSSEUM's Tony Reeves who produced DAY OF PHOENIX's two albums. Back in 1969, the quartet kept their imagination close to the ground, as suggests bonus B-side "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today", yet only a few months later, when "Wide Open N-Way" loomed on the band's agenda, Randy Newman weathery outpourings made room for more typical West Coast breeze, signaled by a STRAWBS-penned single "Tell Me".

Still, zephyr of the album's epic title track is immediately spiked with acid guitar ripples before going completely leftfield, once in absentia of Hans Lauridsen's velvet vocals, psychedelic swirl takes place as Ole Prehn's six-string welcomes folk motifs, including flamenco into its fold. And however sweet vocal harmonies of "Cellophane #1 / Cellophane #2" may seem initially, there's a dark undercurrent to them, a calm before the storm which is unleashed in "Mind Funeral" that drags its classically informed anger less longer and ups its less catchy elegance to the transparent skies where Erik Stredt's jazzy piano rages wildly. For the most part, though, there's a natural reserve in this music to render it the eternal cult status.

****
BREWERS DROOP -
The Booze Brothers
Red Lightnin' 1998 /
Angel Air 2012

From Southern California to Southern England comes mellifluous drift ruffled by the Sultans of Swing rumble.

It would be totally unfair to judge this band that time forgot only by mercurial presence of a young Mark Knopfler on three tracks and Dave Edmunds' input as producer and player. "The Booze Brothers" - cut in 1973 but released 25 years later when its background was discovered (hence the cover's allusion on "Brothers In Arms" and the erectile problem that the group's name hinted at) - is an exquisite slab of the West Coast sweet rock, as the finger-popping, handclaps-abetted harmonies of "Roller Coaster" nicely demonstrate. One can hear, though, Knopfler's contribution to the sparkling bluesy veneer of the piano-driven anthem "Where Are You Tonight", sung gently by Ron Watts who a few years later turned "100 Club" into a punk casbah, and Otis Rush-patented "My Old Lady", where Pic Withers, another future DIRE STRAIT, drums, is an obvious prototype of that ensemble's dry, intelligent boogie.

Edmunds' harmonica banjo spice up the delicately countrified "Dreaming" which flies spacewards, yet glances are cast backwards here, to the early '60s whence "Sugar Baby" comes, while the accordion-wrapped "Louise" betrays DROOP's Cajun kicks. And if "Rock Steady Woman", licked by Steve Darrington's lush organ and female backing, packs a seductive punch, that Sultanic twang notwithstanding, blues "Midnight Special" (not Leadbelly's one) sways proudly in its own right. Among the four bonuses expanding this reissue hides translucent ballad "Real", and that's where the genuine heart of the group lay. A pity that they stopped brewing.

***1/2
BOXER -
Bloodletting
Virgin 1979 /
Esoteric 2012

Last cuts are the deepest: a criminal postscript to the heavyweights who never seized their pedestal.

As BOXER's debut proved, top musicianship doesn't always mean quality songwriting and what works well on-stage can wither in a studio. The LP bombed and this album, its follow-up where the band let rip on a heady mix of originals and covers, had been shelved to be out three years later, after the death of a singer Mike Patto who, in 1977, was forced to cut a new record with a new line-up. Here, though, it's the same quartet that made "Below The Belt" aiming - in the company of pianists Chris Stainton, a fixture on all of the group's releases, and Tim Hinkley as well as vocalists Boz Burrell and Bobby Tench - at the same gutsy zone. And now it's really punchy.

Not a lot of artists can get away with turning Leonard Cohen's "Teachers" into sprawling heavy blues and jazzying up the Fabs' hard rock of "Hey Bulldog", both with a new swirly crunch by Ollie Halsall: the treatment of these bookending classics magnificently show how uninhibited could BOXER be with the songs they really loved - unfortunately, other people's songs. Yet Patto's own panto-minded "The Blizzard" holds sway to stand tall along them all, while the synth-helped "Rich Man's Daughter" rides aerially high on the accentuated groove that stems from tight-but-loose interlock of Tony Newman's drums and Keith Ellis' bass over which slide guitar and harmonic voices roll gently. Such approach adds fresh colors, and a whistle, to Neil Young's "The Loner" but it nevertheless falls in the transparent shadow of "Love Has Got Me" as it switches from a fusion ballad on the verses to the sharp rocking of the contagious chorus.

With emphasis on the mood rather than style, imposed on the band by the label, "Bloodletting" is a late champion - and to keep it on ice was a bloody murder.

****1/4
SON OF A BITCH -
Victim You
Hengest 1996 /
Angel Air 2012

Back to square one, the original SAXON men hammer it home.

It was a sad story when, in 1994, Graham Oliver was ousted out of the band he helped form, but then the guitarist found himself in the glorious company of other SAXON defectors, bassist Steve Dawson and drummer Pete Gill both of whom gained their humorous stripes for their service as, correspondingly, inspiration for SPIINAL TAP's Derek Smalls and MOTORHEAD's orgasmic propeller. The camaraderie reinstated, another ensemble seemed like inevitable option, its name harking back to the pre-fame '70s, when future NWOBHM force called themselves SON OF A BITCH. What in those days could be a hindrance didn't matter in the '90s so, with Haydn Conway as a twin axeman and German singer Ted Bullet, the veterans cooked this album.

It presents refined heavy metal with a funny twist which is well-hidden in the angry riffage of "Bitch Of A Place To Be" or "Love Your Misery" but swims to the surface in "Evil Sweet Evil" which picks up the theme of "No One's Getting Over". Other cuts such as rather superficial, if slick, "Treacherous Times" don't always live up to the expectations, the reason being not their relative lightness - "Past The Point" is the real champion in this category - but their insipid attempt to catch up with the new era. Still, for all the deceptive seriousness of cinematic "Drivin' Sideways", its pounding rock 'n' roll delivers on all fronts - perhaps, thanks to the reserved attack of instrumentalists, while the singer gets DUI-delirious, as he does in the title track and the chain-swinging "Old School" that should please any SAXON fan.

Old supporters will rejoice at having previously unreleased "Running Away (From You)", a bid for the stadium dominance, yet with Gill gone due to ill health and Bullet due to his contractual commitments in the Fatherland it wasn't to be. What was is called OLIVER-DAWSON SAXON today, and that's another story.

***
BOXER -
Below The Belt
Virgin 1975 /
Esoteric 2012

No punches pulled but there's no knockout either for a band with atomic power in their bulging veins.

In theory, it looked like a winning combination: to corral guitarist Ollie Halsall, freshly out of Jon Hiseman stable, with his former PATTO colleague, singer Mike Patto, who'd temporarily quit the stage, with ex-JUICY LUCY bassist Keith Ellis and MAY BLITZ drummer Tony Newman. It screamed heavy blues. In reality, though, their might didn't translate into success on both "c" fronts - commercial and creative, the latter informing the former. Simply put, there's no memorable tune in sight, while the playing is immaculate. As a paradox, "Below The Belt" became rather influential in the cover department, its scandalous artwork reflected in the likes of SPINAL TAP's apocryphal "Smell The Glove" and Ted Nugent's "Love Grenade", leaving the music out of the picture.

Contrary to the promise, as grand as it strives to be, "More Than Meets The Eye" fails to reach its ballad potential that's blooms in the, largely mid-tempo "Waiting For A Miracle". More so, the sleek boogie of the slider-kissed, if futile, "California Calling", or opener "Shooting Star" doesn't make justice to the players abilities, Newman's cymbals jotting out from Halsall's scratchy riff. But its hidden funkiness unfurls in full in "Hip Kiss", where Hammond rolls seductively under Patto's patinated voice which spreads soul all over the handclaps-enhanced "All The Time In The World" and blues "Town Drunk", magnificent in its delivery, that Tony and Tim brought from their Terry Stamp sessions.

Still, even these pipes can ignite the grit of the appropriately titled "Loony Ali", whereas the piano-driven "Gonna Work Out Fine" and "Save Me" nicely capture the quartet's jazzy air which, sadly, the label didn't envisioned for them. So, despite such brilliant B-side "Don't Wait", a bonus here, unlike the group's live shows, the album doesn't work out fine to save the day and knock the punters down.

***1/3
SOLUTION -
Divergence
Harvest 1972 /
Esoteric 2012

Short yet punchy, the most influential masterpiece from a band that many forgot.

That's a feat: hardly ever a household name, in the four decades since its release the Netherlanders' sophomore effort has lodged itself into the collective conscious lobe thanks to the band's two main threads - prog rock and soul. The former riveted the art community via other Dutch group, FOCUS' appropriation of "Divergence" title flight for their magnum opus "Eruption" - as "Tommy", a nod to SOLUTION reedsman Tom Barlage - and the latter through Erykah Badu's sample of the 40-second fair of a "Theme" for her "Soldier". Talk about obscurity, then, with such an array of memorable tunes and actual songs.

New bassist Guus Willemse proved to be possessed of a fine voice, revealing it in a nice piano poise of opener "Second Line" that kicks out the band's debut's experimental edge in favor of sweet balladeering which gets beautifully warped as it charges on into jazzy domain. There - especially in the large-scale bluesy centerpiece "Concentration" which flowers with electric fusion extrapolations and hides a Bill Evans acoustic ghost - romantic lyricism reins. It's rippled by rare riffery either from saxes or Willem Ennes' organ, even when funk rears up its fuzzy head in "Fever", previously omitted from CD and now sprinkling grime over peaceful surface - perhaps, too peaceful in "New Dimension". Yet pure elegance can't be better than that.

*****
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