REVIEWS #51 - 60





Note: Some of the reviewed titles have not been reissued, while others are out of print. The availability stated reflects the status at the time of writing.


(Review #51)

PALMER ROCKEY: Rockey's Style - Movie Album (AB Rock US 1979-1981) 

Rating: 9 out of 10 (for the 1979 pressing)

Sounds best on: Vodka Martinis charged to a stolen credit card

More info: Right here

Availability: Maybe in Dallas area bargain bins

"Don't ever contact me about this again."
- Palmer Rockey

Way back in review #38 I suggested that "in cases such as Palmer Rockey, the background story is the entire LP". In typically slow fashion it has since dawned on me that such a statement needs qualification on several levels, especially since only about 11 people in the world even know who Palmer Rockey is. Rather than expanding my old remark, I've decided to take this Texas bull by its sequined horns and dive headfirst into a netherworld of hair tonic, shady car deals and half-empty Holiday Inn lounges. For what follows I am indebted in no small part to record supersleuth Rich Haupt, who discovered and explored the Rockey trail to its hostile conclusion in a cheap Hollywood back office, and to strange music aficionado Stefan Kery, who has valiantly carried the Palmer torch into the third millennium.

The business card

Sometime around 1978 Palmer Rockey arrived in Dallas high society out of Los Angeles, presenting himself as a "movie producer" and looking the part too in his fur and slicked-back hair. He spent his time rubbing elbows with wealthy Dallas housewives trying to get money to fund a new film project he was working on. Every time he raised some cash he shot footage, and reported on the progress to his financiers to keep them happy. The whole process took over three years and only rarely would the same actor come back to work for the demented Mr Rockey, so the film actually has different actors playing the same role (much like "Plan 9"). Some of the film is in black & white while other parts are in color, again a result of sporadic fund raising. When the film was finally complete Palmer booked a local movie theater and had a "premiere". He managed to get both of the local papers to write big articles about this "local film" and apparently had a fairly good crowd for the showing. As the movie ended and the critics and sponsors exited the theater in disbelief at what a poor film they had just watched, Palmer was overheard telling one of his "moneymen" that the Mafia was after him and he would have to leave town immediately. No one saw Palmer in Dallas again after that night and he apparently left owing a bunch of people money. 

The man

After piecing together the scenario above, Rich Haupt was able to track Palmer Rockey down, with the aid of Mike Weldon of "Psychotronic" movies fame.  Palmer was working on another movie back in L A, where a guy at a local film processing outfit reported that he would come in from time to time to edit his "film". Haupt managed to pass a letter on to Mr Rockey via the film company, and several months later he received a reply. It was very brief and simply said that Rockey was not interested in speaking about the Dallas film and to NEVER contact him again. As far as I know, Palmer got his wish. At this point noone has been able to track the movie reels down for a re-launch, but reports indicate that "Scarlet Love" (Rated: PG) is a beauty, including a part where Rockey has scantily clad women tied to a "Wheel Of Fortune" type device which he throws knives at as they are spinning.

While the movie may be lost forever the soundtrack LP very much exists, in three different pressings no less. As a listening experience it is not easy to describe, and I am not sure how it would appear if none of the above was known. But knowing what we know I must say that "Rockey's Style" is a total trip, as it extends and deepens Rockey's flim flam/con man vibe in the best manner imaginable. To my ears it sounds like a guy who has a working (not good, but working) voice that has never sung before. While hitting the right notes he's clueless as how to bring any soul or finesse to the material, and the stale lounge afternoon atmosphere is heightened by a pick-up band of local studio musicians who mechanically deliver generic styles such as "rock" and "funky rock". Several song lyrics consist only of Palmer going "rock, baby, rock" and odd digressions that sound 100% ad libbed. 

That said, the LP cannot be dismissed as a quickie scam, because between the twilight zone loungeabilly moves there are also several smooth ballads in which we are allowed to peek into Palmer's soul, catching a glimpse of - among other beings - Elvis Presley. The shaky-voiced, half-spoken version of "Are You Lonesome Tonight" rivals any Elvis impersonator, and it does not require much imagination to picture Mr Rockey singing these words for some aging Dallas beauty queen, staring meaningfully into her eyes, dollar signs filling his own. The Marriott hotel VIP lounge fund-raiser romance is explored further on "Sunday Love", which Palmer sings a capella for a few verses, then goes into an unbelievable spoken section:

... I know I said some things that were wrong, and you said some things that weren't right... You know babe, someone said that the world's a stage, and each of us must play a part. I play the part of falling in love... with you.

But even that is not all. The Palmer universe has a third level that hits you like a 150 MPH curveball, being the mysterious, downright spooky "Scarlet Warning" where we are thrown into a Tinseltown b-movie take on the Book Of Revelations. Against a seductive background of flamenco guitarpicking he ominously intones:

Scarlet warning 666, written long ago
People wondering which way to go
Love made its motion
Against the cunning notion

666 will make his move, people must be told
Lovers and old friends must be bold
Words of courage, not surrender

[eerie piano break, like in an old horror movie]

666 will be cool, label all lovers fools
My people for love must rise
Challenge him from every side
Then will come the matchless one
With love and fun for everyone

On a regular lounge LP this would be weird enough, but in the context of "Rockey's Style" it becomes truly surreal, throwing any coherent interpretation of the LP and the artist into question. Whatever critical faculties we have available fail to fully describe the impression left by this album, and so it can only be identified as MUSIC in its purest form. Still, the Palmer Rockey experience is not for everyone, in fact it's likely to appeal to the tiniest fraction of the record-buying population, but for those ready to surrender at the feet of an enigma of uniquely American character, it will be unforgettable.

Oh yeah, those different pressings. Noone knows why, but the LP was pressed three times with variations in both packaging and track selection. Leading Palmer Rockey expert Stefan Kery has it figured out as follows:

"Scarlet Love" (AB-Rock Music PR-1-LP) 1979 
Comes in a "1980" copyright sleeve but looks exactly like the 1981 pressing sleeve. The label has different fonts. Includes two tracks that are not on the other two pressings: "Lonesome Tonight" and "Sunday Love". Most other tracks features alternate mixes.

"Rockey's Style" (AB-Rock Music PRR-2-LP) 1980 
Same tracks and mixes as the 1981 pressing. Sleeve has different prints of the photos. They are smaller but clearer than on the others.

"Rockey's Style" (AB-Rock Music PRR-2-LP) 1981 
Same tracks and mixes as the 1980 pressing. The sleeve looks like the 1979 pressing.

- review by Patrick the Lama


(Review #52)

DAUGHTERS OF ALBION: Daughters of Albion (Fontana, US 1968) 

Rating: 9 out of 10 

Sounds best on: this is being researched

More information: Completely ignored over the years, so, none.

Availability: Still plentiful and cheap. Fontana seems to have printed an optimistic number of them, as they were available in cutout bins for years.

Here we have an album that’s both 100% peculiar and 100% commercial at the same time. In 1968, the record buying public was as open-minded as they’d ever be, so it’s a mystery why something with as many commercial hooks as this wasn’t an absolute monster. Maybe the ridiculously inappropriate cover turned people off, as it gives off a stark downer vibe, rather than hinting at the lush upbeat pop within. Whatever the reason, everyone missed out on one of the most addictive records they could ever hope to hear. Every song sounds like a hit; they’ll stick into your memory after just one listen. It’s the long lost great album every pop geek collector seeks, a sticky-sweet confection subversive enough that the most jaded satirist can appreciate it, and full of enough freaky ideas that the most pop-phobic psych-head will approve. Much of the album was intended to be “of its time”, but it has aged extremely well. The production techniques remain fresh and the political lyrics have proven to be prophetic. It’s not dated; it’s a sharp look back at the time that was, and the wisdom of 35 years make it seem smarter and more on target than ever.

Daughters of Albion is a duo, Kathy Yesse and Greg Dempsey. Leon Russell produced, and the songs were played by a host of talented (but uncredited) session folk. Over the years Russell has gotten most of the credit for the album’s creativity, but I have to guess that Dempsey is the genius here, as Russell’s own albums never employed this many unusual ideas. In perfect pop song fashion, every song but the closing suite is between 2:49 and 3:19. The songs are impeccably structured, and filled with brilliant experiments and twisted arrangements. The major-to-minor chord progression and “ba ba” refrain on “Yes, Our Love Is Growing” shows that Dempsey has learned every great pop-hit songwriting trick in the book. Yes, it’s derivative, but so is most of the best music. When you first listen to this song, you’ll swear you’ve heard it before, except that somehow it’s better now. And it’s true, because you’ve heard the chord progression, but never with such a great melody. Or maybe you’ve heard the melody, but never with such fantastic singing. “1968” is similar. This must be an update of some great 50s song, right? No, it’s just a sparkling melody heightened by the singing of an angel. Yesse’s voice is an amazingly powerful instrument. It is crystal clear, expressive, and her range is phenomenal. Dempsey, who sings maybe a third of the time, strains here and there, but Yesse has no problem hitting impossibly high notes such as those on “Hey, You, Wait, Stay.” Even more mind-boggling is “John Flip Lockup”, which speeds up the voices to create a high-pitched Alvin & The Chipmunks-like effect. On the next verse, with the speed back to normal, Yesse sings the exact same notes.

Some of the album’s most effective production tricks take several listens (or a good listen through headphones) to discover. Check out the whispered backing vocal on “Yes, Our Love Is Growing”, or the way the backing vocals surround each other in “Still Care About You”. Note that Dempsey is singing two sets of lyrics at the same time on “Sweet Susan Constantine.” All of the songs have elaborate vocal arrangements, and instruments like bells, xylophones, harps and clarinets are used to tremendous effect. It sounds like they spent more time in the studio than Pink Floyd. Horns and strings abound, but their moments are chosen wisely. You never find yourself thinking “hey, this song has horns on it”. Even on a song like “I Love Her And She Loves My”, which approaches arrangement overkill, the unexpected two-guitar solo shows that every listener’s expectations will be shattered. What could have been cheesy survives with dignity (“Good to Have You” and “Still Care About You” are what the Carpenters would have sounded like if they were good). 

Psych fans may lament the lack of fuzz guitar, but it’s hard to imagine anyone not being taken to a higher plane by “Well Wired.” It takes the album’s catchiest melody (which is to say the catchiest melody of 1968) and completely deconstructs it. The lyrics degenerate into non-sequiturs, one verse ends with farting sounds, in some parts the instruments and sound effects drown out the singing, in others the instruments disappear. At times the backing music fades in and out as if someone is messing with a radio dial. The instrumental accompaniment is not once fully intact during the chorus, and by the end Yesse’s vocals shine proudly while everything but a lone keyboard drops out behind her. It takes balls beyond belief to gut a potential hit like this, and while they probably blew their best chance at radio play, in doing so they created an eternal masterpiece. “Still Care About You” uses a similar technique, dropping instruments out and returning them while a hearty set of strings chug away in the background. It’s possible that Daughters of Albion failed commercially because they just didn’t care if the clever lyrics, weird arrangements, and left-field moments usurped the radio-friendly melodies. They were having too much fun to control themselves. They don’t play a single song completely straight.

The lyrics go well beyond love song clichés. Sometimes they goof off: after the break on “Hat Off, Arms Out Ronnie” Yesse starts singing too soon, then says “oh, sorry.” There’s a sense of tragedy too, most notably on “The Story Of Sad”. Elsewhere, Dempsey’s songs are as politically astute as Phil Ochs and as satirically sharp as Frank Zappa. The closing suite, “1968/John Flip Lockup”, (which does more for the rock opera format in seven minutes than the Who could do in two albums) is an utterly surreal, spot-on sendup and summation of the late 60s. Just a few of the song’s highlights: Imitations of Dylan, Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Pope, a repeated chorus of “alms and qualms and kumquats Charlie” (what??), Alvin Chipmunk singing “He’s smearing berries on his face and jumping to the ground”, John Lennon saying “and he turns out to be Pope Paul in drag,” a circus barker shouting “see the amazing Lee Oswald. He can shoot from five, count ‘em, five directions at once.” (Keep in mind that even Bob Dylan bought into the lone gunman theory with “He Was a Friend of Mine,” as did the Byrds when they covered it in 1965. The majority of the public wouldn’t begin to fully believe the conspiracy for many years yet. I’ve always longed for some enterprising band to cover the Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil” and change the lyrics to “They shouted out who killed the Kennedys/after all, it was the CIA!”) Elsewhere, a lone voice says “by the way, Lou, whatever happened to all the kids’ money from Monterey?” Ho ho!! Read “Slouching Toward Bethlehem!” Watch GIMME SHELTER! Listen to the Mothers’ WE’RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY. Then listen to this song and maybe the 60s “peace and love” myth will explode for you.

I’ve played this album for many friends over the years, and the response is either “that’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard. Let’s listen again” or “She has a nice voice and that ‘Well Wired’ song is cool”. If you fall into the first category, you’ll find your love for this album to be, er, growing after many listens. The melodies hook you immediately but the arrangements and oddities keep it eternally fresh. It may help to be amenable to poppy melodies, but you don’t need wussy taste to like it: this isn’t the Association, or even Sagittarius. It has guts. It is a cracked masterpiece, and just about the most entertaining listen in my record collection.

A beautiful voice alone can not carry an album, as shown by the next Dempsey and Yesse collaboration, AMAZING. In 1973, known as Kathy Dalton, credited as a solo artist, and backed by Little Feat, Kathy gave her all to a pleasant but ultimately dull set of Dempsey songs. I can’t think of another songwriter who so blatantly lost his talent from one album to the next. If there’s any argument for Russell’s influence, this is it. Regardless, the Daughters of Albion album works best as a one-shot anyway. It’s hard to imagine anything following “1968/John Flip Lockup,” which is the apotheosis of rock and roll political humor. The amazing energy in that song (when they sing the ridiculous “alms and balms…” part the band is rocking with abandon) is something that could only be destroyed and softened with experience and age. What we have here are young hippies who still felt “the love,” though they were just beginning to experience and express rage. A week later and they would have crossed over into a place that wasn’t anywhere near as much fun. We should be thankful and enjoy this album, which could not have happened in another place and time.

- review by Aaron Milenski

(Review #53)

FOLKAL POINT: Folkal Point (Midas 003, UK 1971) 

Rating: 9 out of 10

Sounds best on: A meadow lea

More info: nothing on the Net

Availability: ha-ha-ha! Seriously though, a reissue may be coming.

Since noone else seems to be doing it we continue our examination of overlooked British folk titles, based on the assumption that they some day will be reissued, as they must. Of four such folk obscurities I recently got to hear thanks to the generosity of a fellow country-man the unspeakably rare album by FOLKAL POINT was clearly the best. The LP came out on the hallowed (among less than 50 people) Midas record label, an operation masterminded by the same cunning gentleman that ran the Folk Heritage operation; his Midas £1000 stable also includes the slightly better known Gallery LP and a couple of less rare titles by Janet Jones, one of which I've heard and wasn't impressed by.

Bristol area outfit Folkal Point on the other hand is an obvious delight, with elements likely to attract almost anyone with an ear for gentle rural 1970s sounds with psych overtones. Sweet female vocals is the poison of many a folk fiend and this has an abundance of it, in fact the sounds emitting from Cherie Musialik are gorgeous to a point where I have to cast a wide net to come up with comparisons; but if you can imagine a warm tone halfway between the girl-child charms of Vasthi Bunyan and the lush village-beauty sound of early Mandy Morton, then I guess we're in the right shire. So appealing are these vocals that they become the defining characteristic of the album, and fortunately the Folkals seem to realize this as they play a selection of material that is absolutely right for the asset; haunting minor chord ballads with obvious debts owed to American 60s folk as well as the psychedelic sounds of subsequent years. If you expect a marvy "Scarborough Fair" from this description, you've got it. "Once I Knew A Pretty Girl"? Yes. Both are done in a manner closer to Shide & Acorn than Shirley Collins, with the arrangements displaying a clear bias towards the "rock" rather than "trad" side of the equation. The liner notes refer to the band playing electric on occasion and while this is an acoustic-oriented album, it's easy to imagine it being re-recorded with a full electric setting, the imaginary result recalling the Trees at their best. 

Beginning at the beginning, there is a version of gospel tune "Twelve Gates Into The City", although there isn't much gospel left after Folkal Point have chased it through their enchanted forest. Then there's "Scarborough", which is followed by "Sweet Sir Galahad", whose artfully descending stair of minor chords may crown it my favorite on the whole album. Cherie's vocals are just stunning, it's like if one of those princess girls serenaded by Donovan suddenly started singing back. The hippie folkpsych takes on trad material progresses successfully through "Lovely Joan" before a contemporary note is introduced with "Circle Game" and its clever carousel metaphors. The footstomping US folk boom Pete Seeger sound of "Cookoo's Hollerin'" is less appealing, not because it's bad but because it fails to take advantage of the band's strengths. Luckily, it's the shortest track on the LP. Then there is a Spriguns-like take on "Edom O'Gordon" before the modern theme resurfaces in Tom Paxton's "Victoria Dines Alone", whose theme of female loneliness and depression seems highly poignant in 2003. It's a flawless performance, and likely to be the favorite track of listeners of a less folky persuasion. The Americanisms linger via a charming take on Dylan's "You ain't going nowhere", although it would have been more interesting to hear this one with female vocals -- but I guess the Folkal boys wouldn't settle for just picking guitar on ALL tracks.

Entering the last quarter the LP tightens its grip on the listener again, presenting the unorthodox chord structures and wave-like rhythms of "Anathea" which the liner notes credit to Lydia Wood, although the lyrical content is essentially the same as "Seven Curses" as done by young Bobby Dylan and others. This dark, despairing story is given a matching presentation by the band, opening doors to an eerie "downer folk" cellar not found elsewhere on the album. This is followed by the atmospheric, ensemble-sung "National seven", after which an excellent, folkrock-style take on "Once I Knew A Pretty Girl" closes the book on 40 minutes that are as impressive as anything you can hope to find within the genre. According to UK folk expert Ian at Ammonite, 500 copes were pressed of which half were lost in a flood. Let's hope it gets reissued ere the next millennium.

- review by Patrick the Lama

(Review #54)

LINDA PERHACS: Parallelograms (Kapp, US 1970) 

Rating: 9 out of 10

Sounds best on: Hawaiian weed

More info: The CD has brief, but useful, liner notes. The album has been reviewed in a number of places. A web search will reveal much information. 

Availability: The current Wild Places CD reissue is the version to get.

PARALLELOGRAMS is the unquestioned queen of the hill of female psychedelic albums. Fans of the genre are as unanimous in their praise of this album as mainstream critics are for Joni Mitchell’s BLUE, almost to the point where it’s unthinkable that anything else can be better. The Mitchell comparison is an important one here, whether it accurately describes the music or not. Every American female folk-influenced singer/songwriter is immediately compared to Mitchell (and British singer/songwriters to Sandy Denny), and, invariably dismissed as an inferior copy. Perhacs’ one and only album suffered this very fate. If critics wouldn’t take anyone but Joni seriously, why would they bother with this “hippie variation of her style?” It’s a curious form of self-conscious sexism on the part of 70s rock critics (some of which were female) that as long as they gave good reviews to Joni Mitchell, and occasionally Carole King or the rare oddball like Dory Previn or Essra Mohawk, they could ignore and dismiss every other woman in the business. Even thirty years later, we have John Mellencamp on TV saying (I’m paraphrasing) “I’m sorry to have to say this but when it comes to women in rock, there’s only one, Joni.” (This comes from an overrated buffoon whose own backup violinist, Lisa Germano, has released four or five albums that blow away anything his sorry ass ever did). 

Even in the collectors’ world, what could have been a quality attempt to explore the role of female artists in psychedelia, the HIPPIE GODDESSES compilation, was sunk when its creators decided to play up the “sexy hippie” angle. The compilation had a topless photo on the cover, and put The Happy Hooker and other stupid pornography side by side with tremendous music by serious artists like Sally Eaton, Margo Guryan and Perhacs herself. It didn’t even list the last names of the artists it included, which is just as well because their work was so cheapened by the context. Obviously, it’s against all odds that the reputation of PARALLELOGRAMS has grown as far as it has, yet it’s to the point where the album easily sells for around $200 (despite not being anywhere near as rare as the hype would make you believe) and it has now been released on CD twice. As annoying as the Mitchell comparisons are, they’re probably what drew Perhacs to the attention of people outside of the world of psychedelic record collectors. It’s hard to imagine fans of, say, Tori Amos or Jewel, having C.A. Quintet CD on their shelves, but many of them have been able to make the leap from BLUE to PARALLELOGRAMS.

So what is it that makes PARALLELOGRAMS stand so far ahead of the pack? It’s very simple. There is essentially no other album by a woman where a personal vision is fully realized (without production interference, cover versions, inappropriate arrangements, etc), and that vision includes not only tremendous songs but a distinct psychedelic flavor. There’s a lot of debate about how to define “psychedelic” music, but by any definition there’s no doubt that this is it. It’s there in the free-form freakout of the title track, the “I’m spacing out/I’m seeing silences between leaves” lyrics to “Chimacum Rain,” the “colors dripping” lyrics to “Morning Colors,” and the sound effects behind “Moons And Cattails.” Though the music is wholly different, these songs create the same vibe as the highlights of the first Country Joe & The Fish album. There are some killer psychedelic tracks by other women, but nowhere else is there such a consistent and organic whole over an entire album. For example, Grace Slick’s songs on AFTER BATHING WITH BAXTER and CROWN OF CREATION are extraordinary, but she isn’t the Airplane’s only songwriter; the Jan & Lorraine album clearly shows strong influence from the men who produced and played on it; Sally Eaton’s album has one absolute knockout trip of a song amongst a mixed bag; Carolyn Hester’s two “psych” albums, despite some great songs, feel like her heart isn’t 100% into the style, Risa Potters sings lyrics like “God must have been stoned when he made me” but her album, musically, is simply soft rock; Gayle Caldwell mixed one killer psychedelic song into what is otherwise just a piano based singer/songwriter album, and so on. 

It’s possible to name hundreds of women who embraced and/or experimented in the same way as male musicians, and certainly a whole batch of better-conceived HIPPIE GODDESSES-type albums could be created. Nonetheless, I’ve dug up every single album of the type I could find, and the fact is that over a full 40 minutes, none of them come close to PARALLELOGRAMS. (The only compelling case that can be made is for the album by These Trails, a band with a female leader and an even more distinctive sound than Perhacs. This album’s 1973 release date and its Hawaiian exotic feel put it in a different “category,” but it’s certainly arguable that in its own way it’s an equally challenging and successful work. It does, however, include the work of some male co-songwriters.) This isn’t to say that PARALLELOGRAMS couldn’t have been matched. If anything, we have to marvel at the kind of creative control Perhacs was given over her own album, when so many hundreds or records by female artists had their artistic vision twisted and softened by the men who produced, managed, arranged, and played the instruments. It’s probable that somewhere out there an equally good album was waiting to be made. We’ll never know.

PARALLELOGRAMS starts off subtly with “Chimacum Rain.” It introduces us to Linda’s rich, expressive voice, here supplemented only by an acoustic guitar, brief electronic sound effects and multi-tracked harmonies sung by Linda herself. Her singing style tends to be awfully serious; while she doesn’t exactly seem pretentious, it’s fair to criticize the album for being humorless. On a song with harmonies as gorgeous as these, one is unlikely to notice. On a lesser song, though, like the closing “Delicious,” a more effortless form of singing would have been welcome. Her tone and style are perfectly suited to the album’s two near-“rock” songs, “Paper Mountain Man” and “Porcelain Baked Cast Iron Wedding,” both of which sound positively sinister. They sport enigmatic lyrics; it seems that she’s as fascinated by the man’s brute sexuality in the former as she is disgusted by the bored rich promiscuity in the latter. In both cases she’s showing a wisdom that undoubtedly went over the head of the few who heard the album at the time. Both songs are low-key but sharp blues rock, more intelligent and ultimately more powerful than the kind of heavy bluesy stuff that was all over the charts at the time. The rest of the songs are softer, and arranged in a simpler way. Perhacs’ melodies aren’t particularly ambitious, but she hits the right high notes when she needs to, and songs like “Sandy Toes” and “Hey, Who Really Cares” really sneak up on the listener. 

Though a variety of instruments are used on these songs, the arrangements are still simple and uncluttered. The electric guitar on “Sandy Toes” has a perfect tone, and is used to color the overall artistic palette, not to draw attention to itself. It shimmers beneath the bass (which is mixed high and provides much of the melody.) A quiet organ in the back of “Hey, Who Really Cares” similarly heightens the mood without changing the overall nature of the song. An unexpected middle section with horns (yet again, used in a subtle way) turn “Morning Colors” from a good song into an excellent one. An even sparser guitar and voice accompaniment works perfectly on songs like “Chimacum Rain” and “Call Of The River,” where backing vocals add depth and the occasionally dissonant melodies and chords create tension. On a more conventionally pretty song like “Dolphins” or “Delicious” a few more instruments would have been welcome. These songs, the album’s two weakest links, are nice, but generally float by the listener without leaving much of an impression.

The title track is the song that first attracted the attention of psychedelic collectors, and rightly so. A simple 10-line circular melody, in which several voices snake around each other, is interrupted by a startling drumbeat, then a series of vocal and musical effects. When this trip ends, the song returns, and the listener hears the second verse with a transformed state of mind. Fittingly it ends in a wash of echo. “Moons And Cattails” is equally far out. Perhacs lets her voice waver up and down at the end of the lines, mimicking the sound effects beneath. When she sings “come along,” you hear wind in the background, drawing you with her.

PARALLELOGRAMS isn’t perfect, for reasons discussed above. Nonetheless, it’s a pure and honest listening experience, a masterpiece. While the Joni Mitchell comparisons will go on for time eternal, the fact is that this is an original a work as you’ll find by anyone from 1970, and that 30-plus years of time have only served to heighten its greatness. The lack of love song lyrics, alone, is enough to distance Perhacs from the pack. It’s an album that should be in any comprehensive psychedelic or folk or singer/songwriter collection. It’s an album that John Mellencamp and a legion of Rolling Stone-type critics should be ashamed of themselves for dismissing.

The current CD issue on The Wild Places label is unquestionably the best version of PARALLELOGRAMS. The LP itself was released twice (the second pressing probably very soon after the first.) Word on the street is that the second pressing is better (though a few of the sound effects are missing, for some reason), but no one disputes that the LP has a flat, washed-out sound and suffers from poor quality vinyl that causes pops and tics even on first play. Linda herself was so disgusted by the sound quality of the record that she shelved it instantly and only listened to a cassette she made from the master tapes. The first Wild Places CD reissue was made from a vinyl transfer, and while it was free of surface noise, the effort to remove the noise heightened the flatness of the sound. The second Wild Places CD issue, from master tapes, is an absolute revelation, bringing amazing fidelity to the sound. The instrumentation is cleaner and clearer, the use of reverb stronger, and the overall sound denser and spacier than ever before. It’s remarkable that the album had been correctly labeled a masterpiece even with the original murky sound. Now there’s no doubt whatsoever. Most of all, the subtle and low-key songs have suddenly revealed themselves as much better than we had ever noticed (i.e. it took this reissue for me to fully appreciate “Moons and Cattails” and “Morning Rain.”) This reissue also has some interesting bonus tracks, including alternate versions/mixes, a clip of Perhacs discussing production ideas with her engineer (proof that the thoughtful sound effects and arrangements were her own ideas), and two versions of a previously unreleased song, “If You Were My Man.” This new song is more commercial sounding that the album proper, and its piano arrangement puts it into a less folk-oriented singer/songwriter mode. It was obviously omitted from the original album because it didn’t fit. Nonetheless, it’s terrific, and shows that had Perhacs continued her career she could have moved successfully in a new direction. It’s a rather tantalizing glimpse at what may have been, and as such a fascinating addition to the album. There is also a concurrent Korean vinyl reissue, with the new, superior sound and some of the bonus tracks, including “If You Were My Man.”

- review by Aaron Milenski

(Review #55)

HOI' POLLOI: Hoi' Polloi (Custom Fidelity US 1972)

Rating: 8 out of 10

Sounds best on: A fine burgundy & weed

More info: Interview at the Lama Workshop

Availability: No reissue

One of the more curious phenomena I have encountered during 15 years of probing the underbelly of American psychedelia and hardrock is what I call "the Ohio River effect". This refers to the unexpected and statistically significant number of great private press 1970s albums that emanate from the tri-state area of Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. While I'm not suggesting that some local Prankster branch had dosed the water with a gallon of Hofmann's finest, the Ohio River link is as good an explanation as any for this regional outbreak of St Anthony's fire, which produced acknowledged classics like Zerfas, Anonymous, Hickory Wind, McKay (all from IN), Stone Harbour, One St Stephen, Estes Bros, Dragonwyck, Morly Grey (all from OH), and Kristyl, Top Drawer, Marcus (all from KY).

The above roster of 12 deadly discs is what comes up after 5 minutes of brainracking, and a more thorough analysis would yield dozens more, while a few unknowns seem to pop up on the radar screen every year. The seldom discussed album by Indiana college band HOI' POLLOI is an example of a local obscurity with qualities as strong as any famous act from either coast, yet its origins made it a concern mainly for friends and family. If it hadn't been for the unhealthy curiosity of record hounds it probably would have remained unheard of, but after Hans Pokora listed the LP in one of his "Collector Dreams" books it only took a few months for a copy to find its way to me. Better still, I was able to trace the record back to its roots and connect up with some of the guys involved in it, which lead to a piece on them at the Lama Workshop site (link above). For this review I'll concentrate on just the music.

There aren't many albums I know with such a gap between the message the sleeve artwork sends out, and the vibe rising from the vinyl grooves. Looking at the "Hoi' Polloi" front cover and factoring in that the back cover is blank you'd be excused for thinking it was a crude hardrock excursion like Poobah or Soup, while it comes in fact from the completely opposite end of the spectrum; a refined and sophisticated music project painstakingly put together despite limited resources. Apparently the recording and pressing emptied the budget on hand, which is why the cover came out as it did. There is an insert with personnel and session details, but no band photos or images of any kind. If nothing else this anonymity directs full attention to the music, and the music deserves it.

Opening with Charlie Bleak's undeniably catchy "Who's gonna help me", side 1 is a delight from beginning to end. Several things hit you as it progresses; the skill of the arrangements, the quality of the musicianship, the originality of the songwriting. A number of possible references arise in the listener's mind but fail to take hold, the reason being that more than anything else the Hoi' Polloi album resembles itself, as its' distinctive style unfolds over the song cycle. A friend I played it for invoked the "late Beatle-psych" tag-line, and there are indeed traces of "Abbey Road" on this album, just like there is on Zerfas. The smooth vocal harmonies and extensive use of piano may recall the Dialogue LP from Pennsylvania (which in turn resembles a later-day Left Banke), while a couple of tracks remind me quite a bit of Merkin. Band member Bruce Wallace mentions Traffic and Procol Harum in our recent interview, and once clued into it I was able to hear traces of both bands. This hopeless jumble of references helps to illustrate the originality of Hoi Polloi through my incapacity to nail it down short and sweet. This is a good sign, of course.

The second track, Bruce Wallace's "Old Bootstrap" is perhaps my favorite on the LP, and one which explores the band's deft use of piano/organ/guitar interplay in full. Great moody chord shifts and naked vocals project a nocturnal mood of that particular Indiana kind, like a college kid staring out into the night-empty streets of Middle America, wondering what goes on elsewhere in the world. This alone makes the album memorable. After an atmospheric guitar section that extends the late-night mood things get downright psychedelic on "Last Laugh" with its startling backwards vocal effects, a path explored further on an impressive sound collage that may recall the experimental sides on the first Pink Floyd LP. Cool-jazz elements recur throughout the LP and lead into the extended "Satisfaction Guaranteed" by Charlie Bleak and Dan Mack, which also has some of the band's best lyrics, perfectly matched by a confident, understated instrumental build-up that is allowed to fade out as the side closes. Impressive on many levels, with intelligence and taste walking hand in hand, this opening half of the LP had me in a pretty excited state after the first spin.

Side 2 of "Hoi' Polloi" is similar, only not quite as strong. There is a keyboard/saxophone light-jazz excursion about halfway through which, although enjoyable, jars a bit with the song-oriented nature of the rest of the LP. Similarly, "15 miles" is a good LA-style countryrocker, but somewhat out of step with the band's smooth late-night mood. The other tracks are excellent and more typical, but the coherent song-cycle experience of side 1 cannot be recreated in full on side 2. This may keep the LP from attaining full "classic" status, but it's nevertheless an excellent collection of songs and moods whose smartness and maturity is likely to surprise most listeners.

- review by Patrick the Lama

(Review #56)

YAYS & NAYS: Yays & Nays (Neo US 1968?) 

Rating: 9 out of 10

Sounds best on: Dixie beer

More info: zilch

Availability: $750 may take you there

The majority of LPs that fall into the "incredibly strange" category do so to no fault of their own, but as an effect of a marked disconnect between whatever artistic vision that went into them, and how the work is perceived by a listener in another time and place. A band such as the Kaplan Brothers obviously thought they had created a deep, meaningful statement with "Nightbird", while most people who listen to it hear... something else. This is all fine and doody and a testament to the lasting quality of popular music springing from experience and honesty, no matter if clever, misguided, or just strange.

But then there is a rarer type of bizarre vinyl testaments which we can enjoy because the band knew exactly what they were doing, and what they were doing remains unusual and imaginative to this day. After listening many times to the remarkable LP by Southeastern band the YAYS & NAYS I'm prepared to put them in this upscale category of strangeness. The misleading descriptions you may see on the rare occasions it's offered for sale is another indication of its elusive qualities. I don't know any LP even remotely like it, yet it's highly listenable, even commercial in parts.

The line-up of three guys and three girls is unique, but a logical cause and effect of the theme of the LP. You see, this is a concept LP dealing with gender oppositions, a "war between the sexes". Some of the tunes are sung by the guys, from a guy perspective, others are sung by the gals from a gal perspective, and on the incredible "If" we are treated to a Aristophanic dialogue between the two camps throughout the song. Try to hear this in your third ear, sung to a tough Kinks '64 chop-chop riff:


If it wasn't for you women
we wouldn't have such a hard time
If it wasn't for you women
Wouldn't have such a worried mind
Now what you got to say?

If it wasn't for us women
And the things we dare
You no-count men
(Guy: No-count, whaddaya mean no-count?)
Wouldn't be nowhere

GUY (getting agitated):
Now I'm gonna tell you something
If it wasn't for you women
Us men wouldn't have such many bills
If it wasn't for you women
Wouldn't have so many ills
You painted women
Make a man a slave
What with those things you got
Put a man into an early grave
Now what you got to say?

Hey, big talker
(Guy: Whatcha mean big talker?!)
If what you say is so
You know that deep in your heart
There ain't no better way to go
If it wasn't for us women
To take care of you
(Guy: Well... I... I...)


This track, and the LP as a whole, is smart and hip on so many levels that it's difficult to sort out, but I'll give it a shot. To begin with the vocals, the guys are typically solo and sing in a tongue-in-cheek, "manly" Johnny Cash/Lee Hazlewood style that works as an ironic deflation of the macho content of their lyrics. The result projects the 1950s family provider husband as an increasingly powerless and slightly neanderthal creature, clueless in the emergence of a modern era of liberated women. The women in turn usually sing ensemble, like the chorus of a Greek play, their high-pitched feminine voices aggregating power when heard together -- and this clever solo <-> ensemble juxtaposition is no accident. The gals can sing pretty and romantic, like they do on a few songs, but they can also be tough and uncouth, thus given a wider range of expression than the guys. The lyrics follow a similar pattern, the guys delivering sentiments and desires from a by-gone era, while the gals usually express a sense of freedom and independence. The whole thing plays like an inspired fratty college musical sendup of the Lee & Nancy and Sonny & Cher duets.

The opening track "Gotta Keep Traveling'" is an uptempo garage ditty sung mixed ensemble that works as a gender-neutral starting point for the album, with typical 60s lyrics about doing your own thing and escaping a dull, conformist society; the 1950s vocals of band leader "Big Daddy" adds an appealing beatnik touch in line with the subject matter. This is followed by "Nature is my mother", a partly-French sung tune that comes closest to "hippie" sounds on what is mostly a raw folkrock album. The gender theme is then introduced in full with the hilarious "Some Do, Some Don't", where-in "Big Daddy" laments the fleeting nature of his ladies' promises with lines like "Down with the ones who say they will/And then later say they won't". The gals back him up with a mocking gleam in their eye. This subject matter is extended into "Contrary Mary" wherein the 1950s macho crooner retroism is put to full use; the male lead asking Johnny Cash-style his girl for a bit more stability in their relationship.

The rest of the album continues in this same convincing manner, each track both an excellent standalone item and a piece in the bigger Yays & Nays puzzle. One reason it works so well, and stands up for repeat plays with no loss of impact, is that the songwriting and arrangements are remarkable, worthy any name release from L A or the Brill Building. The style is an eclectic 60s bag of P F Sloan folkrock, tough upscale r'n'r like the Raiders, Eastcost girl-group sounds and Broadway musical, all held firmly together by the strength of the lyrical content and the idiosynchratic, self-referential vocals. You'd be hard pressed to find another local, unknown item that delivers on all levels like this -- no matter where you press, it's there; the lyrics, the concept, originality, creativity, zeitgeist, even rare attributes such as irony and internal logic. 

Here at Lama Reviews we have a tradition of lamenting the unjust lack of success for artists that were in the wrong place or on the wrong label, but that line doesn't really cut it for the Yays & Nays, because even on Vanguard or Elektra I think this would have flopped at the time -- it's such a multilayered, double-edged trip that requires many plays to grasp, and thus probably better fit for our age than the fast and flashy 1960s.

- review by Patrick the Lama


(Review #57)

NOMADDS: The Nomadds (Radex US 1965)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Sounds best on: fake ID beer outside a high-school dance

More info: ain't much around

Availability: legit reissue is out now or soon

There's still a bunch of good mid-1960s LPs out there that haven't been reissued, and probably won't be either, due to the "45s only" tunnel-vision epiphany of garage guys combined with the "psych only" tunnel-vision epiphany of LP collectors. I ain't complaining as this allows me to pick up and muse over these suburban reflections of Ed Sullivan hysteria without a dozen guys trying to beat me to it, in much the same manner that I've been able to round up a stack of killer guitar-psych/hard rock 45s from 1969-1972 at almost no cost. Nevertheless, I must admit that the criticism often leveled against these local mid-60s albums -- such as them being lame-ass selections of top 40 covers noone wants to hear -- carries certain weight, no matter how much I like to romanticize around the circumstances that produced some zitbag custom label album from Iowa 1967. If you're sane, you might not see the greatness of the Ha'Pennys, and you might be right.

But some of these LPs aren't just atmospheric snapshots of a time and place; they actually contain good music. I've had the rare LP by Illinois five-piece the NOMADDS on hand for many years, and have always felt it to be "different", but never quite got around for a microscope analysis until now. The band came out of Freeport and were known for years as the best live act around, mixing covers with several good originals. They had been going for some time when moptop-mania began in '64, but their adjustment is flawless and seemingly without effort.

The most notable aspect of the Nomadds LP is that it derives from a very specific moment in time, which is the American teen scene after the British Invasion had hit, but before the eruption of crazed garage sounds in 1966. This is an LP that looks to Merseybeat rather than Mick Jagger for inspiration. And when I say Merseybeat I ain't talkin' about no Beatles. No sir, the band poster most likely pinned up in the basement where the Nomadds rehearsed was of the late, great Gerry & the Pacemakers. I'm not sure in what position the Mojo magazine-type "hip/unhip" switch for these Liverpudlians rests in at the  moment, but over in our household their name has always carried a certain respect. 

The Pacemakers' fingerprints are all over this LP, from Dean Kuehl's excellent Gerry Marsden-influenced lead vocals and the plaintive three-part harmonies to the stripped down, slightly reverbed instrumentation, as well as traces of late 1950s US pop that was in demand on both sides of the Mersey back in '63. I haven't caught any Lonnie Donegan but I'm sure he's in the Nomadds bag too, right next to the Everly Bros and Buddy Holly on a return trip across the Atlantic. This is not the Litter, you can believe that. 

The LP opens most impressively with one of five Nomadd originals, the catchy, sublime and just plain great "You Can Fall In Love"; a simple melody hook baiting the listener into swallowing a sweet minor chord bridge before getting delightfully gutted by a brief tempo shift that these guys probably were alone in their zip code area to pull off. As far as 1964 beat sounds go, this is masterful. A flawless cover of "Shame Shame Shame" follows, done Cavern-style, which means an understated, subtle approach far from any unpleasant Roger Daltrey "rock" postures. I said I wasn't going to bring in the Beatles, but have to point to the Fabs' superb 1963 BBC recording of "Memphis, Tennessee" as a blueprint for this sound. The Nomadds then deliver another flawless original with "In Transit", an uncanny recreation of the best aspects of early Liverpool-mania, carrying the unabashed teen woes of 50s pop into the guitar band era. The vocals are superb, better than almost anything I've heard on a local LP from the era.

Two "rockers" follow, paying tribute to forefathers Little Richard and Chuck Berry respectively, flawlessly done with lots of little details that suggest a backbone of several months of rehearsal and club dates before the Nomadds worked up the nerve to cut their album. Side 1 closes with another band original, and another moody minor chord winner, the title being "There Is No More" and the band displaying their effortless grasp of tempo shifts and advanced verse-bridge-refrain structures like Brian Epstein might walk in the door any minute. Side 2 opens with the always popular "Just Like Me" which works up a bit of a frenzy and even some wild teen screams, suggesting briefly that the 'Madds (a nickname I just invented) were just another top 40 cover band gone haywire on asthma pills. The throbbing bass line and angular vocal harmonies that make up "Don't Cheat On Me" tells you that they weren't, the message being "garage" but the sound being all beat. 

A slow, last-dance take on "Tragedy" reminds you that crooner ballads were still a mandatory ingredient on both sides of the Atlantic at this point, unless your last name happened to be Lennon. Speaking of John Winston I'm convinced he would have nodded in approval of the clear-cut 'Madds take on that old Neal Cassady favorite, "Love Potion #9", a song I wish more 60s bands would have done. The drug theme is expanded further on "W.P.L.J" a teen booze-hound favorite extolling the virtues of White Port and Lemon Juice, in case you weren't around at the time. It's a fine rendition, but like the two preceding covers, that unique Nomadds' touch doesn't fully carry over into the non-originals. Realizing the jeopardy they're in, the band slides back into your cortex with the supremely atmospheric original "Enter Into My Life", with a teen vocal so haunting that Gerry Marsden would have gone back to driving a milk truck if he'd ever heard it. A muffled, slightly reverbed guitar solo captures the timeless essence of the teen experience as skillfully as the organ solo on Phil & the Frantics "I Must Run", and when the guy starts humming along with the guitar towards the end you realize that this is the major league company in which the Nomadds belong, whenever they worked up the cojones to write their own songs. All five originals on this LP are truly great.

There aren't many local US teenbeat albums from 1965, simply because the notion that it was possible to emulate the Beatles and the Stones needed time to sink in, in addition to visible avatars such as the Beau Brummels, Sir Douglas Quintet and the Byrds, all three of which were just getting around at the time. Listening to the Nomadds often brilliant LP, and adding the Fugitives equally fine 1965 LP on Hideout into the equation, it seems obvious that the few local bands that made it onto microgroove weren't many steps behind the McGuinns and Sahms of the world. The Nomadds LP is close to an unknown classic, and would have gone there with the addition of maybe just one more band original on side 2. Even without such fantasies it still blows away a whole bunch of more obviously "garage"-minded LPs from 1966-67.

- review by Patrick the Lama

(Review #58)

C.O.B: Moyshe McStiff & The Tartan Lancers Of The Sacred Heart (Polydor Folkmill UK 1972)

Rating: 10 out of 10

Sounds best on: your next crucifixion trip

More info: surprisingly scarce

Availability: bootlegged on vinyl in the early 1990s and again (with bonus 7" and poster) in France 2001 (SKR); bootlegged on CD in 1995 (Elegy) and recently (Lotus, US). Both CDs include the non-LP 45 tracks.

This second LP by C.O.B is among the most complex and challenging items ever produced by the British folk scene. Crude chants and delicate ballads stand side by side; religious brooding leads into pastoral hymn, then back again. But running through it a certain mood, or world-view, emerges, a unique experience which is not easy to describe. 

I've spent years trying to uncover the layers that constitute "Moyshe McStiff", as the album title is commonly shortened. The closest I've come is the image of a late-medieval crusader-knight who at the end of his career has returned to England, where he contemplates upon the many years of travel, his Christian faith and the Church, as well as family life at his rural homestead, with faint echoes of a long-gone childhood. His mind moves freely along these axis of space and time.

The protagonist's complex nature is further indicated by his name, combining the uncommon but obviously anglo-saxon "McStiff" with the hebrew "Moyshe". The cross-cultural theme extends into the LP artwork with its scene of three knights slaying a dragon to rescue a fair lady; the prevalence of Judeo-Christian symbols such as crosses, a star of David and a grail, and the surrounding desert landscape, suggests that this is no mere Camelot fantasy image. The cover painting was commissioned by Polydor with no input from the band, yet in a case of fortunate synergy similar to that of CA Quintet, it both supports and expands the listener's interpretation of the music inside. The overall impression is that of layers of time atop each other, like cultural sediment, England in 1972 and the 14th Century; Jerusalem in the 14th Century but also in the days of the earliest Christians. 

Opening with the earthy, dirge-like tones of a harmonium organ that dominate "Sheba's Return", the brief instrumental soon segues into the vocal "Lion Of Judah". Listed side by side on the back cover, these are apparently to be seen as one track in two parts. The title "Sheba's Return" is a reference to the time of King Solomon, whose name appears again later on the LP. Sheba was a queen from ancient Ethiopia whose visit brought Israel to heights of unseen glory, and her return to her own country began a deterioration of Solomon's reign and religious practice. The phrase "Lion Of Judah" may today be known mainly as a rastafari reference to Haile Selassie, but of course its original meaning was the Messiah. The words occur in the prophecies of Isaiah, but there is no explicit link in either direction to King Solomon or the Book Of Kings. A speculative connection is the son given birth to by Sheba, who appears as both a descendant of the line of Judah, from which the Messiah will come, and as the first king of the pre-Islamic Ethiopian dynasty, which still today traces its roots to the Solomonic kings.

While the intersection of Jewish, Christian and Islamic elements in this story is interesting, it is probably not the main point of C.O.B:s opening song. Rather, the lyrics of "Lion Of Judah" focus upon the resurrection of the Church and the coming of Christ in a time of profane decadence, artfully compressed into the image of a "golden chain":

And the Lion Of Judah still smiles
And his army can't break the golden chain
Yet the people still laugh away their sins
Whilst the peasants are proud to wait for rain
For the seasons are sure to bring them gain

As the landlords and princes cross the land
To the farmers taking all their crops away
For the merchants of a church that's built on sand
While the faithful pray for freedom every day
In the cities where the wise and rich decay

These words are presented in a musical style certain to take most listeners by surprise; a raw, perhaps deliberately crude vocal from Mick Bennett over a sparse but oddly engaging rhythmic combination of harmonium, acoustic guitar, bass and percussion. I guess it's British folk somehow, but it seems too ritualistic, almost like an African work song. The performance is fearless, beyond any compromise. Some may be put off by this naturalistic face grinning at them in the very first song, which may be intentional. Indeed, the superb lyrics and the advanced rhythmic pattern suggest that what we encounter is according to an elaborate plan.

And the Lion Of Judah still smiles
As his kingdom like a flower grows again
In the splendour of the harvest he now lives
Though he is dying with the love that he has gained
And he's fearless of the circle and the flame

The second song introduces the second theme; that of British countryside meditation. "Let It Be You" is likely to be many's favorite on the album, due to Clive Palmer's typically mournful vocals and the deep, introspective nature of the melody. The use of dulcitar and flute recalls some of the best-loved tracks on C.O.B:s debut LP, such as "Music Of The Ages" and "Evening Air". Nowhere else on "Moyshe McStiff" is the link to the slightly more conventional "Spirit Of Love" album as clear as on this melancholic love song.

The human gods of C.O.B

After this testament of earthly love, the harmonium/violin-led "Solomon's Song" works as a bridge and continuation of the religious theme of the opening, returning us to the same pre-Christian landscape as "Lion Of Judah". Despite the title, this is not a verbatim recreation of the famous Bible book "Song Of Solomon", but a condensation and purification:

I am comely because I am black, 
As the tents of Kedar, as Solomon's veil
Because the sun has scorched my skin 
As the cedar trees of Lebanon

My beloved is unto me 
As a cluster of camphires 
In the vineyards of Engedi

These opening lines by C.O.B are drawn from several different places in the original song; the same is true for the rest of the lyrics. The metaphors have been compressed or changed altogether, but not a single foreign word has been introduced. In that respect the effort resembles that of Ezra Pound when he reworked the eleventh chapter of Homer's "Odyssey" into his Canto I. With reference to the biblical song the focus is changed somewhat in C.O.B, with a stronger emphasis on the lyrical-hymnlike element, reducing the numerous images of physical features and removing the warfare references altogether. The end result is a more uniform poetry, classical in a Greek sense, not unlike Sappho.

A typical theological interpretation of "The Song Of Solomon" is that rather than an intra-human love song it deals with the emergence of the Church, and the relationship of the faithful soul to the Lord. This reading is weakened, not strengthened, by the C.O.B rewrite; yet at the same time the liturgical mood of the music and Mick Bennett's soulful vocal do point towards more than "just" a love song. My impression is that the era and language of the bible passages are used as a source of inspiration for an expression of religious feeling that goes in a similar direction, but is less literal and more emotional.

The beautiful pastoral "Eleven Willow" is the only track sung by John Bidwell, a mid-tempo folk ballad with ethereal female harmonies and a lute-like guitar figure skillfully weaving a parallel melody to the words; apart from its instant musical appeal the song combines the rural Albion and Christian themes, in a surprising lyrical turn near the end:

This valley is a cradle for the sun
And for the silent one
Who wears the coat of many colors

"I Told Her" is perhaps the most difficult track on the LP to figure out. Sung by Mick Bennett with typical fearless gusto, the lyrics and the music seem to pull in different directions. The musical sophistication of the opening tracks has been replaced by something that rings of ale-house and sea shanty; like a sad, but not entirely serious, lament from a young rascal who has left some loose ends dangling in a relationship back home. A joyful "yippee" and brief laugh at the end enforces such an image, even while the lyrics when laid out on paper look quite serious:

Times I told her not to cry
She said she wouldn't, but she tried
And she cried until she was satisfied
That I could not love her

A possible link to the album as a whole would be to see this track as the voice of the common man, a paid crew member on a ship leaving Britain for the Holy Land, but even as such the placement of the number in the key spot at the end of side 1 seems a bit awkward.

The supremely beautiful "Oh Bright Eyed One" that opens side 2 combines all the best musical elements of the album; the atmospheric harmonium and flute, intricate guitar figures, a timeless minor chord ballad form, and Clive Palmer's humble yet expressive vocals. In theme it belongs to the meditative pastoral style of "Eleven Willow", although a Christian exegete may interpret the lyrics as directed to Christ rather than a loved one. The overall impression is reminiscent of the extraordinary "Sweet Slavery" on the band's debut album, and almost as powerful.

The same double impression of love and religious feeling can be found in "Chain Of Love", which creates an archlike structure over a typical C.O.B theme of travel and eternal longing: 

[first verse]
I have no news to bring you, said the messenger
The rain goes to the river just the same
And still I watch you laughing in the garden
For the flame upon the altar is still burning

[last verse]
And if the road should lead me to the ocean
Then I would turn my face toward the wind
And see you in the morning bringing water to me
So silently the flame turns to an ember

An interesting tension is created between the lyrical, strongly poetic words and the musical framework, which lead by Mick Bennett's powerful and unpolished vocals takes us as close to folkrock as the LP ever gets.

Opening with incessant banjo-picking, "Pretty Kerry" points towards more traditional sounds, both in words and music. Not to be confused with trad songs such as "Pretty Polly" this number still approaches conventional "folk music", painting a picture of horse-drawn carriages and young country folks at a rural marketplace. Yet even in this context the Christian elements seem to briefly surface:

Shrine or temple, silent sanctuary
We could not find for love or money

Taken as a reference to Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem this passage also marks a step from the Old Testament into the New, which paves the way for the single song on this strongly Christian-flavored album that deals directly with the Life Of Christ, "Martha And Mary". For 4 minutes and 45 seconds of dazzling beauty, this combines all C.O.B:s unique skills and craft into the culmination of an album which is so strong throughout that the idea of a "culmination" seems impossible. The "folk" label again is inappropriate, and one might instead consider the renaissance court music of John Dowland, supporting lyrics that have the power of a Shakespeare sonnet:

These frail extremities
Express a grief
Of pure impartiality

The story of Martha and Mary, as told in John 11-12, is usually seen as a parable of two different attitudes towards the religious life, Mary's approach being that of the devoted student, while Martha remains at a distance, carrying on her daily chores yet paying attention to the master's words. The story has been depicted many times through the history of art, and interestingly one of the more famous representations can be found in the National Gallery of Edinburgh, Clive Palmer's mid 1960s homebase.

"Christ in the house of Martha and Mary"; Vermeer 1654-55

Sung with supremely balanced melancholy by Mick Bennett, the C.O.B interpretation does indeed juxtapose the two sisters, but true to form they do not follow any standard path in doing so. Relegating the teacher-disciple image to the back the lyrics instead focus on the physical aspects of their relationship to the visitor. The image of hands, Mary's touching or praying, Martha's reaching or busy with work, become the nexus of the lyrics as a whole; brilliantly capturing the sisters' differing personalities:

Precious little birds O so gently
Folded wings of tragedy
Hands of Mary comfort me


Constant touch of change unfolding me
Yielding blossoms from the tulip tree
Hands of Martha reaching out for me

The lines are essentially lyrical-emotional and non-religious, yet a religious psalm-like feeling pervades, as it should in a poem which has in fact Christ speaking. Perhaps a reference to the Master's ultimate fate at the cross, not far away at this point, can be found in the exquisite bridge passage:

Calm her grace grows, thorn of healing
Pure the white rose, open wound of feeling
See how the stars are falling, like the tears of Mary
See the stars are falling

I'd like to quote and examine this amazing song-poem in its entirety, but the laws of proportional space dictates that it will have to wait until another time. I can only state that the album reaches an appropriate climax, both musically and lyrically, with "Martha & Mary", and doing so on the penultimate song seems perfect.

After the delicate monastery mood of "Martha & Mary", the energetic guitar chords and loud vocals of "Heart Dancer" jolts the listener onto another track, and a cryptic presence of Evil makes itself known for the first time, although the "golden chain" of decadence from the opening song may echo in:

Sin for Satan's sake
Ruthless grins the foster child
Sits remorseless, smiles and smiles
Spirit you can't break

The song shifts into a droning style reminiscent of the more psychedelic leanings of the preceding "Spirit Of Love" album, and the final lyrics work as a summing up and clarification of the spiritual journey expressed through "Moyshe McStiff's" cyclical structure:

Land of plenty
Somewhere inside to be 
Found and cherished
Travel the old country
Held quite firmly
Just for a moment
Be whole completely
Oceanful our promised land

Someone referred to this album as "gnostic" and while I've always thought both the Biblical-Christian elements and the human-emotional elements much too strong for gnosticism, it still points in the right direction. Many songs build on religious material, but seem to interpret this material as dealing with human love; conversely the songs that deal with rural folk imagery and relationships seem loaded with religious feeling. Approaching us from two, or maybe three directions, "Moyshe McStiff" uncovers a common meeting ground for human love, religious belief and pastoral mysticism. This is no mean feat in itself, but its power becomes aesthetically overwhelming as this thematic union comes across as wholly aware and deliberate on every level; lyrically, musically, structurally. The end impression is similar to T S Eliot's religious conversion poetry, like "Ash Wednesday" and the Ariel poems:

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls
And the winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season had made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather at the back of my hand.
    (from "A Song For Simeon", 1928)

Classic poetry is all over the album, but there is an even stronger element of visual imagery that seems inspired by pictorial art. There may be more immediate sources for the "Moyshe McStiff" song cycle than the ones I've been exploring here, if so these remain shrouded in mystery at this point.

While C.O.B means "Clive's Original Band", I find the defining characteristic of the LP's unique qualities in Mick Bennett's vocals, which are quite unlike anything I've heard -- crude and almost over-powering, as real and true as life itself in its crucial moments. Recalling the ageing crusader-knight I envisioned as "Moyshe McStiff" at the beginning of this review, this seems to be his Voice, ringing boundlessly across time and space.

"Moyshe McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart" is, as far as I am concerned, the greatest LP ever recorded in England. I hope to come across something even better someday, but honestly doubt it will happen. Curiously, one of its few strong competitors is C.O.B:s own debut album "Spirit Of Love", an extraordinary work that I hope to deal with in the future.

PS  "C.O.B" can also been interpreted as "Clive's Own Band", it appears that this was the original meaning which was quickly changed to "...Original...".

- review by Patrick the Lama

(Review #59)

HELP YOURSELF: Help Yourself (first LP) (Liberty UK 1971)

Rating: 8 out of 10

Sounds best on: uh, weed, man

More info: Good piece in the Ptolemaic

Availability: Rarer than their other LPs, but a Beat Goes On CD exists

"We were also incredibly stoned all the time."
- Richard Treece

How many times can a band be called "underrated" and still remain so? I don't know, but I would wager that Albion's late, great HELP YOURSELF hold some sort of record in that department. Almost everyone that hears their music loves it, and there is no real lack of articles and reviews that suggest them to be a lost treasure either, yet their standing is nowhere near that of a Mighty Baby, although it may deserve to be.

Sometimes the stars aren't properly aligned, but examining Help Yourself's history it would seem the band brought some of the bad luck on themselves. You needn't look further than the first track on this first album to get a view into that complex. Housed in a nice friendly cartoon cover a la Bay Area 1970, "Help Yourself" opens with an inexplicable piece of Christian gospel-rock that (1) sounds nothing like the rest of the LP, (2) truly sucks, in a cheerful, bouncy way like the weak tracks on the Rainbow Promise LP, (3) sets a religious tone to a typical westcoast marijuana LP. It's so out of place that often when I put this LP on confident I'm in for a good time, I have to check I put the right album on after the first 30 seconds. 

I don't wish to think so, but I believe that this lame-ass opener is the reason that several Help Yourself watchers -- including ardent fans -- fail to see the greatness of the debut LP. Because once "I must see Jesus" is out of the way, the rest of the album is an utter delight, as good as anything from the time and place that I can think of. Of course this is a bit of a trapdoor statement as the style is California 1969 rather than England 1971, but even set up against obvious prototypes like "Everybody knows this is nowhere" and "Workingman's Dead" Help Yourself needn't be embarrassed. All the right stuff is there, the strong songwriting, the laidback vocals (with a mid-Atlantic accent, even), the guitar tapestries, and that special Marin County mood, upbeat yet thoughtful. In short, these are Brits dreaming that ol' California dream again, and they do it just as swell as on "Jug Of Love".

"To Katherine they fell" is a tremendous lament, subdued rhythm section supporting multiple layers of guitar picking high and low, while Malcolm Morley's melancholic vocals start and halt the song like a sad memory reluctantly brought to the surface. "Your eyes are looking down" follows on a more decisive note, displaying the Neil Young inspiration clearer than anything on the LP. Well, there's some more vintage Neil on "Old man", in case the title didn't warn you, although the tune switches to a more folkrocky lane, then continues to move between the two styles while cruising down Ventura Highway to the tune of Richard Treece's marvy guitar figures. You can tell that they listened to "Down by the river" a lot... and so should you.

"Look At The View" is a shorter tune displaying an impressive, almost Relatively Clean Rivers-like control and maturity, while there's more of the rural rock on the 45 pick "Paper leaves", not bad but adding nothing new in light of its position on the LP. "Running down deep" does however bring in a change of pace, adding congas and a slight club/trucker bar sound -- it reminds me of the best stuff on Bear Mountain Band and Zini, with images of teenagers in Camaros and flatbed trucks out on summer cruising far away from any Topanga Canyon artist colony. Another tremendous ballad, this time with some marvy piano playing, brings in a singer-songwriter spectre like on Greenwood, Curlee & Thompson, but it's safe to say that "Deborah" is better than anything on the GC&T album. Excellent lyrics given additional depth by Morley's beautiful vocals, a sad but memorable confession that is probably the most British-sounding thing on board, if one by "British" means Nick Drake and Richard Thompson type introspection. The LP reaches an appropriate close with "Street Songs" which isn't exceptional but manages to collect all the threads stretched from rural California to rural England by these five young men. As far as debut LPs go, this is very very good; as far as British rock LPs from 1971 go, "Help Yourself" is nothing less than a revelation. 

You will notice that I'm referring to a number of obscure US private press albums above, apart from Neil Young & the Dead, and this is no coincidence as I believe that at least part of the album's appeal for me is the obvious love for the big-time westcoast music. Like many local US bands it seems Help Yourself are paying off a debt in a respectful manner, and contrary to old rock critic bullshit axioms this humble approach can lead to truly great music. This is also why I differ from most in proclaiming the debut album the band's best, rather than the commonly cited "Beware the shadow". That one is a very good LP too, but in line with my religious beliefs I feel that some of the purity and warmth has been lost as the band matured and perfected their sound. You may disagree. In any event, I would have gladly given "Help Yourself" a 9/10 if it hadn't been for that bizarre opening track which I believe presents a riddle that will never be solved.

- review by Patrick the Lama

(Review #60)

CHRISTIAN YOGA CHURCH: Turn On!! Music for the hip at heart (Ecumenical US 1967)

Rating: 9 out of 10

Sounds best on: LSD

More info: Esoteric secrets are not easily unlocked

Availability: In an alternate reality, this might be reissued

Virginia City, Nevada, Summer 1965. You know what's going on here. Inside the Red Dog Saloon a sharp-looking young band of acidheads from the Bay Area called the Charlatans are playing weird folkrock for an equally stoned audience. Some consider this the birth of psychedelic rock music, or whatever. You've heard the story before.

So why not just once skip past the Red Dog, and continue down the main street, and up above a hill into a secluded area? There you'll find an odd-looking monastery inhabited by the Christian Yoga Church, adherents of Kriya Yoga, one of many Eastern disciplines crouched away in the valleys and glens of Western America long before the rise of hippie-dom and New Age. Kriya Yoga was an old-school, non-cheesy way of life for honest, hard-working sadhaks looking for something else. Contemplating their teachings I find little out of the ordinary for the Himalayan headtrip scene, and they were apparently serious enough to survive into the 2000s.

In other words, I was unable to come up with anything that could explain the extraordinary LP that was released in the Christian Yoga Church's name in 1967. In fact, I long doubted its origins, because each piece in the puzzle is so unusual that it seemed impossible to connect into something that made sense. But enough clues survive to tell you that this is all for real, although I'm still not able to present a coherent image of its meaning.

Looking at the album title and front cover artwork, you might mistake this for some flower power exploitation album released by Crown, Mark, or other fine repackagers of studio hack music to fit whatever trend was going on that week. "Christian" AND "Yoga" in the same sentence? Whew, that's pretty shrewd. Except that this Church does exist, as evident from our trek into the Nevada hills. Over on the back cover one "Father Christos" tells us that this is music for "going within", while a John Doe explains in detail how the recording session was set up, after which "Father Hilarion" sums it up by pointing out that this is not an amalgamation of the East and West, but a rediscovery that East and West speak the same truth in different ways. This appears to be the core development of their Kriya Yoga studies, and is certainly a notion that has fuelled many an acid trip project -- remember "Easter Everywhere"?

Then there is a reference to that same Himalayan Academy up in Nevada, side by side to a street address in San Francisco, both of which are apparently able to provide instructions on how to listen to the LP if you write them. Geographical and synchretistic confusion expands with a reference to a PO Box at the L.A airport (!) and a thank-you to the engineer, for whom "Allah be praised". A convoluted production credit is given to Bob Keene, who may or may not be the Del-Fi label honcho that watched Richie Valens and Bobby Fuller become stars & subsequently croak.

You have to respect an album where the cover alone provides enough oddball visions and ideas to carry you through a full work-week, but the Christian Yoga Church trip doesn't reveal its full glory until you drop the needle on the lead-in deadwax and enjoy the cosy, familiar ambience of a cheap pressing. And then the music begins. Now, as pointed out by Will Louviere in his excellent presentation of this album, there are literally hundreds of religious commune albums from the good old daze, although few of them are as early as 1967, and NONE of them hits this particular spot. Think Velvet Underground rehearsing on cough syrup in mid-1966. Think Alan Watts rounding up his pals from "This Is IT" for a late-night session full of weirdness and introspection. Think Beat Of The Earth, unplugged.

"Turn On" consists of one continous 50-minute track, recorded live as it happened and without edits. You can hear players coughing and occasionally making mistakes. It goes through many changes as various church members -- credited as "classical yoga students" on the label -- enter to do their musical thing for a few minutes. A spooky reed organ is present throughout, droning through a sequence of modal chords that perfectly carries the East/West theme. On top of this all sorts of instruments enter and leave, mainly percussion -- tablas and gongs, bells, chimes, castanets, kazoos, a tuba and a french horn, high-pitched flutes -- and things that don't sound like instruments at all but people spinning coins on a wooden floor, clinking glasses or banging on tables. Inside this droning maelstrom sanskrit mantras come and go, done with American accents in a fairly mundane manner and occasionally interspersed with meditative "ommmm" chants.

It could have been a mess, but is instead an intense tranced out organic exploration into the Absolute Now, with a human-spiritual atmosphere as thick as anything I've ever heard. In line with its background one might be inclined to take "Turn On!" as one of those "trip music by accident" artefacts we sometimes stumble across, but as the liner notes show, the lysergic nature of the beast was deliberate

"... that Memorare recordings is releasing a most decidedly Psychedelic Music album on an Ecumenical series might be a surprise to some, but not to those who firmly believe that we 'go through all things to God'..."

Ah, this is as true psychedelia as you ever can find -- about halfway through side 1 the music subsides and we are treated to the sound of running water, not from some lame sound effects library but there and as it happened, although I have no idea how it was achieved -- because you can tell that it is a LOT of water running. The intensity builds and dissolves, builds and dissolves, a gigantic gong chimes when you least expect it, and the spooky Twilight Zone Search Party reed organ is always sneaking around in the background. It's impossible to review this music in a structured way -- like "the plastic flute player is good, but the guy knocking on a table sounds unrehearsed" -- but trying to gauge the acid flow of the 50 minutes, I would say that some of the most impressive vibes of all can be found at the beginning of side 1, opening an easy-access door into "Turn On!" for anyone looking for esoteric kicks on a world-class level.

- review by Patrick the Lama



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