Now Playing: Doc Holiday
Here's one that's probably been floating around in $5 bins before someone with the right ears sat down and gave it a chance. Cred goes to the legendary sleuth in Texas who still pulls rabbits out of the hat after 25+ years. The connection to a well-known private press maestro provides the icing on the cake.
DOC HOLIDAY (ND)
Lady Free 1980 (no label DDP-807)
Another recent discovery, Doc Holiday managed to ensure maximum obscurity for his opus by a combination of artist name, album title, and front cover design that sends out a total impression of second tier contemporary country music. However, flipping the cover over to read the credits, the name JUSTEN O'BRIEN will jump out at any seasoned record aardvark, not least since O'Brien's presence is all over the album: he handled engineering and mixing at his own 'Justen Other' studio, reportedly co-wrote several of the (uncredited) songs, and played bass. The opening track is unimpressive soft rock that seems to confirm the negative promise of the packaging, but with "I Dreamed I Went Sailing Last Night" we are swept into what sounds like a lost outtake from Justen O'Brien's Time Will Tell LP. Any fan of that highly original piece of work will instantly recognize the odd nocturnal vibe, the flowing basement sound, and the lyrics about journeys of the imagination. For a pure Justen OB buzz, this is the high point of the LP, but fact is that for its full duration, Lady Free is good or even very good. There is a certain folk influence that combines with the '70s late-night Midwestern vibe most intriguingly, as heard on side closer "I Am Just A Spirit", which revisited some of the Justen feel as combined with a solid dose of Tom Nehls. A tribute to Sir Thomas More (!) anglifies the folk theme, while over on side 2 cutting fuzz leads opens the door to the most rocking track, "A Friend I Have". Moments like this may bring Michael James or even side 2 of Marcus to mind, although Doc's excellent, mellow vocals gives the music a distinct identity. "Kathleen" takes a Pearls Before Swine approach to a melody reminiscent of Dylan's "Tomorrow Is A Long Time", with excellent use of violin, while the Donovan strain from the Thomas More tune resurfaces on another Albion-themed song about Queen Victoria. True private press appeal arises from the combination of '60s folk, nocturnal singer-songwriter, and spooky Midwestern late '70s DIY FM rock production; had the Doc been picked up by a record label the outcome would have been completely different. As it is, the unexpected marriage makes the album difficult to figure out at first, but with several plays a consistent, homogenous experience emerges. Lady Free has some things in common with the Richard Kneeland LP [see review below] and may appeal to the same type of '70s private press collector, once the news of Justen O'Brien's presence has been digested. The artist was tracked down recently and his few remaining copies were aquired and distributed. [PL]
see => Justen O'Brien