Kronomyth 3.0: WILL HE AMAZE? In 1986, after two years of tantalizing speed and power, Eric Davis of the Cincinnati Reds became only the second player in baseball history to record more than 20 home runs and 80 stolen bases in a season. Which may seem apropos of nothing, but I believe that baseball is a suitable analogy for everything. (It has to do with the statistical purity of baseball, which is a long discussion for another day.) Camper Van Beethoven’s eponymous third album is analogous to Eric Davis’ career: after two years of tantalizing but uneven albums, CVB finally delivered on their potential. The album includes some of their strongest songs so far: “Good Guys And Bad Guys,” “Still Wishing To Course,” “We Saw Jerry’s Daughter.” There’s still a lot of russian folk american country psychedelic punk “stuff” sandwiched in between, but it’s shaped into actual songs this time (okay, well, most of the time anyway) and imprinted with interesting narratives. “The History of Utah,” “We Love You” and “Peace & Love” would fall into the latter category, and I would submit that they’re just as interesting as the proper songs. I don’t know why CVB finally decided to make a “normal” alternative rock record, but maybe it has to do with that third-time-is-a-charm thing. CVB v3.o is certainly the most charming album they’ve made. The production on the album is also noticeably better, which could be a case of experience, a bigger budget or both. The connection between CVB and the previous generation of classic rockers also becomes clearer, with titular references to Led Zeppelin, a musical nod or two to VU and a swell cover of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive.” For me, this marks the beginning of the band’s best music because, I suppose, I am a melody-loving milquetoast and a middling marxist at best.
Kronomyth 7.0: THE PROOF IS IN THE PADDING. Stills’ second album for Columbia follows the format of the first, featuring material collected over the last few years. At the time of its release, Stills was at work on the album that would become Long May You Run, and a quick glance at the songwriting credits suggests that Stills wasn’t fully engaged in his own solo career. Donnie Dacus appears happy to pick up the slack, taking lead vocals on a couple tracks and even cowriting one of them with Stills’ soon-to-be-ex wife, Véronique Sanson. While nothing on Illegal Stills could be considered classic Stills, it’s a competent studio rock album from the mid 70s, suggesting Elton John’s Rock of the Westies on a more modest scale. (In fact, Kenny Passarelli, who again cowrote the closing track, was currently a member of Elton’s band.) The album’s hit single, “Buyin’ Time,” is typical of the American malaise of the mid Seventies, as history (the bicentennial celebration) and reality (the shadow of the Vietnam War, gas shortages, economic recession) collided. Other highlights include the biting “Soldier” and a decent cover of Neil Young’s “The Loner.” Given the diminishing quality of the product, Columbia had to be wondering if they didn’t trade for a lame horse. The collaboration with Stills and the CSN reunion showed that Stills still had some ethanol in his tank, so maybe it was just a case of Stills not taking his Columbia contract seriously. Both the label and fans weren’t paying for half of a Donnie Dacus album, but that’s what they got with Illegal Stills. Again, it’s not a disaster, but Stills was fast becoming an anachronism in a world where punk had been let out of Pandora’s box.
Kronomyth 2.0: TWEE FOR TWO. The first ‘Rex record was a rushed affair, so producer Tony Visconti made a point of giving Bolan and Took more takes on the second, Prophets, Seers & Sage The Angels of the Ages. Only four months had elapsed since the first record, so the material on Prophets is understandably underdone; fourteen new songs in four months produces a fair amount of filler (“The Friends”), fragments (“Our Wonderful Brownskin Man”) and poems with only minimal musical accompaniment (“Juniper Suction”). The album does have a certain stately sonic presence though. Bolan and Took strike a better balance in their contributions; the possessed bongo-playing on “Deboraadored” and “Salamanda Palaganda,” the driving beats of “Conesuala” and the pixiephone on “The Travelling Tragition” are integral to the success of those songs. Visconti also plays more of a role in shaping the music, whether it’s playing “Debora” backwards (thus the palindromic title) or giving the backing vocals on “Wind Quartets” a breezy quality. So is Prophets an ostensibly better record than the first? No, not really. They’re both precious, mystical moondances to dead gods and childish dreams featuring unicorns, harlequins and Bolan’s pixilated prose and poetry. The first record had felt like Bolan brought into the studio for an intimate “live” concert, which in effect it was. Prophets is a professional snapshot of Bolan at the same stage of creative development but better dressed, even if some of the clothes have their seams showing on close inspection. Over the years, Prophets, Seers & Sages has been expanded and engorged with additional takes, few of which (I imagine) add to the man’s legend, though they may extend the pleasure of inhabiting Bolan’s faerie world for a mere thirty minutes.
After Manassas, Stills went back to recording solo material, signed with Columbia Records and released Stills. The opening “Turn Back The Pages” sums it up nicely, as the album collects material from several sessions including one (“As I Come of Age”) dating back to 1971. The music on Stills isn’t quite as compelling or cohesive as the last two Manassas records, a point that didn’t escape critics. But it’s not a bad record by any means. You’ll find ambitious arrangements (“Love Story,” “Myth of Sisyphus”), sneaky melodies (“My Favorite Changes,” “In The Way”), a Neil Young song (“New Mama”) and what might be the best CSN song that never was, “As I Come of Age.” The supporting players represent a several-year span of time, including some new faces: Donnie Dacus, Marcie Levy, Kenny Passarelli, Rick Roberts. If you’re a fan of Stephen Stills, then Stills is definitely worth a flyer at some point. At least it meets my expectations of a Stephen Stills solo album: solid songs, thoughtful lyrics, some sharp guitar and organ playing, a revolving cast of stars and cameos from Crosby and Nash. You get the sense, reading some of the negative reviews of Stills as the time, that critics had simply soured on the whole CSN and sometimes Y experience. I’ll admit that their hand was overplayed and that the whole country-rock movement (The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, Crosby-Nash, Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas, Firefall, Poco, The Southern Hillman Furay Band, etc.) seemed to re-shuffle the same cards in endless and often-diluted variations. A world that had grown tired of Stephen Stills, however, was a jaded world indeed. I think there’s plenty on Stills to hold your interest, even if it isn’t the first, second or third Stephen Stills album you need to own.
Kronomyth 7.2: OUR HURT IS QUIET AND OUR HEARTS TAMED, AS THE SEA MAY YET BE TAMED. “Southern Cross” has its origins in a different song, “Seven League Boots,” written by The Curtis Brothers and recorded with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks (of future Fleetwood fame) in 1974. Stephen Stills rewrote the lyrics, added a new chorus and recorded it for CSN’s Daylight Again. Stills’ version is the clear winner, here re-cast as a healing sea journey, a retreat from the pain of love rather than a passionate pursuit after it as originally envisioned. A music video was also produced, featuring the trio singing in the dark interspersed with film of Stills sailing that appears to date from 1977. (In a confusing move, the picture sleeve repurposed the cover artwork from their last album to extend the sailing motif.) The single version of “Southern Cross” is 40-45 seconds shorter than the elpee version and fades early at the end. The flip side is Nash’s “Into The Darkness,” presumably written about David Crosby’s drug addiction and identical to the elpee version.
Kronomyth 1.1: LOVE, THE ONE-YEAR WITCH. The stormy relationship of Crosby, Stills and Nash was over, with Stills fired, re-hired, and then the whole experiment discarded. You can point fingers, wag tongues, but the truth is that magnetic personalities both attract and repel. Stills wasted little time in attracting a coterie of stars for his first solo album, which was led by the brilliant “Love The One You’re With.” It’s an instant classic, with some worldly steel drums added for good measure (shades of Paul Simon there). The B side featured the pristinely produced “To A Flame,” which had a Spectoral gloss to it that gave it a distinctly dreamy feel. It’s one of my favorites on his first album, noting that his first is my favorite among all of the CSN solo adventures. Beatles fans will also detect a slight hint of Apple in the affair, as either Billy Preston or Doris Troy are typically credited for the song’s title, and Ritchie (Ringo to the rest of us) appears on the B side, apparently returning the favor following Stills’ contributions to “It Don’t Come Easy.”
Kronomyth 4.0: BUTTERFLIES ARE WHITE AND BLUE IN THIS FIELD WE WANDER THROUGH. Everything sounds better on Blue Note, Mingus be damned. Blue Train is the best thing Coltrane had done to date, joined by a short-lived but stellar lineup that included Kenny Drew (piano), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Philly Joe Jones (drums) and a 19-year-old Lee Morgan (trumpet), plus standup stalwart Paul Chambers (bass). The record marks the true beginning of “classic” Coltrane, with the first of many original standards to come on the instantly memorable “Moment’s Notice” and the swinging closer, “Lazy Bird.” Those two tracks and the sweetly sentimental “I’m Old Fashioned” stand head and shoulders above Coltrane’s Prestige recordings to date (“How Deep Is The Ocean?” and “Soul Eyes” notwithstanding). Hard bop with a strong, swinging vibe, Blue Train is the tenor saxophonist at the top of his game, unloosing (seemingly) effortless and wondrous solos from the first minute of “Blue Train” onward. While you’re waiting for the next Trane solo to come, Morgan, Fuller and Drew provide plenty of diversion with their own unique and exciting solos. It’s a shame this lineup only lasted for one session, as ephemeral as a beautiful butterfly lasting but a day. Listen to Drew’s solo on “Moment’s Notice,” Morgan on “I’m Old Fashioned,” Fuller on “Blue Train,” and you’d never guess these were strangers meeting on a Trane session. As a bonus, Blue Train marks a rare reunion with Miles Davis drummer Jones, who together with fellow MDQ album Chambers gives the record some real bounce. Stylistically, the music seems to straddle bebop and hard bop, in case naming these things helps you. The real achievement of Blue Train isn’t so much how it sounds but how it makes you feel: joyous, free, alive. It’s the first Coltrane album to make that kind of connection with me, but certainly not the last. It’s also a great introduction to the genius of Lee Morgan, another prodigious talent loosed too soon from this mortal coil.
“No one—absolutely no one—was interested in anything that I did. We couldn’t get any gigs, which is why we called the band I.O.U. The few gigs that we did do there always ended up costing us more money than we’d get.” – Allan Holdsworth, in a 1982 interview with Guitar Player.
Over the years, Allan Holdsworth’s I.O.U. has accumulated a lot of interest. I had thought Velvet Darkness was impressive but, no, it’s a half-baked mess compared to the hyper-articulate I.O.U. Mixing songs and instrumentals, this will remind you of King Crimson (post-Discipline), Bill Bruford, U.K., Frank Zappa and Steve Hackett, even as it challenges much of what you thought you knew about the electric guitar. The sounds that Holdsworth gets out of his Stratocaster are not to be believed. There are soft, silken stretches of sound that emulate electronic keyboards and long legatos of incredible skill and grace, all of it delivered with a mathematical precision that transcends ready comprehension. At first, you won’t believe that what you’re really hearing is a guitar. Then, you won’t believe that anyone could play that fast without massive overdubs (most of these songs were done as a live take with no guitar overdubs). And, finally, you won’t believe that Allan Holdsworth isn’t a household name. While none of Holdsworth’s albums could be called commercial in the usual sense, I.O.U. is more accessible than most, with actual vocals (Paul Williams, who would fit somewhere between Jack Bruce and Jeff Berlin) and a crackerjack rhythm section of Paul Carmichael (bass) and Gary Husband (drums). Holdsworth spotted Carmichael and Husband playing at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, and the young pair made the most of the opportunity with superlative playing that belies their tender years. (Husband wasn’t even 21 when this album was recorded—which is shocking to think about, except that you’ll probably be too shocked by Holdsworth’s guitar most of the time to notice.) Fripp, Zappa, Hackett… they all make fine guitar heroes. But you really owe it to yourself to listen to this album, at which point you’ll quickly add Allan’s name to the list of great guitar gods.
He flung open the gates. The warm glory of afternoon sunlight made him start and blink his eyes. “Oh, roof!” he repeated in a voice of rapture. He was as though suddenly and joyfully awakened from a dark annihilating stupor. “Roof!” – Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
Kronomyth 2.0: EPSILON ENLIGHTENED. Edgar Froese’s second album continues in the classic vein of Rubycon, Ricochet and Stratosfear. It features two side-long tone poems that employ many of the same musical elements: flute-like synthesizers, sequencer-based journeys, a dynamic use of light and dark sounds and moments of both unnatural beauty and heroic discovery. The earlier Aqua had been a darker, stationary study of sound and, in the opening moments of “Ypsilon In Malaysian Pale,” it seemed that Froese might repeat the exercise. But that fear is quickly dispelled as warm, luminous sounds emerge as if pure sunlight itself, illuminating Froese’s enchanting adventure in nature (inspired, it would seem, by Froese’s recent travels in Malaysia). In fact, Froese appears to place himself in the music, as the flute-like synthesizer wonders at the world around it, shifting from foot traveler to train passenger (my internal musing, not the author’s). Effectively divided into halves, “Yspilon In Malaysian Pale” feels like the better parts of Phaedra (part one) and Rubycon (part two) fused together. The second musical travelogue, “Maroubra Bay” (presumably inspired by the Australian bay of the same name), is initially a much darker piece. That darkness soon gives way, however, to a fascinating—almost mesmerizing—journey through an imagined undersea world (again, my imagination). Froese selects from a slightly different palette of sounds, at times inviting comparison to Vangelis (Heaven and Hell in particular). “Maroubra Bay” culminates in a kind of quasi-religious experience at the end (I have the speculative impression of being in a cathedral-cave), then fades slowly as Ypsilon’s dreamworld slips away. Ypsilon In Malaysian Pale is far from a pale imitation of Tangerine Dream, but a full-blooded brother to Rubycon and Ricochet that displays a mastery of electronic sound on a grand, almost-classical scale. Heartily recommended to anyone who enjoyed the journey from Phaedra through Tangram and is looking for an undiscovered destination of equal beauty.
The burning brain behind Tangerine Dream, Edgar Froese was inspired to make music after attending a Pink Floyd concert. The early TD recordings were collaborative in nature, with Froese as the de facto leader and primary architect. Not surprisingly, his solo music tends to parallel whatever musical phase the Dream is undergoing at the time: amorphous space music (Aqua), concise electronic vignettes (Stuntman), et cetera. At their best, the recordings of Froese stand alongside the “official” TD albums of the age and should be included in any serious collection of Tangerine Dream’s music.
In the 1980s, Froese focused more of his energies on running the TD brand and less on making solo albums, since the band and the man had become synonymous at that point. He did release a new album, Dalinetopia, in 2005. Froese passed away in 2015 and leaves behind a recorded legacy that is a monument to one of the greatest musical pioneers and composers of the 20th century.