Kronomyth 3.0: AND NOW AND THEM FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. After Van Morrison left Them, you might have expected the band to quietly disappear. What you didn’t expect was a psychedelic album featuring a nine-minute Indian raga and trippy songs like “Truth Machine” and “Walking In The Queen’s Garden.” Now And Them is a radical shift from the band’s R&B origins; in truth, the band reinvented themselves after Van’s departure. Here, they take on psychedelic blues (John Mayall’s “I’m Your Witch Doctor”) and pop (“You’re Just What I Was Looking For Today,” “I Happen To Love You”), plus a few originals that reveal a heretofore undiscovered talent for psychedelic rock. The new vocalist, Kenny McDowell, won’t make you forget about Van Morrison, but he’s a legitimate singer, versus, say, having one of the other members take on the role. New drummer Dave Harvey is another solid addition and wastes little time making a good impression, giving his kit a sound thrashing on the opening “Witch Doctor.” Unfortunately, Van took most of the eyes and ears with him, and not a lot of folks stuck around to hear/see Them’s second act. These days, Now And Them is best appreciated as a psychedelic artifact (one that XTC seems to have dug, judging by “Your Gold Dress”). Whether the band really did have a psychedelic conversion of heart or whether it was just a fashionable costume change, I couldn’t tell you. Them were hardly the only R&B act to go psychedelic (I was originally going to kronomyth this “Thempathy for the Devil”). I won’t kid you, Van Morrison’s Blowin’ Your Mind is the better album, but Now And Them is a pleasant, mind-expanding addendum from the rest of Them.
Kronomyth 1.0. UNAPOLLOGETIC. With Roman Gods, Fleshtones threw their hat into the center of the garage-rock revival. Listeners, for the most part, threw it back. New wave bands were all the rage in 1981, and old wave acts had to steal the spotlight from The Ramones or The Cramps if they wanted any attention. In a sense, Roman Gods had the odd misfortune of being both outmoded and ahead of its time. Had it been released 15 years later, Fleshtones might have enjoyed the same success as The White Stripes and The Vines—although, here again, those bands understood the importance of a good visual gimmick. The sin of Roman Gods is its lack of a compelling gimmick. If the band had played in roman togas every night, well, maybe they would have enjoyed more success as a novelty act. Those who did tune in for Fleshtones’ debut were treated to a great little party platter of raunch and roll. The opening track, “The Dreg,” is absolutely filthy in the best sense of the word. From there, the band follows the footsteps of “Cold, Cold Shoes” with the likable “I’ve Gotta Change My Life” and continues to deliver the goods for the next thirty minutes. The slick “Hope Come Back” and a sizzling cover of Lee Dorsey’s “Ride Your Pony” are highlights. The band’s only crimes have been arriving underdressed to the first garage rock revival and arriving too early to the second. Musically, they hold up as well as any of their peers. Maybe the world will rediscover Roman Gods some day and pay it the homage it deserves.
Kronomyth 7.1: DREADFULLY FUNNY. I read on the Internet (probably Songfacts) that this song was inspired by an incident that happened while Graham Gouldman and Justin Hayward (of The Moody Blues) were on holiday in Barbados. This would probably be considered racist today; ah, for the 70’s, when we all had longer hair and thicker skins. (The band also released an early music video for this song; now that was racist.) The B side is a nonalbum track, “Nothing Can Move Me.” It’s a bland rocker that one can only assume is very, very subtle irony. Because one shudders to think otherwise.
Okay, so this one isn’t as good as it looks but, in its defense, it looks awesome. The record revolves around a science fiction story of space pirates who steal a powerful device to save a dying world (and make some money), only to be guided to a strange world where they battle a cyborg bent on world domination. In between is a message about the importance of music and universal love, plus your obligatory ambisexual orgy (they don’t call them astral pirates for nothing). The music is a mix of progressive fusion and funk, not markedly different from Venusian Summer but without the stellar lineup. It’s tempting to see the presence of Don Blackman as a kind of Clarke/Duke axis on which these adventures spin; their “Universal Love” plies the same sort of smart funk. There are also songs that recall the work of Al Di Meola (“The Great Pyramid”) and Chick Corea (“Mandarin Warlords”). If you’re comfortable in the universe of mid-70’s fusion, this is an adventure you’ll enjoy. Of course, concept albums are difficult to make, and the music doesn’t always follow the narrative, at least to my mind. Close your eyes and you may hear an intergalactic tale unfolding, but you won’t (for example) be thinking about an interspecies intergalactic orgy on “Stew, Cabbage And Galactic Beans” (which, in retrospect, I suppose I’m thankful for). What I end up doing is keeping the story in mind as I listen to the music, without going chapter by chapter. That way, I can appreciate the narrative (which is interesting) and the music (which is excellent) without worrying about which notes represent the cyborg on “Heavy Metal Monster” (none of them, apparently). There are a handful of RTF-related albums that offer better music, but as a last hurrah for progressive rock/fusion, Adventures is a tale that deserves at least one spin on your turntable.
“I think audiences are quite comfortable watching something coming into being.” – Brian Eno.
Kronomyth 6.4: MAGIC, THIS GATHERING. On paper, adding another player to the chaotic trio music of Chick Corea, Barry Altschul and Dave Holland was a recipe for disaster. In practice, surprisingly, Circle turned out to be the ideal expression for Corea’s experimental, improvisational, musical communion. The early fruits of this partnership were recorded in New York City, but were made available here only as a Japanese import. Gathering, the group’s second release, is forty minutes of inspired musical interplay that straddles the worlds of avant-garde jazz and modern classical music. I was tone-deaf to The Song of Singing. A.R.C., though better, was still too dark. But something about Gathering draws me into the music. As the audience, I felt as though the earlier trio music barred me from admission; it was noisy, complicated, disconnected. The music of Circle is open by comparison. I feel involved in its act of creation and exploration. Every time I listen to Gathering, I hear and experience new things. There is a palpable connection between the players as well. The Song of Singing often felt like three unrelated monologues superimposed on each other. Gathering is a dialogue. The conversation centers largely around the subject of what constitutes music. Saxophones yield to slide whistles, strings are plucked and pulled and scratched, anything within reach is struck, yet it’s all done in sympathy to what’s happening around it. Is it improvisational? Yes, but done with a communal spirit that transcends the usual limitations of spontaneous composition. In a sense, listening to Gathering is like watching a modern artist in the act of painting, which I think is what Eno was saying about music. Or maybe he was talking about Japanese steakhouses; it’s hard to tell with him.
“Hearts On Fire is certainly the strongest, straight-between-the-eyes album of rock music to come along in the 70’s.” – New Musical Express full-page ad purchased by UK distributor, Mountain Records.
The Army’s label, Mountain Records, pulled out all the stops for the band’s third album: an outside producer (Eddie Offord), a small army of side musicians and multiple ads in the New Musical Express. While one can appreciate the record label’s enthusiasm to recoup their investment, I’m pretty certain that no one actually ever uttered the above quote, unless it was in the context of “We’re going to sack you unless Hearts On Fire is certainly the strongest, straight-between-the-eyes album of rock music to come along in the 70’s.” Now, my snide comments forty years on aren’t going to change history. The fate of Baker Gurvitz Army has already been decided, and nothing I can say or do will change that one whit. I might validate your own experience of Hearts On Fire, perhaps rekindle your interest in it, but I’m completely powerless to change the past. And it is a matter of historical fact that the band went out in a blaze of apathy and acrimony. Shortly after the album’s release, their manager (Bill Fehilly, who was also managing Nazareth at the time) died in a plane crash, providing the catalyst for the Army’s disbandment, noting that no one (apparently) was ever sorry to see the back of Baker. The last will and testament of Baker Gurvitz Army is mostly a testament to the talent of Adrian Gurvitz; he writes the lion’s share of the songs and lights it up with his guitar on the opening two tracks, “Hearts On Fire” and “Neon Lights.” Baker is largely AWOL on Hearts, although his brilliance reappears briefly on “Night People.” The knock on this record, other than Baker’s absence, is its arbitrary nature. The band tries their hand at hard rock (“Flying In And Out of Stardom”), orchestrated ballads (“Tracks of My Life”), disco (“Dancing The Night Away”) and the blues (“Thirsty For The Blues”). Sometimes they sound like The Who (“My Mind Is Healing”), at other times like Peter Frampton (“Smiling”); maybe the band should have gotten their story straight before attempting a “straight-between-the-eyes album of rock music.” The tragedy here isn’t the end of the Baker Gurvitz Army, since Ginger Baker bands spoil faster than potato salad in the sun, but that Adrian Gurvitz wasn’t able to parlay his stint in the Army into something bigger.
Kronomyth 7.0: GOODBYE GODLEY AND CREME. The human voice and the harmonica figure prominently on Goodbye Blue Sky. Since the doo-wop send-up of “Donna,” Godley and Creme have shown an uncanny facility for beautiful harmonies (with the inevitable lyrical wrench thrown in for good fun). Although this would appear to be a concept album about Armageddon, Goodbye Blue Sky is the most straightforward album they’ve made so far. It’s sweet, melodic, even conventional—at least as conventional an album as Godley and Creme seem capable of making. The vocal support from Londonbeat’s George Chandler, Jimmy Chambers and Jimmy Helms and the harmonica playing of Mark Feltham and Mitt Gamon nearly steal the show. The a capella opening will recall their last album, but that album was preternaturally dark. This album is more optimistic and sentimental; Godley and Creme believe the world can be saved (although I wouldn’t read a religious conversion in the text). The obvious winners here are “A Little Piece of Heaven,” “Don’t Set Fire (To The One I Love),” “Golden Rings” and “Sweet Memory,” some of the catchiest songs they’ve written since “Wedding Bells” and “Sale of the Century.” All of that said, the vocal harmonies and harmonica are layered on pretty thick on this record; initially, I found them a distraction. After you get past that, though, you’ll find it to be their most accessible album since Ismism. It is also, unfortunately, their last album, as the pair were now focused on film and video production, but a classier exit you couldn’t ask for.
Kronomyth 5.0: BIRDS A CAPELLA STICK TOGETHER. I thought Snack Attack/Ismism was the best thing they’d done since Sheet Music, so the followup was bound to disappoint on some level. I think I’m more disappointed that Birds of Prey didn’t get an American release. The music of Godley and Creme is admittedly an acquired taste, but if Sparks could get an American distribution deal, I don’t know what the objection could have been to Kev and Lol. Their last album benefitted from two terrific songs, “Sale of the Century” and “Wedding Bells.” Nothing on Birds of Prey is so catchy. Instead, you get an immaculately produced album of mostly electronic pop played almost entirely by Godley and Creme (Guy Barker purportedly adds trumpet on “Save A Mountain For Me,” which seems odd since “Out In The Cold” is the only song with horns on it). Kev and Lol are DIY samurai; on the opening “My Body The Car,” they don’t even need instruments. Despite a sharp sense of humor (the bonus track, “Welcome To Breakfast Television” is hilarious), Godley and Creme have a dark side, and many of the songs on Birds of Prey are dark: jilted lovers, opportunists, dead horses and murderers figure prominently in the cast of characters. Their last album had some of that too (“Under Your Thumb,” “Lonnie”), but it also had sweetness and silliness to offset the darkness. Without those spoonfuls of sugar, Birds of Prey leaves a slightly bitter taste in my mouth. Of course, most of the G&C albums are difficult on some level, so fans of the pair’s perfectly produced pop-art aren’t as likely to mind. Ultimately, Birds of Prey is a few shamma lamma ding-dongs shy of their best work, though the sharp lyrics and occasionally catchy choruses are still the marks of taloned minds.
Kronomyth 8.0: DEEP ELEM BLUEGRASS. I am ambivalent about live records. On the one hand, I feel like artists have already been paid to perform them, and a physical document of the shows is just a money-grab. On the other hand, I’d quickly run out of fingers counting the number of live records I enjoy regularly. Almost Acoustic would fall into the latter camp. The Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band is a bluegrass lineup that shakes out more or less the same as Old And In The Way but with different players (John Kahn is the lone holdover). Garcia, David Nelson (NRPS) and Sandy Rothman split the vocals, Kenny Kosek provides the sweet fiddle and Dave Kemper puts brush to drum. The performance is uniformly excellent; Jerry’s voice is strong, the string interplay is a source of joy and the songbook is enriched by “Oh, The Wind and Rain,” “Spike Driver’s Blues” and “Here To Get My Baby Out of Jail.” The Dead have covered some of this terrain already (God bless the gentle souls who trouble themselves to document the Dead’s doings), including “Deep Elem Blues,” “Casey Jones” (the Mississippi John Hurt song, not the Workingman’s Dead version) and, of course, “Ripple.” In my youth, I admit to being ambivalent about the Dead in general. The idea that people would subsist entirely on a diet of the Dead seemed narrow-minded. As you listen to their music, though, you realize it is almost a self-contained world of its own. You want rock and roll? The Dead do that. Jazz? Country? The Dead do that too. From blues to bluegrass, it all intersects with the Dead at some point. Almost Acoustic serves up as much bluegrass as you can consume in one sitting, and it’s all delicious (the second act apparently delved into electric fare). There are dozens of live Dead and Dead-related discs to choose from, and this is one of the best I’ve heard.
Kronomyth 1.0: LETTS IT BE. I never knew what to make of This Is Big Audio Dynamite. Was this the new revolution? Had I missed the email saying that multimedia, sleepy melodies and drum machines were now the bomb? It turned out that it took me years to let go of my golden punk dreams for the second chapter of The Clash, and a few years more to appreciate the music of BAD for what it is and what it’s not. Today, I enjoy songs like “E=MC2,” “Medicine Show” and “Sony” on some level, the same way I enjoy “Lost In The Supermarket.” Mick Jones was never much of a singer; he’d put you to sleep over an entire album. And so BAD throws constant movie dialogue into the mix as a sort of stimulant. Still, a lot of this flew right over my head at the time. I mean, punk music and film history seemed like a really strange marriage at the time (it still does). The band was visually impressive, which owed a lot to the influence of clothier/cinematographer Letts. In fact, you could argue that BAD was one of the first bands to understand that music was now a largely visual medium. But I’d trade it all for another “Train In Vain,” honestly. The album does have some of its precedent in the dub experiments of The Clash (e.g., “A Party”), in case you’re lamenting the lost days of “The Magnificent Dance.” Unexpected? Totally. Underappreciated? Maybe. I can’t be right about everything all the time (tic).