[Review] Jefferson Airplane: Long John Silver (1972)

long john silver album coverKronomyth 9.0: LEAVING ON A (SORT OF) HIGH NOTE. Rolling Stone ripped this a new one on its release, but I never read Rolling Stone. Bark didn’t bite in my book; it was eclectic, sure, but adventurous too. Long John Silver is the last adventure of the Jefferson Airplane. The album cover was designed to shock: it converted into a box to store your weed. The music is also designed to shock: “Easter,” “Son of Jesus,” “Eat Starch Mom.” If you haven’t been offended by Grace Slick already, I can’t imagine being offended now. I felt that Bark showed a band moving in different directions, while LJS is the same band expending the last of its increasingly directionless energy. The record does make a strong case for bringing Papa John Creach on board, as his violin mixes sweetly with the rest of the band and gives the songs a strange, spectral and almost elegiac quality. It had become clear, however, that Slick/Kantner and Kaukoken/Casady had split into separate factions. Kaukoken’s “Trial By Fire” and Kantner’s “Alexander The Medium,” for example, sound like the work of different bands. Slick and Kantner had grown long in the tooth by this stage, writing meandering protest songs and science-fiction fairy tales that felt like Hawkwind transported to an alternate, acoustic universe. As unfocused as it is, LJS is seldom less than interesting. The opening pair of tracks, “Long John Silver” and “Aerie,” are fearless in their freedom and artfully conceived in spots. You’ll find exciting instrumental passages, thought-provoking themes and blows against the establishment—in other words, the same ingredients that are synonymous with the best of Jefferson Airplane. What you won’t find on here is a hit single or definitive moment in the history of the Airplane, making it one of the least essential (if not the least essential) album from the original group. But even a bad Jefferson Airplane album is better than most things, including nearly all of the Jefferson Starship albums that came after.

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[Review] The Damned: Music For Pleasure (1977)

music for pleasure album cover“It was an experiment, I didn’t want to repeat the same album.” – Brian James, explaining MfP in an interview with Uber Rock.

Kronomyth 2.0: HELL AND LU, YEAH. The Sex Pistols never released a second album. The Damned did, roughly six months after the first, adding a second guitarist (Lu Edmonds) to create a thicker wall of sound. Critics panned the effort as second rate. It’s true that the material on Music For Pleasure isn’t as startling or fresh as their first, but the same could be said about the sophomore efforts from Elvis Costello (This Year’s Model) and The Clash (Give ‘Em Enough Rope)—two albums that garnered rave reviews. I guess there’s no accounting for taste, or maybe critics never did have the taste for punk. I would tell you that Music For Pleasure is a roadrunner of a record. It’s a different record than their debut by design and, I suppose, by necessity. The band’s first record was like The Stooges on steroids and the material had been honed and vetted by live performances. The music on Music For Pleasure was written in short order, the riffs are powerful but predictable, and the addition of Edmonds gives the music an added dimension that covers up some of the creative holes. Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason proves a poor choice for producer, inexplicably burying the singular drumming of Rat Scabies, who at the time may have been punk’s greatest drummer. What The Damned’s second album has is attitude and energy, which turn out to be more essential to punk rock than catchy riffs. The stop-and-start motion of “Problem Child” initially seems a critical misstep, but on every subsequent listen its devil-may-care attitude grows on you and you realize that not even rush-releasing a second record is going to hold down The Damned. Brian James seems more interested in expanding the band’s horizons, from the interesting dual-guitar attack to featuring a saxophone on the album’s final track, “You Know.” The second record also features more songwriting contributions from the band, including an attack on Television (the band), “Idiot Box,” written by Captain Sensible and Scabies. Although Music For Pleasure doesn’t lend itself to highlights, there isn’t a bad song on here. It does feel rushed, both in conception and execution, but the extra guitar layers compensate for some of that and, of course, this is punk music; it’s supposed to be played loud and fast and cheeky.

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[Review] Devo: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)

Anal is the word. They were a terrifying group of people to work with because they were so unable to experiment.” – Brian Eno.

Kronomyth 1.0: ARE WE ENO MEN? WE ARE DEVO! Twenty years after rock & roll helped stir a social revolution, Devo presented us with our own social de-evolution. No less a luminary than David Bowie believed Devo to be the future of music. I was thirteen years old when Q: Are We Not Men? came out, and bought it based solely on the Brian Eno production credit (I was a big Bowie fan from an early age). I still remember listening to it rapturously on the car ride home with my brother and father, neither of whom shared my enthusiasm. Forty years later, this record still gives me goosebumps. Art is never created in a vacuum, though you could argue that Akron, Ohio was a kind of vacuum, shielded from the local influences that informed the music of Talking Heads and Gang of Four. (Meanwhile, several states away, The B-52s were creating similar music in new Athens.) Devo’s debut album sounded like nothing I had heard before: white aggro funk mixed with elements of punk, pop and post-modernism, presented as a tongue-in-cheek critique of an idealized Amerika. Although Devo unveils their manifesto on “Jocko Homo,” it’s the opening “Uncontrollable Urge” that best sums up the band’s approach, as if all their repressed sexual energy were manifested as music. (Their earliest recordings seem to bear this out.) The songs of Q: Are We Not Men? represent the cream of the spud crop from the last few years: “Jocko Homo,” “Mongoloid” and their herky-jerky rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Also included here are such minor classics as “Space Junk,” “Gut Feeling,” “Shrivel-Up” and “Come Back Jonee.” There isn’t a single track on here that doesn’t poke your brain in pleasant places. Despite the tantalizing presence of Eno, it seems a true collaboration wasn’t in the cards, and any influence he had on the final product was minimal; this is Devo’s album from beginning to end. Subsequent albums would re-hash the same ideas even as it all devolved into Kraftwerkian robot music (some of which, such as New Traditionalists, was still quite revolutionary). In 2009, a complete live performance of Q: Are We Not Men? was appended to the original album, underscoring just how ahead of its time Devo has always been. Perhaps it will be up to future generations to decode it all.

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[Review] Mount Rushmore ’69 (1969)

mount rushmore '69 album coverKronomyth 2.0: TAKEN FOR GRANITE. Mount Rushmore’s second, final album doesn’t audibly improve on the formula of the first. It’s psychedelic blues rock played with some measure of competence but not enough personality. Mike Bolan is a decent guitarist, and there are moments when the band flashes some instrumental chops (“Toe Jam,” “Love Is The Reason”), just not enough of those moments to justify forty minutes of your time. Producer Ray Ruff doesn’t do the band any favors; the production is downright listless in spots (“10:09 Blues,” “I’m Comin’ Home”). The group still continues to struggle with writing their own material, digging back to the original lineup’s repertoire for two tracks and taking Mose Allison’s “V-8 Ford Blues” for a spin. The originals from Glen Smith aren’t very (original), constituting standard blues exercises. I will tell you, “10:09 Blues” is a slow train comin’. Cream, Hendrix, The Doors and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band could run rings around Rushmore. Their first record was a little more exciting and had the benefit of choosing from the cream of the band’s live repertoire. Leftovers like “King of Earrings” and “Love Is The Reason” are laughably bad in spots. While it would seem the band’s demise was premature, Mount Rushmore was never destined for great things. There must be a dozen bands from the era that warrant the archaeological interest more than Mount Rushmore. If you’ve dug that deep and still haven’t reached bottom, then feel stone free to take a peak at Rushmore’s twin monuments—unless, that is, you don’t believe in statues.

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[Review] The Byrds: Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968)

sweetheart of the rodeo album coverKronomyth 7.0: HOLY COWBOY. Gram Parsons didn’t join The Byrds, he hijacked them. Calling this album a “complete reinvention” or “radical departure from the past” doesn’t capture the shock of hearing Sweetheart of the Rodeo for the first time. By turning their back on their psychedelic past, The Byrds helped to create a new genre of music: country-rock. Of course, there was always the undercurrent of folk/country in the music of The Byrds, but we never knew how deep those waters ran until Rodeo arrived. Chris Hillman’s roots were in folk music and, as a Christian, songs such as “I Am A Pilgrim,” “The Christian Life” and Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd” were likely already familiar to him. Byrds fans, however, were unprepared for an entire album of country classics complete with pedal steel guitar, fiddle, banjo and mandolin. As for Roger McGuinn, who seems to have abdicated the leadership role (I never saw the band as having a leader to begin with), his versions of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and “Nothing Was Delivered” may be the album’s most obvious links to the past. The Dylan parallels are interesting here, as I keep coming back to the shock that listeners felt when Dylan and his band plugged in electric instruments; Sweetheart of the Rodeo is the inverse of that. The Byrds unplug their instruments, disconnect from the drug scene (musically, not personally) and play country music without a trace of irony. It’s the most “normal” album they’ve ever recorded and yet, at the same time, the most daring thing they’ve ever done. In a very real sense, Sweetheart of the Rodeo opened the floodgates for country music to mix with rock and roll (Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and other psychedelic acts would soon follow suit). It’s not hyperbole to say that the New Riders of the Purple Sage, the Eagles and the entire country-rock genre owe a deep debt of gratiitude to the groundbreaking work of Gram Parsons and The Byrds. Hearing Parsons, McGuinn and Hillman play country music with rock sensibilities is a revelation. What awaits are songs of outlaws (“Pretty Boy Floyd,” “Life In Prison”) and natural beauty (“Hickory Wind,” “Blue Canadian Rockies”) sweetened by the pleasure of the pedal steel guitar. But be warned: after hearing Rodeo, you may never go back to rock and roll again.

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[Review] Deep Purple: The Book of Taliesyn (1968)

the book of taliesyn album coverKronomyth 2.0: THE BARD’S TALE. A hastily conceived followup to the band’s first album was recorded to capitalize on the band’s newfound success. The Book of Taliesyn, named after a bard of Arthurian legend, should have exposed myriad holes. Instead, it exposed listeners to a more progressive side of Purple that showcased fantasy (“Listen, Learn, Read On”), classical music (“Anthem”) and prog majesty (“Shield”). It was an explosive cover of Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman” that became the album’s hit single, although I would tell you it’s the least interesting thing on here. A heavily edited version of “River Deep, Mountain High” fared well as the album’s second single; as with their cover of The Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out,” the most interesting music occurs in the classically influenced intros and instrumental solos. Despite the short distance since their debut, The Book of Taliesyn is a confident step forward in songwriting. “Shield” is as good as anything to come from the pens of Jack Bruce and Peter Brown, while the guitar solo from Ritchie Blackmore is head and shoulders above his work on Shades. With more time, the band might have found a better vehicle than Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman” or replaced the instrumental “Wring That Neck” with a proper song; other than that, though, the band could have released this album a year later without anyone being the wiser (which, if memory serves, is exactly what happened in the UK). The Hendrix/Who-isms have been toned down, and even the influence of Vanilla Fudge is hard to detect here (although debts to Procol Harum and The Moody Blues are more evident this time). As one of the earliest examples of progressive rock, The Book of Taliesyn is an important work. It’s not a masterpiece, but like Curved Air’s second album the demands of writing more material quickly seem to have spurred them on to higher heights.

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[Review] Camper Van Beethoven: Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (1988)

our beloved revolutionary sweetheart album coverKronomyth 4.0: CAMPING TRIP. Steeped in my suburban ways, I couldn’t pretend to tell you what “Eye of Fatima” really means. The mind on drugs makes interesting connections, and suddenly Egyptology and conspiracy theories get swirled together into a rock & roll road song that clangs noisily into the gears of our mediocracy like a perfectly placed wrench. Even MTV played an unwitting part in the conspiracy, featuring a music video for Fatima in which the members of CVB, choreographed in what can only be described as a collective lurching, threaten to tumble off screen as the very musical firmament cracks and splits beneath us. The Campers signing to a major label should have heralded a flying-pig apocalypse. Instead, “Eye of Fatima” gave us a mere glimpse into the end of days. The rest of the record is a refinement of their last, with producer Dennis Herring presumably helping the band reign in their eclectic tastes and shaping their strangeness into solid song structures. The references to classic rock are largely absent this time, but their sweetness and charm continue to rise to the surface in wonderful songs such as “She Divines Water” and “Life is Grand.” From a musical standpoint, two things always jump out at me when I listen to Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart: that Jonathan Segel’s violin has largely supplanted the traditional role of the lead guitar (mabye it always did) and that it has a lot more horns and harmonicas than any other CVB album. Despite the challenges of working with an international record label that people had actually heard of, OBRS stays true to the band’s guiding principles. You’ll still find Ukrainian swamp country stomps (“Eye of Fatima, Part 2”), sympathetic socialist stories (“Tania”) and goofy country songs (“Never Go Back,” which first appeared on 1987’s Vampire Can Mating Oven EP). If I stop short of calling OBRS their best album, it’s because the last three records are largely of a piece. “My Path Belated” and “Wishing To Course” spring from the same source of inspiration, “One of These Days” and “Borderline” too. The album production progressively smoothed out the rough edges with each album (insert image here of angry alt-rockers shaking their tiny fists at promotional posters of Key Lime Pie and All Shook Down), which to my mind uncovered more of the melodic genius that had always been sulking under the surface of their songs. As “Eye of Fatima” and “Life Is Grand” reveal, Camper Van Beethoven intends to have their cake and eat it too on Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart. As for Virgin, well, they’d get their just desserts in time.

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[Tidbit] Todd Rundgren: “Hello It’s Me” (1972)

hello it's me single imageKronomyth 4.2: HELLO, IT’S ME AGAIN. This is a story of three hellos, beginning with the debut of The Nazz, which featured a slowed-down and slightly tortured version of this song. Several years later, Todd Rundgren polished it up for his magnum opus, Something/Anything?, now presenting it as part of the great pop tapestry. It was one of the most memorable moments on a memorable album, Todd starting off with a little banter and two false starts before launching into one of the most perfect pop songs you’ll ever hear. The song was edited down to three-and-a-half minutes, possibly doctored (the bass and vocals sound a little different) and released to an American public that didn’t give it so much as a “How do you do?” in return. One of the great pop mysteries, that. So Bearsville shelved the single and re-issued it the following year after the release of Todd’s next album, A Wizard, A True Star. This time, the single caught listeners’ attention and went up to #5 on the Billboard charts, giving Rundgren his first Top 10 hit. The B side, “Cold Morning Light,” is identical to the elpee version and continues the theme of lost love. It’s one of the few recordings that feature Todd playing the flute, the first instrument he tried playing as a child, and would warrant its own paragraph if I weren’t so lazy.

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[Review] The Cure: The Top (1984)

the top album coverKronomyth 7.0: I LOVE IT, SO SIOUX ME. The general consensus among critics is that The Top is the bottom where The Cure are concerned. I’ll confess to being a bit underwhelmed by it in the beginning too. It’s not the cavalcade of hits you’ll find on the albums before (Japanese Whispers) and after (Head On The Door). “The Caterpillar” is the only thing most people remember from The Top these days. But it is arguably the most gorgeously produced record that Robert Smith and Laurence Tolhurst had made so far. The exotic influence of Siouxsie and the Banshees is keenly felt here, and maybe some (or many) took umbrage with the blurring between the two bands. I would tell you that the album is drenched in psychedelic experimentation, though a failed experiment it isn’t. Instead, Smith and co-producers Chris Parry and Dave Allen have created something entirely new here: punk, psychedelia and new wave with emerging pop sensibilities topped off by Smith’s increasingly bizarre but artful vocals. Listening to a song like “Piggy in The Mirror,” I have the impression that a new kind of singer is emerging; I imagine it must have felt that way when listeners first heard Elvis. Smith has certainly written better songs that “Shake Dog Shake” and “The Top,” and perhaps bookending the album with two of its weakest tracks was its undoing. You can’t really listen to this album, though, without being impressed with the “new” Cure sound and how much music they’re able to create with  only two full-time players plus a drummer. True, you won’t find many hits on here, but that’s what greatest hits records are for. What you will find is an important and, yes, transitional record, that finds the butterfly of the future almost fully emerged.

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[Review] John Coltrane: Soultrane (1958)

soultrane album coverKronomyth 6.0: RUNAWAY TRANE. Just a few days after recording the first session for Miles Davis’ Milestones, John Coltrane, Red Garland and Paul Chambers (with Art Taylor) returned to the same studio to record Coltrane’s next album, Soultrane. This time, Coltrane’s entrance is immediate and his presence is enormous. “Good Bait” is a tuneful number from Tadd Dameron and Count Basie that delivers instant gratification and stands as the album’s most hummable track. Coltrane completely overshadows everything until Garland slips in an impossibly cool solo, and you’re reminded that you’re listening to three-fifths of the world’s greatest quintet and arguably its greatest quartet. “I Want To Talk About You” is a Billy Eckstine ballad featuring Coltrane’s big, beautiful, lyrical passages and a completely different solo from Garland rendered in dream-like clusters of notes. The second side comes out swinging with “You Say You Care” (from Gentleman Prefer Blondes), with Coltrane and Garland serving up another great set of solos and Taylor getting into the act with some art-ful playing. “Theme For Ernie,” written for alto saxophonist Ernie Henry (who died of a heroin overdose at the end of 1957), has some gorgeous melodic shifts that remind me of The Beatles’ “Michelle.” The album ends with another sped-up Irving Berlin song, “Russian Lullaby,” with some breathtaking soloing from Coltrane. Commentator Ira Gitler famously referred to Trane’s performance on this track as “sheets of sound” because the notes create a continuous stream of music; the music literally explodes from Trane’s tenor in a gush of creative force that somehow, impossibly, is shaped by will at the speed of thought. It reminds me of those Michael Jordan highlight reels when they would slow the video down and you would see Jordan making millisecond adjustments in a way that could only be described as instinct and intelligence perfectly comingled. Despite the absence of a Coltrane original, Soultrane is every bit as essential as John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio. Both albums represent some of the greatest tenor saxophone playing ever recorded and serve as a perfect introduction to the genius of the classic Coltrane quartet. The only (slight) knock I have on the record is that Rudy Van Gelder’s recording seems a little off; unthinkable, I know, so maybe it’s just my ears playing tricks.

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[Review] Brian Eno: Discreet Music (1975)

discreet music album coverKronomyth 5.0: CANONICAL ENO. Standing on the beach on a foggy day, I’ve heard the foghorn of passing cargo ships as a profound and solitary “I am” hurled against the vastness of the ocean (the bay, in reality, but that’s not nearly so poetic). It is a declaration of existence, adventure, futility, freedom and imprisonment; a song of the human condition wrapped in a single sound. Discreet Music is that sound realized as a symphony. Eno’s idea was to create ambient music that, true to its name, would insinuate itself into the listener’s environment, who could in turn choose to listen to it or ignore it and let it recede into the background. The fascinating thing about Discreet Music is that it does both: one moment, you’re listening to it intently, the next moment you find you’ve drifted off into the deep waters of different thoughts. Eno tries to reduce the magic of it to science with a little diagram on the back cover explaining how his synthesizer was processed through an equalizer, echo unit and delayed tape recorder to achieve the effect. Science be damned, this is musical sorcery of a most bewitching kind. The second side of Discreet Music is Eno’s treatment of a chamber performance of Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major, cut into pieces and tied together in a post-modern piece of art that is mournful, grotesque and beautiful all at once. In the traditional sense, Discreet Music really isn’t music, and this is where Eno’s peculiar genius pays off: blurring the distinction between sound and music while drawing listeners into a unique and compelling musical environment. While many have pointed to Music For Airports as the definitive ambient work from Eno, Discreet Music made many of those discoveries first and remains for me the most brilliant example of his ambient experiments.

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[Review] Legion of Mary: GarciaLive Volume Three – December 14-15, 1974, Northwest Tour (2013)

GarciaLive Volume Three album coverKronomyth x.x: GARGLING MAN. The Legion of Mary recordings are sort of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you have songs that you rarely hear from Jerry Garcia, like “Freedom Jazz Dance” or “Valdez In The Country.” On the other hand are songs from Merl Saunders that you’ll probably never want to hear again, like a version of “Boogie On Reggae Woman” in which the man literally manages to sing and gargle at the same time. Legion of Mary wasn’t a band so much as a pseudonym for the collaborations between Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders that took place during the Seventies—in this case, between the winter of 1974 and the summer of 1975 while Garcia took a break from touring with the Grateful Dead. Legion of Mary never made a record and survives today only in archival releases like this, which makes these releases important to collectors. The third volume in the GarciaLive series captures the band during two days in Oregon at the Paramount Theatre (Portland) and the EMU Ballroom (Eugene). In addition to Garcia and Saunders, the Legion featured sax/flute player Martin Fierro, John Kahn and Ron Tutt. It would be nice to say that they’re all equal collaborators in the end, but that would be a lie; Garcia’s guitar solos are definitely the draw. That said, I don’t hear where Garcia’s playing is any better or more adventurous here than on any other outing. What makes this collection interesting is the material and, to a lesser extent, the contributions from Fierro, who appears here as an added flavor to the standard Garcia/Saunders pairing. The first disc features the Paramount Theatre performance and, honestly, it’s a snooze. Hearing Garcia sing “Dixie” is a treat, but the backing vocals (presumably from Saunders) are waayyy off key. The instrumental “Freedom Jazz Dance” is adventurous (shades of Space), the closing set of “Mystery Train” and “How Sweet It Is” old hat at this stage. Apparently, the band learned nothing from the previous night, and leads off the EMU Ballroom show with another song from Saunders, Randy Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On.” (Saunders later recorded this and “Boogie On Reggae Woman” for his album, You Can Leave Your Hat On, which also featured Fierro.) Garcia takes the microphone for a country-stompin’ version of “Neighbor, Neighbor” and wraps up the first set with a return to “Dixie” (this time without the backing vocals). The second set features the familiar (“It’s No Use,” “I Second That Emotion”) with rarely heard Garcia performances of “Valdez In The Country” and Saunders’ “Wondering Why.” That last track is one of the show’s highlights, featuring decent vocals from Saunders (apparently, someone gave him a throat lozenge between sets) and Fierro on flute. The night ends with a rollicking version of “Roadrunner.” All in all, the Ballroom tops the Paramount and stands as one of the better Garcia/Saunders performances I’ve heard (admittedly, I’ve only heard a few). I would think you could live a full life without hearing Garcia and Saunders play together even once, though I’m sure many Deadheads would beg to differ. If you’re determined to go down that road anyway, GarciaLive is an interesting avenue to explore for a few hours, but you might want to leave your hat over your ears when Saunders takes the microphone.

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[Review] AC/DC: ’74 Jailbreak (1984)

74 jailbreak album coverKronomyth 10.5: BAIL BON. Bon earned a second reprieve from his infernal estate, to amble among us in ghostly form once more, with the release of ’74 Jailbreak. Issued as a mini-album during the doldrums of the mid 80s, this is catch-all compilation that collects a handful of songs that slipped through the cracks when the labels assembled the original Australian and international releases of T.N.T. and High Voltage. “Jailbreak” is the obvious standout, a classic performance from Bon, Angus and the band that stands with their best work (and may have been remixed, although I can’t confirm it since I don’t own the original version). The rest of the songs are good, not great. “You Ain’t Got A Hold On Me” creeps along menacingly at a low boil and could have been built up into something special had the band chosen to revisit it. “Show Business” is a basic rhythm and blues song set on fire with Angus Young’s guitar while Bon bitches about the industry. “Soul Stripper” has star presence, beginning with a bass guitar that pounds like a racing heart. The production is different than most AC/DC songs you’ll hear—the guitars sound distant and there’s a lot of percussion in the mix—but the energy is unmistakably AC/DC. The last track is “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” a song that’s been recorded dozens of times over the years but rarely with the intensity shown here. Like Led Zeppelin before them, AC/DC could take a well-travelled blues song and imbue it with their own personality to make it uniquely their own. If you’re thinking the labels knew what they were doing when they left these tracks off the international releases, they didn’t. Every one of these five songs is an essential part of Bon’s legacy with the band. As with Black Market Clash, the labels left off some of the juiciest parts, which you can now savor as a light supper on ’74 Jailbreak.

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[Review] Graham Nash: Songs For Beginners (1971)

songs for beginners album coverKronomyth 1.0: ALL THINGS MUST NASH. If “Our House” was the best Beatles song the band never wrote, then Songs For Beginners is the best Beatles solo album that none of the Fab Four ever released. That’s not to suggest that Graham Nash was consciously copying The Beatles or Bob Dylan, at least not anymore than anyone else, but his first album combines British pop, ballads and a social conscience in the best possible ways. Though the last member of Crosby, Stills and Nash to release a solo album, Nash made it the best of his career. Honestly, the first three solo albums from Crosby, Stills and Nash were better salve to the wounded hearts of their fans than what John, Paul, George and Ringo had to offer. When I tell you that Songs For Beginners is my favorite solo album from Crosby, Stills or Nash (Neil Young’s Harvest is better in my opinion), it’s with the caveat that I’m a anglophile at heart. Beatles fans should immediately warm up to “Military Madness” and “Be Yourself;” Bobby Keys’ sax solo on “There’s Only One” will also feel like a bit of home. CSN fans will instantly recall “Chicago,” introduced a month earlier on the live 4 Way Street, and appreciate the acoustic “Wounded Bird.” Over the course of the album, Nash emerges as a remarkably complete songwriter. There are a few lyrical missteps (“You’ll wear the coat of questions till the answer hat arrives” from “Wounded Bird” always makes me laugh), but the balance decidedly falls on the side of wisdom and love. Where Stills’ first record was sometimes overshadowed by his guests, and Crosby seemed to prefer working in the shadow of his own inscrutable muse, the supporting musicians on Songs For Beginners are the spice to Nash’s humble pie. Dave Mason, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and David Lindley provide a distinctive flavor to Nash’s simple songs without overpowering them (although Mason comes dangerously close). I had secretly hoped that Nash’s first record would sound like the home that “Our House” built. Songs For Beginners doesn’t disappoint. It proves that music can change the world and make it a better place, even if only for half an hour.

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[Review] Graham Bond: Holy Magick (1970)

holy magick album coverKronomyth 5.0: GRAHAM BOND’S DARK FORCE. Love Is The Law was Evil Bond on a budget. Holy Magick is Evil Bond with a full band. The result sounds like Gong infiltrated by a Satanist cabal or Ginger Baker’s Air Force working for darker forces. At this stage in his life,  Graham Bond was a better candidate for the looney bin than the record bin. I find it amazing that Bond could get a legitimate label (Mercury) and professional musicians (Rick Grech, Alex Dmochowski, Victor Brox) to tag along for his descent into madness. (In an odd twist, Brox appeared that same year as Caiaphas in Jesus Christ Superstar.) If you can ignore the fact that “Holy Magick Suite” is a Satanic ritual set to music, you might see it as an interesting continuation of Bond’s unique progressive blues/rock/jazz style. But you won’t be able to ignore that fact, because the whole purpose of this music is to usher in a new Age of Aquarius. Bond calls upon the dark angels of light, invokes the Qabalistic cross and perverts pieces of Christian liturgy (the suite closes with Christ’s final words, “It is finished”) in what must constitute some of the most profane music ever committed to vinyl. Side two features shorter songs that have a connection to the Tarot. “Return of Arthur” deals with Arthurian legend and the prophecy that Arthur will return as England’s savior. “The Magician” is actually something of a love song from Bond to Stewart and is not only the best track on here, but the only one that can be safely excised from the album’s Aquarian theme (that is, it works on two levels). The final two tracks are written by Diane Stewart and, while neither could be considered musically adventurous, they’re not bad, just a bit bland as invocations of evil go. I remember thinking holy crap the first time I heard this album—not because I was amazed, but because it was quasi-religious crap that, as a Christian, I found naturally offensive. I wish it had been otherwise with Bond; the man was supremely talented, but fundamentally tainted. Unable to separate his music from his mental and spiritual deterioration, I would pronounce Holy Magick one of the most depressing records on record.

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