Talk From The Rock Room: April 2015

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Pretty Things -'So Low Beneath a Laser Sun'- The 1970 Album Parachute

Spinning out an imposing psychedelic vibe in the ‘rock room’ today is a somewhat forgotten record in the annals of classic rock. The Pretty Things started out a rough and ready blues band in the mid 60's and by the 1970 had become a growling multicolored hallucinatory beast. The band is responsible for the first thematic 'rock opera' (S.F. Sorrow ) as well as being the group who commandeered Beatles engineer Norman Smith for their own recordings. They reached the lofty heights of their musical summit with the subject of this rant, 1970’s Parachute.

Recorded at Abbey Road studios in 1969 the LP contains a familiar and successful ambiance. Pop songwriting mingles with syrupy blues figures and all out psychotropic explorations. The LP f*cks with your head, guitars disengage and then reconfigure, strange sounds slither through the prismatic stereo image and the vocals by Phil May range from  soft and comforting to a raging pissed off punk. The first side of the LP plays as one piece, each song segues into the next, musical reflections gleam off of sparkling folk melodies which then morph into shady all out consciousness assaults. The lineup for this fifth album in their discography is as follows, Phil May (Vocals), Wally Waller (Bass, Guitar, Vocals), Jon Povey (Keyboards), Skip Allan (Drums) and Vic Unitt (Guitars).  The band recovered nicely after founding member and songwriter/bassist Dick Taylor and drummer Twink left the group for greener pastures. Both May and Waller took up all of the compositional jobs creating a cohesive LP that speaks to the ‘Hippy’ generation about their ideals yet warns them about the encroaching darkness from a world hell bent on development and mind control. The strange cover of the LP illustrates this with a flower emerging from roadside concrete while surrounded by a menacing red sky. A human constructed spire rises from the other side of the dividing road as a spectral child looks one hand extended.

My needle descends and caresses the grooves urging from out of aural darkness a shimmering rumble wave of sound emerging and suddenly segueing into a flashing and stereo manipulated acoustic strumming. With my ears slightly spun , Allan’s drums tumble into the  jagged jerky and aggressive prelude of ‘Scene One’. The song slams against the walls of a padded room before stopping suddenly and falling backwards into the comfy cotton thump of ‘Good Mr. Square’. This track elicits a lost White Album song; the Abbey Road Studio walls suit this one well. Thick thumbed bass lines and a clean acoustic shading, decorate around the edges of Povey’s space minstrel key striking.  

‘Mr. Square’ segues into and out of ‘She Was Tall She Was High’ which acts more as an addendum to the ‘Mr. Square’s verses than a separate song. Glory hound vocals sound while the chunky guitars proceed chop the chorus into tiny bits.‘In the Square’ begins soon after, emerging from empty mist, straining to see a diluted and mystical woman muse. A drumless melody drifts and Phil May’s vocals are a gentle paisley, glistening like a night time beacon appearing from the expanse of a distant sea shore. Its silvery simplicity and circular music box melody expresses a dreaming hopefulness, but still in the back of its mind a questioning apprehension. Is the song a hallucination? The song moans on without drums, its subject looking, before segueing oddly through a vocal line into the next song, this being ‘The Letter’. 
A groovy descending lick, cheerfully buoyant and deftly arranged. The song is a spring time whistle as May opens his post box excitedly, his anticipation tangible.The song retains a nervousness when the frizzed out guitar enters and echoes the slowly developing melody back in a distorted reflection.

The song dissipates quickly into a tunnel and appears from the other side donning the acoustic opening sprinkling of ‘Rain’. Soulful and funky ‘Rain’ takes up where the ‘The Letter’ left off thematically. Musically, the now serrated rhythm tumbles like black storm clouds over dark hills.
After a mellow beginning, electricity surges into the albums bones, the current transported by the slick wires coated by 'The Rain’. Unitt’s concluding solo pours, streaming out of a formless vessel. The song then develops into a choral mantra and a run for cover lineup of tightly coiled  Vic Unitt guitar licks the fade into the horizon. The sound of a storm passes, before the music jumps into the chugging and smoky psychedelic bed of Mrs. Fay Regrets. The song is a day-glo proto punk painting, a road song for the traveler who gave up long ago. Featuring what I feel is the best riff of the LP, bass and angry guitar pass a suprise late night sobriety test then return to the car chuckling. 

'Cry’s From the Midnight Circus' closes side one and harkens back to their Dick Taylor early influence with a gritty gravel blues lick. The aural mix of this tune is a prismatic, transparent and heavily hallucinatory. Guitar swells pass like late night street signs leaving trails in their sonic wake. The  mid song organ solo spits a thick musical sickness over the schizophrenic blues. Is it a distorted vocal solo, tweaked out organ, or an alien communication? The verse reappears scattered amongst razor slices of guitar that drowned out the weary street harmonica that emerges from the undulating musical mists. This tune is a definitive example of pure undiluted psychedelia from the tap. Drink up, this one is a rock room favorite and an obvious must hear classic. A circular jam develops toward the tail of the track, Unitt and Waller take the song around an atonal turn and behind the circus tent as freaky eyes glance over  shoulders before quickly looking away. Tension develops and the makeup of a broken clown drips into rich colors onto the dirty ground.  The jam is representative of a musical strangulation and could continue on, but oddly fades to black even as the band continues to make pointed glitter bombs with their strings. Regardless, this is a highpoint of the record and a must hear for rock fans of the 1960's-1970's examples of tripped out blues.
The record is flipped and side two sprouts. The song 'Grass' is the  perfect prelude to the insanity to follow. Fingers are laced and hands are behind the head lying in the ‘Grass’ while counting clouds. The groove asserted is comprised of the soft wax of bees, sweet and thick. I visualize an earth angel, a theme that continues to reach my mind’s eye throughout the listen. She cries out as her spiritual life forest is paved over by the heaviness of the metropolitan surge. The song approaches a sneaky dual guitar solo where smoothed string snakes rest clandestine under the cool shadow of the willow. The muted tone of the expressive instrumentation is comforting, yet slightly menacing. The second solo turn increases the charge while a green organ lays a thin layer of veneer beneath the groove.

An audio verite’ count off begins the stubborn march of ‘Sickle Clowns’ which because of its insistent driving groove stays remarkably tightened down until stripped. The curved edge of Unitt’s guitar tone cuts so deep and perfect there is no pain just the clean flow of blood. The spherical groove does not deviate from its mission, it only encourages musical mind travel through its persistence. After an extended quivering arrow of a guitar solo in flight, the sharpened strings drop out of sight and the throbbing percussion appears in full tribal motion. Momentum is continued, built and released and when the vocals return both hands of the clock are meshing at the correct time. May growls the lyrics, tearing flesh, ornery, telling the tale of the endangered rock and rollers, down by the lake gathered around a defiant fire. Eventually they must be eliminated. Heavy duty and what the Pretty’s were all about, this track is summed up in the extended jamming and originality of the lyrical premise.
The diverse and druggy ‘She’s A lover’ is erected in three part watery chorused guitars. The song is musically squirrely as it bounds from branch to branch unsure, before engaging in a mid song guitar dual played against broken door waltz figure. The track spreads like differing colors of paint just touching on a creator’s pallet, just blending shades and blurring lines enough. The tune finallt coagulates around a rubber ball guitar lick and a flashlight keyboard figure that keeps things sufficiently strange yet glued together. The falsetto choruses are additionally enveloped in deep blue fuzz licks from the overdubbed guitars which add an additional layer of intrigue.

‘What’s the Use’ follows and swings like a back porch sing-along in Andromeda and fits well in the LP's flow while acting in perfect contract to its respective partners on side two. 'Byrd' like bell guitars chime in thumping time before the songs Skip Spence recitation of the chorus skips into a repetition. A strange song, a tale of of resignation, that keeping with the developed theme of the record shows off its diverse production and willingness to experiment, lending to a genre smushed expression of music.

A tinkling lounge piano drips off of the table and onto the empty floor. The title track of the album Parachute concludes the LP with a bass and guitar backing that focuses on the milky three part harmonies. A melody that elicits leaving, the groove has a Pink Floyd personality trait that is magnified as the drums enter. The song slowly drifts to the surface, a witness to decay and wonder. Each instrument approaches the concluding destination of the album, given a part to play, writing a final line to the story. The songs final note is played, a star red siren that expands its pitch, rising higher and higher until it is only audible to the ears of a canine and then reaches such a height it has no choice but to melt into black and the run out grooves of the album.

Parachute does tell a story, it’s a tale that is as complex as the music used to disseminate the idea. The recording has received accolades and notice, but it still remains hidden behind the era's substantial volumes made by the Beatles, Pink Floyd and other contemporaries of the band.  The group's 1968 LP S.F. Sorrow was not made in a vacuum, it was the beginning of a highly creative period of music making by a band that had even changed out some of its vital members. The album has since been reissued and is available with a host of outtakes for those who want a bigger aural picture of the sessions that birthed this masterpiece. Take the leap, the Parachute is sure to open.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Take One: George Harrison/Ronnie Spector –‘Try Some, Buy Some’ 1971/1973

In this edition of ‘Take One’ the ‘rock room’ examines a George Harrison composition that ended up being released two times in it’s lifetime and still remains a repressed piece in the Harrison discography. The song ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ is a unique track with an impressive cast of players and a somewhat checkered past. The song was originally released as a single by Ronnie Spector of Ronettes fame in 1971 and later placed as an album track on side two of Harrison’s 1973 LP Living In the Material World.

The tune contains a suspenseful intensity and musical complexity, partly due to the fact that Harrison wrote the song on the organ, a rare occurrence according to his1979 biography. With assistance from bassist and long time friend Klaus Voormann Harrison developed the organically grandiose and complicated arrangement. The song was composed during the sessions for Harrison’s 1971 album All Things Must Pass; but due to the obvious wealth of material for that collection it fell into consideration for Ronnie Spector’s 1971 ‘come back’ album.

Harrison donated to Phil and Ronnie Spector ‘Try Some Buy Some’ as well as his song ‘You’ for Ronnie’s solo recording; both songs would later be re-released by George Harrison. Spector’s 7' version of ‘Try Some Buy Some’ is artistically stunning; unfortunately commercially, it did nothing of note. Phil Spector’s usual heavy handed production values increase the shifty and claustrophobic peer pressure of the internal melody considerably.

Descending, foreboding and lush, so goes the Spector 'wall of sound. Phil's imposing arrangement rumbles like an action movie soundtrack. A waterfall whitewash of Spector dramatics. Harrison’s awareness that the song deserved another chance is illustrated by its later inclusion on Living In the Material World. Harrison must have felt something stirring in the songs depths. The songs message was consistent with the themes of Harrison’s early post-Beatles work. The track deals with the concepts of the material world vs spiritual world as well as the universal battle through these dualities. 

Lyrically Harrison’s spiritual development, personal regret and weakness in the face of his Lord is expressed through the song as well as being laced through all of his songwriting. The ‘you’ in ‘Try Some, Buy Some’  represents Harrison’s woman love of a pop world, but also a ‘universal’ ‘you’ in a larger sense of existence. The opposing ideals of bring 'holy' in a world drowned in consumerism while swimming in temptation is played out in very straight forward and simple lines. Harrison echoed this sentiment in the liner notes of the album’s deluxe edition where he stated that, ‘Even though the words are mundane, if the attitude is directed back at the source then it becomes more spiritual for me and has more meaning’.

The song crawls over a thin becoming thick waltz time while Rubik's cubing through its escalator changes. The band appearing on the instrumental backing which was used for both the Spector and Harrison’s versions respectively is Leon Russell (Piano), Jim Gordon (Drums), Gary Wright (Electric Piano), Klaus Voormann (Bass) and Pete Ham (Acoustic Guitar). Troubled genius Phil Spector’s talents are tangible, building to a quaking climax that stirs the musical nerves through perfectly developed sonic massaging. The band emits the aesthetics of Harrison's All Things Must Pass, playing attentive and detailed music that magnifies Harrison's melody with tight professional expressions. A choppy and slightly disturbing verse alternates with a swelling helium dream chorus, all the while drifting through addictive and lustrous choral blooms. It's a trip.

While the original backing track was unchanged between the Harrison vocal version and Ronnie Spector’s, the mixes made of each version differ in various ways. Ronnie Spector sings the song beautifully but tentatively. Harrison approach elongates the lines, while standing on his tip toes to reach his upper range. There is no questioning his vocal investment which increases the intensity and anxiety already inherent in the track. Both vocal versions expose different strengths of the song, while Spector’s arrangement glorifies and frames both of his 'artists' equally.

Years later David Bowie revealed his love and respect for the track with a cover version on his 2003 Reality album. Bowie obviously realized the odd addictiveness of the song and wanted to give it another proper airing with his always unique approach. Bowie’s vocal gave the melody another personality facet as his rich throat shined another weird light on the tune.

Ronnie Spector’s 1971 single and George Harrison’s 1973 LP track ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ is an example of a stunning song that had a hard time finding an established home. It’s appealing qualities enabled its longevity with Spector, George Harrison and David Bowie all translating its melody in unique ways. John Lennon was even inspired to write his own ‘#9 Dream’ by ‘Try Some, Buy Some’s’  exclusive coloring and shadings. It's a song that's earned itself another deserving spin.

Try Some Buy Some 1971 Version

Try Some Buy Some 1973 Version

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Put the Boot In: The Jimi Hendrix Experience -'Thank You, Peace and Happiness' May 25, 1969 Northern California Folk Rock Festival

The final week of May 1969 found the Jimi Hendrix Experience embarking on a four show tour of the West,  the stint taking place in between studio recording sessions as well as the mixing of current live recordings. The subject of this edition of ‘Put the Boot In’ will focus on a field recording captured from this tour at the Northern California Folk Rock Pop Festival on May 25th, 1969. The three day festival was held on May 23rd through the 25th, 1969 and featured a formidable line up including but limited to, Jefferson Airplane, Canned Head, Led Zeppelin, Santana, Taj Mahal and the Chamber Brothers. The Experience’s headlining set is heavy and hard, coming only a day after their famed May 24th performance in San Diego immortalized on the now out of print Stages box set.

The circulating tape I am enjoying is a second generation audience capture that while having a bit of wow and flutter is otherwise a well balanced and serrated sonic edge of prime Hendrix. The particular recording is titled Do You Know the Way? and was released on the fan made ATM label specializing in Hendrix live releases. The top end of the tape is a bit flat, but the nice balance of the instruments more than makes up for any short comings. Once you get into it, it’s easy to tune in.

The taper begins the recording just as Hendrix invites the crowd to ‘create their own little world’ followed by some scattered tuning by the band. Hendrix then proceeds to touch off an opening solo space segment that then segues into the country blues jump of ‘Hear My Train a Comin’. In true cosmic blues man fashion Hendrix introduces the tale, calmly conversing with the audience, his vocals are a bit distant, his guitar is virgin diamond clear. Peace pipes are being passed in the crowd; the warm Spring sun is beating on Jimi’s face as he shreds his beloved white Stratocaster, regal and resplendent in velvet blue pants.

The first solo beats feet to the station as the hum of the rails and quake of the earth initiates Hendrix’s string story telling. Redding and Mitchell rumble relentlessly, Hendrix quotes a riff that will soon become central in ‘Machine Gun’ before wailing and clawing at the upper reaches of his guitar neck. A bit after five minutes the runaway locomotive slows, Mitchell locks in low. Hendrix enters with a plush muted clean tone, ticklish, it quotes fairy tales and tosses flowers.

Hendrix eventually comes back and buys the town he left behind for the final recitation of the verse. Hendrix then exposes the battered soul of the song with a violent wah-wah’d explosion that bursts like paint cans dropped from a roof top.. Awe inspiring, Mitchell runs for the boxcar door as the train rockets off, joining Hendrix just in time for a kaleidoscopic wash of thrilling sound. The crowd screams with delight as the song crashes into a call and response Hendrix and guitar conclusion. The opening number proof of the type of performance this is destined to be.

'Fire’ follows at a expeditious speed, almost unable to contain itself. Hendrix fumbles with the lyrics and makes up for it by embarking on a unique solo excursion that soon leaves the shores of ‘Fire’ behind and becomes a far out improvised segment full of  breathtaking moments never to be heard again. Mid solo, Hendrix builds a series of changes from scratch, looking for smoke, initiating flame and causing the Experience to elicit the monstrous strumming changes of the Who! Stunning soloing that comes in waves occurs before Hendrix directs the band back to the song proper. According to the talk in the crowd the microphone had failed, which is confirmed by Redding's ‘1-2’ replies into the mic following the song. At least it caused some extra jamming to take place! Regardless, Mitchell takes the opportunity to introduce a banging and extended drum solo to which Hendrix returns to scribble the ‘Spanish Castle Magic’ melody over the top of seamlessly.

‘Spanish Castle Magic’ in the ‘rock room’s humble opinion is a BOAT version. Kinetic drumming by Mitchell drives Hendrix’s distinctly ‘rock and roll’ riffing to extending and experimental levels. Mitchell and Hendrix weld together for stated poly rhythms and brief melodic quotes. Hendrix, similar to the preceding ‘Fire’, captures a fluttering melody a quotes it dramatically, creating in the moment and developing on the spot. The middle of the song hovers magically. He uses the constructed statements to spring back into ‘Spanish Castle’ theme to the amazed delight of a female attendee who squeals with satisfaction at the staggering sonic display.

Someone from the crowd yells, ‘Break Out!', before Jimi introduces a fully mature, man child version of ‘Red House’. The previous evening’s version in San Diego is considered one of the finest and this version will quench the thirst of any hardcore fan of the track. After the preceding super nova of sound Hendrix takes it nice and slow, teasing the crowd playfully. Filigrees of sparkling blues coat the introduction, followed by collected ‘oooh’s and aaahs’ from the audience. Jimi coaxes every squeal of feedback, sharpens the tip of every string bend and inflates the volume of every swell carefully with immaculate attention to detail. The solo break swoops in, gaining volume before the restraint is permanently shed. Hendrix slashes down everything in his path with a quaking overdriven gain, Mitchell rolls stones downhill and Redding follows with deft descending and ascending 12 bar riffing.  Hendrix bends steely strings out of shape, just when you think he’s taken the jam as far as it can go, he smashes another door, collects a new approach and raises the stakes even higher.

The band enters the familiar jazzy break down post solo, Jimi slaps and claws at muted strings and Mitchell scats like a  hummingbird across the kit. Hendrix takes a brief drumless solo spot, milking thick oozing notes in the spotlight before orchestrating a glorious return to the final verse and conclusion. Wow.
Dedicated to the American Indian, a track from the Experience’s debut LP follows with ‘I Don’t Live Today’. A highlight of numerous Experience concerts, Mitchell impacts the drums with a tribal attack setting the stage for another possible candidate for a ‘best of’ version. Things become significantly bizarre for the mid section of the performance. The band rattles chains as Hendrix dips his fingers into his wizardry satchel fingering unknown alien sounds and conjuring the purest undiluted psychedelics, straight from the tap. Amidst this Indian rope trick riffing the band rejoins and institutes a high speed collaboration rooted in Redding’s earthy undercurrent that races to the songs conclusion.

Jimi dedicates ‘Foxy Lady’ to the ‘girl back there in the yellow underwear’ and while overplayed, like every song from this concert there is an added element of danger that take the tracks to the next level. A hot to trot solo comes up from behind with a goose while moving exquisitely through another extended jam that finally falls perfectly into a quaking 'Purple Haze’. ‘Haze’ pleases the crowd and Hendrix as it’s played in a slightly truncated version but full of attitude.

After 'Foxy Lady' Hendrix approaches the microphone to tell the crowd that the next song will be their final for the evening to the audience's great disappointment. Responding to crowd requests, Jimi replies, ‘I ‘know exactly what I’m going to do’. What follows is an extended 20 minute journey into ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ that destroys the surrounding mountains, then explores the many faces of multiple unknown surrounding moons named ‘Message to Love, Room Full of Mirrors’ and ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ before returning to the ‘Voodoo Child’ reprise.

Following the first segment of ‘Voodoo Child’ a funky string slapping interlude develops into a unique flexing Hendrix improv that then returns to verse two. After more extended jamming, Hendrix locks into the ‘Message to Love’ lick and gives it nice workout before Mitchell and Redding get the hint and join the class. Low key and slightly tentative a cool little groove develops. The music springs to live naturally, each principal flexing their musical muscles. Hendrix steps to the mic and says ‘We’re finished now, we’re just jammin’ as the band continues to thump along. Hendrix then begins to sing the lyrics to the unreleased ‘Room Full of Mirrors’, again developing into a unplanned and unique performance. This particular reading gets an uptempo strummed approach before Hendrix realizes the momentum is being lost and he strikes the introduction to ‘Sunshine of Your Love’. ‘Sunshine’ is given an enthusiastic and kinetic run through before disintegrating into a substantially impressive concluding jam that eventually gently nestles into the final slow quote of the ‘Voodoo Child’ theme. The entirety of this show closing jam is packed with loose playing, unique passages and ace band interactions.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of this show segment is this return to ‘Voodoo Child’ and the final Hendrix quotes on the theme. Hendrix plays with the introductory melody, brushing by it, jumping up to touch it and elasticizing the lick. The crowd gets the joke and laughs along, chuckling and making humorous asides. Performer and audience are meeting in exactly the same place. The excitement and camaraderie is tangible on the recording. Thus ends this historic and stoic concert and recording.

Obviously the superlatives are endless when describing Jimi Hendrix and the Experience as well as their appearances in the 'Electric Church'. Their influence and reach is endless, their famous tales to many to tell. It’s a pleasure and a surprise when a recording can be found that not only reinforces the obvious about Hendrix but reveals unique aspects, special instrumentals and the genesis of well known songs. The Experience would be no more by the conclusion of the year 1969, but during their final days were still capable of creating unbelievable music and performing stunning concerts.