Tim Hardin

This is Tim Hardin (Edsel 1967)

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My true love is the folk/psych/country scene of the late 60s and early 70s, but I haven’t really tackled much of it on this blog as of yet. However, I was listening to Tim Hardin tonight and figured that this is the time to usher in a series of posts devoted to the drug-addled and all-too sensitive souls who battled their demons in song. Tim Hardin springs to mind as my first post since his heroin habit cut short a career that should have wormed its way into more hearts and minds that it did.

Tim Hardin definitely falls into the esteemed camp occupied by Fred Neil and Tim Buckley. His bluesy, soulful and psychedelic take on folk is just as moving and soul destroying as Howling Wolf and Robert Johnson. History places too much weight upon the classic bluesmen and ignores the emotional depths that the fucked up detritus of the hippy-dippy hedonism of the 60s.produced. To be sure, these singers draw from a wholly different pool of pain than Mississippi Fred McDowells or Robert Johnson, but the end result is just as devastating to my biased soul. One party suffered from oppression, poverty and a variety of social ills and the other were just fucked up and a bunch of soft-boiled eggs, but the pain and emoting is equally resonant in both camps.

This is Tim Hardin is his second album and is mostly comprised of covers, but that doesn’t matter since tradition was the bread and butter of both parties. In light of his eventual overdose, his version of “Cocaine Bill” is especially poignant and heartbreaking in hindsight. His take on the tune is all too respectful as if he takes pride in the moments those late night mistakes where so much was ingested that self-destruction became romatnic. It is a paean to wrongdoing and the ignorance of consequence. Ignore the history of Tim Hardin and the subject material and it is sung as a love song to bad intentions.

Peel away the context and This is Tim Hardin is a showcase for a voice that was one of the most disctinctive and versatile of the 60s folk artists. Put the skin back on that onion and it is a devastation prelude to a genius who whittled away at his tool until there was nothing left but an empty legacy.

Magic Hour

Will They Turn You on or Will They Turn on You (Twisted Village 1995)

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I’ve already penned some flowery words about Wayne Rogers and Kite Biggar’s work on Crystallized Movements’ Revelations From Pandemonium. I’ve always been a sucker for guitar virtuosos, especially when they unreel such intricate, but unhinged riffs like Wayne Rogers does on his solo and group efforts. However, this fellow finds it difficult to repeatedly visit much of the albums on Twisted Village because they can be pretty draining. How often can one listed to Wormdoom before you batter your musical palate. Sometimes we need a bit of a sorbet between the ears to cleanse ourselves between epic bouts of feedback and pyrotechnics.

When you look at the Twisted Village catalogue, I always found Magic Hour’s music to be that gentle, but challenging palate cleanser amidst the racket and din. Will They Turn You On is their best effort as it sees the band overcoming the growing pains of their debut No Excess is Absurd. Their debut is pretty damn great, but the mix of Rogers and Biggar with Galaxie 500’s rhythm section, Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang never fully congealed. That is no insult, but Damon and Naomi were always sort of the eye while Rogers and Biggar were the storm and the two never intersected for me. Will They Turn You On works best because it includes their most concise statements of psych-pop on “Something Else” and “Jonathan and Charles” as well as “Passing Words” a twenty-minute jam that fully reconciles the Velvet Underground thumping of the rhythm section with the wild impulses of the guitarists. It provides accessible excess and has a sense of pacing and excellent songwriting to ground the thunder and lightning. It’s rare to find albums that satisfy my sweet tooth and desire for more damaged sounds, so it’s no surprise that this album always finds it way back onto my stereo.

Far East Family Band

Parallel World (1976)

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A great album from these Japanese psych legends. The influence of Klaus Schulze (producer) is far stronger here than it was on Nipponjin (where he was basically re-recording older songs, anyway), as the blatant Pink Floyd worship turns to blatant krautrock worship. That’s not a bad thing because these guys are exceptionally skilled at both. Things start off with the ambient piece “Metempsychosis” that I’d probably believe was composed by Schulze himself. “Entering” follows and for its first half is more of the same before it really gets going about five minutes in, approaching something like an Ash Ra/Cosmic Jokers type climax with a lot of synth and some excellent drums. “Kokoro” is a return to their older sound with a focus on soaring guitar and pleasant vocals, but once again using a lot more synth this time. The title track is the big half hour epic to close out the album, a highlight to be sure. In the krautrock tradition, a tripped out bass line evolves out of the ambient wash, with the occasional appearance of ghostly voices and more synths. Just when you think the song’s over, it goes on for another fifteen minutes of twinkling keyboards, mellotron experiments, and the like. The influence of band member Kitaro is also notable here, who in short time would go on to create many, many albums of new age claptrap. I do hope my review doesn’t come across as being negative, because this is a tremendous album and definitely their most experimental work. While this is generally regarded as their finest album and a magnum opus of Japanese prog, I’m just not so big into the electronic noodling that makes up a good portion of the songs and generally prefer their earlier output. I’m in the minority with this opinion though, so don’t take my word for it.

Tower Recordings

Furniture Music for Evening Shuttles (Siltbreeze 1997)

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Back when I was a hack for Alternative Press, I had the opportunity to interview Matt Valentine of Tower Recordings and he kept speaking about communal living and a shared lifestyle. I think Spanish Wolfman was listening on the party line. My dumbass thought he was referring to the fact they were a bunch of hippie swingers, but age has taught me that he referring to something more wholesome than my fractured imagination.  I asked to interview them since their Fraternity of Moonwalkers album blew my boo-boo loose with its lo-fi take on English psych and folk. I didn’t know my Comus from my asshole, so it all sounded so strange and otherworldly to me. You know, it still does. I guess youth and age agree on this one occasion. However, I did eventually visit Port Chester, NY where they lived at the time and didn’t see a single commune, just bodegas and urban blight.

Let me get this out of the way before I discuss the album. Their cover of Os Mutantes’ “Q Delmak-O” is on the short list of songs I want to hear on my deathbed. I always loved the original, but Helen Rush makes it even more delicate and airy while the sparse intrumentation makes it even more stunning in its simplicity.

Furniture Music for Evening Shuttles is the best of the Tower Recordings albums. In fact, it is the best thing that any of these musicians have ever recorded. I like MV and EE as well as the Pg six albums, but they lack the cohesion of this one. All that was great about the band is on display here. At times, it sort of reminds me of what the Espers are doing today. However, their take on English troubadours is more troubled and woozy. These are simple, sincere folk songs, but their take on them is just so goddamn fried that it makes you wonder why this one never gets mentioned anymore. Listening to it now, it sounds positively pagan and could’ve been added to the Wicker Man soundtrack. If you thought of Nicholas Cage, please allow me to think badly of you.  However, the sight of him in that bear suit cracks my shit up.

I know it seems as if everyone with a Cd burner and steady access to weed sounds like this nowadays, but Furniture Music for Evening Shuttles is special and inhabits its own little universe. It is the happy meeting place where Takoma, Joe Boyd, Clive Palmer and Siltbreeze happily coexist for your listening pleasure. Helen Rush, why won’t you sing again? You are missed.

Som Imaginário

A Matança do Porco (1973)

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Brazilian fusion with touches of prog, psyche and bossa nova. This is their third and final album, heading away from the psychedlic-driven sounds of their earlier albums and toward jazz-rock. Wagner Tiso, the keyboardist and now apparently leader of the band is very skilled at what he does (as are all the musicians here), but occasionally takes the album into softer keyboard jazz that may not sound too out of place on a Chick Corea solo album – a bit too light for me. Don’t worry though, there’s still a healthy amount of distorted and rambling guitar parts in the Os Mutantes tradition. High points are the heavy, building guitars of “Armina” and the epic symphonic prog of the 11 minute title track. A cool album that manages to successfully blend a variety of genres into something quite unique.

Spectrum

Geracao Bendita (Shadoks reissue of 1971 album)

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Once you stray outside of Tropicalia’s inner circle of Brazilian psychedelic royalty (Gilberto Gil, Gaetano Veloso, Os Mutantes, Gal Costa, Jorge Ben and Tom Ze) there are so many more misses than hits. Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise to find an album that holds its own against any album recorded by the aforementioned artists. This Spectrum has nothing to do with Pete Kember of and his brilliant continuation of Spacemen 3’s work, but this Spectrum was assembled to perform the soundtrack to a Brazilian hippie flick.

Consisting of actors and actresses in the film as well as members of the 2000 Volts band, this Spectrum has much love for Os Mutantes’ first two classic albums, but the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour albums as well. Vocalists jump from English to Portuguese without rhyme or reason as the band professes their love of peace, love and understanding, but it doesn’t really matter anyway. The main attraction is in how this suddenly assembled band deftly builds upon the sound of Os Mutantes and slathers the tracks in fuzz guitar.

However, there is one track on Geracao Bendita that still floors me a year after I first stumbled upon it. “Mother Nature” combines the Brazilian vibes of Tropicalia, the wide eyed optimism of the Beatles and the laid-back West Coast vibes of Haight-Ashbury in one track. It’s Abbey Road, After Bathing at Baxters and Os Mutantes in one sitting. The rest of Geracao Bendita is good, but this track makes me grin from ear to ear. There is not hyperbole in my mutterings. I really, really love this song.

COB

Moyshe McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart (1972)

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There is much love within my heart for the Incredible String Band and their meandering hippie opuses about minotaurs and good ol’ cousin caterpillar. I remember the first time my punk ass saw the cover of The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter and snickering at the commune of foppish souls in technicolor coats and beaded necklaces, but once my viewpoint was forever altered once I actually heard it years later. My narrow mindedness isn’t much of a surprise since I once thought oversized t-shirts, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and malt liquor were enjoyable, so I wasn’t exactly ahead of the curve.

Clive Palmer was an integral part of the first Incredible String Band record which was a more straighforward affair that sort of reminds me of an Appalachian via English skiffle-folk version of the Holy Modal Rounders’ first two lps. Yeah, it isn’t an entirely accurate description, but it’ll do for now. Clive left the band before they expanded and explored more abstract, experimental territory. In the meantime, he joined the Famous Jug Band and recorded a solo effort entitled Banjoland, but these outlets were lesser lights. At the urging of Ralph McTell, he formed COB. or Clive’s Original Band, and recorded two of the best English folk/psych albums of all-time. First came 1970s Spirit of Love, then came their grand finale Moyshe McStiff.

Supposedly a song cycle about Crusades, Moyshe McStiff’s title and cover image evoke a mystical quality that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Incredible String Band cover. In fact, the music is eerily reminiscent of their 60s recordings as the band’s invention of a dulcimer/sitar hybrid, the dulcitar, echoes the woozy, mystical vibes of ISB’s most stoned moments. Biblical themes abound as COB references Judah, Solomon, Martha and Mary as the band delves into spiritual quests and the meaning of love. It is such an earnest, sincere album that would seem ridiculous if it wasn’t so gorgeous.

The centerpiece of the album is “Let It Be You” which may be one of the most tender, but simple love songs I’ve heard. It is a celebration of the power of song to immortalize true love as well as a tender sentiment. It is a testament to power of words as well as the ephemeral quality of our affections. It is full of dedication and uncertainty just like those first exhilarating months of a new relationship.

To put it it down right, to make it true

if my songs were people, this could be you

but if i lose it, or just confuse it

lets make it summer, lets make it you

and when i’m longing let it be you

and when im giving let it be you

i woke this morning and without warning

someone was near me and it was you

Vermonster

Instinctively Inhuman (Twisted Village 1991)

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I am posting this because of multiple requests for more of Wayne Rogers’ playing after they listened to his work with Crystallized Movements’ Revelations From Pandemonium. The Crystallized Movements posted earlier was unhinged, but rooted to a song which grounded their efforts. Be forewarned, his work with kate Biggar in Vermonster in unhinged without a single root to grasp.

Instinctively Inhuman consist of two epic tracks. “Black Sally” which is a cover of Human Instinct who were covering a song by Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. I haven’t heard either version, so I am walking around blindfolded here. However, Vermonster’s take on the songs is rolled in flour and fried to oblivion. There are two meandering riffs going on at once while another guitar is overdubbed to provide the requisite feedback. The song itself is an afterthought, the guitar playing is the attraction and it delivers.

“Stoned Guitar” is an example of truth in advertising. It is a bit too indulgent for my taste. It kicks into a muddled groove of some sort about halfway through the song, but it doesn’t really rise above the din. Bah Humbug on this one.

Crystallized Movements

Revelations from Pandemonium

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This was Crystallized Movements’ finale and it was a perfect summary of all that was great about this band while pointing towards the psychedelic balladry of Magic Hour as well as the crushing heaviness of Major Stars. In my humble opinion, both of these later projects are superior to Crystallized Movements attempts to combine the two, but Revelations From Pandemonium straddled the line so well.

The core unit of all of these acts are Wayne Rogers and Kate Biggar, who run Twisted Village, an influential label and records store. They have had a hand in many releases on the label by B.O.R.B. and Vermonster. You can count on the Twisted Village label if you love fried, amp-destroying feedback with a taste for the 60s.

If I had to sum up Revelations From Pandemonium, it would be “fuzzy.” I guess a lazy comparison would be to Sonic Youth’s Sister and EVOL filtered through psych-folk, but then again that doesn’t do it total justice. Wayne Rogers’ guitar playing is kaleidoscopic in that so many sounds can be perceived in his lo-fi wall of sound. His playing is majestic and regal when he avoids the noise and reels off a riff worthy of Jimi Hendrix Randy Holden. His vocals are deadpan and don’t add much, the lyrics are meaningless, but his voice works because it adds a monotone accent on the main attraction–the instrumental brilliance of this band.

This album is an acquired taste and requires a few listens to grasp its brilliance, but anyone in love with scruffy psychedelia will eventually find much to love.

Os Mutantes

Cavaleiros Negros EP (1976)

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I hold the unpopular opinion that Os Mutantes did their best work from 1973-76, after Rita Lee had left and the drugs were in high supply. This is their final studio work from 1976, just a three song single. I believe this material was also released on a rather spotty rarities collection of the same name. The sound quality isn’t perfect, and there isn’t much to say about the overall originality of these tunes- they’re basically channeling the big groups (namely Yes) from years earlier. However, in my mind the first song “Cavaleiros Negros” might be the best example of how fantastic symphonic prog could be regardless of originality. An extended, somewhat psychedelic intro building to beautiful guitar and keyboard interplay giving way to the most mind blowing synth climax I’ve ever heard about six and a half minutes in. The best song I’ve ever heard without a doubt. The other two songs are awesome, too. An Os Mutantes fan won’t necessarily enjoy this EP, but it’s certainly my favourite of their discography.