The Grass Roots – Leaving It All Behind

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Over the course of their first four studio albums, The Grass Roots had changed artistic directions numerous times. Released in 1969 on Dunhill Records, Leaving It All Behind was no exception. The band had lost lead guitarist, Creed Bratton (yes from The Office), and replaced him with two guitarists and a keyboardist (Terry Furlong, Brian Naughton and Dennis Provisor respectively). With the additional guitarist and a first-ever keyboardist, the band decided to go towards a more blue-eyed soul kind of sound. Over their previous four albums, the band had evolved from folk rock to psychedelic rock to sunshine pop, all of which would continue to influence the band. This new sound yielded the band two charting hits––”Wait a Million Years” and “Heaven Knows”––both which feature Dennis Provisor and horn musicians prominently in addition to Rob Grill’s powerful vocals. While these songs were the most commercially successful ones on the album, they weren’t enough to set the band apart. The songs sounded so similar to other blue-eyed soul and sunshine pop songs of the time, causing them to get lost in the cookie-cutter classics heard on oldies stations today. Despite these more formulaic songs, the band does produce a couple more creative numbers. “Truck Drivin’ Man” is like nothing else on the album; in fact, it sounds more like a folk rock song that one might find on The Grass Roots’ debut album. This song was written by the drummer, Rick Coonce, and is a breath of fresh air on an album that is soaked with low-hanging pop/soul tunes. In addition to the cookie-cutter songs, the band also struggles to fully flesh out some songs. Several songs including “Back to Dreaming Again” and “Walking Through the Country” seem to be decent shells of songs, but they contain too much filler and fluff for the songs to really accomplish anything. By the time the album ends, listeners may feel like they’ve wasted too much time just to hear a couple of decent tracks. Unfortunately, this is not a new problem for The Grass Roots. They never had a really killer studio album because they rushed albums to production with a few decent tracks and a lot of fluff. I have never made this recommendation for any band, but for this band, instead of buying this album, buy one of their many hits records. One of their hits records is equal to one studio album of a fairly decent band from the 60s. C-

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Paul Revere & the Raiders – Just Like Us!

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There’s nothing quite like an album from a band that is right on the verge of making it. In early 1966, Paul Revere & the Raiders were such a band. Although their previous three albums had been commercially unsuccessful, Paul Revere & the Raiders had just scored a gig on Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is, a spinoff of the wildly popular American Bandstand. Released on Columbia Records in January 1966, hot on the heels of this rise to fame, Just Like Us! was set to boost the Raiders all the way to the top. Although it never made it as high as the band had hoped, this album helped certify Paul Revere & the Raiders as American rockers to be reckoned with. This album serves as a transition album away from the cookie cutter pop and early garage rock songs the band released on their first three albums to the harder garage rock and protopunk sound they would later become known for on albums like Midnight Ride. While the album still has some tunes similar to songs on their previous albums, even these pop-laden numbers are enjoyable. Songs like “Action” and “Doggone” run with familiar, radio-friendly melodies that evoke pop-rock numbers from the early- to mid-60s, such as songs that propelled The Beach Boys to the top of the charts. While these songs are done with great musicianship, they are nowhere near as powerful as edgier rock songs like “Steppin’ Out” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” “Steppin’ Out” opens the album with an intense, bluesy rhythm certain to raise a few hairs on the back of listeners’ necks. These songs are much heavier and more raw than much of the band’s earlier work. These tracks are loud and unforgiving, ultimately falling somewhere between garage rock and protopunk. Out of this same vein, Paul Revere & the Raiders also cover The Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction).” Although this song has been covered by numerous musicians, this song seems to fit particularly well on this album given its edgier disposition. Although the album has a plethora of great hard rock numbers that would help define Paul Revere & the Raiders for years to come, it also contains a surprisingly eclectic array of sounds. For instance, a cover of Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” is quite folk-rocksy, almost something off of an album by The Byrds. The song “New Orleans” also sets itself apart from the rest of the album by evoking the sound of the city famous for the blues and partying. This song captures both elements and has a fantastic saxophone part. Ultimately, this album captures the launching point of the band’s career. It’s an album of crossroads and pushing further into a new, harder sound. With albums like this, it’s almost impossible to believe that Paul Revere & the Raiders are still not in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Any fan of 60s underground music in general, especially fans of garage rock and protopunk in particular, will definitely enjoy this album.  A+

The Youngbloods – Elephant Mountain

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Known primarily as a folk rock group, The Youngbloods branch out with their third album. Released in 1969 on RCA Records, Elephant Mountain shows dramatic growth from the band’s earlier efforts. Between the second and third album, Jerry Corbit, the lead guitarist and songwriter, departed the band, leaving Jesse Colin Young to take the reins as de facto leader. This personnel change combined with the physical move from New York City to Marin County, CA, led to a change in direction for The Youngbloods. Elephant Mountain incorporates a variety of sounds and styles into the band’s traditional repertoire. The Youngbloods’s folk and jug band roots are complemented with edgy blues guitar riffs, jazz-infused improvisational instrumentals and pop rock harmonies. For example, the opening riff of “Sham” is something that sounds like it could come straight off a hard blues rock album. While the song is remarkably different from most of their earlier material, it seems to fit nicely with this new identity. Also building on this new identity is the song “Smug.” This song is a psychedelic pop song that seems to come directly from the streets of 1960s San Francisco. Despite the somber title and subject matter, the song sounds happy and idyllic and uses vocal studio effects common with this bubblegum pop-style of music. Even on earlier albums, it was evident that these musicians were talented instrumentalists, but on Elephant Mountain they really show their colors. There are several instrumental songs including “On Sir Francis Drake” and “Trillium” that demonstrate the band’s jazz-infused improvisational skills. “On Sir Francis Drake” in particular seems to allow each band member room to experiment and grow, making for an extremely groovy jazz rock song that no one would expect from a folk rock group born in Greenwich Village. For those that might be thinking that The Youngbloods seem to have lost touch with their folksy roots––do not fear. The Youngbloods perform a variety of very solid tunes that would be much more likely to attract fans of their traditional music. The opening song on the album, “Darkness, Darkness” is a solid folk/bluegrass number written by Jesse Colin Young that features Charlie Daniels (of The Charlie Daniels Band fame) on the fiddle. In addition to playing fiddle on “Darkness, Darkness,” Charlie Daniels also produced this album, so there are plenty of folk/country/bluegrass tones throughout the album. “Darkness, Darkness” is particularly somber, but the style and musicianship makes for a phenomenal opening track. “Rain Song” and “Black Mountain Breakdown” are also songs that will appeal to the more folk-loving fans of The Youngbloods. “Rain Song” actually still features Jerry Corbit, as it was recorded before he left the band. Thus, the song is not unlike much of the band’s earlier works. Although the album features a lot of growth and development, it is not so far from the band’s roots as to upset fans of previous albums. The album starts with a nice layer of folk rock and then incorporates these new sounds and styles throughout the album. Old fans and new alike will find something to enjoy, although given the variety of styles, it is likely that each listener may find one or two songs they don’t prefer. When all is said and done, Elephant Mountain is a solid third album, worthy of picking up at your next visit to the record store.  B+

Fever Tree – Fever Tree

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Arising from the most unsuspecting of origins, this former folk quartet from Houston, TX added a keyboardist, moved to California and briefly became one the 60s most cutting edge experimental rock groups. Although the band is often categorized as a 60s psychedelic rock group, this categorization truly does not do this album justice. Released on Uni in 1968, Fever Tree is the self-titled debut that launched them onto the scene. Beginning with the opening track “Imitation Situation 1/Where Do You Go?” this album oozes experimentation. “Imitation Situation 1/Where Do You Go?” opens with hymn-like chants and religious-envoking sounds then unexpectedly breaks down into a forceful, almost angry demand: “Where do you go when the lights go out?” Almost just as quickly, the heavy sounds give way to flutes and softness. While the song certainly comprises many of the psychedelic rock attributes, its level of experimentation seems to exceed most other psychedelic rock bands of the era. The songs second track “San Francisco Girls” became a regional hit and remains their most well-known tune. This song also switches between slow, soft melodies and the unrelenting, searing guitar of Michael Knust. This album produces a number of other phenomenal tracks, including “Ninety-Nine and One Half” and “Man Who Paints the Pictures.” Both of these songs are fast and heavy, almost dancing the protopunk territory. These songs are high energy numbers following a driven-guitar and deep, almost dark vocals. Unfortunately the album does not retain this high energy for its entire length. As the album progresses, it seems to lose steam and become less experimental. While there is a nice psychedelic rock cover of “Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out,” the album as a whole seems to fizzle toward the end. The band struggles to retain that truly vibrant and unique experimental sound it explored during the record’s first few tracks. Despite these shortcomings, this album was truly on the cutting edge of rock ‘n’ roll––at least for the briefest of moments. I would definitely recommend this album to anyone interested in psychedelic rock, protopunk or experimental rock.  B+

The Peanut Butter Conspiracy – Barbara

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First off, I need to sincerely apologize for my extended absence. We just bought a house, which has consumed much of my time over the past couple months. We are settled in, and I should resume updating this blog regularly.

Second, the following review is a follow-up review for the new Peanut Butter Conspiracy album. I typically only review studio albums on vinyl from the 60s, but I had the amazing opportunity to make an acquaintance of Alan Brackett. I decided that reviewing this CD would make a good fit for the blog. I also made every effort at an unbiased review despite making the acquaintance of Alan.

Barbara is the labor of love that Alan Brackett self-released earlier this year. After deciding to create a compilation album based around Barbara Robinson’s beautiful voice, Alan put in many years of work, trying to find the right material and means to make this project a reality. Every song on this album features Barbara on vocals, and many of them have never been released. Although many fans consider Barbara’s voice to be among the premier voices of the late 60s, Barbara never gained as much notoriety as many of her contemporaries. While most of the songs feature PBC musicians, many of the songs on this album are very different from the typical psychedelic sounds that PBC fans have come to know and love. For example, the opening song, which is actually a song from The Ashes (the precursor band to PBC) called “Roses Gone,” is reminiscent of 60s lounge music. The song has very minimal instrumental accompaniment and is mostly dominated by Barbara’s powerful and warm voice. In fact, there are several tracks on the album that tap into the easy listening style in order to highlight Barbara’s vocal capabilities. While these songs are quite different from the psychedelic rock sound that The Peanut Butter Conspiracy has become known for, they actually complement the other numbers quite well. For those who may crave something a little more rock ‘n’ roll, this album contains several gems that are more typical of the PBC catalog. One of the most quintessential PBC songs on the album is a tune called “Shuffle Tune.” This song is a great blend of folk rock, psychedelic rock and beautiful harmony. Other highlights on the album include the vocal-driven pop single “Good Feelin'” and the bluesy “Fool Hearted Woman.” Because the album is in a way an homage to Barbara, there is not a strong continuity of sound or style. While an album of eclectic sounds does demonstrate the wide-ranging abilities of the band/singer, in this case, the varying styles may be too much for more traditional PBC and/or psychedelic rock fans. However, for an album dedicated to Barbara Robinson and curated and compiled decades later, this is truly a remarkable piece of art. Each song brings something special to the album, and listeners will be left wondering why Barbara did not reach higher heights in her career. A-

Pick up the new album at The Peanut Butter Conspiracy’s website.

The Kingsmen – Up and Away

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Although they once dominated the airwaves with their single “Louie, Louie,” by 1966 the Kingsmen were struggling to maintain relevancy in the fast-paced, ever-changing world of rock ‘n’ roll music. Numerous line-up changes combined with the waning popularity of garage rock forced The Kingsmen to venture beyond their garage rock style. Released in 1966 on Wand Records, Up and Away would be the Kingsmen’s final studio album. While this album definitely contains some strong garage rock numbers like those that fans of the group have come to cherish, the driving force behind the album is covers of rock, pop and R&B singles that were popular at the time. For example, two of the most well-known songs on the album are “If I Needed Someone” and “Under My Thumb,” songs written and recorded by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones respectively. While both covers are decent, neither does anything to really separate the covers from the originals. Unfortunately, this theme is a little too common on this album. The Kingsmen also recorded covers of “Wild Thing,” “Shake a Tail Feather” and “Mustang Sally,” all of which already had popular versions by other artists that were dominating the charts. Some critics have blamed new producers––Paul Tannen and Mark Wildey––for pushing the band toward these covers and toward a more pop rock sound all together. This theory seems very plausible as these covers lack any resemblance of that classic Kingsmen garage sound. Although these covers do make up most of the album, there are several hidden gems on the album including the opening track, “Trouble” and the hard-driving number, “Little Sally Tease.” Both songs are much more raw and genuine than most of the tracks on the album. Fans of early Kingsmen albums will definitely appreciate these tunes, and the album as a whole is still worth picking up for garage rock fans. As a whole package, the album is fairly decent. While not oozing with originality or surprises, the covers are solid and the original material is quite enjoyable. This album is typical of a great underground band on its last legs––perhaps it could be better, but at least it’s not worse.  B-

The Peanut Butter Conspiracy – The Great Conspiracy

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Released in 1968 on Columbia Records, The Great Conspiracy is a quintessential psychedelic rock album. After their mediocre debut The Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy returned to the studio with a more polished and focused sound. Whereas their debut album dabbles in psychedelic rock, folk rock and pop among other sounds, this album is a firm commitment to the psychedelic rock sound. For example, The Great Conspiracy opens with the 60s anthem “Turn on a Friend (To the Good Life),” which lyrically sets the tone for the rest of the album. “Turn on a Friend (To the Good Life)” calls listeners to indulge and access their wild sides. These themes are repeated throughout the album with songs like “Pleasure,” “Ecstasy” and “Wonderment.” “Pleasure” is dominated by Barbara Robison’s powerful voice––a voice that should be remembered as one of the 60s greats. Barbara’s range and passion is reminiscent of contemporaries like Grace Slick and Janis Joplin. Although Barbara often takes a backup role on this album, when she is given the reins, she leads with beauty and grace. In addition to having great lyrics and vocals, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy also demonstrate their psychedelic instrumental capabilities with songs like “Too Many Do” and “Ecstasy.” Both of these songs contain extended, complex jams that make listeners envious of those who got to see a live PBC show. Instrumentally, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy provide just enough experimentation, sound effects and distortion to land them firmly in the psychedelic rock genre without reducing themselves to a bag of cheap studio tricks. Like most albums, this album has higher points and lower points, but even the lower points are reliably enjoyable. Songs like “Lonely Leaf,” “Living Dream” and “Time Is After You” provide the solid foundation that this album is built upon. This album is a must for psychedelic rock enthusiasts, but may not be as appealing to those 60s underground music fans who prefer a harder, garage/protopunk sound.  A

 

Full Disclosure: Alan Brackett, the bassist for PBC, reached out to me several months ago, and introduced me to The Peanut Butter Conspiracy. I have since become a fan and have had further correspondence with him. Furthermore, I do plan to review and promote the newly released PBC album Barbara. I have written this review trying to remove any bias these circumstances may have had on my listening/appreciating of this album.