The Cyrkle – Red Rubber Ball

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To be perfectly honest, I had never heard of The Cyrkle before I picked up this album. I was flipping through the 50s and 60s rock ‘n’ roll section of my local record store when I saw that this album had a cover of “Bony Moronie”on it. Released in 1966 on Columbia Records, Red Rubber Ball is the debut album of the short-lived American pop rock band, The Cyrkle. Knowing that “Bony Moronie” had been covered by many good garage rock bands, I was confident that this album couldn’t be too disappointing. I was wrong. Almost every song in the album is an extremely cliché mid-60s love song. The sound is generic, the lyrics are uninspired and recycled, and the harmony does nothing to leave a positive impression on the listener. Although I would hesitate to call any of the songs on the album bad, I would not call a single one of them good. The best word to describe the sound of this debut album is bland. Each song makes the listener think that they’ve already heard it one million times before; it is familiar and generic to the point of boring. The Cyrkle did have a minor hit from the album in “Red Rubber Ball,” but I cannot say that I’m moved by it anymore than the others. Even when I reached “Bony Moronie,” I was dismayed at The Cyrkle’s decision to fragment the lyrics and slow the tempo. They would have been better off if they had just straight copied any number of the garage rock renditions. The sole saving grace of the album comes from some of the mildly talented guitar playing. Tom Dawes has a few short but solid riffs throughout the album, most notably on “There’s a Fire in the Fireplace.” Perhaps the most disappointing fact about the band is that they toured with Simon and Garfunkel and The Beatles at different times in their career. Upon learning that they had toured with such great names, I had pretty high hopes for the album. In fact, John Lennon is said to have taken such an interest in the band that he even came up with the unique spelling of their name and pushed for their success within the record company. Overall, I would not recommend picking this album up if you’re looking for something fresh or interesting. Having said that, there always has been and there always will be a place in the music industry for generic poppy love songs. The reason is, some people do indeed like them. If you’re one of those people, this album is for you; if not, read some of my other reviews for more creative underground 60s music.  D+

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The Electric Flag – A Long Time Comin’

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Combining blues, rock, soul, pop, R & B, rockabilly, psychedelic, and jazz, The Electric Flag’s A Long Time Comin’ is a cross section of the middle 60s. Released on Columbia in 1968, this debut album brings musical diversity to a whole new level. Touting such future stars as Jimi Hendrix’s future drummer (Buddy Miles), Bob Dylan’s bassist (Harvey Brooks), and one of the most respected guitarists of all time (Michael Bloomfield), The Electric Flag’s short but sweet tenure laid the foundation for some of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest musicians. While the band’s plethora of musical styles makes them difficult to categorize, this variety allows them the freedom genre-bending, genre-bashing, and just plain experimentation. For example, the song “Wine” is a traditional rockabilly number infused with the energy of soul music. Picture James Brown singing with Bill Haley’s Comets playing backup. And it sounds great! This sort of fearless experimentation allows each band member to bring his strength to the table without being overwhelmed by all of the others. Many of the songs start off as seemingly predictable pop rock numbers only to become suddenly infused with a few blues guitar licks or a psychedelic sounding keyboard. Although the band’s experimentation is not always successful and can even be less than satisfactory on some tracks, overall the members show a willingness to grow with each and learn from each other’s strength. The band’s experimental nature comes to a pinnacle with the 9-minute epic, “Another Country.” This song comprises the band’s variety of styles segueing from psychedelic ambiance to smooth jazz to blues guitar and into depths than can only be described as unclassifiable. Perhaps the best way of defining the band’s sound is a quote on the subject from the man behind the phenomenal guitar riffs, Michael Bloomfield. “I think of it as the music in the air, on the air, in the streets; blues, soul, country, rock, religious music, traffic, crowds, street sounds and field sounds, the sound of people and silence.” But wait! for those of you who may be feeling turned off by all the talk of genre-crossing, there is still a gem here for you. “Texas” is a blues number that can only be described as godlike. This is the track that would give The Electric Flag credibility with even the highest of blues masters. It is pure Texas blues as only Texas blues can be. Whether you prefer the pure blues sound or the 60s experimental blues and soul rock, there’s no denying that these musicians are talented. From here, many of them would go on to play with the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll history. In 2003, Bloomfield was listed as the 22nd greatest guitarist of all time in Rolling Stone magazine. After hearing this album you’ll understand why.  B+