Federal Duck – Federal Duck

ImageI have to admit that I only picked this album up because of its cover. I was flipping through the 50s and 60s rock ‘n’ roll section of my local record store, and after flipping through several hundred Fats Domino albums with mundane covers, this album cover seemed especially provocative. Although it almost looks like the band members and the eagle are images cut from a magazine and pasted onto the front of the album, its color and design are unique and in a strange way appealing. Released on Musicor Records in 1968, Federal Duck is the self-titled debut album (and only album) from a quite obscure soft psych band. And when I say obscure, I mean there’s not even a Wikipedia page for these guys. From what little information I can find on the band, they were a group of college buddies from Pennsylvania who mainly played regional shows. I’m not sure how they even got picked up by Musicor, as they were a pretty small band and Musicor wasn’t a very small label. Anyway, Federal Duck mainly consists of soft-psych tracks like “Just Like the Snow” or “Peace of Mind.” These tracks are extremely slow but do contain some mildly interesting instrumentation at times. They combine instruments in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily expect, like having horns pop into a soft and slow rhythm. To be honest, I’m not too impressed with the majority of the songs on the album; I guess I like my psychedelic rock to be faster and weirder (see previous review). However, it would be short-sighted of me to label the Federal Duck as solely a soft-psych band. In fact, the song “Bird” is in almost every way the exact opposite of the previously mentioned soft-psych tracks. “Bird” is loud, fast, and heavy. It is garage rock, maybe even bordering on protopunk with a crazy good jazzy piano solo smack dab in the middle of the garage opening and closing. This song is by far the best song on the album. Also breaking away from the soft-psych mold is the song “Ain’t Gonna Be Nobody to Sing the Blues.” It is definitely the most unexpected song on the album, as it is a bluegrass-like drinking song with a fiddle, a banjo, and a raucous chorus. It’s actually quite fun and easy going. Overall, the thing that I’m most impressed with by this album is the fact that almost every single song is an original tune. The band could have made a bigger splash and maybe even went onto another record if they had thrown in some strong covers of “Gloria,” “Bony Moronie,” or any number of mid-60s standards; however, the band seems to have made the decision to make it on their own talent alone or not make it at all. Although they seemed to have fallen to the latter, I admire their commitment to original music, and I’m happy that some of these songs made it out there for us to enjoy. If you’re into soft-psych, get this album. If you’re like me, and like the harder stuff, this one may not be for you. That being said, I can say that you’d be hard-pressed to find something as unique. And uniqueness is always a good thing…right?  C+

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The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band – Vol. III: A Child’s Guide to Good and Evil

ImageFor those of you who have never heard of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, any discussion of the band must include some back story of band leader Bob Markley. Bob Markley was the adopted son of an oil tycoon from Oklahoma. After moving to California in the early to mid 60s, Markley used his extensive funds to create an experimental art/music group modeled after Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground. Drawing on his law school background, Markley ensured that he had complete control over the sound and artistic output of the band, often using it as a vehicle for his strange and sometimes creepy (he was widely reported to have a thing for underage girls) beliefs. Although the rest of the band members were turned off by Markley’s apparent obsession with children, they continued this ever-strained collaboration due to Markley’s wealth, connections, and perceived ability to make them famous. Between their founding in 1966 and their slow dissolution eventually culminating in 1970, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band recorded six albums, with Vol. III: A Child’s Guide to Good and Evil being released on Reprise Records in 1968 as their fourth album. Despite the band’s internal struggle, they were often able to produce a very high quality of 60s psychedelic rock, and A Child’s Guide to Good and Evil is no exception. The band’s commitment to the psychedelic sound is clear from the moment the needle drops. The first two songs, “Eighteen Is Over the Hill” and “In the Country,” are textbook examples of 60s psychedelic pop. Working from a pop base, The West Coast Pop Art Band introduces a heavily distorted guitar, acid-inspired studio effects, and general weirdness. Most of the songs on the album each have their own combination of psychedelic attributes in order to make each song unique, quirky, and fun. Some highlights on the album include “Ritual #2” and “A Child of a Few Hours Is Burning to Death.” Both songs introduce Eastern-inspired sounds and instruments to make these songs complex and delightful, at least from an instrumental point of view. From a lyrical point of view, both of these songs along with several others on the album contain morbid and bizarre lyrics written by Bob Markley. Although the band’s sound is often phenomenal, Markley’s lyrics can be off-putting. The most obvious example of this is in the title track, “A Child’s Guide to Good and Evil.” This track is instrumentally creative and fun, but Bob Markley detracts from the overall experience by speaking over the music with very weird and morbid lyrics. This being said, however, in many songs the vocal harmony of the group can be quite catchy and enjoyable, specifically on “In the Country” and “Our Drummer Always Plays in the Nude.” Overall this album speaks to the band’s continuous internal struggle: on one hand, the band could be so much better without Markley’s controlling presence, but on the other hand, the great sound they do produce would not have been possible without his direction and resources. No matter how you feel about Bob Markley and his beliefs, this album is a must for the 60s psychedelic fan. Even if you’re not a huge psychedelic rock fan, this album is incredibly creative and well worth your time.  B+

The Turtles – It Ain’t Me Babe

ImageFrom Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton to the Grateful Dead, countless rock legends have covered Bob Dylan songs in countless different variations, so what makes The Turtles worth listening to? Well, for starters, It Ain’t Me Babe, which was released on White Whale in 1965, stays remarkably true to Dylan’s folk roots while still bringing their own rock ‘n’ roll sound to the covers. While songs like Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower” or Clapton’s cover of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” are rock classics, they feature phenomenal guitar work and are far removed from the poeticism of Bob Dylan––the same poeticism that made folk music so prominent in the early to mid sixties. The Turtles, however, seem to strike a perfect balance between the poeticism of Bob Dylan and the sweet sound of rock ‘n’ roll. For example, the album’s title track, “It Ain’t Me Babe” starts off quiet, letting the words and the tambourine do the work. However, during the chorus, Mark Volman’s voice comes crashing through the speakers like the protopunk vocals of MC5 or The Seeds. It is this same balance between the energy and ferocity of rock ‘n’ roll and the meaningfulness and heaviness of folk music that makes all of The Turtles’ Dylan covers on the album fantastic, including “Love Minus Zero” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” Although Bob Dylan was clearly a major influence on this debut album, it is hardly a Dylan cover album. The Turtles load this album with powerful tracks from the early to middle sixties. Continuing in the folk tradition, The Turtles perform impressive renditions of “Eve of Destruction” and “Let Me Be.” Both songs rival the originals and perhaps even surpass them. The Turtles also tap into their surf rock roots (they started as a surf rock cover band called The Crossfires) with the song “Your Maw Said You Cried Last Night.” This song is beautiful, fun and fast. Perhaps my favorite song on the album is also the only song written by The Turtles: “A Walk in the Sun.” This song is fast, loud, and heavy. It’s protopunk, psychedelic, and garage rock all in one. Overall, this album simply brings it. The only gripe I have (and it’s a very small gripe) is that they do not perform more original numbers. But, it’s hard to argue with their cover choices. Every song on this album is really good; some are just down right phenomenal. If you come across this album, BUY IT!  A