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+

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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+