The Youngbloods – Elephant Mountain

DSCN4029

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

DSCN4028

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

DSCN4027

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 Peanut Butter Conspiracy – The Great Conspiracy

DSCN2625

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.

The Paupers – Magic People

ImageThe Paupers are known for two things: playing at the Monterey International Pop Festival and being Canadian. Their success at Monterey and other live shows led to a well-funded but ultimately commercially unsuccessful debut album, Magic People, released in late 1967 on Verve Forecast. Although they are known as a Canadian psychedelic rock band, their sound was much more versatile and much more like the sounds coming out of San Francisco in the mid to late 60s. Songs like the title track “Magic People” and “Think I Care” are typical psychedelic rock songs of the era, although they tend to favor more dominate and complex drum parts than most psychedelic rock of the time. Like many psychedelic rock bands, The Paupers incorporated guitar distortion, but it is not near as prominent as most of their contemporaries. The Paupers also played well outside the psychedelic rock genre. Their song “Let Me Be” is a classic folk rock song that evokes the songwriting and sound of John Denver or Peter, Paul and Mary. They also dabbled in traditional pop with songs like “One Rainy Day.” This song has great harmonies and range, demonstrating the band’s ability to work outside their persona. Although the album is stocked full of good singles, there are several songs on the album that are underwhelming and/or underdeveloped. Songs like “Black Thank You Package” or “Tudor Impressions” seem to lack direction, more like a jam session tune than a well-structured album number. This album does a good job of demonstrating the band’s skills but it also leaves the listener with a feeling that they could do better. B-

Paul Revere & the Raiders – Midnight Ride

Image

Often described as America’s answer to the British Invasion, these colonial clad rockers are part Beatles, part Stones and part Dylan. Released on Columbia Records in 1966, Midnight Ride is said to be Paul Revere & the Raiders’ response to Rubber Soul. Not only are both albums influenced by the sounds of Bob Dylan and New York’s growing folk rock scene, but both albums also push the boundaries of rock ‘n’ roll even further with bold experimentation and fearless disregard for convention. However, Midnight Ride seems to take bolder steps toward a harder, faster and edgier rock sound that at times sounds like something Iggy Pop and the Stooges could have recorded years later. For example, “Louie, Go Home,” has simple and repetitive chords that break down into a chaotic cluster of clashing instruments topped off by the screaming vocals of Mark Lindsay. The song is more than just a loud and fast garage rock song; it’s a call to action. Meant as a response to the classic garage rock song “Louie, Louie,” “Louie, Go Home” takes rock ‘n’ roll to the next level––a level that we now call protopunk. In this same vein, Paul Revere & the Raiders recorded “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone.” Although The Monkees’ cover version was––and still is––the far more popular version, “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” was first recorded by Paul Revere & the Raiders. These garage rockers were the first to inject the power and attitude into this now wildly popular hard rocking anthem. Despite being masters of loud, fast and hard, Paul Revere & the Raiders show their range with great folk rock numbers like “There’s Always Tomorrow” and “There She Goes.” These songs demonstrate the band’s under-appreciated songwriting abilities and their pure musicianship. Almost every band member plays multiple instruments on the album, and they demonstrate fantastic range going from heavy and fast to scaled back and smooth. The band even tries their hand at slower love songs like “Little Girl in the 4th Row” and “Melody for an Unknown Girl.” Even these songs, while dramatically different from the garage rock sound their known for, are well arranged and written, being spaced on the album perfectly as to inject some softness into the heavy world of garage rock. All in all, this record is amazing. Not only are the individual songs fantastic, but the band’s collaboration and adaptability really shines through. This album is primarily comprised of original songs written by the band members. In fact, all five band members have individual songwriting credits on the album––a feat rarely accomplished in the mid 60s. Although some audiophiles might think it’s a stretch to compare such a little known album to a rock ‘n’ roll mammoth like Rubber SoulMidnight Ride truly proves that notoriety has nothing to do with influence. Midnight Ride played a vital role in shaping the sound of rock ‘n’ roll music. Bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who and Iggy Pop and the Stooges are deeply indebted to Paul Revere and the Raiders for trailblazing the path toward a harder, faster and edgier rock ‘n’ roll sound.  A+

The Lettermen – Spring!

Image

Although spring usually indicates growth, freshness and rebirth, Spring! is anything but fresh. Released in 1967 on Capitol Records, this album is unfortunately, little more than more of the same 60s soft pop from The Lettermen. The Lettermen carved a name for themselves in the early 60s with their handsome looks and smooth harmonization; however, by the late 60s their popularity was beginning to wane and they were in need of a fresh approach. Unfortunately, instead of putting their talents together and coming up with some original material, the boys borrowed hits from the charts here and there, hoping to record something that could crack into the top 100. Despite their best intentions none of the songs took off–most were nothing more than mediocre covers of pop singles. For example, their cover of “Happy Together” is a solid tune, but it’s almost indistinguishable from the original version released by The Turtles just a few months earlier. The “5” Royales’s hit “Dedicated to the One I Love” is also featured on this album despite the fact that a cover version by The Mamas and the Papas had already charted a few months before. The one redeeming song on the album is the psychedelic pop song “Mr. Sun.” It draws heavy influences from The Beatles’s crossover into the psychedelic genre, although it still remains unique and fun. Despite being a welcome relief from the monotony of mediocre covers, “Mr. Sun” is not enough to prop up the entire album. Perhaps if The Lettermen had focused more on quality rather than quantity (this was their 14th album over a six-year period), they could have produced stronger albums and stayed together longer. (One of the three boys, Bob Engemann, would sell his interest in the group shortly after this album’s release, although The Lettermen name still lives on today after many, many lineup changes.) The only reason to pick up this album is for “Mr. Sun,” but if you can find it on a 45 somewhere, you’re better off going that route.  D