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+

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Paul Revere & the Raiders – Midnight Ride

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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+

Syndicate of Sound – Little Girl

ImageAfter winning a battle of the bands competition in San Jose, CA, Syndicate of Sound rocketed to regional and even (briefly) national fame with the release of several singles from their first and only album Little Girl released in 1966 on Bell Records. Although their tenure was very brief, Syndicate of Sound’s legacy on rock ‘n’ roll is tremendous. Known for their edgy sound, the band is considered one of the key links between garage rock and protopunk. The album flies out of the gate with the aggressive teenage anthem “Big Boss Man.” Loud, fast, obnoxious, rebellious and sarcastic––”Big Boss Man” is everything that protopunk would become. While coming out with roaring guitars is one thing, keeping them roaring is a whole different challenge: a challenge that Syndicate of Sound accepts head on. In addition to “Big Boss Man,” the band also edges closer to protopunk with songs like “Lookin’ for the Good Times” and a cover of The Sonics’ “The Witch.” While “Lookin’ for the Good Times” is more like a surf rock song on steroids, “The Witch” is pure punk sound with a touch of darkness. Besides being trumpeters for the protopunk sound, Syndicate of Sound is also still firmly rooted in mid-60s garage rock. This album is stacked with songs that are now considered garage rock classics, from “Almost Grown” to “Rumors” to the title track “Little Girl.” Every single one of these songs has that rhythm and edge that you can expect from a Syndicate of Sound song. “Little Girl” would become one of the most covered songs in the mid 60s and can be heard today in the one hit wonder section of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. And just when you think you’ve figured out the Syndicate of Sound, they display their dexterity with love songs such as “That Kind of a Man” and “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby.” These songs are successful because they avoid the cliché of 60s pop love song sound while also delivering emotions that are recognizable by many. Syndicate of Sound truly proves their versatility with the many styles of rock ‘n’ roll they’ve mastered. Although there are one or two songs that could use some more work, Little Girl is extremely rewarding as a whole. Ultimately the Syndicate of Sound was torn apart by the 60s––drugs and the draft––leaving listeners aching for what could have been. This album is a must for any fan of protopunk or garage rock. You will not be disappointed.  A-

The Best of 2013

Since I’ve had the opportunity to review so many albums this year, I thought it might be fun to try and make a top ten list. This list represents the ten albums that have stuck with me the most this year––the ones that not only sound good on a first or second listen but also on a third, fourth or fifth listen. These are albums that I return to time and again, and I’ve done my best to narrow it down to ten.

 

10. Reflections by Terry Knight and the Pack –– This album is Bob Dylan meets psychedelic garage rock. Although it clearly rips of major bands of the mid-60s, Reflections is, in its own way, beautiful and innovative. [original review: January 2013]

9. Now and Then by Michael Rabon & the Five Americans –– This album is perfect for the 60s psychedelic rock enthusiast. They masterfully blend mainstream rock ‘n’ roll with the San Francisco subculture of the 60s. [original review: December 2012]

8. The Mugwumps by The Mugwumps –– A collaborative group of future rock gods including Grace Slick blends folk, pop and rock in a catchy and pleasing way. This album grows on you the more you listen to it. [original review: April 2013]

7. A Long Time Comin’ by The Electric Flag –– This albums seeps blues rock with every guitar riff. It is one of the most technically impressive albums reviewed on this blog; Mike Bloomfield may be one of the most underrated guitarists ever. [original review: July 2013]

6. The American Breed by The American Breed –– Despite their bizarre album cover, these jazz-influenced rockers bring style and surprise with every note. They even blend a bit of psychedelic rock with their jazz style. [original review: June 2013]

5. Competition Coupe by The Astronauts –– This album is the epitome of American hot rod music. Their up-tempo surf rock style is the foundation for garage rock and protopunk for years to come. [original review: December 2013]

4. Electric Comic Book by Blues Magoos –– This album is a blend of psychedelic rock and blues that could have only come from the 60s. It’s creative and smart and will leave you itching for more. [original review: December 2012]

3. Projections by The Blues Project –– As their name suggests, The Blues Project is deep with soulful blues numbers ranging from covers to originals. Either way, their sound is always fresh and always worthwhile. [original review: December 2012]

2. It Ain’t Me Babe by The Turtles –– This album is the quintessential folk pop album with covers from the great Bob Dylan and a couple originals thrown in as well. Everything is beautifully composed and leaves you aching for more. [original review: September 2013]

1. Back Door Men by The Shadows of Knight –– Everything about this album is perfect––from the song selection, to the guitars, to the tempo. This album is protopunk, garage rock and blues wrapped in the spirit of underground 60s music. [original review: March 2013]

The Standells – The Standells in Person at P.J.’s

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Although The Standells are more well known today for being early pioneers of punk rock, in their first album, The Standells in Person at P.J.’s, they prove themselves to be solid garage rock musicians. Soon after signing to Liberty Records in 1964, The Standells released this album, recordings from a series of concerts at P.J.’s in Hollywood. The band would later go on to pioneer the raw sound of punk rock, but at this point in their career they were known to perform groovy garage rock classics. There is surely no shortage of solid tunes on this album. In addition to a great rendition of the world’s best-known garage rock, “Louie, Louie,” The Standells also do excellent covers or “Money (That’s What I Want) and John Lennon’s “You Can’t Do That.” While all three songs are top-notch, there’s a certain lack of authenticity. That is to say: the band plays the songs as would most garage rock bands from the era and don’t do anything to necessarily set themselves apart from the crowd. However, “Money (That’s What I Want),” was released as a single from the album and became their breakout single though it never charted. The band also does several more comedic garage rock songs with “Bony Moronie,” “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” and “Linda-Lu.” Of the three, “Linda-Lu” is perhaps the best (although all are fun to listen to) because of its rolling repetition of certain syllables. Its unique and clever. For the blues fans of the blog, The Standells, like many garage rock bands, do harder, faster versions of blues classics, like the ever-popular Jimmy Reed’s “Help Yourself” and Johnny Otis’s “So Fine.” Both are high quality transitions from deep blues to 60s garage rock. All of these songs are very good, but not spectacular. That’s where “What Have I Got of My Own” and “I’ll Go Crazy” step in. “What Have I Got of My Own” is strikingly different from Trini Lopez’s popular version. It’s deeper and more hypnotic, with cooler guitar riffs. It’s my personal favorite from the album and far superior to any other version I’ve heard. “I’ll Go Crazy” gives “What Have I Got of My Own” a run for its money on best song. It is almost like a glimpse into the future of the band. It’s much more raw and up tempo than anything else, demonstrating their knack for early protopunk. Overall, this album is very good. There isn’t a single song on the album that I dislike. That being said, being their first album, The Standells didn’t do as much as I would have liked to make themselves unique. It would take a couple more years and a couple more albums for The Standells to fully carve their place in history.  B+

The Shadows of Knight – Back Door Men

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I’m embarrassed to say that until a few months ago, I had never heard of The Shadows of Knight. To say that I’ve been missing out is an understatement. Back Door Men, released in 1966 on Dunwich, is the quintessential 60s underground album. It’s garage rock; it’s blues; it’s protopunk! (Psych rock fans, there’s even a smidgen for you.) The Shadows of Knight were really only together for about three or four years in the mid-to-late 60s, with different unsuccessful incarnations existing in the 70s and later the 90s and 2000s. First, for the garage rock. Back Door Men has a solid foundation in garage rock with minor hits like “Tomorrow’s Going to Be Another Day” and “High Blood Pressure.” Both songs tap into that 60s beat, but “Tomorrow’s Going to Be Another Day” seems to go above and beyond. For the blues rock fans, this album is nothing short of top notch. The band reaches into its Chicago roots for that Chicago blues sound, covering legends like Jimmy Reed (“Peepin’ and Hidin'”) and Willie Dixon (“Spoonful”). Both songs are just as good if not better than the originals. But wait… there’s even more for you blues gurus. My personal favorite track of the album is “Hey Joe.” Yes, the Jimi Hendrix “Hey Joe.” While The Shadows of Knight did not write the song, as earlier versions exist, they are perhaps the first (or one of the first) to use such heavy feedback, which would inspire Jimi Hendrix to record his famous version six months after this album’s release. I personally think that this version is the best version I’ve heard, outperforming Hendrix, The Byrds, and several others. Point being, this album is a must for blues rock fans. Then there’s the protopunk angle. It’s interesting to note that most of the songs on the album are covers, but those that aren’t are definitely the most innovative. “Gospel Zone” and “I’ll Make You Sorry” are originals and are straight up protopunk. Both have hard, fast beats with lead singer, Jim Sohns, yelling above the instruments. Few bands can be said to have had that fiery punk energy so early in the 60s. These songs work to keep the album fresh in between blues numbers. They do a great job to keep the album cohesive and draw in protopunk fans. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget you, psychedelic rock fans, and neither did The Shadows of Knight. “The Behemoth” is an instrumental psychedelic rock song that draws on the bands blues background to create something that could only come out of the 60s. Overall, this album is fantastic. I can’t stop listening to it. Every song is great, and every song seems to speak to a different subgenre of underground 60s music. There’s no question: if you have even a passing interest in anything on this blog, you will enjoy this album. Buy it. Thank me in the comment section later.  A+

Paul Revere & the Raiders – A Christmas Present… and Past

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Okay, so with later hits like their 1971 song “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian),” Paul Revere & the Raiders are not really an underground band per se; however, with their early songs like “Kicks” (1966) and “Steppin’ Out” (1966), they had an enormous influence on garage rock and protopunk, and it would be a shame not to include them in a blog like this. That being said, I stumbled across this album a few weeks ago and thought “what the hell.” I’m not really a Christmas music enthusiast, but the album looked fun and ’tis the season. This 1967 Columbia album comes after a major lineup shuffle in early 1967 that saw three members leave the band and songwriter Mark Lindsay seize control of the direction of the band. From this point on Paul Revere & the Raiders would move away from their garage rock beginnings towards a more radio friendly style; however, A Christmas Present… and Past still contains that raw sound of 60s garage rock. The first track, “Introduction,” is a humorous way to set the mood for a fun and eccentric rest of the album. The first original Christmas recording, “Wear a Christmas Smile,” is a solid pop rock number. Really nothing special, but it’s a decent tune. The only traditional Christmas song on the album, “Jingle Bells,” follows as the best rendition of “Jingle Bells” I’ve ever heard. After a couple verses, the chorus is repeated faster and harder each time in a more raw and powerful way. It’s one of the best tracks on the album. “Brotherly Love” is a soft melodic original that helps transition into the fifth and best track of the album: “Rain, Sleet, Snow.” This song is heavy and stripped down and makes for an excellent underground 60s tune. This song carries the rest of the album without a doubt. “Peace” closes side one with a Christmas-like instrumental. Side two opens with “Valley Forge,” a Vietnam-era protest song hidden under a Christmas mask. This song grows on you the more you listen to it. “Dear Mr. Claus” is one of the more traditional-sounding Christmas songs of the album. It seems to be there as a filler to give the album a more universal Christmas appeal. “Macy’s Window” follows as another song that seems to have been written for the radio. It doesn’t have any of the garage rock sound that some of the better songs of the album do. “Christmas Spirit” is the worst song on the album and takes the spirit out of the album. The album closes with “A Heavy Christmas Message,” which is exactly what it says it is, but then leads into an amazing fast and heavy instrumental featuring a soloing kazoo. The album ends on a high note. Overall, this album seems to be stuck between two audiences: the garage rock fan who is seeking a little Christmas fun and the traditional Christmas music enthusiast. If you’re willing to put up with a little junk in order to find some true seasonal gems, then this album is well worth picking up.  C+