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+

The Peanut Butter Conspiracy – Barbara

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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

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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-

The Lemon Pipers – Green Tambourine

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Unfortunately, the story of the Lemon Pipers and their battle for control with their record company was all too common in the 60s. Soon after being signed to Buddah Records, the band was pushed into the bubblegum pop genre by their label despite their objections. The label hired Paul Leka and Shelley Pinz to write some songs for the band, one of which would go on to be the Lemon Piper’s most popular tune, “Green Tambourine.” After “Green Tambourine” was successfully released as a pre-album single, the label further pushed the band to record bubblegum/psychedelic pop material. The band however, was much more interested in rock ‘n’ roll. Thus, Green Tambourine the band’s debut album, released in 1968, was a compromise––half of the songs are pop-oriented, label pleasers, whereas the other half are rock-based songs written by the band members themselves. The resulting album is an eclectic mix of genres and subgenres that actually works surprisingly well together. Although the band was quite reluctant to record the songs the label had written for them, these songs are surprisingly good. “Green Tambourine” was obviously the most successful song on the album, but just because it did well on the charts, does not mean that it is overly poppy or simplistic. It has a strong melody with just enough psychedelic rock influence to keep it from being a cookie cutter bubblegum song. “Shoeshine Boy” and “The Shoemaker of Leatherwear Square” are also surprisingly good songs written by Leka and Pinz. Both songs are concept songs that edge more towards psychedelic rock than pop, but contain elements of both. The only two songs that are really pop-heavy are “Rice is Nice” and “Blueberry Blue,” but even these two songs have enough interesting arrangements and psychedelic sounds to maintain the band’s credibility. When the Lemon Pipers were allowed to write their own material, they really showed their wide range and eclectic tastes. For example, “Ask Me If I Care” has strong folk-rock influences, sounding like something The Hollies may have produced. On the other hand, “Straglin’ Behind” and “Fifty Year Void” are blues-rock numbers with psychedelic influences. “Fifty Year Void” especially has that hard driving rhythm common in blues songs. The song that really tops the album is the nine-minute psychedelic trip, “Through With You.” This song is adventurous and bold, experimenting with unusual arrangements and different psychedelic sound effects. This song alone is reason enough to buy the album. Despite their reluctance to record material that was essentially forced upon them, The Lemon Pipers were able to produce an exciting and diverse album, which remains an essential album for all enthusiasts of 60s psychedelic music. Unfortunately the Lemon Pipers would get so fed up with their label telling them what to record that they would leave the music industry entirely. They broke up after just one more record (Jungle Marmalade), and several of them would never be involved in the music industry on a professional level again.  A

The Fugs – The Fugs First Album

ImagePart jug band, part freak folk, part psychedelic rock, part Allen Ginsburg-esque Beat poetry, part rhythm-and-blues-experimental-garage-protopunk rock, The Fugs instantaneously defied all that was known and believed to be true about music when they hit the scene in the mid 60s. Before The Fugs First Album was released in 1965 on ESP-Disk, it was briefly released as The Village Fugs Sing Ballads of Contemporary Protest, Points of View, and General Dissatisfaction on Folkways Records. If this original album title is not enough to help define who they are and what they do, imagine chaotic and raunchy music played with traditional, nontraditional and self-created instruments played with little or no care for rhythm or harmonization. This album is raunchy, disorganized, self-imposing and at times can barely be described as music. Yet, it’s beautiful. The Fugs’ complete defiance of all socially accepted norms surrounding rock ‘n’ roll music is bewildering at first; however the deeper down the rabbit hole you are willing to travel with the band, the more pleasantly refreshing the album becomes. Take for example, the song “Carpe Diem:” at first several vocalists appear to be horrifically out of step with one other. At times, it’s almost as if three different people are singing three songs all on top of each other. The song lacks anything that could be described as harmony by contemporary pop standards; however, by the second or third listen, the song begins to reveal its own system of harmonization that puts the focus on the content of the song rather than the delivery. Ultimately, The Fugs are just as much poets as they are musicians. With clear ties to the British Romantic poetry movement of the late 1700s and early 1800s, the band wanders into a prehistoric version of spoken word with little or no assistance from musical instruments. For example “Ah! Sunflower, Weary of Time” is a recitation of William Blake’s poem with the addition of new lyrics set to minimal guitar and tambourine sounds. While The Fugs can be soft and poetic with renditions of Beat and Romantic poetry, they can also be raunchy with in-your-face numbers like “Boobs a Lot” and “Nothing.” Whereas “Boobs a Lot” is sexual, vulgar and purposely over the top, “Nothing” is a disturbing yet magically beautiful psychedelic Nihilistic chant about a full range of nothingness. The Fugs would go on to produce quite a few more experimental freak folk albums throughout the 60s, but none would be as jarring and envelope-pushing as The Fugs First Album. As the 60s progressed, the weirdness bar was set higher and higher, but The Fugs were arguably the ones who set it first and set it the highest. Their music was such a break from their contemporaries that it is often overlooked in the vast saga of 60s music. Although The Fugs are strange, their strangeness paved the way for other underground sounds, including psychedelic rock, punk rock and experimental rock. Many people will not like this album. In fact, most people will find it vulgar or chaotic or both. But for those who like the weird, the freaky, the unclassifiable––this is your album.  A

The Electric Prunes – Underground

ImageIn this follow-up to their self-titled debut, The Electric Prunes define themselves as a unique psychedelic rock band by including much more original material than on their first album. Released on Reprise Records in August of 1967, just four months after their debut album, this album demonstrates how much the band had matured in such a short span of time. While their self-titled debut album was successful and was certainly a solid effort, it lacks original material and fails to establish a unique sound for the band. This album, however, displays a psychedelic rock band willing to diversify their sound. Instead of creating more cookie-cutter psychedelic rock songs, the band adds complexity and depth with their own newly found songwriting skills. This increased complexity is evident as soon as the needle drops. The opening song “The Great Banana Hoax,” is an original tune built on the foundation of solid rhythmic garage rock beat with spurts of psychedelic effects. Instead of dominating their sound with fuzzy guitars and intricate melodic psychedelic beats as they did on their first album, The Prunes incorporate these characteristics much more subtly and handsomely. Time and again they show that they are more than just a bag of cool studio effects––they are solid rock musicians as well. Songs like “Wind-Up Toys” and “Hideaway” are other great examples of original songs using psychedelic effects more selectively. These songs still certainly qualify as psychedelic rock songs; however, they may not be as buzzy and fuzzy as most of the songs on their first album. The biggest surprise on this album is the original single “It’s Not Fair.” This song is so unique that it evades categorization. It might be described as honky-psychedelic-garage-country-rock. “It’s Not Fair” incorporates subtle psychedelic effects into a driving honky-tonk country rhythm played by garage rock musicians. It is perhaps my favorite song on the album. My only complaint with the album is that it could feature even more original tunes. While seven originals is a whole lot more than two, the cover songs on the album aren’t quite as strong as the band’s own material. In particular, “I Happen to Love You” and “I” lack the same enthusiasm as other efforts. This criticism is perhaps a bit nitpicky, as neither song is all that bad. When both sides are played through, there’s really very little to be disappointed with. This album is necessary for any psychedelic or garage rock fan, particularly fans that enjoy the subtle nuances that can separate one psychedelic 60s rock band from another.  A

Vanilla Fudge – Vanilla Fudge

ImageAlthough Vanilla Fudge has often been described as one of the greatest cover bands of the 60s, this self-titled debut album remains exquisitely unique. Released on Atco Records in 1967, this Vanilla Fudge is composed of almost entirely covers except for a few short interval instrumental songs. Despite the fact that most of these songs are considered cover songs, Vanilla Fudge is able to inject such an exuberant amount of psychedelic sound into the very core of each song, warping and distorting the sound so many times over that the word “cover” no longer seems very accurate. For example, the opening track is a cover of The Beatles’ famous song “Ticket to Ride.” However, it is immediately clear that this version of the song is unlike any other version of the song previously recorded. For starters, the entire song is played at a much slower tempo. Slowing the tempo of songs would become the signature style of Vanilla Fudge. This technique allows the band to explore more distortion, extend solos and jams, and tap into the very depth of sound. “Ticket to Ride” is a psychedelic combination of all of these features, including Mark Stein’s extensive keyboard jams. Most of the album continues in this exploratory vein with each cover song having its own highs and lows of experimental psychedelic exploration.  Perhaps one of the most unique and personally gratifying covers is that of Cher’s “Bang Bang.” It contains a variety of quick guitar jams and dominant keyboard numbers all while maintaining a loosely centered core of this Cher’s original song. While their unique covers are usually what draws fans in, they can also have the opposite effect on listeners. After going through an entire album, their experimental psychedelic sound can become nearly formulaic and even burdening. While their ability to explore the depth of popular rock songs is unquestioned, this can act as both a gift and a curse depending upon the listener’s mindset and sensibilities. That being said, this album is worth picking up purely for its one-of-a-kind approach to rock ‘n’ roll.  B

The Strawberry Alarm Clock – Incense and Peppermints

ImageUpon first glance of the album, it is immediately clear that Incense and Peppermints is a 60s psychedelic rock album. With bright colors, stylized letters, intricate designs and a photo of the band members wearing flowery clothing and lounging on equally flowery pillows, this album cover spews pure psychedelic essence. Released in 1967 on Uni Records, Incense and Peppermints is the debut album of one of the most influential psychedelic rock bands of the time. The Strawberry Alarm Clock didn’t just dabble in psychedelic music; they lived and played the entire essence of psychedelic culture. When preforming live, the band would come out on “magic” carpets and put on an entire display to go along with the music. Their commitment to the psychedelic culture is evident from the moment the needle drops. The album’s opening song, “The World’s on Fire,” is full of elaborate sound effects, heavy feedback from the guitars and surrealistic lyrics. The album continues along in this vein for most of the album, often relying on special sound effects to produce a very unique and captivating sound. One of the high points on the album is the song “Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow,” which includes Steve Bartek playing a psychedelic flute. Although Steve Bartek was not considered an official member of the band, he played flute on several of the songs, and ultimately helped define The Strawberry Alarm Clock’s early sound. While most of the songs on the album are firmly based in rock ‘n’ roll, their most popular song, “Incense and Peppermints,” became part of the emerging psychedelic/bubblegum pop sound. It contains a catchy melody and strong harmonization while still maintaining a hefty dose of psychedelic sound effects. This album is most definitely a requirement for anyone with even a mild interest in psychedelic music. There really isn’t much to say against the album. It will always be a classic in the underground 60s music world.  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]