New Colony Six – Attacking a Straw Man

ImageWhen I first heard about New Colony Six from a man in my local record store, he described them as a psychedelic rock band from the late 60s. This is an accurate description except for the fact that he left out one word––soft. New Colony Six is a psychedelic soft rock bad from the late 60s. The difference this one word makes in my musical tastes is quite remarkable. Needless to say, when I got home and listened to New Colony Six’s Attacking a Straw Man, I was pretty disappointed. Granted, I may have had too high of expectations, but still, soft rock is not necessarily what comes to mind when I think of psychedelic music from the 60s. Released on Mercury Records in 1969, Attacking the Straw Man is full of soft rock numbers, a few of which have an interesting dose of psychedelic rock sprinkled in. Many of the songs such as “Barbara, I Love You” and “Love, That’s the Best I Can Do” seem little more than cliché love songs that continuously populate soft rock stations and Rod Stewart albums. Although much of the album exists in this vein, there are a few warm spots where the psychedelic atmosphere of the 60s squeezed its way onto a track or two. For example, the opening to “Free” is funky and groovy and lays down a quintessential 60s beat that carries the song to fruition. It’s definitely a high note on the album. The song “Come and Give Your Love to Me” also demonstrates the band’s skill through the use of a psychedelic organ and some interesting guitar riffs. This song is my favorite on the album; it leaves me wishing that the band had implemented more of this sound throughout the album. In the end, perhaps that is the biggest issue: I want the band to be something it is not. I want the band to be a cool 60s psychedelic rock band, but in reality, the band is just another soft rock band that happens to be from the 60s and also happens to have a touch of psychedelic sound influencing their soft souls.  C

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 Hassles – Hour of the Wolf

ImageIt’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a psychedelic record, so I thought I’d break out The Hassles. Released in early 1969 on United Artists, Hour of the Wolf is the second of two albums released by The Hassles. The Hassles are most noteworthy because of what some of the members went on to do. Billy Joel plays keyboards, John Small plays drums, and Howie Blauvelt (who’d later become a member of Ram Jam) plays bass. With such an all-star lineup, you’d expect that The Hassles made some all-star music–you’d better hold your horses. It’s not that the music isn’t good, it’s just that it’s so experimental that the beginning of songs don’t sound anything like the middle or the end of the songs. This method of experimentation makes it difficult to say that a particular song is good or a particular song is bad. For example, the beginning of the song “Cat” struggles to find a unifying beat through the first half, but then the second half comes together and showcases some very impressive keyboard work by Billy Joel. Many of the other songs, especially the songs on side two like “Hotel St. George” and “Further from Heaven,” are similar in that they are so expansive that some parts of the songs you’re likely to find enjoyable while other parts of the same song you’ll be left wondering what just happened. The epitome of this style is the album’s title track, “Hour of the Wolf.” The song can almost be described as noise music. There are extended sections of strange sounds, a wolf eating/growling, wild laughter, and other eccentric noises. However, the song also has sections of great guitar work. Besides the presumably drug-influenced sounds of these tracks, there are one or two songs that are slightly more traditional yet can still be said to have psychedelic undertones. “Country Boy” and “4 O’Clock in the Morning” are solid tunes. “Country Boy” sounds like The Beatles jamming with The Allman Brothers––a very strange mix, but it works. “4 O’Clock in the Morning” is much more laid back and whimsical. It reminds me over the nonchalance of G Love. This album proves to be very difficult to sum up overall. What I can say is that a very small percentage of people will think that this is the greatest album they’ve ever heard. With its boundless array of sounds and styles, it could be considered one of the best psychedelic albums ever to those who are searching for the purest of acid rock. To most of us 60s music enthusiasts, however, this album is interesting and worth listening to, but once would probably be enough. If, however, you are looking for something with a much more traditional garage rock or blues rock sound, this album is probably not for you.  C+

The American Breed – The American Breed

ImageAlthough their album cover may be weird, The American Breed’s music is anything but weird. Their self-titled debut, released on Atca Records in 1967, is a dynamic collection of pop rock tunes awakened “with their own unique jazz-rock touch.” This album is loaded with radio-friendly hits reworked to fit the jazz-influenced style of The American Breed. Many of the songs contain heavy (but not overbearing) use of the trumpet to aid The American Breed’s jazz-infused rock ‘n’ roll sound. For example, the song “High Heel Sneakers” is a beautiful reworking of ultra-popular hit to include an underlying trumpet beat. Although some of their covers like “Knock on Wood” and “Lipstick Traces” are a little on the bland side, on many occasions The American Breed proves that they are master remasterers. Their version of Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” is a phenomenal transition from soul to rock ‘n’ roll. My favorite cover of the album has to be a reproduction of The Animals’s “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” The cover is true in all the right places with adding just a dash  of their own style here and there. While their debut album certainly showcases their ability to remaster those mid-60s hits, it also demonstrates their ability to produce their own songs. The American Breed bring their jazz-rock instrumentalism and their steady harmonies to “Same Old Thing,” a catchy, trumpet-heavy display of originality. The American Breed also add a 60s psychedelic aspect to their jazz-inspired rock with the song “Step Out of Your Mind.” It’s a perfectly poppy yet psychedelically symphonic tune that pleases and eases the mind; it is a very close second to my favorite original on the album: “Short Skirts.” Perhaps even more far out, “Short Skirts” relies on heavy distortion and a tremendous beat to blend jazz, rock, psychedelic and surf. This combo will have your brain teaming with delight at the essence of 60s underground music. All-in-all, this self-titled debut is quite a surprise. Yes it has its blemishes, but they’re not overwhelming and by no means numerous. Most of the songs are refreshing takes on old classics with a few original triumphs scattered in. For the fan of 60s jazz, rock and pop, this album may even be a dream come true. For a first album on a smaller label, I’d consider this a bigger success.  B+