Thursday, 27 September 2012

One Shot At Glory

The latest issue of Classic Rock magazine has an interesting feature where the writers each offer up what, in their opinion, is the best ever one-off album. That is, a stand-alone album by a group or solo artist that never had a follow up, not counting posthumous or live releases. I can't fault Mark Blake's vote for Hughes/Thrall's self-titled LP, which is the best thing Glenn Hughes has ever leant his larynx to (and yes, I do think it has the edge over his Deep Purple and Black Country Communion recordings), but I got to thinking that surely there are other more obscure albums that had their one shot at glory but, for one reason or another, missed their targets by a mile. As this is my blog, I can make my own rules, so I'm going to present three one-shot gems in no particular order and without making any claim for them as my all-time favourites or anything so final. They're just great albums that should be better known.

Pipedream - Pipedream (1979)

If only for the Spinal Tap-esque cover this album warrants further investigation. Chuck into the mix the input of Tim Bogert on bass and vocals (Vanilla Fudge, Cactus) and Willy Daffern on vocals (Captain Beyond, Gary Moore's G-Force, Truk) and it's irresistible. My Initial impression of this LP was of a Bad Company / Journey hybrid. The vocal phrasing throughout is very reminiscent of Steve Perry and we are treated to big multi-part vocal harmonies at every turn. However, not every track sits comfortably in that Bad Co / Journey pigeonhole. Only Cause features prominent harpsichord and skilfully orchestrated strings to conjure up a Beatlesque ballad. Heather has a West Coast white boy funk thing going on in a Doobie Brothers stylee. There are moments of flashy sophisticated AOR that border on fusion in Feel Free, and How Long features a tabla and piano intro and the brief but unmistakeable sound of Syndrums which serve to pinpoint the year of recording more accurately than carbon dating. Possibly the album highlight is Rosalie, not the Bob Seger track covered by Thin Lizzy, but a track that, if it lost the unnecessary strings, could sit comfortably on Gary Moore's Still Got The Blues album as it boasts a fantastic bluesy guitar tone, a rich, sultry vocal and warm, mellow bass. Lies rides along on an insistent rhythm that adds cowbell and twin kick drums to the mix in a mid-section where the bass and lead guitar go for each other's throats. Tim Bogert's bass playing is a joy to listen to throughout and I would have liked to hear it higher in the mix but, to his credit, as the best known and most successful member of Pipedream, he exercises admirable restraint in reigning in his ego.

Armageddon - Armageddon (1975)

Featuring the vocals and harmonica of Keith Relf, formerly of The Yardbirds and Renaissance, and the clattering, staccato drumming of Captain Beyond's Bobby Caldwell, this was always going to be a bit special, right? Damn right! Armageddon eschews the down-tuned guitars of Sabbath and the relentless tinnitus fuzz of Blue Cheer, and instead draws its heaviness from naggingly insistent basslines locked in to mesmerising, epileptic drumming and relentless, hypnotically repetitive Groundhog Day guitar riffs. Proceedings kick off in style with Buzzard's wah-wah assault and rhythmic groove coming on like the soundtrack to a chase scene in a blaxploitation movie jammed into existence by a bunch of hairy, white stoners. Silver Tightrope is a mellow, phased guitar journey on the astral plane with lyrical references to "the voices of the spheres" and "beings bathed in light" whilst the galloping rhythms, metallic guitar riff and tempo changes of Paths And Planes And Future Gains perfectly reflect the song's salvation-seeking lyrical content. Last Stand Before commences the flip side in hypnotic style, its mesmeric bassline designed to incite involuntary head nodding. Keith Relf's harmonica slugs it out with Martin Pugh's guitar to see the song out. The four-part Basking In The White Of The Midnight Sun moves from a brief instrumental passage (Warning Coming On) to another persistent guitar motif (Basking In The White Of The Midnight Sun) that demonstrates Armageddon's skill at taking up residence in a riff to provoke a near-hypnotic state in the listener. Part three of Basking..., a piece called Brother Ego, is a strutting riff and wah-wah showcase that yields to  Basking In The White Of The Midnight Sun (Reprise) which begins with more of Relf's harp before a dirty, fuzzed-up bass, shimmering cymbals and screeching guitar lead us back to the same intoxicating riff that hypnotised us in part two.

D,B,M&T - Fresh Ear (1970) 

Having started life as four-fifths of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, the four members set adrift by the departure of Dave Dee in 1969 opted to drop their British Invasion sunshine pop sound and form a new band that was an all together more grown-up proposition. You only have to take a look at the band portrait on the cover to see that the days of Carnaby Street duds and teenybopper appeal were over. Here was a group getting back to the country, following the example of The Beatles who had themselves looked to the austere, everyman anti-image of The Band for sartorial inspiration. The music on Fresh Ear complements the change in dress code, with an earthy, folk-inflected psych pop/rock sound that doffs its hat to the Revolver-and-beyond Beatles material as well as Simon & Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills & Nash. The Revolver meets Bookends vibe of Mr President is mugged by an out-of-nowhere Moog assault which is as out of place as a hard-on in a convent, but kind of works for that very reason. Too Much blends acoustic guitars,  a tough Graham Nash-esque vocal, three-part acapella vocal harmonies, a riveting bassline and up-front drums into a folksy C,S & N-inspired song. She Was A Raver chugs along on a fuzzed-up bassline and keeps the guitar buried deep in the mix until a rasping lead break is unleashed. A percussion interlude takes over until it, in turn, gives way to a snotty Pete Townshend-like riff. Sounds of the sea bookend Mystery Rider which turns out to be a nice little psych pop number with a tasty electric guitar riff underpinned by acoustic guitar and tambourine. Side 2 opens with the Beatles and Kinks influenced World. You could almost believe it was a Ray Davies lead vocal. Rain is dripping with vocal harmonies that you'd swear were The Beatles. This song is all about the voices, the instrumentation hardly registering until you notice how much the riff sounds like something that Status Quo were knocking out in their transition from psychedelic popsters to heads-down boogie merchants. And that, incidentally, is a good thing. Soukie is another folky acoustic number that acts as the calm before the storm that is Leader Of A Rock 'N' Roll Band, featuring hard guitar, a Lennon-esque vocal and a bassline that John Entwhistle would have been on nodding terms with. The production on this LP is warm, open and upfront, really bringing the material alive. I can't recommend this album highly enough.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Jellyfish ONE : Royal Mail NIL

I recently took delivery of Jellyfish's newly released Live At Bogart's double LP on beautiful blue vinyl, which, in common with Genesis' Calling All Stations album, consists of three playable sides and one purely decorative, laser-etched side.

The LP winged its way over from the States without a hitch only for the Royal Mail to deliver it to a random address half a mile from where I live. Fortunately, and by some strange quirk of fate, a fellow vinyl aficianado lives at said address and, after realising that it wasn't meant for him,  took it upon himself to hand deliver my LP. Perhaps this isn't a big deal if you live somewhere like Alaska where your closest neighbours are likely to be at least half a mile away, but within spitting distance of London, such neighbourly, not to mention honest, behaviour is at a premium. A huge 'thank you' then to Khaled for renewing my faith in human nature and reinforcing my low opinion of the postal service. I hope your Bee Gees LP has turned up!

If ever a band disintegrated before its time, then Jellyfish is that band. The list of my top ten favourite albums is pretty much set in stone with the same LPs maintaining their presence in the list if not their exact ranking, their places in the hierarchy being fluid and ever-shifting, but Jellyfish's Spilt Milk has long remained rooted to the top spot. After their debut album's statement of intent, the band delivered its very own Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band / Pet Sounds / A Night At The Opera with Spilt Milk and promptly imploded. The band took their musical cues from The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Queen and ran with them, creating an album that, amongst a knowing, bewildered and ever-growing cult following is regarded as an inexplicably ignored all-time masterpiece. Live At Bogart's, which documents in its entirety a gig on the Bellybutton tour at Long Beach, California on February 21st 1991, leaves me kicking myself that I never saw the band live. I was certainly aware of, and enjoyed, the first album when it was released thanks to a heads-up from a discerning mate (cheers Ash), but failed at the time to work out where the band fitted into the constant diet of third-rate hair metal crud that dominated my gig-going at the time. You live and learn!

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that there are tapes of Spilt Milk-era gigs being readied for release. Incidentally, music aside, the richness of the sound reproduction and the quality of the vinyl pressing of this live LP is gobsmackingly good. A big step-up from the somewhat muddled sound of the recent Spilt Milk vinyl reissue, also on Omnivore Records: one of those rare occasions when, whisper it, I would opt for CD over vinyl.