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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Refugees An Anthology of the Famous Charisma Label 1969-1978

So the question remains that the reader would like to ask me, ‘why in the hell would I want to buy a compilation when I’ve got some of favorite artists that were a part of my favorite label from the ‘70s?’ Well for the late Tony Stratton-Smith, he assembled Charisma Records and varied some bands either had success or a huge cult following in the underground circuit from it’s beginning in 1969 to the end of an era in 1978 until they were sold by Richard Branson’s label Virgin in 1983. Smith or Strat which was his nickname back then, was one of the chiefs to look for new talent in the London scenery during that time period in the late ‘60s. There are some great bands from the indie label of Charisma who have accomplished than any other fans of the music genre should really take notice of.
Tony Stratton-Smith was born in 1933 in Birmingham, England. He began to do journalism in the 1950s when his love of Sports came to him. One of his favorite sports was Football and he was working for Sports Magazine for a couple of years until the beginning of ‘60s where Music was calling for him. He was a band manager with bands including; Creation, The Nice, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and the prog-punks Van Der Graaf Generator. He tried to look for a label to sign these bands, but there was no luck. Then in 1970, he formed his own label, Charisma or “The Famous Charisma Label” and soon the label was born. That and this 3-CD anthology set consists of the tribute to where Stratton-Smith raging music from Rare Bird, Brian Davison, Alan Hull, Lindsifarne, and the comedy group, Monty Python to huge success. The title, Refugees An Anthology of the Famous Charisma Label sounds interesting to you? No? Maybe? Okay, a little bit. The first controversial number which begins the set of The Nice’s take of Leonard Bernstein’s 6-minute introduction to symphonic rock of America (Second Amendment) which was released as a single in 1968 before being banned at the Royal Albert Hall while keyboard maestro Keith Emerson burning an American flag set the audiences approval while it was a protest instrumental track against the Vietnam War. That said, almost everything here on the anthology compilation set is highly recommend, if you really admire the projects for Mark Powell since working on Label samplers for; Vertigo, Polydor, Decca, Harvest, Liberty/United Artists, Island, and now Pye/Dawn label which is going to be released in January, 2010. You have got to admit Powell does a lot of research and does a good job on his homework to searching his love of Prog labels to make everyone happy. You have some of the underground sounds of Jazz, Folk, and Experimental music sounds on disc one; Rare Bird’s eerie single Sympathy and Lindsifarne’s disturbing folk ballad Lady Eleanor, the quirky folk rock sounds of Topo D Bill’s Witchi Tai To while Heavy Jazz Fusion blues raging an homage to Bob Dylan and Bach with The Nice’s live version of Country Pie/Bradenburg Concerto No. 6, the sing-along comedic humor taste of Monty Python’s Spam Song and of course the controversial character dialogue fun of Mrs. N*****baiter, Genesis Tolkien-esque beauty of Looking For Someone, and Van Der Graaf Generator’s autobiographical background balladry based on Peter Hammill’s background with Refugees and an homage to George Martin with Theme One. All of these artists and bands just goes to show why they important to the label.
The second disc contains work from Charisma from 1970 to 1974 heavy duty music such as Hot Thumbs O’Riley which was lead vocalist Jim Pembroke of the Finnish jazz-prog fusion group, Wigwam. His bluesy soul take of Grass for Blades is very down to earth and dealing with the marijuana issue which I might be wrong on what the song is about.
Alongside Genesis, VDGG to name a few, you have some mind-boggling cats raging from folk from Alan Hull of Lindsifarne fame, Jack the Lad’s acoustic guitar country folk rocker homage to Fairport Convention’s Come All Ye with Why Can’t I Be Satisfied?
Capability Brown’s cover of Affinity’s I Am and So Are You is a funky breathtaking blues rocking number, Refugee which was a Post-Nice band featuring Lee Jackson, Brian Davison, and mad scientist of keyboardist Sweden’s own Patrick Moraz , of this freaky avant-garde freak-out fusionesque twist of Ritt Mickley is fucking shattering, whilst Clifford T. Ward does some calmness with the string quartet of Gaye, Keith Emerson did a jam session before ELP from the Music From Free Creek supergroup project with Mitch Mitchell and Chuck Rainey paying tribute to Eddie Harris with Freedom Jazz Dance that has a combination of Blues Hard Rock that would have made Jimi Hendrix enjoy it very much. Then the folk music becomes a dark and chambered hollow music with String Driven Thing’s sinister upbeat fiddle rocker homage to Darryl Way, Heartfeeder while Bo Hansson’s follow up to Lord of the Rings, Excursion with Complications is very much of a sequel to the Rings album but this time with a groovy twist of Goblin atmosphere setting to an Italian Horror film meets Spaghetti Western tuned big band swing as Peter Hammill closes the second set featuring guitarist Randy California of Spirit fame on this dalek beauty of hell with Red Shift.
The third disc covers the punk-prog bombast beauty and features lost classics like Hawkwind’s Space Rock homage to Herman Hesse with Steppenwolf, Peter Hammill’s glam-punk alter ego Rikki Nadir with a taste of the Sex Pistols as if they teamed up with VDGG with Nadir’s Big Chance, Virtuoso guitarist Steve Hackett of Genesis fame doing a classical guitar fantasy tale featuring Phil Collins on vocals with the lukewarm Star of Sirius, and Alan Parsons best known for his magnificent engineering work on Pink Floyd’s 1973 classic, Dark Side of the Moon, brings the Alan Parsons Project to a neo-classical background with the Cask of Amontillado. Other hands-down work featuring the Jazz Fusion project for Phil Collins with Brand X, Hawklords, Peter Gabriel, and Nik Turner’s Sphynx also appear to close up the album. The 3-CD set features an introduction liner note about the label by Mark Powell himself, photos of each band/artists that were a part of the Charisma family containing 46-page booklet, also ads of the albums, bands, raves, spring collection, and more. There’s more of the Charisma’s Mad Hatter tea party, even it’s been 41 years since Tony brought the label to bring it worth up to the table.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Catapilla - Catapilla

This 1971 release was the album that would make Miles Davis so proud of with Jazz Prog rockers Catapilla and their underground roots, helped with the soul sound vocal arranging of Anna Meek and Robert Calvert’s (not the member of Hawkwind, but a different Calvert) heavy sax solos. Seemingly to come out of the end of the ‘60s and out of the blue like a bat out of hell, in seriousness the band weren’t like the Mahavishnu Orchestra or Renaissance – their self-titled debut album was high voltage to make Catapilla’s West London sound for the Jazz Fusion throne of Gods and Goddess.
The band was formed in 1970, Catapilla was a seven piece band which featured Anna’s sister Jo in the line up before she left to form Julian Jay Savarin for Julian’s Treatment, the band performed at various clubs in which they got some attention including Patrick Meehan, who was a manager for Black Sabbath, was completely blown away and got them signed for a record label, Vertigo as the band came into the studio to record their first album. By now, it proves that there’s no holding back by performing 15 or 24-minute compositions that will make your head fucking spin. Even now, can you imagine a strange band name like Catapilla instead of Catapillar? Get the idea?
Catapilla’s debut album is one of the most innovative albums to come out of the underground world that is mind-blowing and powerful at the same time. But the album itself is shattering and beautiful. With an amazing 15-minute opening introduction of Naked Death, it features some sinister vocal arrangements done by Anna while the rest of the band throughout the whole composition, do a funky jazz groove. The sax is wailing and the guitar is doing a wah-wah solo while the bass and drums flow with beats per measure which seems very eerie and almost recorded in a dark and cavernous studio that hadn’t been used for a long time, but it still sounds fucking amazing almost like a glass that’s about to break and there’s no one to stop it. Alongside Naked Death, there are two short numbers that are straightforward and very hard rock. Tumbleweed is basically a dance number. Adding the touches of the Big Band-era almost as if Duke Ellington were alive he would have been a member with a jazz version of Led Zeppelin. Very good with a hard edge, its like nothing you’ve ever heard before in the music scene of the early ‘70s. Promises intersperses funky hard fusion with a wah-wah guitar work again along with the scariest vocals that Anna does that kind of peaks in with a dramatic midsection that is very almost like a marching beat that would make you have goosebumps all around you and then goes into a hard funkadelic beat to close the number. And if that wasn’t enough, it leaves room to close the album with the 24-minute arrangement for Embryonic Fusion, which was sampled by Psych and Underground Prog DJ and founder of Finders Keepers Records, Andy Votel for the Vertigo Mixed compilation, is a tour de force epic that goes from an opening bass line, saxes flying off the wall to an jazzy atmosphere that is similar to Colosseum’s Valentyne Suite. Beginning with Anna’s calm then shrieking vocals that are powerful and disturbing, you began to wonder what the hell is going on here. The lyrics are very interesting; ‘Living with me/a rose/into me/a cavernous waste/into me/a deserted shore/Into me/a thunderous cave.’ Almost like a score for an erotic suspense thriller.
After the release of the self-titled debut album, Catapilla went through one more various line up. After releasing Changes, the band decided to call it a day. It’s still a band worth listening to.

Locomotive - We Are Everything You See

Locomotive were something of a weird psychedelia symphonic band, no guitar, just bass, organ, drums, and keyboards which seems to go very well, but adding the vocals of Norman Haines and you got yourself and early beginning of classical rock music. They had the ingredients of psychedelic meets symphony rock combo with special powers to add the sounds of The Nice, Beatles Sgt. Pepper-era, and The Move.
As you can imagine right from the start from a huge sandwich, the results of their debut album, We Are Everything You See, were very odd – and it remains odd to this day. But it remains a collector’s item for any psychedelic nut. When the band released this unbelievable album in 1970, it didn’t sell a lot of copies and never got the attention it needed and was lost in the treasure of unheard classics. You may began to wonder that this and Locomotive were completely way ahead of their time. Using a brass section which featured the late Dick Heckstall-Smith of Colosseum, Chris Mercer, and Lynn Dobson along with a horn section that definitely brings the album’s house down, they rejoiced in the sound of that sound including, eerie lyrics, walking bass lines that were very fusion-like sound as an homage to Bootsy Collins, and cool drum patterns. Weird, difficult, post-apocalyptic, jazz fusion meets the Moody Blues meets The Nice might add it up. But maybe or maybe not, you are the judges ladies and gentlemen.
Whenever the music became too poppy or seemingly a rip off of Tommy or S.F. Sorrow, Locomotive’s music always bring a light to the end of the tunnel for a symphonic fusionesque rock opera. There are five centerpieces from this album that definitely caught me by surprise when I’ve first heard this album thanks to Lee Dorrian’s how to buyers guide on the Prog Psych albums to listen to before you die. The string quartet of the Overture opens the album as it segues into the pounding explosion of Mr. Armageddon mixing with a twisted organ solo, roaring brass section, and Jazz bass lines that almost came straight out of a Caravan album. More of the Jazz fusion homage in the beginning is the balladry turned big band psych of Now is The End, The End is When, featuring Mick Hincks explosive bass introduction that was almost a tribute to the Soul scene and paying tribute to a younger version of Bootsy Collins. The sinister Lay Me Down Gently is very eerie and disturbing that almost could have been a song for a mystery Hitchcock film or a Mario Bava film that would set the atmosphere of Groovy horror technique. Yet, one of the best from the album is the finale, Time of Light and Darkness. This song has a very jazzy upbeat tempo, but the most surprising moment of the number, features the Mellotron which creates a spacey ambient movement to the number which makes it a cool acid trip for a great way to get moving to the beat, probably seeing the true identity of Locomotive’s music as if to imagine that The Moody Blues and of course, Barclay James Harvest could follow up the albums arrangement to follow their symphonic inspirations or dare I say the Canterbury scene for Egg to be influenced by them.
After the release of their debut album, they released another single, Roll Over Mary, before calling it a day in 1971. Ahead of their time and lost beyond the infinite, Locomotive’s only debut album is a lost gem and way up there along with other lost classics including; Aphrodite’s Child 666, Arcadium Breathe Awhile, The Trip’s debut album, and Marsupilami’s gorefest conceptual rock opera Arena, But We Are Everything You See is the tour de force lost classic that you must buy before you pass away to see god in the heavenly sky.

Bigelf - Cheat the Gallows

How many newcomers of unbelievable reformations of Progressive Rock bands can you name? I bet you can name a few. I’ve praised some of the new bands like; Heart of Cygnus, Blood Ceremony, and Astra to name a few. But this band, holy shit! You definitely need to buy this album and play this motherfucker up to high voltage. It’s been a great year for reissues, new bands that are coming out of the woodwork and Bigelf is definitely one of them.
Among supporters including James Blunt, Linda Perry, Courtney Love, Alicia Keys, and Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, it is indeed a supporting approval of the future of Prog Rock’s circle has come with full electricity. Not only did Portnoy brought the band on the Progressive Nation tour in October of this year with Zappa Plays Zappa and Scale the Summit in the United States and Canada, but in Europe also which they are signed with Classic Rock Magazine’s independent label, Powerage and Linda Perry’s label, Custard.
It’s really a big push forward for them, but whether you call them; stoner metal, space rock, experimental rock, or progressive metal, you could definitely smell the spaghetti to accept the total mass retain of this four piece band from Los Angeles, California. It’s worth the carriage in your intention that Cheat the Gallows, their fourth album since forming in 1991 to pay homage to a prog-psych version of Deep Purple MK I & II-era, you can basically say that Damon Fox’s vocals are spot on and how it’s been a long road for them to being an underground band to supporters of the Prog Nation tour with Dream Theater. So let me get to the review. This is what is going on here with Cheat the Gallows that will take the listener to boldly go where no prog-head has gone before or beyond before for all prognuts to go crazy over them. And let me say this, their fourth album and me getting into Bigelf, this album here, doesn’t upset me one bit. Add the candy bars of ‘70s rock with; T. Rex, Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, and Yes, and you got yourself and full weekday and weekend to chew over which would make Damon Fox a powerful vocal mastermind almost looking like a psychedelic version of the Mad Hatter. But there’s more to put the quarters in the video game machine in the 11 track list of the album’s independent masterpiece.
Ambient and Atmospheric sounds of Led Zeppelin battling it out with King Crimson-esque enthusiastic beats, frequently to the scenery of a early ‘70s glam rock sound of Slade and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust-influential power chord and riffs in the wall of progressive hard rock that, most of the up and coming bands, would make Bigelf sounding like endeavors and masters of the universe. But their influential backgrounds makes a lot of huge loops, almost becoming a part of the New Wave of Progressive Metal, to offer a sensational beauty with Cheat the Gallows which would make Bigelf very goddamn happy! The carnival-circus opening rocker is becoming rich and famous with The Gravest Show on Earth and battling it out with the epic of Rush colliding with ELP and Deep Purple on Hydra and the neo-classical turned twisted of Counting Sheep and then, going balladry in a psychedelic twist with the eerie single Money, It’s Pure Evil, sinister and heavy with the Hammond organ to explosive hardness tribute to Jon Lord with Blackball while Superstar and The Evils of Rock & Roll deals with humoric views on being a rich god in an homage to King as the 5-minute closer Demon Queen of Spider is almost an eerie psychedelic sci-fi soundtrack that sounds similar to Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter meets Psychedelic raga meets flaming hard rock that is almost an alternate soundtrack for of a Star Trek episode which completes Cheat the Gallows in a roller-coaster ride of hard psychedelic progressive metal, a futuristic rock opera in a beautiful style in a lukewarm existence. No bullshit, Bigelf are absolutely motherfucking amazing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I'm Back!

Hey Everyone, Zack here. Just to let everyone know I hope everyone had a great Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah holiday this year and getting ready to get some champagne for the New Year as we enter a new year in 2010. I've got some album reviews to get ready for the blog site. Some you might be familiar or suprised of a band that you've not heard before. But stay tuned to this site this coming January of 2010. A couple of reviews will be up on January.
A little spoiler to keep you busy on what I have to review;

Locomotive - We Are Everything You See
Arcadium - Breathe Awhile
Clear Blue Sky - Clear Blue Sky
Refugees: A Charisma Anthology 1969-78
Czar - Czar
The Nice - Remasters

Keep on the look out and have a Happy New Year!


Monday, December 7, 2009

Blonde on Blonde - Rebirth

While the underground scene that was becoming a swinging set in London throughout the sixties, and could have been considered either psychedelic or progressive, few of them had a less of a surprising sound no other than Blonde on Blonde. Their music wasn’t stadium or arena rocking sound, but it was original rather than playing Dungeons and Dragons or a copy of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Taken their name from Bob Dylan’s landmark album in 1966, they were formed in 1967 in the music scene of Newport, South Wales when they originated as a Blues band, but from various members of the band and becoming a five-piece helped them move away from their own roots into more psychedelic and even folky experimentations to forge into the sound of music.
No other psychedelic band sounded different, but with the release of their second album, Rebirth, released in 1970 from the Ember label and now with the indie label, Fantastic Voyage to give it an astonishing reissue to end the year of 2009, is one of the best examples of both their magnified and stunning sound from their own musical background. The reissue album features new liner notes including two from the late Tommy Vance and notorious Rolling Stone critic John Mendelsohn talking about the praises about this lost masterpiece and featuring the single version of Circles as a bonus track to make your mouths watery.
Rebirth begins with Castles in the Sky, one of the most lukewarm atmospheric sounds of a 15th century English storytelling turning into a psychedelic dreamland machine with the music section that is coming straight from the minds of Procol Harum. Broken Hours and Heart without a Home are simply love songs setting the scenery of the Hippie Movement and the disastrous Vietnam War; Time is Passing and the 12-minute epic Colour Questions, one a tribute to Arthur Lee and Love while the other is a middle-eastern style twist of the Doors featuring a sinister guitar laying fretwork that sets the boundaries throughout the magnum opus; Circles is an eerie number with an acid rock style that will make you feel very stoned to access; November, a heavy Folk Psychedelic Rocker to Tim Buckley and Jim Morrison; and the finale You’ll Never Know Me/Release, a keyboard layered song that shows the band singing about renewing to their dearest Mother. In the last song, you can definitely tell that the band were wearing clothes that were very much Science-Fiction. All of the pieces coming together as one, in the piece of all this is renewing the world and building a better life for the human race, living a new life and seeing what lies ahead of them for the future while Release had a very Floyd-like ending with the Piano and the Acoustic Guitar setting the mood of a Brand New Day as it flourishes to give it that surprising ending up towards the heavenly sky. You get the general idea, Blonde on Blonde’s music was more of a psychedelic progressive pop rock sound of the early ‘70s and very quiet and calm, turning into Love for two-minutes and Cressida for seven-minutes.
But Rebirth wasn’t just about music. The vocal arrangements of Gareth Johnson along with the drumming techniques of Les Hicks are masterminded and evocative resemblance of an early Freddie Mercury and Ringo Starr. Guitarist Dave Thomas, who wrote the liner notes 10 years ago said of Rebirth: “I think you can hear that contrast in the music itself: a mixture of focused energy and laid-back calm. It was a reflection of the way we lived and worked. We all came from a heavily industrialized Welsh seaport that was closely surrounded by mountains and wild romantic countryside; it was the contrast that inspired us."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Taking a huge break

Now you may ask, where did Zack go? Well, I've been busy getting ready to take the Finals coming up next week. Now I might pop up again to come up with prog reviews for a little bit this December. But what's going to happen, I'm going to take a little hiatus break for the Christmas Vacation coming up and for New Year's Eve. So right now I'm listening to the reissue of Blonde On Blonde's Rebirth album, so keep your eyes open on the review. It'll pop up to the blog site. Sorry about the delay, but I will be back for 2010 to write more reviews.

See you on the Dark Side,