`Pearls Before Swine' and `Balaklava', both by the Tom Rapp lead group, Pearls Before Swine, are, like The Doors first two albums, cut from the same `acid folk' cloth and are both responsible for establishing Rapp as a cult artist of the first order.
I `discovered' `Pearls Before Swine' in my Fugs period when I sought out other artists distributed on ESP disk. The item which cemented my devotion to Rapp was the last track on `Balaklava', being the brief J. R. R. Tolkien poem laying out the story of the rings of power from `Lord of the Rings'. This was during the second of three waves of Tolkien popularity when `The Hobbit' and `The Lord of the Rings' were first published in paperback.
On looking at Rapp's biography in the notes to these two disks, I am wondering why Rapp did so poorly in comparison to his near folk singing songwriter contemporary, Bob Dylan. Both are of about the same age and both were born and raised in the far northern central US. And, both latched onto the protest of the 1960s as their primary subject.
It's probably not all that difficult, really. Dylan had an iconic name, his record company was Columbia, his producer was John Hammond, he effectively established himself as the successor to Woody Guthrie, and he performed widely in some of New York City's most famous folk clubs. Against that kind of momentum, it's easy to see how Dylan even outstripped Guthrie's own son in popularity. And that doesn't even touch on the fact that Dylan wrote great songs. Oh, and Dylan didn't sing with a lisp.
Getting back to Rapp, his songwriting is good enough to get early attention, but he and his group also rely on just a few too many gimmicks more at home on ESP disk than on a Columbia release. `Balaklava', for example, has three short tracks dedicated to very old recordings of survivors from the battle of Balaklava which is most famous for the ill-fated charge of the light brigade. Even their performance of Leonard Cohen's `Suzanne' is something of a cliché, as the song was done by just about everyone after Judy Collins' initial performance.
In spite of all these things which detract from these albums, I am very happy to have these 1960's relics on CD so I can preserve my vinyl copies in good condition. I recommend these to anyone interested in the major cult classics from the `60's and early `70's popular music.