I have seen reviews of this CD heralding the 49th Parallel as the best psychedelic band Canada produced. They may well have been Calgary's finest but in my humble opinion this body of work has nothing to compare with the best of the Paupers, Collectors, Plastic Cloud, Reign Ghost, Christmas or Bent Wind. To put it bluntly the 49th Parallel is a combination of American psychy pop and British freakbeat with nothing that could be described as full blown psychedelia, or musical innovation.
From that you might be thinking that this is shaping up to be a bad review for the boys from cattle town, but that isn't the case at all. Let's simply judge them in terms of what they did rather than thinking that perhaps they should have been doing something else.
The longest track clocks in at 4.21: there are two others over 3 minutes and the rest are under 3 minutes, so no extended instrumental workouts. Thankfully, there are 11 bonus tracks included in this Pacemaker release which brings the CD up to a reasonable length. I should also mention that there is a nice booklet with lots of information about the history of the band. Short the tracks may be, but virtually every one is a mini time capsule of what the summer of '67 was all about. Living in northern England, I turned 16 in May of that year and spent much of the summer glued to my little transistor radio which was tuned almost exclusively to Caroline North during the day and Caroline South and London at night when the reception improved.
Had any of the jocks possessed these recordings I have no doubt they would have received endless airplay, been turned into hits and made stars out of the 49th Parallel. The likes of "Eye to Eye", "Missouri", "Lazerander Filchy", "Magician", "Twilight Woman", "Labourer", "Good time Baby", "I Need You" and "Citizen Freak", indeed more or less every track on this collection, would have fitted seamlessly into the pirates' play lists. Also, note that I am talking daytime play lists not John Peel's Perfumed Garden Show.
Of course the problem was that only the first few singles were released in '67 and by the time the album finally came out more than a year down the track the music world had moved on and bands were recording one song per side of an album.
Forty-odd years later the fact that the original album was released 18 months too late really doesn't matter, and if a song takes you back to the summer of '67 even though it wasn't released until '68 or even '69 it's no big deal. Unfortunately it did matter back in the late '60's when new musical boundaries were being crossed virtually every week, or so it seemed. Even a few months delay in an album's release could mean the difference between critical acclamation or contempt for being "out of time". Regrettably, when the 49th Parallel's album came out it was seen as "last year's model" and condemned to life in record store bargain bins with many other forgotten gems that were destined to become collectors' items.
If it's mind fry hard psych or extended jamming you are looking for give this one a miss, but if you enjoy great psych pop songs, expertly delivered with tight musicianship, fine vocals and some killer short fuzz guitar breaks, then the 49th Parallel needs to be in your collection.