Prior to the end of the Sixties, Tommy Flanders main claim to fame was being the original lead vocalist with 'The Blues Project' whose debut album "Live At The Café Au Go-Go In New York" was released in early 1966 to great acclaim. And although he'd left the band at the time of release and only featured on 4 of the tracks, he'd made a name for himself to such a degree that he signed a solo deal with Verve. But Flanders then went off the radar for years - only to re-appear in late 1969 at the age of 25 with this unheralded and very un-bluesy debut album - "The Moonstone". To this day it remains a bit of a folk-rock singer-songwriter unknown, but as the liner notes to this 2007 Rev-Ola CD reissue on CR REV 206 (39:15 minutes) proudly heralds, here is an LP that deserves "...much overdue re-appraisal..." - and in parts, I agree.
With Flanders producing and Denis McCarthy arranging, "The Moonstone" was recorded in May 1969 in Los Angeles and featured BRUCE LANGHORNE (Electric Guitars), DICK ROSMINI (Acoustic & 12-String Guitars), JERRY SCHEFF (Bass) and MICHAEL BOTTS (Drums). The album was first released in the USA in late 1969 on Verve Forecast FTS-3075 (in Stereo Only) and wasn't released in the UK until February 1970 on Verve SVLP 6020 (reissued in 1972 on MGM Records 2353 027). For all accounts, its arrival went unnoticed on both sides of the pond and it didn't seem to trouble LP charts anywhere.
The album produced a lone US 7" single at the time of release - "The Moonstone" b/w "Between Purple And Blue" on Verve Forecast PB 3075. Rare copies even had the album artwork as a picture sleeve, but it tanked. There was a further attempt at 45-success in 1970 by pairing "Between Purple And Blue" with the non-album "First Time, Last Time" on MGM 14143, but again to no avail. Prior to these two issues, he'd even made a very rare single in 1967 called "Friday Night City" b/w "Reputation" on Verve 5064 - but again no joy. With regard to this CD reissue, it's a damn shame that these non-album sides (there's also album outtakes known to exist) weren't included as `bonus' tracks here, but alas...
Vocally Tommy Flanders is very similar to that other star 'The Blues Project' produced - Al Kooper - only there's also touches of Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin and even Dylan thrown in. The arrangements are very easy on the ear - it opens with the lovely "Since You've Been Gone" and your hit with a big plus - the superb sound quality. Remastered by NICK ROBBINS at London's Sound Mastering, he's done a gorgeous job - it's warm, clear and gives a real loveliness to the primarily acoustic ballads (the "Big Sur" song "Morning Misty Eyes" and the jaunty "Boston Girls" for example).
So why is the album forgotten - the truth is that it's not just melancholic in tone; it's only half good at it. Flanders wrote all the songs himself except "Morning Misty Eyes" which is co-written with Gabriel Mekler (worked with Etta James among others) - and many are nice, but not much more. However, I would argue that 3 tracks on the record are truly great and absolutely worth the price of your admission - "Blue Water Blue", "The Moonstone" and "She's My Love". The title track is the most inspired tune on the record - slightly trippy, it's instantly catchy and has turned up on cool compilations like Jon Savage's "Meridian 1970" (see separate review), while the finisher "She's My Love" (lyrics above) is undeniably beautiful (even if it does have some cruddy dialogue at the beginning and end of it).
This is a clever reissue on the part of Rev-Ola (a subsiduary of Cherry Red Records). It's not all genius of course, but the good stuff genuinely deserves your attention.
Check "The Moonstone" out - it's worth the effort...
PS: another very nice release in this series is the gorgeous "If The Jasmine Doesn't Get You...The Bay Breeze Will" by VINCE MARTIN (Fred Neil's old folk partner in the mid Sixties on Elektra). It's another folky gem rarity from 1969 (on Capitol Records) - and again - it has beautiful sound quality.