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L. T. M. Liechti "Len Liechti" (Bath, UK)

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A Teenage Opera: Original Soundtrack Recording
A Teenage Opera: Original Soundtrack Recording
Price: 9.99

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, rewarding and confounding . . ., 10 April 2010
Despite enjoying greater artistic freedom than in any period before or since, a handful of late sixties rock composers strove to push the creative boundaries beyond what even the industry's patiently elastic limits would accept, resulting in the several great "lost albums" of the period. Brian Wilson's SMiLE finally emerged complete and as intended in 2006, its compositional brilliance diminished only by the uber-perfect new digital recordings lacking the hazy beauty of those original analogue tracks that had appeared piecemeal on Smiley Smile and Surf's Up . Pete Townshend saw the bulk of the material from his impossibly ambitious Lifehouse concept become the splendid Who's Next album and several non-album singles from around 1970-71. And Mark P Wirtz's A Teenage Opera, a set of nostalgic vignettes of Edwardian village life that predated Ray Davies's similar Village Green Preservation Society, was belatedly released in 1996 as a pseudo-film soundtrack described by reissue company RPM as "as near to the original concept as can be assembled with the surviving recorded works".
RPM's A Teenage Opera is simultaneously fascinating, rewarding and confounding. Wirtz agreed to RPM assembling the album from his original 1967 recordings, allowing the use of the original title and enjoying having his name liberally spread over it, but has since disparaged it as a fake: an opportunistic collector's item comprising completed tracks intended for the Opera, incomplete demos likewise, and similar but completely unrelated tracks produced during the same period. Given that some of the latter were subsequently issued by Wirtz as singles under his own and other real and spurious artists' names, and that at least two tracks which are known to have been intended for the Opera haven't survived, his assertion is probably true. The Opera's original intended running order remains a mystery.
The music itself is no less enigmatic. The three amazingly ambitious tracks released as single A-sides can be considered as either masterpieces of whimsical psychedelia or as overproduced pop schmaltz, depending on your taste (and whether you recoil from dense orchestration and kiddies' choirs). The first such release, "Grocer Jack", credited to Keith West and retitled "Excerpt From A Teenage Opera" to whet the public's appetite for the rest of the project, was an unexpected UK pirate radio hit; the other two, "Sam" and "(He's Our Dear Old) Weatherman", stiffed totally, leading to EMI's final withdrawal of support and the shelving of the intended album and animated musical film. Three other songs surfaced with justification on Tomorrow's eponymous album, Keith West and Steve Howe having contributed substantially to the Opera project. Of the instrumentals, most might appear at first exposure to be the corniest of muzak, but intent listening reveals an underlying compositional quality and deft arrangements comparable to Morricone's incidental film music of the same period. If you're into the "toytown" end of psych and 1960s film scores and the historical misadventure of the project appeals to you, you'll enjoy this album; if not, you'll probably be happier with the more esoteric complexity of SMiLE.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 2, 2011 11:04 PM GMT

Chariot Rising
Chariot Rising
Price: 23.10

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A real curiosity for psych aficionados, 28 Dec 2009
This review is from: Chariot Rising (Audio CD)
The sudden arrival of British psychedelia threw up some real oddities, but surely none odder than Dantalian's Chariot. Like a few other established acts - the Beatles, the Stones, Donovan, the Pretty Things and even the homely Hollies - the experienced music industry players comprising Zoot Money's Big Roll Band drastically changed tack to embrace the new counterculture, yet none did it with such apparent commitment, nor yet produced such a questionably genuine psychedelic product. The extensive psych credentials of "Madman Running Through The Fields" rest on its stunning sound effects - whooshing backwards cymbals, floating flutes, rippling textured guitar figures - as much as on its lysergic lyrics, but underneath all this is a tautly-constructed pop song, not one of your rambling improvs a la "Interstellar Overdrive". Of the other songs, some follow the contemporary British whimsical personal-narrative psych groove: "Fourpenny Bus Ride" and "Four Firemen" could have come from the Kinks or S.F. Sorrow-era Pretty Things. Others seem purely ersatz psychedelia; the instrumental "This Island" sounds like a Morricone spaghetti-western outtake lugubriously decorated with Andy Somers' electric sitar, whilst "Sun Came Bursting Through My Cloud" is a winsome acoustic pop song penned, along with two other tracks, by the staff writing team of Tony Colton and Roy Smith. Only the thunderous "World War Three" really approaches "Madman" as a psych/pop tour-de-force. And although the musicianship is excellent throughout, Zoot's brassy, bluesy vocals simply don't fit the psych template. Good quality stuff, then, and good curiosity value, but IMHO dubiously psychedelic.

Grateful Dead From The Mars Hotel
Grateful Dead From The Mars Hotel
Price: 20.92

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the Dead's best kept secret, 3 Dec 2009
For some reason I came late to the Grateful Dead. A perceptive workmate introduced me to Workingman's Dead and American Beauty in the mid-70s, and loaned me their then latest release, which subsequently became a lifelong favourite.

The eight songs here all feature taut songwriting and, in contrast with the legendarily loose nature of the band's live shows, gratifyingly tight performances. All would lend themselves to funky stretchout treatment on stage, yet benefitted from the distillation necessary to fit them into a studio collection. Jerry Garcia still finds space to weave his magical, sparkling lines among the verses, and the effortless tightness of the three-man rhythm section (only Bill Kreutzmann on drums here) surmounts the oft-shifting rhythms. Keith Godchaux provides a new versatility on keys - synth, harpsichord and acoustic piano as well as trademark organ - and his wife Donna gives a new soprano edge to the harmonies so saccharine-sweet on American Beauty.

From the opening jaunty shuffle "U.S. Blues", which captured hilariously the cynical yet defensive national attitude following Watergate, to the brooding Dylanesque closer "Ship Of Fools", there really are no weak tracks here. For me the standouts include Garcia and Hunter's irresitably funky "Loose Lucy" which gallops along on one of Captain Trips's finest riffs, and Bob Weir's highly enjoyable reinvention of the old Motown standard "Money" as "Money Money", in which the avarice is transferred to his unidentified lady friend and the original riff neatly subsumed into a new rolling chord sequence and broken time signature. Phil Lesh finally attains composer status with the hazy, summery "Unbroken Chain" and the lilting "Pride Of Cucamonga" on which guest pedal steelist, Cactus's John McFee, provides tremendous accompaniment to Lesh's earnest vocal. The most gifted singer in the band is of course Garcia, and my personal favourite is the rollicking "Scarlet Begonias" which forefronts the Captain's delightful plaintive tenor either side of a concise, exemplary Garcia solo. Oh, yes, and the album title refers to the nickname of an itinerants' hostel around the corner from the studio.

This album could be the Dead's best kept secret. Go discover.

Blues From Laurel Canyon
Blues From Laurel Canyon
Price: 6.32

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably the best John Mayall album in the world . . ., 3 Aug 2009
John Mayall is of course the Godfather Of British Blues, first recording in 1965 and still touring and recording prolifically today, well into his seventies. My favourite of his many albums is this outstanding offering from 1968, which is both a collection of original blues-based songs with contemporary psych overtones and also a diary in music of his three-week vacation in Los Angeles that summer: either a song cycle or a concept album, according to your own definitions, but certainly unique among the slew of straightforward blues albums being produced by white performers on both sides of the Atlantic at the time.

Starting with the roar of a jet swinging across the stereo plane - a device cheekily lifted from the Beatles' White Album - the record chronicles Mayall's discovery of the heady delights of late sixties LA, his first sojourn in Laurel Canyon where he would later make his permanent home, his stay as a guest of Canned Heat with whom Mayall struck up a strong and lasting rapport - later, both Harvey Mandel and Larry Taylor would leave Heat to join Mayall's band - and, in considerable detail, his mission to get laid. It ends with a rueful recollection of the brief love affair and a moody anticipation of returning home to the UK.

In fact this is a collection of many moods, from joyous exploration of glamourous new surroundings, to irritable self-examination following a bust-up with an unidentified companion, to deep and intimate relations in the bedroom. The changes of mood are emphasised by Mayall's constant switches of instrumentation - he was already virtuosic on piano, Hammond and mouth-harp and capable on guitar - and by the careful segue of each track into the next, plus the pitching of each song in a different key. Every one of the twelve keys of the chromatic scale, except F#, is used (try playing blues in Db or Ab, if you will).

Backup is provided by the rock-solid rhythm section of drummer Colin Allen and 18-year-old bassist Stephen Thompson, while guitarist Mick Taylor, on his final studio outing with Mayall prior to joining the Stones, wields his Les Paul always tastefully and often excitingly throughout. Production by Decca's veteran producer Mike Vernon is commendable for those eight-track days.

My standout tracks are Ready To Ride, on which Mayall's overactive hormones fuel some explosive harp work; The Bear, whose intro pays tribute to a well-known Heat riff before segueing into a delightful piano-led country blues dedicated to Bob Hite; and Miss James, in which the Hammond reels through the jazzy changes in best Jimmy Smith style. But individual tracks cannot do justice to this album; for best effect it demands to be heard in sequence at a single sitting. Highly recommended.

Dream (Symphonion Dream)
Dream (Symphonion Dream)
Offered by jim-exselecky
Price: 7.45

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Country-psych masterpiece, 13 July 2009
Symphonion Dream was the last album recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band before Jim Ibbotson left and the band began to move away from its traditional jug band/bluegrass roots. The big question is why in 1975, when the rest of the First Division of country-rock practitioners - the Eagles, Poco, Souther-Hillman-Furay et al - had been travelling for some time in the direction of simplified, stadium-friendly AOR, the NGDB went the other way and produced what I think is the best, and surely the quirkiest, psychedelic country album ever. The tunes are the band's usual mix of originals and highly personalised covers; however this time the tunes are wrapped up in a sonic kaleidoscope of sound effects, seaside amusement park soundtracks, studio backchat, disconcerting segues, fade-in/fade-out interludes and odd instrumentation. So many familiar tunes, so many unfamiliar and occasionally unsettling treatments.

The album is bookended front-and-back by the eerie screech of an Aeolian harp, with a lonely tolling bell as prologue, finally fading out to the silvery chiming of the Symphonion - a large Victorian musical automaton sounding like an orchestra of musical boxes. The original songs feature some truly offbeat ideas, with John McEuen picking Flamenco on solo banjo - perhaps influenced by Bernie Leadon's banjo opus Journey Of The Sorcerer on the Eagles' One Of These Nights - and hammering the same banjo to produce steel band-like tones on the calypsoish Joshua Come Home. The more conventional tracks move smoothly from Hey Good Lookin', played Bob Wills-style with Linda Ronstadt duetting Ibbotson on vocal, via a roistering Texas honky-tonk rendering of JD Souther's The Moon Just Turned Blue, to the straight-ahead country-rock, all Telecasters blazing, of Bayou Jubilee. However perhaps more memorable are the swampy, drone-laden treatment of that hoary old standard, The Battle Of New Orleans, replete with coda of marching drums and bagpipes, and the thumping bluegrass version of the Everlys' maudlin (All I Have To Do Is) Dream, which revisits the Dirts' version of Mike Nesmith's Some Of Shelley's Blues. Musicianship and harmonies throughout are as accomplished as we've come to expect from these guys, with McEuen's fiery five-string banjo usually well to the fore, and production by Bill McEuen (any relation?) is faultless.

Exactly what the Dirts were trying to achieve with this album escapes me - perhaps a belated country-rock Sergeant Pepper? There is no conceptual theme as such, though the first four tracks on what was the second side seem to purposefully convey an atmosphere of the southern California coastline. Whatever: I enjoy eclectic albums that display a multiplicity of styles within, or even across, genres. This one never escapes being country-rock, but boy, does it stretch the boundaries.

Eagle Annual: The Best of the 1950s Comic
Eagle Annual: The Best of the 1950s Comic
by Daniel Tatarsky
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.09

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than a curate's egg . . ., 22 Jun 2009
I'm not surprised that this book has produced such wildly polarised opinions (see earlier reviews). This is because it approaches a popular subject, and one much published upon over the last thirty years, from a new and original angle, but unfortunately makes one or two easily avoidable bloopers in doing so.

This book is an Eagle scrapbook, nothing more, nothing less, and as such offers a novel perspective on this much-anthologised subject. Earlier Eagle-based publications have concentrated on the picture-strip stories, and on the premier features such as the centre-page cutaway schematics. Readers lamenting the relegation of the strips to single-page tasters in this book should check out the wonderful Hawk reprints of the complete adventures of Dan Dare from 1950 to around 1964, especially in the first editions which were produced full-size using the original published pages, unedited, and also the beautifully-offered strips in Hawk's one-off editions of Fraser of Africa, Harris Tweed, Riders Of The Range and PC49. The strips and the best features from the weekly also grace Marcus Morris's original The Best Of Eagle from 1977, and Denis Gifford produced The Best Of Eagle Annual in 1989 which offers a similar mixture taken from Eagle Annuals, 1951-59. All of these are generally available in used condition on Amazon or elsewhere.

What the present volume does offer, for the first time, is a flavour of all the other bits and pieces that made Eagle what it was, especially in the early years: the educational titbits, the news and sporting items, the puzzles and quizzes, the competitions, and, yes, those adverts. As a hardcore Eagle reader from around 1955 to around 1962 - aged 6 to 13 - these more humble items of course went right over my head when compared to the highly-coloured derring-do of Dare, Luck and Jeff Arnold. But today they present a fascinating social document of young-boy culture from that decade which now seems a world away, and for that very reason are most welcome.

Perhaps Mr Tatarsky's mistake is to include any pages from the great strips at all, especially as these are so freely available elsewhere. Maybe he should have offered us "The Rest Of Eagle"? However not including them would make this a severely specialist publication, and, after all, sales figures do matter. Hence readers should accept what is here for what it is, enjoy it in that spirit, and look to the other books listed above for the more monumental Eagle achievements.

There are other issues. Although the careworn cover simulation has a certain charm, the hideous mock foxing effect on the pages inside is a big mistake, and considerably cheapens the presentation rather than giving it atmosphere. It is to be hoped that this technique will not be used in the forthcoming 1960s companion volume. The title "Eagle Annual" is misleading as this is a compendium from the periodical itself, not from the annuals. And certainly the reprographic process used to reproduce the pages has resulted in some blurry images, surely avoidable in these days of high-tech scanners and printers.

However, putting all this aside, there is plenty in this relatively inexpensive volume to fascinate all men of a certain age who hanker after the nostalgia of the 'fifties, when the appearance of Eagle brightened up every Tuesday in austerity Britain. It will be interesting to see what the 1960s volume looks like when it appears, as Eagle changed greatly with the departures of Frank Hampson and Marcus Morris, and sadly not for the better.

The Yardbirds Ultimate!
The Yardbirds Ultimate!

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ultimate? Certainly, 16 Jun 2009
This review is from: The Yardbirds Ultimate! (Audio CD)
Words such as "ultimate" and "essential" frequently appear in the titles of single-artist compilations, many of which turn out to offer neither the "ultimate" nor the "essential" canons of their works. In the case of this excellent-as-ever Rhino release, the title is completely justified. A better collection than this of this much-anthologised group's catalogue is unlikely ever to surface.

This two-CD, 52-track set covers all the periods of this truly progressive British sixties group: the orgasmic R&B club years, the unsettling search for pop chart stardom, the blissed-out trip through psychedelia and the early moves towards the thunderous blues-rock which became Led Zep. Indeed, the different periods are all highlighted in the track listing, which discerns the Georgio Gomelsky, Simon Napier-Bell and Peter Grant eras. The ragged and inadvisable partnership with Mickie Most is also well documented.

And documentation is the name of the game: the included 56-page booklet is of the highest order, with numerous well-reproduced photographs, a concise yet entertaining band history from an American perspective and excellent track summaries by the late Cub Koda, who does a job for the Yardbirds comparable to that of Andrew Sandoval for the Monkees. The splendid production quality is continued in the heavy slipcase and twin library cases for the discs.

I won't dwell too long on the contents, as the track list speaks for itself, but to highlight a few items: the live rendition of Smokestack Lightning is surely the best white-boy garage band blues performance ever committed to record; Beck's Jeff's Boogie is the craziest and most accomplished spoof on Les Paul's playing you're ever likely to hear - and no sped-up tape effects required, either; Happenings Ten Years Time Ago is perhaps the best psych single ever, even beating Dantalion's Chariot's wondrous Madman Running Through The Fields. There are even a few turkeys deliberately included, which make for interesting, if less inspiring listening: the turgid single in Italian (why?), Questa Volta, and Relf's unnecessary cover of Ha Ha Said The Clown with Rick Nielsen (yes, that one) on organ (really!).

As for those three guitarists, it's Beck's stellar contributions throughout his tenure with the Yardbirds that strengthen the case for him as the most inventive and gifted guitarist of the era. Clapton's early playing comes across as more diffident and often shaded by the ferocious harp work of Keith Relf, while the offerings of the erstwhile session player Page sometimes come across as rather too tasteful, the full-blown gutsy renditions of the Zep era only occasionally starting to surface.

In my opinion, again, the Yardbirds were probably the second most influential band of the sixties, after those Moptops - and that influence went well beyond the contributions of their three stellar guitarists. Notwithstanding the obvious limitations of the vocalist and the solid, workmanlike qualities of the other three band members, the quality and energy of their records and of their live act were clearly contagious. Cub Koda describes in detail how the Yardbirds inspired, more than any other act, the American garage bands of the mid-sixties; how these lesser souls achieved local status in relation to the quality of their covers of Heart Full Of Soul and Over, Under, Sideways, Down. His summaries of the tracks are social literature in themselves - never have I read descriptions containing so much enthusiasm and sheer love for their subject.

All in all one of the best "best of's" I've ever encountered, and unreservedly recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 20, 2010 9:39 PM GMT

The Street Giveth... and the Street Taketh Away
The Street Giveth... and the Street Taketh Away

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best album of 1968?, 5 April 2009
I first bought this 1969 release on Polydor vinyl the following year when I saw a copy for fifteen shillings in a bargain bin in Woolworth's and noticed that it had "produced by Jimi Hendrix and Cat Mother" on the cover. I'd also heard the track Marie on John Peel's radio show on Radio One, and been impressed by its bittersweet theme and clever production. On the basis of these two recommendations I handed over the fifteen bob. Well, this tentative bargain turned out to be, IMHO, one of the best rock albums, not just of 1968, which is itself saying something, but EVER, and remains to this day my favourite pop/rock album of all time.

Despite its quality, and despite the celebrity co-production credit, it sold only modestly in the US and hardly at all in the UK, hence its appearance in Woolies' bargain bin. It's since been re-released twice in CD format, probably just for Hendrix completists (being the only album ever officially known to have been produced by Jimi for another artist), both times in very small quantity production runs, and I was lucky enough to score a copy of the second (2003) CD release whilst it was current and therefore available at a sensible price.

The five unknown musicians, all vocalists, all writers and all multi-instrumentalists to session musician standard, produce a string of self-penned songs in a breathtaking variety of styles, from funky riff-rock (Can You Dance To It) through tramping Steeleye-style electric folk (Boston Burglar), sixties Baroque (Marie) and tongue-in-cheek revivalist rock'n'roll (Good Old Rock'N'Roll: the medley covered by The Dave Clark Five) to string-laden hippy-dippy epic (Bramble Bush) and swamp-tinged, chilled-out instrumental jam (Track In A). Musicianship, vocals and production are faultless throughout.

When the original album came out the track listing on the sleeve omitted the three final tracks from side 2, namely Bramble Bush, Probably Won't and Track In A (Nebraska Night). Instead, the seven components of the Good Old Rock'N'Roll medley were credited as separate tracks. Oddly, the CD release, with completely redesigned packaging, repeated this mistake. Rest assured, the three aforementioned tracks are all present on the CD as they were on the original vinyl.

Pending a further CD re-release, if one ever happens, copies are now available only rarely and at collector prices. However, if you happen to chance on a used copy at a sensible price, don't hesitate: snap it up. You won't regret it.

Ronnie Wood Anthology: The Essential Crossexion
Ronnie Wood Anthology: The Essential Crossexion
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: 23.95

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sideman Serenade? Handle with care, 25 Feb 2009
Ron Wood has been a part of the British rock scene for so long - almost half a century! - that a comprehensive overview of his work has been long overdue. Here it is at last, but be warned, it may disappoint some listeners. It did me.

I originally went looking for a simple compilation of Woody's solo album work, but this is the nearest I could find. There are two discs, the first being a compendium of Woody's published solo work and the second a collection of his work as a featured band member from the Birds of 1965 to the Stones of the late 70s.

The overwhelming impression from the first disc is that, like so many other great sidemen, when Woody takes centre stage the results are less than classic, and in fact rather underwhelming. A versatile but not exceptional guitarist, his singing voice is thin and limited in range, his song compositions mostly rather prosaic and harmonically predictable, and his studio recordings somewhat flat and unexciting. The only real exception is the live cut "Seven Days" with Booker T & the MGs, which swings with real venom.

The second disc is more interesting. The Birds and Creation tracks are pretty much standard early Freakbeat fare, but things start to get cosmic when Woody gets to play bass behind Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart. What a band that was! But any real sixties rock aficionado will already have these classic Jeff Beck Band recordings. The well-chosen Rod Stewart/Faces tracks are also value for money, with Woody's slide and boogie guitar the perfect foil to Rod's saw-edged vocals, but the two Stones cuts are pretty much standard seventies Stones fare, included here because Woody gets a rare shared writing credit on them with the Glimmer Twins.

Post-production on the discs is faultless and the liner booklet is excellent, featuring Woody's own commentaries and artwork.

However I can't help feeling that, unless you're a completist, this compilation is not essential collection material. It's been said that any great band is more than the sum of its parts, and that any one part rarely manages to excel alone. So often true! Great sideman, less than great solo star. That's our Woody.

Route 66: Season One - Complete Collection [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Route 66: Season One - Complete Collection [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Martin Milner

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Brit's view of an American TV icon, 2 Sep 2008
I purchased this collection as a result of an ongoing fascination with post-war, pre-Beatles American culture and particularly with the almost mythical Route 66. First thing to point out to the uninitiated is that, despite its evocative title, the series was shot on locations all over the US but nowhere on Route 66 itself! Which doesn't stop it being a classic road-trip document: as the sleeve note says, it portrays an America that no longer exists - the cars, the highways, the towns, the people. I won't describe the casting or plots as these are well documented elsewhere (start with Wikipedia, if you will). What I will highlight is that it represents a landmark in TV drama, mainly due to its pioneering social sensibilities. Hence, even though its production values are very much of its time (monochrome 4/3 pictures, contrasty lighting, overdramatic soundtrack and camera angles, etc.), it has a dramatic depth which we take for granted with modern TV drama but which was very new almost 50 years ago. When I purchased it I failed to notice that it was Region 1 (NTSC) only, so I guess I'm fortunate that it plays here in UK on my elderly LG DVD player which must, I guess, cater for formats other than Region 2 (PAL). This may explain why the pictures are a trifle fuzzy and the sound likewise, although this may also be due to remastering from a very early (1960) videotape source - I'm not sure whether it was originally recorded on videotape or film stock. In any case my purchase price of GBP 17.99 represents great value for 30 50-minute episodes of vintage American TV drama, and if I could be sure that the picture and sound quality were better on a dedicated Region 1 player I'd have given it five stars. Recommended, but if you're in UK be sure your DVD player can handle it!

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