Customer Review

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A timelessly stunning, and hauntingly beautiful sound, 25 Jun 2009
This review is from: I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die (Audio CD)
Country Joe and the Fish's first two albums are both, simply, spectacular. Discussions of the merits of one over the other can perhaps lose sight of this by arguing a point ultimately neither worth proving nor in fact provable; similarly, claiming that either of these is the best `psychedelic' album of the 60s may be an indication of their strengths but may not be as constructive as enjoying either of them on their own merits

They are different (if clearly related) albums, with both delivering unique takes on the massive evolution in sounds and attitudes in the Bay Area of 66/67. That Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die followed so hot on the heels of their first, Electric Music for the Mind and Body, is further testament to just how spectacularly creative this band were during their brief, incredible peak.

Strangely, the weakest track on this album is probably the most familiar, its first and title track. Sitting somewhat outside the sound and feel of the rest of the music, it's dated less well. This may be partly because the famous solo Woodstock version has become the one fixed in most people's minds. The Fixin-to-Die Rag was also a song that their label somewhat idiotically urged them to keep off their first album, where it was perhaps more in keeping with Superbird and some of the shorter, more accessible songs that punctuate the longer instrumentals there. That said, it's still a shining example of darkly humorous and beautifully well-chosen satirical lyrics, and easily the classier relative of a number of more fabled protest songs (yes, I'm talking about you, Mr Zimmerman).

The rest of this album is astonishing. Sounding unlike anything else of the time (except an even eerier and more experienced version of their first album) there is a sparse, otherworldly, electric, fragile and melancholic feel. Some of the sharpness and exuberance may not be as immediately evident, but in its place is something just as breathtaking.

The first side (as was) is a collection of songs at one turn reflective (Who Am I), and at another electric (the shimmering white-boy acid blues of Rock Coast Blues), taking in on its way the mind-altered sweep of Magoo and the touching, spaced waltz of Janis.

The second side, even with its vaudeville jug-band bookends (mock preaching and a spoof acid commercial) flows into one long beautiful suite, ending with gently skewed shimmering chords ringing out in a kind of wordless lullaby. The last serious lyrics you'll hear, a simple repetition of the words `I found you' suggests a kind of closeness borne out of happy circumstance that is a perfect postcard memory to take from the music here: music that suggests intimacy and honesty about both confusion and hope.

Overall, the sound is full of space, with the crystal sharp guitars flowing from sweet and fluid to distorted and sharp. The organ hovers and swirls, reminiscent in feel to the longer instrumental pieces from the first album but calmer, somehow. The longer series of songs flow and shift into raga and back, with an unmistakable impetus that carries you with them. It's something otherwordly, different, that seems totally removed from so much of the more recognisable bands and sounds; it may be gentle in places but is no less confident for that. While the lyrics are, of course, products of their time, equally they are no less enjoyable for it, and Joe's soft, stoned-sounding and slightly amused voice sits square in the middle, singing of love, mind-expansion, loss, and of what can be found.

Finally, this album is something that grows with repeated listening. In fact, the older I get the more fresh, timeless and astonishing both Country Joe albums sound, but particularly this one. When listening, I'm always amazed it's the end of the cd so soon, often simply pressing play all over again (admittedly skipping straight to track 2).

It simply stands apart, beautiful and complete, which is something most music can't even aspire to. And as a result I have to recommend this in the highest terms I have: regardless of whether it's the best of Country Joe or even of the Bay, it is easily one of my all time favourite albums.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 4 Feb 2014 16:06:00 GMT
Last edited by the author on 6 Feb 2014 21:03:13 GMT
Saucy Jack says:
Thanks for the review. I sometimes wonder if sentiment takes over with this lot, indeed the whole of the San Fran movement. I love Hot Tuna, Skippy and the Grape and some of the Dicks Picks but the scene over here was more interesting (whatever Lou Reed said). This was one of three albums I bought out of a bargain bucket in the basement of Cheapo Cheapos, Soho, from John the World's Rudest Man. There was a deep, sticking scratch on Colors For Susan. The other two LPs were On The Boards by Taste and TYA's Ssssh. I've kept the Taste LP and Sssh has its moments (Bad Scene, Stoned Woman) but the most memorable experience of the three is still Eastern Jam. Barry Melton's playing is completely inspired. Like a white boy's Machine Gun. For this 15 year old dying a slow death in the suburbs, it was what might be if only it were sought. So maybe I've talked myself round! Always preferred this one to Electric Music, the best tunes from that are on the Berkeley EP's anyway.
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