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on 20 June 2002
Balaklava, the second album by cult sixties favourites, Pearls Before Swine, was the perfect crystallisation of Tom Rapp's weird and beautiful vision. The album opens with a scratchy spoken sample from a survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Which runs into the brilliant, mystical psychedelia of Translucent Carriages, during which Tom asks, 'Jesus raised the dead; but who will raise the living?' It's a good indicator of the mind-altering material to come. The difference between this and other psychedelic albums though, is that it isn't affected in its weirdness; this isn't a stylistic stance; a knowingly psychedelic concotion. This is the product of a deep and visionary mind. So we get 'Images of April' with its heavy samples from nature, which sounds like Tom is floating in a blissed out state through a forest. We get the wide-eyed, awe-filled wonder of 'I Saw The World', and we believe what Tom is singing; that he is seeing the world afresh through visionary eyes. There's the haunting, beautiful acoustic song, There Was A Man, which tells the familiar tale of a man with magic powers who comes to town, bestowing his magic on the inhabitants, but the inhabitants turn on him, and he leaves disenchanted. This could be a metaphor for Tom Rapp's own talents, which have been largely overlooked in his lifetime. The recording that follows it, Guardian Angels, shows just how far ahead of the game Tom was. We are informed in the booklet that it was recorded 'in gaudaloupe, mexico in 1929 on 78 rpm'. This is the sort of thing that one might hear Tom Waits record now. A falsely authentic piece of old-tyme music replete with 78 rpm sound effect; it's a beautiful song, with some beautiful violin, and typifies the odd beauty that Tom Rapp's music possessed at its peak. This is followed by a beautiful, dope-fuelled version of Leonard Cohen's 'Suzanne', the only cover version on the album. Then there's the deeply visionary lyric of Lepers And Roses, inspired as much by ancient literature as by the psychedelic movement of the time, one of Tom's most memorable numbers. A brief sample of Florence Nightingale follows before the dark, resonant, scary closer, Ring Thung, an excerpt of Tolkein set to music. The piece abruptly comes to an end after two minutes, and one hears the whole album rewound at high speed, until it gradually slows down to the opening sample once more, which fades quickly away. The End. For any fan of late sixties psychedelia, this is the burnished jewel in the crown; but for anyone wanting a mystical trip out of themselves, into a communion with nature and the universe, this is vital for them also. It's a weird timeless masterpiece in any age.
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