on 24 February 2004
This 3 CD set collects together (nearly) all the Epic era recordings made during the late 60s by the eccletic US band Kaleidoscope. Just to confuse matters, during the same era, two other band used the same name. One came from Mexican and made one LP, the other, from the UK, and made two 60s LPs.
Our Kaleidoscope made four LPs for Epic, all included in full on this collection. Influenced by Turkish, middle Eartern and ethnic American music, they made some of the best psychedelic music to be released in the states.
The first LP, Side Trips contains 10 mostly excellent, short tracks such as 'Egyptian Gardens', 'Keep Your Mind Open' and 'Pulsating Dream'. Only 'Minnie the Moocher' and 'Hesitation Blues' let down the side.
The second LP has two long classics in 'Taxim' and the title track 'Beacon From Mars'. Also included is one of their best tracks, 'I Found Out'.
The third album is the most consistent. All the tracks are good and the playing is very tight. Listen to 'Banjo', 'Cuckoo' and 'Seven-Ate Sweet'.
Unfortunately, the band then seemed to go to pieces, and the final LP Bernice is very poor indeed. 'To Know Is Not To Be' is possibly the best track on a weak LP.
The band then broke up, reforming in 1976 to make a slightly better LP 'When Scopes Collide' and in 1990 to make a disappointing LP 'Greetings From Kartoonistan'.
Neither reformation LP is included in this set. Instead the time is rounded up with seven single only tracks and the three 'unreleased' tracks that previously made their debut on the Sony Legacy compilation. Only one track makes it's CD debut here and that is 'Just A Taste'. Odd thing about this track is that it appears to be a different mix to one I had already on a bootleg source. Mine sounds more produced than this, which makes me suspect that Evangeline may have released the 'wrong' one. Very strange. Regardless, it's good to have most of the rare tracks together in one place.
There are a few AWOL tracks though: First of all, Ptolomaic Terrascope released a two track EP containing 'Little Orphan Nannie' (included here in upgraded sound) and 'I'm A Hog For You Baby'. The latter is missing. Second, the band contributed at least two tracks to the film Zabriskie Point, and both of these are omitted.
Rumour has it that, not only Pink Floyd were asked to deliver music for the whole film. It would be nice to know if any Kaleidoscope material was unused. Rumours also exist about outtakes from the earlier in the band's career.
The problem is that the history was (deliberately) confused by Pete Frame in his 1970s Zig Zag articles, where he mixed fact with fantasy. Later writers perpetated the untruths. Thankfully, David Biasotti's 4 pages of sleeve notes correct at least one story, and cover the core history. From my perspective, I would have liked some discussion about unreleased material. In particular - are there are live tracks beyond the awful sounding Live at The Shrine bootleg?
The most amazing thing about this set though is the price - £10.99 for three CDs. You will never spend a better eleven pounds. Highly recommended.
on 24 April 2011
For some reason, it's the UK Kaleidoscope who seem to get more attention, judging by how many reviews are written of their albums compared with the few reviewers of the US Kaleidoscope. This is a mystery to me, as while the UK Kaleidoscope does a pleasant enough psych pop, this band vastly exceeds them in musical ability, besides displaying a truly staggering variety of different styles. What sets them apart from the rest is their use of some Middle Eastern instruments, which resulted in a kind-of world music years before its time. This fantastic boxed set compiles their 4 albums in their entirety, and those first 3 albums are worth having, every song on them. The fourth album shows a complete change of direction, there are no exotic instruments (except on 'Sefan', the only really good song on the album), and the result is rather forgettable, generic late sixties rock. It's a poor album which doesn't do the band justice, but the first 3 albums more than make up for the fourth.
This band is often overlooked when one speaks of classic US bands from the late 60s, but they have many fantastic tracks which easily measure up to the best music of that era. If you like psych or progressive rock with a world music influence, then this boxed set deserves a place in your collection. You can complete your Kaleidoscope collection with the Zabriskie Point soundtrack from 1970, for which the band wrote 2 songs, 'Brother Mary' and the instrumental 'Mickey's Tune'. The fact that film producer Antonioni commissioned this band along with more illustrious names like Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead to create music for the film shows the high regard he must have held them in, and that at the time they were far from unknown. Besides all that, this 3CD set is currently going for bargain prices, which means there's more good music per penny here than on almost any other psych release currently on offer.
on 18 October 2005
An eclectic compilation of all 4 of their recordings - Side Trips, A Beacon From Mars, Kaleidoscope, and Bernice, as well as a scattering of extra tracks (singles & bonuses). The music within this 3CD set will take you from 1920's Vaudeville, through country (which country?), folk (national boundaries thrown aside), rock, pop, and full-on, chemically-induced psychedelia, in varying quantities, and done with love, fun, and (occasionally eerie) atmosphere - there's sure to be something here for most people with ears.
Side Trips: 'Egyptian Gardens', a happy hic-tune with an Eastern slant, though tongue-in-cheek somewhat. 'If The Night' is a short number, and reminds me vocally of the Doors' Jim Morrison. It is followed by the superbly laid-back tune 'Hesitation Blues' - as though it comes straight from the Bayou of Louisiana! The next is a begging tune of pure beauty in the form of 'Please' - a ballad with a slightly country feel to it, with a mellow slant, born in 1966 (prior to 'Side Trips' which entered the musical album arena in 1967). 'Keep your Mind Open' is one of my personal favourites. It is mildly trippy, and of the age, with faint sounds of gunfire in the hinterland... or could it be crashing waves? The vocals are treated to slight echo effect, with the repeated refrain "keep your mind open" on and off throughout. 'Pulsating Dream' is a short track, and though of the era, not especially one of the stronger links here. 'Oh Death' is a slow, deep-voiced lament-chant with a country-folk feel to it. 'Come On In' is a wonderfully Vaudevillian tune, with happy hic piano and accompaniment. The next track kicks off with a (middle-) Eastern feel, descending into a seemingly negative lament with 'Why try... forget it all' as the repeated refrain - quite uplifting really, in a funny sort of way! 'Minnie The Moocher' is an animated kind of 1920's number - so take a time-trip to then! Here ends Side Trips.
Extra to the album set: 'Elevator Man' is the weakest tune on CD1, though ok. 'Little orphan Annie' is perhaps one of the better known tunes here, with lovely fiddle, strange lyrics, with a fun ditty to round it off ("We are the joy boys of radio, hello hello... up in the air the junior birdmen...").
Next, 'A Beacon From Mars': 'I Found Out' is a soaring tune - splendid! Then 'Greenwood Sidee' brings us once more to times of yore, as a slow-marching traditional tune with a Celtic feel - very hearty fare. 'Life Will Pass You By' is a poppy country-folk tune, and is ok, though not strong, when compared to the other tunes here. 'Taxim' (no overdubs - this is 'live'! -unbelievable!): an epic mellow mind-journey into a Middle-Eastern land of whirling Dervishes, with instruments I can't even pronounce! Then, best attire, please, for 'Baldheaded End Of A Broom' where we retire to the friendly freshwater swamp, replete with harmonica, and a speeded up ending. This fine feel is magnified by the following, Cajun fiddle-full, 'Louisiana Man'. The heavy blues of 'You Don't Love Me' (a cover), doesn't seem to fit in here, though it is an alright track on its own. Perhaps it is the essentially contradictory nature of the style-mix that (almost) doesn't work; blues, and heavy/rock, hmmm. The amazing thing is, I guess, that these Kaleidoscope boys carry it off quite so well. 'Beacon From Mars' rounds off that album nicely.
Extra to the album set: 'Rampe Rampe' (superb) 'Nobody' (nice backdrop of sitar), 'Love Games' (nice, mildly trippy, effects), 'Egyptian candy' (the best added track here - superbly far-out, and quite sinister-sounding), 'Hello Trouble', which is California Country music (according to the sleeve notes), and 'Just a taste' - crud lyrics, but quite a good sound.
The Incredible Kaleidoscope 1969: 'Lie To Me' - brings many tunes stylistically together, with upbeat fiddles reminiscent of more Country-like tracks, and full of backwards playing guitars. 'Let The Good Love Flow', and 'Killing Floor (AKA Tempe Arizona)' (nice harmonica), signal nothing much here. 'Petit Fleur' - similar in vein to 'Louisiana Man', and Cajun to the hilt! Marvellous. 'Banjo' - David Lindley shows off his expertise - to mind-blowing effect! 'Cuckoo' - in a similar dark vein to 'Greenwood Sidee' & 'Oh Death', and absolutely superb; perhaps my favourite Kaleidoscope track! 'Seven Ate Sweet', at 11.37 minutes, is a rambling, rolling, trans-genre journey through instrumental dreamland, fusing Eastern (song & sound) & Western (all the rest) - rounds off The Incredible Kaleidoscope, whoa!
Extra to the album set: 'Sefan' - instrumental - good, but pales in comparison to their earlier work.
The 'Bernice' album: now this is where it all began to unravel. 'Chocolate Whale' - funky gospel & 'Another Lover' - funky - nice. 'Sneaking through The Ghetto' - plain rock, satire country, ok. 'To Know Is Not To Be' - softer. 'Lulu Arfin Nanny' - slightly out there (in the sky, though not orbital); a take on an earlier version of the same song (kind of). 'Lie & Hide' - trippy with a wonderful middle-section of spoken hippy advice - excellent to sample (best track on their 4th album by far). 'Ballad of Tommy Udo' - apparently a result of Lindley's love of a film (kiss of death) - and a reasonable tune too (though probably not too commercial, given that this was supposed to be an album of singles). 'Bernice' - superb harmonica playing - watch out though, if you suffer from tinnitus. It's a bit funky, with nice bass. 'Soft & Easy' - a non-starter. 'Blue Ooze' - nearly didn't make it onto the album. Shame. Its ok - but nowhere near as god as earlier stuff!
'Why Try' - a single added at the end, why?
Pure psychedelic fans may also wish to try the following: Country Joe & The Fish, Twink, Cyrus Faryar/Cosmic Sounds (Zodiac), Can (unsettling Cannibalism album), The Incredible String Band, Hawkwind, etc.