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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 29 May 2017
Wasn't sure what to expect. Top notch blues rock is what I got.
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Two tours with Blues Legend Freddie King in 1968 and 1969 saw the nucleus of England's forgotten and overlooked STEAMHAMMER be given the grounding for two albums on CBS Records - their raucous Blues-Rock debut "Steamhammer" in early 1969 on CBS S 63611 (also known as "Reflections" because of the cover art) and "Steamhammer MKII" in late 1969 on CBS Records S 63694. But Steamhammer was better than just Blues-Rock and had melody makers at their core too. The first of those albums featured Acoustic Guitarist genius Martin Quittenton - who would be a quintessential part of Rodders band sound for five amazing Mercury Records LPs between 1969 and 1973 - "An Old Raincoat Won't Let You Down", "Gasoline Alley," Every Picture Tells A Story, "Never A Dull Moment" and Smiler" - as well as co-pen the monster hit "Maggie Mae" with Stewart in 1971.

But the British band's "Mountains" album from late 1970 saw original band member Martin Pugh return to the fold (he was on the first LP) as Lead Guitarist and along with founder member Kieran White (Vocalist and principal songwriter) - Steamhammer changed tack and went a bit more Prog Mellow with their third and what many feel is their best record. November 1970's "Mountains" was issued on the Charisma Records offshoot label B&C Records. Its gorgeous sticker-titled gatefold sleeve (the Chris Stepan artwork is now fully reproduced n the newly upgraded booklet) has been a notorious and sought-after vinyl rarity in the UK ever since - often exceeding its modest £50-ish price tag by three or four times that amount.

And that's where this superlative little 2016 CD Reissue and Remaster by England's Esoteric Recordings (part of Cherry Red) comes storming in - a very welcome and timely reminder of a band and a record that shouldn't have been so marginalised at the time and deserves mucho reappraisal now. Let's get to the details for Mark III...

UK released Friday, 29 July 2016 (August 2016 in the USA) - "Mountains" by STEAMHAMMER on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2549 (Barcode 5013929464940) is a straightforward CD Remaster of the 8-Track 1970 LP and plays out as follows (41:07 minutes):

1. I Wouldn't Have Thought (Gopher's Song)
2. Levenia
3. Henry Lane
4. Walking Down The Road
5. Mountains
6. Leader Of The Ring [Side 2]
7. Riding on The L&N [Live At The Lyceum, London]
8. Hold That Train [Live At The Lyceum, London]
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 3rd studio album "Mountains" - released November 1970 in the UK on B&C Records CAS 1024 (no US issue). Produced by FRITZ FRYER and Engineered by MARTIN BIRCH - it failed to chart in the UK. The last two tracks were recorded live at The Lyceum in London (no dates provided). Principal vocalist and songwriter Kieran White penned all the songs except "I Wouldn't Have Thought (Gopher's Song)" which was co-written with Martin Pugh. "Riding on The L&N" is a live cover of Lionel Hampton’s old R&B classic while the whole band contributed songwriting credits to the second live track recorded at London's Lyceum venue - "Hold That Train".

STEAMHAMMER was:
KIERAN WHITE - Lead Vocals, Harmonica, 2nd Acoustic And Electric Guitars
MARTIN PUGH - Lead Acoustic, Electric and Bottleneck Guitars
STEVE DAY - Bass, Organ and Vocals
MICK BRADLEY - Drums and Percussion

Keith Nelson guested on "Henry Lane" playing Banjo

The 16-page booklet restores the album’s gatefold sleeve artwork throughout whilst offering newcomers superb MALCOLM DOME liner notes (presentation conceived and carried out by Mark and Vicky Powell of Esoteric). Dome interviews Guitarist Martin Pugh and Engineer Geoff Calver (who did the two live tracks) and gives a potted history of the band and its line-up changes and 4-album history. But the big news over the 2000 Repertoire CD reissues is a new 24-Bit Digital Remaster of the original B&C mastertapes by BEN WISEMAN at Broadlake Studios in Hertfordshire in 2016. This CD sounds great – full of presence and warmth – tracks like "Levenia" full of life.

Viewed from a distance - "Mountains" is a curious album with its six 'different direction' studio-cuts sat uncomfortably alongside two live songs bookending Side 2 that feel like the band have reverted to their former 'older' sound. Most of "Mountains" has very little to do with the Blues Rock influenced debut LP and a lot more in common with Man or even Help Yourself (excepting as I said those last two). Songs like "Henry Lane" and the near six-minutes of the title track "Mountains" are wonderfully melodic – the guitar warmer – the harmony vocals sweeter – and dare we say it – at times gentle and even beautiful (lyrics from it title this review).

"Levenia" feels like MAN circa "Bananas" where Kieran White is shadowed on the vocal line by Martin Pugh’s electric guitar at every turn and then later by deft Acoustic work. The bass opening that explodes into guitar on "Walking Down The Road" feels like Juicy Lucy or even Audience – but just when you think you know where its going – the later half of the song goes all bongo-and-drums Funky like Osibisa on a roll.

Listening to the acoustic prettiness of "Leader Of The Ring" – as mellow as America or Donovan or even Duncan Browne - it’s impossible to think of Steamhammer as the band Status Quo covered when they did their Hard Rock version of "Junior’s Wailing" on their August 1970 LP "Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon" (they’d also do a live version of it on their 1975 "Status Quo EP"). Yet the very next track does just that – rocks like a mother – Steamhammer’s ten-minute live version of "Riding On The L&N" where the sophistication is gone and they sound like The Groundhogs enjoyed a thumping bass and wah-wah guitar boogie wigout. The shorter 5:45 minutes of "Hold That Train" is actually better – a great guitar-boogie that feels like Man at their live best. Damn shame they didn’t see fit to record it properly for the album but maybe there was a life in the live version they couldn’t get in the studio.

You can’t help but think in hindsight that Steamhammer made a stylistic mistake with those last two live tracks filling up much of Side 2 (though others swear they’re the best things about the LP). I can’t help but think that if they’d stuck to their artistic guns and produced two more studio-cuts of the same melodic diversity and beauty of the preceding six – we would be looking at a bona fide Prog Rock masterpiece - with "Mountains" held in awe instead of a curio people stumble on.

A split-up Steamhammer would later join ranks in 1974 with Keith Relf from The Yardbirds to form the hard-rocking Armageddon for one highly revered self-titled album on A&M Records in 1975 (AMLH 64513 is also reissued by Esoteric Recordings on ECLEC 2150 in 2009).

In the meantime we've "Mountains" to savour - and 46 years after the event – it's a musical hill worth re-climbing…
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on 25 June 2009
Steamhammer were a late 60's college and pub circuit band with a cult following and their music has an enduring and haunting quality. Their live performance at the Black Prince in Bexley was a revelation. A very tight band with excellent rhythm chord progressions and distinctive vocals from man mountain Kieran White who I believe went on to join jazz fusion band Nucleus. Lead guitarist Martin Pugh should have become a rock icon - obviously influenced by Paul Kossoff but wringing sustain and tension from a Les Paul with his own fluid style. After Steamhammer he played briefly with Keith Relf post Renaissance then sadly disappeared from the music scene. Free meets Gandalf, shares a pipe of ganja in the Inn at Bree then conjures up some kickass boogie. Buy it, play it loud and savour the magic.
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on 18 May 2000
The first time I heard this album it blew my mind. I had heard nothing from Steamhammer before and have heard nothing since, but this album has remained in the top 10 of my all time classics for over 20 years. What sounds like the studio side of the album contains some wonderful songs that are un-forgettable, solid blues with a twist, spaced out lyrics that conjure up Hobbit-like adventures, laid back accoustic melody combined with solid rock instrumentations. The pace and key changes enough to keep you glued to your seat; short well written songs that stand the test of time. Side two is an amazing contrast which is almost entirely taken up with a live medley of two classics - 'Hold That Train' and 'Ridin On The L&N'. I can hear you cringing at the prospect of having to endure yet another endless nightmare of squeeling guitar masturbation just as I did, boy was I suprised. Admittedly, there is a lot of guitar, however, it's planned, calculated, precice, elegantly flowing through east and west influences, it ebs and peaks through a solid back beat like a viper toying with it's audience. Again the pace changes to maintain your interest as does the wicked bass solo and (yes of course) the infamous drum solo which is short enough to be enjoyed without becoming a clich'e. This side is masterpiece of skilled playing, energetic frenzy and fautless timing that captivates all that a live album should, putting most albums of this style to shame. If your bored with the blues and seek something a bit harder, with a melodic edge and a deep thinking flavour, this album is a must.
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on 30 December 2000
As one who loved the epic 60's and 70's rock tracks (EC, Jimmy Page, Quicksilver etc.), I found this as part of putting back together the old long-lost record collection. It is a superb album, primarily for the guitar work of, I believe, Martin Pugh, especially on "Riding on the L & N", but also because-of the wide variety of really good sounds. I am no technical expert, and of course recognise that music is strictly a personal thing, but to anyone either of that era, or into raw but fine guitar work from a tight outfit, typical of those bands who weren't megastars, but who toured the uni/college circuit/european successfully, I would commend this as an absolute classic.
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on 28 September 2005
Steamhammer were one of those unlucky bands swept away by Glam rock, personnel changes and tragedies, and Mountain was their finest hour.
The band was part of the Ladbroke Grove/Notting Hill Gate scene in the early seventies and late sixties, and there are some intriguing similarities to their virtual next door neighbours, the glorious Quintessence. Both feature fiery wah-wah guitars to the fore, but what redeems Steamhammer (don't be fooled by the name, they were a surprisingly subtle band) is their tightness. This is displayed to the full on the live tracks, which brims with invention and sparkle.
The vocals on this album from Kieran White are absolutely top notch. He had a most unusual voice.. check out two stand-out studio tracks, the sombre Henry Lane and the anthemic Mountains.
Sadly, the kind of fame that could have come their way went instead to looser bands like the Faces, but this is a classic and a joy to listen to.
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on 19 January 2004
I first saw this band nearly 40 years ago. At that time I had never heard of them and went on recommendation from my brother. I have to say it was one of the best gigs I have ever experienced. I bought the LP but over the years, after which must be hundreds of plays the clicks from the numerous scratches spoilt the listening pleasure. I was gob-smacked to see Mountains was available on CD. This is one of my top 5 CDs of all time.
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on 16 August 2016
STEAMHAMMER – Mountains Album
Oh jeez – if there was a band with so much potential to really make an impression only to lose their way on an album where the good outshines the bad, and where nothing is really bad anyway, then this is the band. A quartet dominated by the guitar prsence of a certain Martin Pugh, they came up with an album of undoubted quality, that's just too varied for its own good.
Things get off to a rousing start with “I Wouldn't have Thought” as the the song really sums up the band in one fell swoop – emotive vocals that are strong if not exactly distinctive, but convey a song seriously well, solid rhythms that are strident, a song itself that's structured, a riff that's purposeful and sticks in your head, but the icing on the cake is the guitar break from Pugh that positively sizzles as much as it shines, leading you to want more and expect more, the sensible thing being that the band could well have done that and they would have been onto a winner. Instead, “Levinia” is really laid back, almost country-rock a la 1971 bands such as Quiver and Gypsy, and while the arrangements are sprightly and sparkling, while Pugh's guitar is more delicacy than electrifying, the more restrained side of it, while a great song, is nevertheless a marked contrast from the opener. Then, “Henry Lane” goes even slower, this time with sinuous electric guitar and, of all things, towards the end a banjo, as a gently flowing song meanders its way through the river beds of your mind, again seriously pleasant, but still you want to hear more of Pugh's masterful guitar work that you heard in the first track. Luckily, around the two minute mark, he does just that and while it's more like the guitarist from Home rather than the guitarist from Man or Wishbone Ash, it's still quality stuff before the song returns. “Walking Down The Road” accelerates things neatly as the blues returns with a passion and the vocals snarl, the guitars shine and the rhythm section roll out, sounding for all the world like a bluesy Wishbone Ash. The five and a half minute title track crashes gently on the shore amid strong drumming, twangy and ringing guitars, deep bass and soaring vocals, as a track that's strong evocative of the band If without the sax and similar, slowly flows rather than rides out, but altogether one of the best of the more laid-back tracks on the album, with some solid upfront “Mr Big”-like bass amid the high-flying lone guitar work. “Leader Of The Ring” is a short and slightly faceless ballad which brings proceedings to the 10+ minutes of “Riding On The L&N” that features some excellent instrumental workouts from both bass and electric guitar and really makes you wish that they'd stuck to the more rousing style of song that this and the opener indicated they did with such great effect and strength. As if to further that feeling, they close with “Hold That Train” which really hammers home just how good a bluesy rock band they not only really were, but could have been, as Pugh's guitar ends as brightly as it began. Overall, pretty well faultless album, of its time but brilliantly remastered, but for me, a frustrating insight into what could have been for this band. Nevertheless, I will be playing this in the car, that's for sure.
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on 8 January 2014
Got everything this fabulous band ever done, but this album exceeds everything.
It is utterly brilliant, musicianship etc!
Walking down the road is one of the best racks you'll ever hear in your life!
Do yourself a favour and treat your ears to all four albums.
They'll knock your socks off!
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on 25 July 2014
Beautiful album. Found these guys at the recommendation of GRAVEYARD who cite them as a massive influence. Can't believe I've gone so long without hearing them. Subtle yet powerful. Splendid!
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