Live In Texas October 6, 1973 by Captain Beyond

July 3, 2013

Captain Beyond was a band that flirted with commercial success and widespread popularity in the early 1970s but constant personnel changes, plus break-ups and reunions, left them a legacy of critical acclaim rather than lasting fame.

They were an under-the-radar supergroup. Lead singer Rod Evans was the original vocalist for Deep Purple. Drummer Bobby Caldwell played with the Johnny Winter Group, while lead guitarist Larry Reinhardt and bassist Lee Dorman had been members of Iron Butterfly.

Their sound was close to early British progressive rock even though they were an American band. They usually had a keyboardist as a member of the group but when they performed in Texas, October 6, 1973, they had not replaced departed original keyboardist Lewie Gold. This meant that their sound was more basic and sparse than much of their recorded material.

There is good news and bad news regarding Live In Texas – October 6, 1973.

The bad news is the sound quality. The concert was available as a fan club release, plus it was extensively bootlegged for a while. This new release sounds like a bootleg and that may well have been its origins. I don’t know if it could have been cleaned up any better but the sound fades in and out in places and is overall uneven. This is unfortunately especially true on Reinhardt’s lead guitar.

On the positive side there is little live concert material available from this often forgotten, but very creative, band. That fact alone makes it worth a listen as it presents their energy and style well.

The foundation of the show is taken from their self-titled debut album. The precise and delicate “Dancing Madly Backwards (on a Sea of Air),” the searing guitar solo of “Mesmerization Eclipse,” plus “Armworth” and “Myopic Void” are all glimpses into the mind, heart, and soul of a band that was an important part of the early 1970s music scene. Not many groups can cover a Jimi Hendrix song well but their encore of “Stone Free” is one of the better renditions of his material.

It all ended in 1974, when Rod Evans just walked away. He would surface briefly in a fake Deep Purple band, get sued by members of the real Deep Purple, and disappear from music history. Reinhardt and Caldwell, with Dorman upon occasion, would reunite several times. With Reinhardt and Dorman both passing away in 2012, the career of Captain Beyond is complete.

Caldwell seems to be the main protagonist in the release of this album and his included essay about the band is a good read. Sometimes the audio quality in the early 1970s was not very good when a band played live and worse when recorded haphazardly. If you can get past the sound issue, Live In Texas – October 6, 1973 is a wonderful journey back in time into the mind and music of Captain Beyond.

Brave New World by The Steve Miller Band

November 27, 2012

Change was in the air for The Steve Miller Band as keyboardist Jim Peterman and guitarist Boz Scaggs had departed. Keyboardist Ben Sidran was selected to join holdovers Miller, bassist Lonnie Turner, and drummer Tim Davis. Sidran was a good addition as he would co-write four of the nine tracks with Miller. Producer Glyns Johns filled in on guitar and provided some backing vocals. As an example of the band’s burgeoning popularity, Nicky Hopkins and Paul McCartney each appeared on one track.

Despite the changes, they released their third excellent album in a row. Brave New World was very representative of the late 1960s. It had a summer of love and anti-war vibe. It was a fine fit for the growing hippie culture of the day as it explored peace as the Vietnam War was expanding.

From the opening crescendo of the title track, the music was a call to the young people of the country to unite. Both “Brave New World” and “Celebration Song” are up-beat explorations that found Miller fusing the psychedelic music of his present with the pop leanings of his future.

The center of the album contains a trio of songs that are equal to any Miller would produce. “Kow Kow (Calqulator)” is an anti-war or peace song that features some of Miller’s better guitar work plus pianist Hopkins filling in the gaps. The production is also impeccable as the sound has a layered feel. “Seasons” is a gentle acoustic ballad that contains a nice echo sound. “Space Cowboy” is the quintessential Miller song that was cool in 1969 and remains cool today.

The last track, “My Dark Hour,” features Paul McCartney (billed as Paul Ramon) on bass, drums, and backing vocals. His bass work is actually very creative on this track and would have fit in nicely on Fly Like An Eagle.

Brave New World is very cohesive as the songs fit together well. The music may not have been as creative or surprising as their first two albums but it was an easier listen. It remains an album worth revisiting.

Article first published as Music Review: Steve Miller Band – Brave New World on Blogcritics.

Sailor by The Steve Miller Band

November 19, 2012

The Steve Miller Band’s Children Of The Future was one of the better debut albums of the late 1960s. Not content to rest on their laurels, they one-upped themselves with their second album, Sailor, as it was a stronger release.

Sailor was not as avant-garde or psychedelic as their first album as it moved more toward the mainstream. It was also more melodic in places, a style Miller would eventually embrace, and which would ultimately bring him huge commercial success.

The album would also be the last for the original Steve Miller Band. Guitarists/vocalists Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs, bassist Lonnie Turner, drummer Tim Davis, and keyboardist/vocalist Jim Peterman were a true band that did not always center on Miller, despite the group’s name. Miller only wrote four of the 10 tracks, while Scaggs contributed three and Peterman one.

One of the songs Miller did write remains one of the best of his career. I have listened to “Living in the USA” literally hundreds of times and it never gets old. While Miller has always been a somewhat underrated guitarist, the song is driven by Peterman’s organ as it just rolls along. It was an uptempo, melodic, and catchy burst of energy that was one of the better listening experiences of the era.

All of Miller’s compositions were strong. The album’s lead-off track, “Song for Our Ancestors,” is atmospheric and includes some blues guitar playing by Miller. “Dear Mary” is a smooth pop ballad. “Quicksilver Girl” is a pop-blues fusion that is both catchy and gentle.

Scaggs went in a number of directions with his contributions. “My Friend,” with the lead vocal by drummer Tim Davis, is the most psychedelic piece on the album, while “Overdrive” is a combination of country and blues. “Dime-a-Dance Romance” is a raw blues piece and very different from the smooth pop that would dominate the first part of Scagg’s solo career.

Jim Peterman may have provided the vocals on his slow blues piece, “Lucky Man,” but it’s Miller’s riffing that remains memorable.

The band performed a credible cover of Jimmy Reed’s “You’re So Fine.” There’s also a short version of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Gangster of Love,” whose title would follow Miller throughout his career.

Miller would go on to huge pop rock success, making Sailor a sometimes forgotten album. However, if you want to be exposed to some of the finest music of the late 1960s, then this is an album to track down.

Article first published as Music Review: Steve Miller Band – Sailor on Blogcritics.

Children of The Future by The Steve Miller Band

November 4, 2012

Two generations of music fans will associate Steve Miller with his series of picture perfect pop rock hits produced during the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Songs such as “Jungle Love,” “Rock’n Me,” “The Joker,” “Fly Like An Eagle,” and “Jet Airliner” propelled his Greatest Hits: 1974-1978 album to over 13 million copies sold in the United States and Canada.

As the older generation of music fans already knows, The Steve Miller Band of the late 1960s and early 1970s had a far different sound. They were one of the better psychedelic blues bands in existence and were in the first wave of bands to find widespread commercial success without any hit singles.

Originally called The Steve Miller Blues Band, they were formed during 1967 by guitarist/vocalist Steve Miller, guitarist/vocalist Boz Scaggs, bassist Lonnie Turner, keyboardist Jim Peterman, and drummer Tim Davis. A little over a year later they produced one of the better albums of 1968.

Children of the Future was an auspicious debut album. It was really two distinct half albums that were easily discernible on the original vinyl release. Side one is a Steve Miller affair, which was really a cohesive suite of songs that can be described as avant-garde in places. The second side has a rawer sound and is a full band affair with other members sharing the vocal duties.

The title song is the first track. It is experimental, bluesy, and moves in an early folk rock direction yet fit well into the psychedelic era. The harmonies are a standout element. Two very short connecter pieces lead to “In My First Mind” and “The Beauty of Time Is That It’s Snowing.” They segue into each other and are improvisational pieces at heart.

Side two begins with two Boz Scaggs compositions for which he provides the lead vocals. “Baby’s Calling Me Home” has a jazzy feel with a harpsichord and acoustic guitar and was a form he would explore later in his solo career. His “Steppin’ Stone” is the heaviest track on the release as it fuses blues and rock. Tim Davis stepped forward and provided the lead vocals on “Junior Saw It Happen” and the former R&B hit (by Buster Brown), “Fanny Mae,” which is transformed into West Coast blues. “Roll with It” is Miller’s only composition on the second side and is the album’s most mainstream track. The blues classic “Keys to the Kingdom” brings the album to a close as Miller and his cohorts present an easy flowing and improvisational rendition.

Children Of The Future is an album worth exploring as it is a fine example of late 1960s psychedelic blues. It shows that Steve Miller had a life before he was a 1970s superstar.

Article first published as Music Review: The Steve Miller Band – Children of the Future on Blogcritics.

The Complete Reprise Singles by The Electric Prunes

July 26, 2012

It was just another football victory dance during the late fall of my junior year in high school. Let me add that we had victory dances whether we won or lost. Since I did not have a girlfriend at the time, nor any prospects of one in the immediate future, I just sat and listened to the music. It is amazing what the mind remembers and what it discards, but I remember the dee-jay announcing that he was going to play a brand new single. It was my first exposure to the Electric Prunes as “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)” blasted from the speakers. It was like nothing in my modest record collection at the time, but a few days later I tracked down a copy at a local record store. It was one of my first excursions outside the British Invasion and American pop sounds of the day, as it introduced me to psychedelic and garage rock.

The band literally had two careers before disbanding. During the late 1960s they came under the tutelage of David Axelrod and issued two fascinating and what best can be described as art rock albums. Mass in F Minor and Release Of An Oath used different musicians than their early Reprise label line-up of vocalist James Lowe, lead guitarist Ken Williams, guitarist James Spagnola, bassist Mark Tulin, and drummer Preston Ritter. Lowe, Williams, and Tulin reformed the band during 2003.

The Electric Prunes would only have two singles reach the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart. The aforementioned “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” and the gritty “Get Me To The World On Time” would be the extent of their commercial success. While I bought a couple of their singles in addition to their two hits, little did I realize that they continued to issue singles long after their success had waned in the United States.

Real Gone Music has closed a gap in the evolution of the American psychedelic and garage rock era by resurrecting all 23 of their Reprise label single sides plus “Vox Wah Wah Pedal Radio Spot.” The sound has been cleaned up, but they are all presented in their glorious original mono sound.

Their sound was primitive in places and raw in others. Songs such as “Ain’t It Hard,” “Little Olive,” “The Great Banana Hoax,” “Violent Rose,” and “Hey Mr. President” may be from another era, but they present an important element of the music of the 1960’s.

The included booklet contains a history of the group, track commentary by the band, and a number of rare photos provided by lead singer James Lowe.

The Electric Prunes may have been a footnote in the evolution of American rock music but they filled an important niche. The Complete Reprise Singles is a welcome addition to the musical legacy of the 1960s.

Article first published as Music Review: The Electric Prunes – The Complete Reprise Singles on Blogcritics.

Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake by The Small Faces (Deluxe Edition)

June 16, 2012

Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake was the Small Faces’ most successful and by far most creative album. It was a huge hit in their home country, topping the British Record Retailer Album Chart for six weeks during 1968. It made their 1969 acrimonious break-up all the more depressing as one can only guess what delights might have followed.

Side one of the original release contained some of the finest psychedelic rock of the era. That was only an appetizer for the main course as side two was a concept based upon a fairy tale, Happiness Stan and his quest for the missing half-moon. The lyrics were witty and entertaining, while the music was an LSD trip in sound. Steve Marriott’s guitar phrasing was some of the best of the late 1960s and it all added up to a stunning achievement.

The album has now been reissued as a deluxe three-CD set. My only regret is the original award winning album sleeve is missing. It was based on an old Victorian era tobacco tin. It was circular and multi-layered and was one of the unique album jackets of all time. While it is pictured on the front of the CD case, it really does not give it due justice.

After you open the CD, proceed right to disc three, which contains the stereo version of the original album. It is the cleanest mix and clearest sound I have heard of the material.

Strings, dialogue, and brilliant guitar runs combine with witty and, in some cases, mythological lyrics to create a memorable experience. “Rollin’ Over” has a blazing riff that was the equal to anything Hendrix was producing at the time. “Song Of A Baker” is equally driven yet with a gentler approach. “Afterglow” was about as passionate as the Small Faces would ever get. “Rene” and “Happy Days Toy Town” were witty interludes during the serious late 1960s. Then there is the Who-like “The Hungry Intruder” and the jamming “The Journey.”

Disc one contains the mono version of the album. While it may be interesting for any fan of the group, it is limited by its sound and pales next to the stereo edition.

The second disc contains a cornucopia of unreleased alternative takes and early mixes. While some of the material is repetitive, there are a few gems to be found for fans of the Small Faces. Songs such as an early session mix of “Bun In The Oven,” a rare stereo version of “Mad John,” a mono mix of “Every Little Bit Hurts,” and an instrumental version of “The Fly” make their debuts.

Over four decades after its release, Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake remains a mind expanding experience. It was one of the defining musical statements of the era, plus it solved the mystery of “Happiness Stan.”

Article first published as Music Review: Small Faces – Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake (Deluxe Edition) on Blogcritics.

Small Faces by Small Faces (Deluxe Edition) (Third Album)

June 10, 2012

The Small Faces left the Decca label during early 1967 and quickly signed with Immediate Records. Their first self-titled release for this new label that year caused some confusion as their 1966 debut release with Decca had also been self-titled. Listening to the two albums quickly clears up the confusion, as their sound had progressed far beyond the mostly straight-forward rock and roll and cover material of the Decca years. In their place were deep textures, intricate arrangements, and more introspective lyrics. The group’s time with the Immediate label would establish their reputation as one of the more creative bands of the 1960s.

The Small Faces may have been British, but their music fit in with the American psychedelic movement. Songs such as Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman,” The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” and The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” helped to introduce a new sound to the American radio airwaves. The Small Faces expanded it even further with hit singles, “Itchycoo Park,” and “Tin Soldier.”

This second self-titled album was issued twice in 1968, in both mono and stereo versions, and both are included on this 2012 remastered reissue. The stereo version is the gem as the music is more vibrant and contains hidden delights that are missing from the mono version. The mix also is clearer, which enables the various instruments to take on a life of their own, both individually and collectively.

There are a number of outstanding tracks. Steve Marriott’s guitar play on “Talk To You” demonstrates why he should be considered one of the better guitarists of his generation. “Green Circles” is a psychedelic rock tour de force. “All Our Yesterdays” is a track that benefits greatly from the stereo mix as the brass now seems to take the music in new directions.

This reissue centers on the original British release. As was the norm at the time, it was issued in the United States under a different title, There Are But Four Small Faces, and with a number of different tracks. Many of these U.S. songs have been included as bonus tracks.

Two of the tracks are the aforementioned “Itchycoo Park” and “Tin Soldier.” The first was one of the defining singles of the era in the United States. It featured Marriott’s distorted guitar runs and an odd sounding lead vocal that was a trip in and of itself. The melody, however, made it commercially successful. “Tin Soldier” is just as interesting but lacks the melodic quality. Other songs making a return are “Here Come The Nice,” “I’m Only Dreaming,” and “I Feel Much Better.”

As with all the albums in the series, the rest of the release is filled in with alternative versions of a number of songs. While they are interesting, they are only for the person who wants everything by the band from this era.

Small Faces is one of the great lost albums of its generation. This deluxe edition should please both fans of the band and people who appreciate creative music.

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