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Projections – The Blues Project

9 Feb

In November of 1966, The Blues Project, a perspicacious band of musicians from New York, released Projections, their second studio album. After its release the band started to fall apart. Was that the reason for the little recognition the album received? I cannot say that the volatile band relations led to a bad album, so no. On the contrary, Projections, is an excellent album that showcased the range of musical expertise that The Blues Project had.

The Blues Project was best when it consisted of Danny Kalb, Al Kooper, Steve Katz and Andy Kulberg. Kulberg, originally from Buffalo, played bass guitar and flute. Kooper, of Hollis Hills, Queens, was a wiz with several instruments, but mainly played keyboard with the band. Kalb, of Mt. Vernon, played blues guitar. Katz, also of New York, played guitar and harmonica.

The band played sharp and creative music because of the intelligence and somewhat prophetic ways of these men I just listed. The Blues Project was one of the first bands to experiment with the psychedelic sound and, along with the Grateful Dead, pioneer a style of jam-band music. If the original incarnation of The Blues Project stayed around for longer it would have been interesting to see if they garnered more respect and success. I’d go out on a limb right now and say absolutely. Projections is evidence of this.

Keep this in mind. The Blues Project’s next studio album came out in 1968. Steve Katz and Al Kooper had left and formed Blood Sweat & Tears, fulfilling Kooper’s longing to form a rock band with a horn section (which also was precocious). No offense Kulberg and Kalb (both fine musicians), but when you eliminate two important band members it is certainly tough to recover.

Projections is our best look at The Blues Project. The album does not disappoint. It has wide display of numerous rock genres and it explores lengthier, more experimental pieces. Let’s cover a few songs.

“Two Trains Running” is an 11-minute blues/rock epic. It goes under-appreciated by the masses even though it is a predecessor to the blues/rock that popular bands like Led Zeppelin played. Remember, this was released in 1966. It is way ahead of its time. Blues is the basis of rock n’ roll but long pieces like “Two Trains Running” were jam-band material that only a few bands were creating. The instrumental precision is also at a high. Everything from the sweet harmonica to incredible organ is just spot on and a pleasure to listen to. This is hard blues/rock before that genre was popularized five years after this release. The Dead were playing trippier music. This is the ol’ fashioned blues revival from a band that focused on the blues.

But…

Wait, what? This marks the sheer diversity on this album. All of a sudden we are transported to medieval Europe with this melodious beginning. This song, written by Steve Katz (hence “Steve’s Song”), showcases wonderful strings and flutes. It actually touches on the psychedelic/folk revolution that had just started taking place in 1966.

Projections is severely underrated and deserves a lot of credit for being the revolutionary album that it was.

The Underrated Album: More by Pink Floyd

4 Jan

Ask a casual classic rock fan to name some of his/her favorite bands from the era of rock n’ roll. There are a few popular choices. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Doors can certainly fall in this category. Pink Floyd is almost always one of the first three mentioned. Perhaps the best reason for this is the multitude of hits Floyd has shared with the world. Dark Side of the Moon is the best albums of all time and Wish You Were Here is certainly in the top 50. Plus, “Comfortably Numb” is completely overplayed on most classic rock stations. This is all great. Pink Floyd is my favorite band and their music has most certainly withstood the test of time. Heck, it has flourished. But, most Pink Floyd fans do not know of the albums that predated Dark Side of the Moon. Yes, the Dark Side predecessors do exist and portray a band in search of their sound.

When I talk of Pink Floyd, I am not speaking of the original line-up. While I do very much enjoy Syd Barrett‘s work, I will focus today on an album that features the line-up of Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason. It is actually the first album without Syd.

Soundtrack From the Film More was the first full-length soundtrack album for Pink Floyd. Created in 1969 for use in the Barbet Schroeder psychedelic film of the same name, this album features the young members of Pink Floyd four years prior to the release of Dark Side of the Moon. And, while the album has some obvious weak points, it does provide some intriguing gems that many Floyd fans have never heard before. It is a lost Pink Floyd album and is rarely listened to. I am here to tell you tonight that the album is significantly better than most people give it credit for being.

The album provides Pink Floyd’s most diverse palette of musical tastes and genres. While you will not find the crisp, epic transitions that you will find in Dark Side of the Moon, you will hear Floyd sampling sounds to create an atmosphere for their music. While there is no song that blows you away, there are pieces that may shock you. Consider “The Nile Song,” track 2 of the album.

What the hell is that? My friends, do consider heavy-rock Pink Floyd. More is the only album where you will be treated to such a rare delicacy. It features a loud guitar riff that leads into a David Gilmour distorted guitar solo consistent with what hard rock guitarists (like Steppenwolf) began doing during the years of 1968/1969. Less bluesy and soulful than Hendrix’s distorted guitar, but still well done. Yes, Gilmour can play more than just the melancholic and spine-tingling guitar solos he made famous. Pink Floyd was clearly experimenting with their sound and obviously working under the parameters of the film. This particular product was quite well done.

“Cirrus Minor” is an interesting piece that is completely opposite of the hard rock experimentation. The song is quite bucolic partly because of it’s usage of bird noises, but the minor key (and short verse-linking riff) gives the song the trademark funeral-like Pink Floyd feel that they absolutely master later in their careers.

Seriously, small elements of Dark Side of the Moon can be heard in this piece. Obviously, Dark Side of the Moon’s heavenly harmonies that are almost creepily esoteric in their nature, do not come until Dark Side of the Moon. But, move over to 3:40 in the song and listen to their sampling of different sounds. While the background music (excellently done by Wright) features more 60’s psychedelia, I do believe that their sampling of different sounds is an indication of music that came later. “Cirrus Minor” itself is a highly overlooked piece that is eery, mystical and excellently done.

The album also features “Green is the Colour,” a calm piece that features Roger Waters’ lyrical prowess.

“Heavy hung the canopy of blue
shade my eyes and I can see you
white is the light that shines trough the dress that you wore

She lay in the shadow of a wave
hazy were the visions overplayed
sunlight in her eyes, but moonshine made her cry every time

Green is the colour of her kind
quickness of the eye deceives the mind
envy is the bond between the hopeful and the damned”

The lyric is descriptive and colorful. It is a step up from his past work and foreshadows his later lyrical work. Dark Side of the Moon features amazing lyrics. This is where Waters got some practice.

Is this Pink Floyd’s best album? No, not by a long shot. The album does reveal a band eagerly searching for its musical niche. We hear elements of hard rock, psychedelic rock and even some hints at progressive rock. It provides evidence of the budding talent of these fine musicians who go on to record and release the greatest rock record. It, itself, should receive more credit. More is impressive and is an exciting glimpse at Pink Floyd before most people knew about them

The United States of America…According to Joe Byrd

14 Oct

Try to picture this. You are recording music in 1967. The Beatles just released a little album entitled Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane and The Doors are setting the psychedelic scene on fire and Jimi Hendrix is pondering whether or not you are experienced (and setting his own guitar on fire). You cut an album to compete in one of the greatest years for music ever…and you don’t use a guitar!

Sure fire failure, right? Wrong. Utterly wrong. What you do get is a psychedelic record way before its time. A record that shattered preconceived notions of rock n’ roll and challenged listeners to understand its pulchritudinous and spatial splendor. And, like many great works of art, it was smothered by the popular music of the time and left to rot on the discount racks. But, it has been received well by recent reviewers and will now be featured as one of the most underrated albums of all time on the Music Court. It is the eponymous United States of America.

 

Straight out of LA, CA, US

 

The USA only released this one album that hit #181 on Billboard’s Top 200 in 1968. Afterwards, the band went their separate ways. Joe Byrd, the main electronic music man, went on to form his field hippies and go on creating psychedelic works. While it may not have looked like it at the time, the USA seriously quit while they were ahead of the psychedelic game.

The album was influential more for the band’s adroitness with the emerging electronic sound that was about to become pervasive in the 60’s music scene, rather than Byrd’s radical lyric that made the band name rather humorous). And, because the technology was obscenely expensive at the time, the band was left with whatever oscillators and other devices they could get their hands on. But, the sound that they produced. Wow.

Also, because Byrd was really into early American music (dixieland jazz and marches for example) he included clips of these pieces in USA’s elaborate compositions. Therefore, the listener is bombarded with a sound attack that combines old-time America mixed with the newer psychedelic sound and vocalist Dorothy Moskowitz’s freaky voice.

Just check out “The American Metaphysical Circus.”

The rap on USA at the time of this album’s release was that they were too mechanical. But, truthfully, they were just moving into a different realm of psychedelia. This was an experiment and it blew the top off of the conventions of an electronic sound.

Robin Trower is Live

22 Sep

Robin Trower has made a career of flying under the radar. He put together eye-opening guitar pieces for Procol Harum when he played lead guitar for them from 1967-1971. And then he created his own power trio and went on to record one of the best rock/blues pieces of the 1970s. Seriously, “Bridge of Sighs” (1974) is as good as it gets. But, ask about Robin Trower today, and besides the classic rock intelligentsia composed of people who lived during the era and classic rock diehards like myself, most people do not know about the wonders of Robin Trower. But, tonight, I want to dig slightly deeper into Robin Trower. I want to go under his more known Bridge of Sighs and Twice Removed From Yesterday (1973) and explore the realm of one of Trower’s underrated, underrated albums. You following me? The man is underrated twice over. Go underneath the surface and find the awesome chocolate filling.

Robin Trower Live - 1976

Robing Trower’s power trio (which also consisted of drummer Bill Lordan and excellent vocalist James Dewar) performed a live set for the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation. The concert was at the Stockholm Concert Center in Sweden. It took place on Feb. 3, 1975. In an interview with Guitar Player magazine in 2006, Trower said that they were not aware the show was being taped, thinking they were playing for a radio broadcast only. “We were loose and uninhibited, and we played one of our best shows,” said Trower.

It was not one of their best shows…it was their best show. The sound that seeped from his guitar that night was magical. And, one cannot forget about the wonderful drumming by Lordan and Dewar’s croon. As for live albums, the album is not looked at as one of the better ones of the favorites, but, I am telling you tonight that it is certainly up there. The album is a must-listen and if you like good blues guitar you should start listening to Mr. Trower.

Here is “Alethea” which he also performed in Sweden. This recording is in London in 1975.

The Underrated Album: “Odessey and Oracle”

6 Jul

If you live in the Northeast, the scorching grip of summer most certainly was felt today as temperatures hit 103 in New York. And, trust me, it took one minute outside before sweat started developing on every crevice of your body. It was a broiler, but, hey at least its summer. Summer does mean something besides hot weather. New categories. I can hear the applause. Last summer, when the Music Court was still in its nascent stages, we premiered the 60’s bands section. This summer, I’d like to focus on underappreciated albums.

I feel that every music fan who respects the art of albums has at least one unknown album that he/she likes that many others have never heard of. I have around 90 of them. Okay, that was a completely random number, but, I do enjoy many albums that I feel to be very underrated. This gave me an idea. How about a category that profiles one underrated album a week? So, today the Music Court is pleased to welcome “The Underrated Album” to our humble blog home. And, to kick it all off, The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle.

When Odessey and Oracle was released in April of 1968, The Zombies had already disbanded. During the recording sessions that led to the 12-track LP of original Rod Argent and Chris White tunes, including the unmistakable “Time of the Season,” tempers flared over various elements of the recording. This included “Time of the Season,” where Argent insisted that vocalist Colin Blunstone sung the song a certain way. Thankfully, after he told Argent to sing the song himself, Blunstone agreed to put his mark on rock history (well, he did not know this at the time). Blunstone and Argent got back together in 2001 and still tour today.

So, the break-up of the band most definitely attributed to the little success of the album after it was released. There would be no live performances of the album until Argent and Blunstone got back together 33 years later. Also, it did not help that the album went almost unreleased in the United States, where a lot of the music market resided, by CBS boss Clive Davis. It took the urging of staff producer Al Kooper, best known for organizing the band Blood Sweat & Tears, to get the album onto the U.S CBS/Columbia records label. Kooper loved the album and believed it had three hit singles. He was certainly right about one particular single.

Another reason for why the album did not hit immediate success was because of the competition of the times. Here is a short list of some albums released in 1968.

Beggars Banquet (#57 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s top 500 albums of all time) by The Rolling Stones, White Album (#10) by the Beatles, Cheap Thrills (#338) by Big Brother and the Holding Company, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s debut eponymous album, Electric Ladyland (#54) by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

1968 is commonly depicted as one of the greatest years for album releases in music history. There was an embarrassment of riches and it is quite possible that Odessey and Oracle was simply lost in success of other albums.

But, recently the album has made a resurgence. It currently ranks 80th on the Rolling Stones list and it appears on numerous lists of greatest albums of the rock era. The genius of the album lies in its diversity, psychedelic sound and well…you know:

Fun Fact: The famous misspelling of odyssey was a mistake by the designer of the LP cover.

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