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Automatic Man “Automatic Man” (1976)

There he is again. That Blue Space Alien staring out, empty-eyed from my LP collection. As if using telepathy, he beckons me to reach out for him, pull out his vinyl body and put him my turntable. It’s funny how after all these years since I first saw him in the record bins at Peaches Records in Ohio, he still has that effect on me. But I know the real lure of this LP is not the Alien, but the Space-Fusion Prog of the band, that brings me back to play that album. Automatic Man’s debut LP, in my opinion is on the best of the fusion/prog era, perhaps equaling Return To Forever’s classic Romantic Warrior.
Automatic Man was a super-group of sorts. The self-titled debut album featured a stellar lineup: Keyboard player and singer Bayete, whose voice eerily resembles Jimi Hendrix, played with Stanley Clark. S.F. Bay area musician Doni Harvey, ex-Gong, played bass. Pat Thrall, was a member of Stomu Yamashita’s band Go, was on guitar. Formerly of Santana, legendary percussionist Michael Shrieve blazed on drums.
This isn’t a loose jam session or self-indulgent doodling, this is an album driven by strong songwriting. The opening “Atlantis Rising/Comin’Through” displays a sound that manages to keep its footings firmly in the here and now, whilst simultaneously oozing an air of futuristic soundscapes that render it ripe for evoking mental imagery. Power number “My Pearl”, with its driving funk/synth vibe, demonstrate that Automatic Man had the chops to craft a pop single. Pat Thrall’s riffs even give you the impression that Hendrix has been transported back from the dead to appear, or even cloned! You got to check out Thrall’s the guitar solo on the title track. It’s got to be the best solo that no one has ever heard! The lush keyboard arrangements add a reverberating layer of an almost alien-like displacement to the overall sound of the proceedings. Meanwhile, breezier numbers such as “One ‘N One” and “Newspapers” exhibit a more other-worldly, cold sound, as if lying on a beach on Pluto (does Pluto have beaches?)

Space references aside, this album really rocks. There is no filler on this LP and is truly a satisfying listen. If you see the Blue Alien, let him beam you aboard for the ride. –Ed

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