Folk

David Crosby “If I Could Only Remember My Name” (Atlantic, 1971)

This major-label album has emerged through nearly five decades of fluctuating interest and apathy to become at once a bargain-bin staple and a cult favorite. You don’t see that happen very often. My used copy’s cover is torn and frayed as much as David Crosby’s life has been, and that ugly exterior somehow makes the music within the grooves seem that much more special.

If I Could Only Remember My Name arose in the aftermath of Crosby’s emotional devastation following the death of his girlfriend, Christine. The former Byrd was eight miles low when he entered the studio. Emotionally and artistically buoyed by friends in high places (and high friends in spaces), Croz manifested a record that was like a miraculous mirage of folk-rock jamming and heart-string-tugging lyrics.

Name might have been the greatest pity party ever thrown, and it proved that a dozen or so millionaire musicians can set aside their egos and create an enduring work of healing spirituality, in order to mend a damaged psyche. It’s also the rare LP that has influenced middling indie-rock artists such as Devendra Banhart and Sufjan Stevens as well as delighted lovers of rarefied psychedelia.

It begins with “Music Is Love,” a pinnacle of hippie rock. The song rides an easygoing acoustic-guitar riff and hand percussion/handclap rhythm, bolstered by a simple, indisputable message/mantra: “Everybody’s saying music is love.” Everybody was saying no such thing back then or at any other time, but isn’t it lovely to think so? Through the pure beauty of the tune, though, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Written by Crosby, Graham Nash, and Neil Young, this tune must’ve made Stephen Stills very jealous.

Then comes the “Cowgirl In The Sand”-like “Cowboy Movie,” which sounds like a laid-back James Gang with its subtle, clipped funk undertow. Grateful Dead members dominate here, with Jerry Garcia on guitars, Mickey Hart on drums, Phil Lesh on bass, Bill Kreutzmann on tambourine. Over their Haight-Ashbury groove, Crosby relates a harrowing tall tale about an Indian woman who’s not what she seems. Not sure this track needs to be over eight minutes, but maybe the drugs were kicking in real nice when Croz and company cut it. “Tamalpais High (At About 3)” is a mellow, wee-hours CSN tune with gorgeous wordless vocal harmonies—a motif on Name. With Nash joining Croz on vocals, the song goes airborne thanks to Garcia and Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen unspooling liquid gold filigrees.

For a lot of people (maybe even me), “Laughing” is the LP’s peak. You have the goddess Joni Mitchell and Nash on silken backing vocals, Garcia getting glorious on pedal steel, Phil Lesh on bass, and Kreutzmann on drums. They all lock into synch for this languorous sigh of a song that’s like a more rhythmically easygoing version of “Cowboy Movie.” Think of it as the aural analogue to the LP cover, on which the descending sun glows above the ocean that’s superimposed over Crosby’s pensive stare. The album’s most menacing track, “What Are Their Names” starts with spare, “Dark Star”-esque intrigue, thanks to Garcia’s spindly, stellar picking. With Mitchell, Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, and David Freiberg on backing vocals, Croz and the crew intone lyrics about the evil men who run the country/world. Timeless stuff, unfortunately. Bonus: Seattle resident and Santana star Michael Shrieve’s on drums.

The album’s final four songs are marked by some of the most beautiful and majestic vocal arrangements and performances of the ’70s. The traditional “Orleans” is a showcase for Crosby’s soaring choirboy voice and delicately gorgeous acoustic-guitar strumming. You can hear its profound influence on Fleet Foxes, for what that’s worth. This track bleeds seamlessly into “I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here,” whose vocal origami of ancient-sounding majesty prefigures Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard. Yep.

There are fewer rougher bummers than losing a lover to death, obviously, but Crosby and his posse of West Coast all-stars turned the sourest lemon into the sweetest lemonade on If I Could Only Remember My Name. -Buckley Mayfield

Nancy Priddy “You’ve Come This Way Before” (Dot, 1968)

Nancy Priddy had a one-and-done solo career in music, but You’ve Come This Way Before stands as one of the best albums by an actor—perhaps a low bar, but still. (Priddy acted in TV shows such as Bewitched, Matlock, and The Waltons, and gave birth to another actor, Christina Applegate.)

Before she retired from music for good, though, Priddy racked up impressive credits with the great, grave folk singer/poet Leonard Cohen and synth master Mort Garson. For Cohen, Priddy sang backup on three tunes from his 1967 debut LP, Songs Of Leonard Cohen, including “Suzanne” and “So Long, Marianne.” With Garson, she flexed thespian prowess to recite astrological insights over Mort’s abstract Moog emissions for myriad Signs Of The Zodiac records. On the gossip tip, Priddy briefly dated Stephen Stills and inspired the Buffalo Springfield song “Pretty Girl Why.”

It was while working with NYC folk group the Bitter End Singers that Priddy met producer Phil Ramone, as well as arrangers Manny Albam and John Simon, all of whom would contribute considerable skills to You’ve Come This Way Before. The musicians are uncredited, but the internet reveals that Bernard Purdie mans the drumkit, and you can tell that’s true from the subtly funky beats on the album-opening title track. Whoever else is backing Priddy’s dulcet, coquettish singing, they’re a killer crew.

Now, most women making records in the ’60s didn’t have much autonomy with regard to songwriting, but Priddy pens every tune here, and the lyrics bear a poetic depth about the vagaries of romance and existence. They’re closer to Joni Mitchell, Bobbie Gentry, and Nico than to those of the evanescent pop stars of the time, e.g., “A chess game played by gods/In which there are no odds/A Master Plan directing man to something more/Our pathways are magnetic/Our logic is synthetic/Our struggle is so pathetic, and a bore.”

Those lyrics to “You’ve Come This Way Before” add luster to the hip, understatedly funky sunshine pop that spectacularly blossoms, thanks partially to the ever-resourceful Purdie. The arrangers whip up exquisite quiet/loud/quiet dynamics while Priddy expresses kittenish charm with sporadic forays into dulcet belting. She’s not quite Dusty Springfield or Bobbie Gentry, but Priddy’s a capable conveyor of subtle emotions.

If you dig orchestral pop à la Serge Gainsbourg and Jean-Claude Vannier, you’ll love “Ebony Glass,” which achieves a majestic moroseness through harpsichord, violins, harps, and glockenspiel. “Mystic Lady”is an arty ballad with lush melodies, surprising, intricate vocal arrangements, and prog-like dynamics—a tour de force with soul. Named after the famous Andrew Wyeth painting, “Christina’s World” is as ornate and sweeping as the Left Banke, thanks to the arranging and conducting of Everett Gordon. The album’s most uptempo song, “My Friend Frank,” is almost as quirky as Lothar And The Hand People and as swinging as the United States Of America’s “Hard Coming Love.” Respect to whoever plays the madly swirling, spiritual organ solo.

Two of the LP’s highlights remind me of another late-’60s woman singer-songwriter who should’ve been much bigger: Margo Guryan (see my review of her Take A Picture album on this blog). “We Could Have It All”’s towering feel-good pop also recalls the 5th Dimension and it makes you feel as if you’re soaring to your final reward. Another should’ve been hit, “On The Other Side Of The River,” offers nonstop excitement, hip-swiveling rhythms, and melodic sweetness, much like Guryan’s “Love,” which is highest praise.

Modern Harmonic reissued You’ve Come This Way Before on vinyl in 2020 and the UK label Rev-Ola re-released it on CD in 2005. Grip this jewel before it slips out of print again. -Buckley Mayfield

Björn J:son Lindh “Sissel” (Metronome/CTI, 1973)

One of my goals in life is to bring Björn J:son Lindh’s outstanding music to more people’s attention. It’s hard work, but somebody has to do it. I’m by no means an expert on this Swedish fusion flautist/keyboardist, but I do think he has at least four albums that deserve precious shelf space in your home. These records—Ramadan, Cous Cous, Second Carneval, and Sissel—flaunt Lindh’s idiosyncratic way with melody and dynamic, funky rhythmic finesse. I’d like to explore in more depth Sissel, as that’s the LP I find myself playing out most in DJ sets.

When you hear lead cut “Bull Dog,” you’ll understand why I and other fusion-friendly disc jockeys rely on Sissel for rocking parties. The opening break stands out from your run-of-the-mill funk with its nimble metallic and woody percussion accenting a deep, methodical bass/drum groove, all slashed by Lindh’s staccato flute striations. Midway in, Jan Schaffer’s fluid, pointillistic guitar solo launches “Bull Dog” into John Abecrombie/Gábor Szabó heights. Shout out to Stefan Brolund’s staunch bass line, as well. “Storpolska” represents one of the great red herrings in music. It starts like an ancient folk song in an odd time signature, until Schaffer’s blaxploitation-funk, wah-wah’d guitar riff and Mike Watson’s churning bass materialize and shift things to Shaft-land. A wonderful cognitive dissonance arises when Lindh starts to blow pastoral-prog flute airs over the urban-turmoil soundtrack, which boils to Miles Davis/On The Corner levels, as Schaffer’s pyrotechnics soar into Sonny Sharrock/Pete Cosey dimensions of sculpted chaos.

Similar to “Bull Dog” in its sparseness and percussive vocabulary, “Your Own House” is even funkier and more laid-back. No wonder it’s been sampled in nine songs, including those by Aceyalone, Black Milk, Meat Beat Manifesto, and Attica Blues. The chorus recalls Herbie Mann at his most beautifully melancholy. Written by Jan Schaffer, it’s a perfect track with which to end a DJ set; it feels as if the music’s poignantly waving goodbye. The title track’s hard-hitting, action-packed fusion à la Deodato’s Prelude; Lennart Aberg’s soprano sax solo baroquely rips. Sissel closes with a cover of Joe South’s 1968 anti-hypocrisy country-rock classic, “Games People Play,” on which Schaffer’s guitar sounds a bit like a sitar. South’s melody is so well-suited for Lindh’s delicate euphony, and it’s amazing how the song sounds at once cheerful and downhearted, especially in this version.

Lindh’s ’70s albums are neither very common nor ultra-rare, but when they do turn up, they’re usually reasonably priced. Grab one next time you see it, and validate my thesis, if you’d be so kind. -Buckley Mayfield

Heart “Dreamboat Annie” (Mushroom, 1975)

Recorded 45 years ago in Vancouver, B.C., Heart’s debut LP came out on the small Canadian label Mushroom, with which the band’s creative core (the Seattle-based Ann and Nancy Wilson) subsequently had problems regarding royalties and a tasteless full-page ad in Rolling Stone. Nevertheless, Dreamboat Annie proved that Heart were a phenomenal force right from the start—a rare outlier of women-fronted hard rock in the testosteronic sea of the classic-rock era. “Magic Man” and “Crazy On You” became ubiquitous on American radio from the mid ’70s onward, but despite the over-saturation, they still smack of freshness. If you’re tired of these stone classics, you’re probably tired of life.

Dreamboat Annie begins, of course, with “Magic Man,” whose ice-cold estrogenic rock is energized by a superfine elastic riff. Instantly, Ann Wilson proves that her voice is one of the most wondrous in rock, a vibrant, supple instrument that belts or coos with equal radiance. The acoustic- and electric-guitar parts encompass a ridiculously wide range of idioms, moods, and textures, augmented by Howard Leese’s wicked synthesizer accents. After millions of exposures over the last 44 years, “Magic Man” still enchants like a motherfucker. It’s the miracle song that keeps on giving.

Dreamboat Annie (Fantasy Child)” provides a 70-second bridge of waves- and acoustic-guitar-enhanced shivery folk to the next hit, “Crazy On You.” This is tumultuous rock at its most dramatic, a master class in dynamics and bravura vocalizing. “My love is the evening breeze touching your skin/The gentle, sweet singing of leaves in the wind/The whisper that calls after you in the night/And kisses your ear in the early moonlight” is sweet poetry in a rock context, especially when bolstered by Roger Fisher’s Brian May-like guitar flamboyancy. As with “Magic Man,” “Crazy On You” still has the power to tingle your senses despite being as familiar as your own neuroses.

More waves accentuate “Soul Of The Sea,” a sensitivo prog-folk opus with a delicate acoustic-guitar intro leading into an intricate, Joni-esque ballad. Rob Deans and Leese’s orchestral arrangements are subtle and beautiful. More Joni vibes—plus echoes of the Byrds’ “Draft Morning”—ramble into the feathery, midtempo reverie that is “Dreamboat Annie.” “White Lightning & Wine” is the album’s most special deep cut. It’s a nastily funky, cowbell-heavy song about a debauched night that could pass as a more XX-chromosomed ZZ Top, and wow, does the rockin’ intensify near the end.

(Love Me Like Music) I’ll Be Your Song” radically downshifts to a lighter-waving power ballad, flaunting one of Heart’s most beautiful melodies. “But if you love me like music/I’ll be your song” is some clever romantic lyricism. “Sing Child” delivers staccato funk rock in the vein of Physical Graffiti‘s grittier tracks. Oozing diabolically libidinous vibes, the song’s distinguished by Ann’s galvanizing flute solo and Fisher’s Janne Schaffer-like guitar solo. A lush ballad augmented by Leese’s orchestral arrangements, “How Deep It Goes” is a wonderfully wistful and lightly proggy tune à la the Moody Blues.

Come to Dreamboat Annie for the deathless hits, stay for the ravishing non-radio-glutting gems. -Buckley Mayfield

It’s A Beautiful Day “It’s A Beautiful Day” (Columbia, 1969)


You’ve seen this album in bargain bins a billion times. Maybe the cover intrigues you… or maybe it repels you. Its corny wholesomeness does not exactly promise a wild sonic ride. I shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t judge an album by its cover. It’s A Beautiful Day often soars far above what its packaging suggests.

The story goes that IABD’s manager, Matthew Katz (the notorious jerk who effed Moby Grape, among others), forced the band to move from the Bay Area to Seattle to record their debut album, made them endure penurious conditions during the winter in the attic of a house owned by Katz, and generally engineered a miserable experience.

Yet despite these setbacks, IABD produced an outstanding debut LP that smacks of a certain kind of ambitious hippiedom circa 1969. Orchestral psych-rock, ornate balladry, baroque folk, gritty blues rock—these sorts of things interested major-label bigwigs back then, and the album peaked at #47 in the US. Hence, the ubiquity of It’s A Beautiful Day in 21st-century cheapie bins. Columbia manufactured a ton of it, and the single “White Bird” hit fairly big, but the album just didn’t engender the devotion that some other releases from the era did.

You can understand why “White Bird” struck a chord in the late ’60s: It’s a paragon of mellifluous hippie folk with male/female vocals. However, IABD should’ve made Pattie Santos’ dulcet tones more prominent in the mix and muted David LaFlamme’s plummy croon. Still, the song takes off wonderfully thanks to LaFlamme’s sonorous, soaring violin solo and Hal Wagenet’s glistening, rococo guitar excursion.

At his best, LaFlamme can approach Scott Walker’s deep, velvety expressiveness, as he proves on “Hot Summer Day,” a laid-back reverie not unlike Jefferson Airplane’s mellower moments. By contrast, the anguished blues rock of “Wasted Union Blues”—with its gnarly guitar and violin interplay—verges on the frayed-nerve intensity James Blood Ulmer/Ornette Coleman. Again, though, Santos’ voice should be to the fore.

The tough, Eastern-leaning orchestral psych-rock of “Bombay Calling” was so enticing that Deep Purple lifted its main motif for “Child In Time.” “Bulgaria” conjures a mood similar to that of the Doors’ “Indian Summer” and the Stooges’ “We Will Fall,” but it’s not as eerie. The lines “when you’re in a dream/the time passes so slowly/open up your heart/go to sleep on the moment love was born” epitomize IABD’s infatuation with the cosmic aspects of romance.

IABD save the best for last. The album’s longest song at nearly 10 minutes, “Time Is” embarks on an adrenalized journey to the center of existentialist-rock nirvana. It’s not quite as out-there as Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today” and Val Fuentes’ drum solo isn’t as impressive as Ron Bushy’s in Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” but it’s a splendid spectacle nonetheless.

Don’t let the cover fool you; It’s A Beautiful Day is bargain-bin gold. -Buckley Mayfield

Joe Walsh “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” (ABC-Dunhill, 1973)

After he left James Gang (great band!) and before he joined the Eagles (hugely popular band who are not my bag, though I like a few of their songs!), Joe Walsh cut a few albums with Barnstorm, including The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get, perhaps the guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist’s peak with that band—and the title that most resembles a line from a Firesign Theater routine.

The LP is distinguished by its opening track, “Rocky Mountain Way,” which reached #23 on the US singles chart in 1973. One of the most iconic guitar riffs of the ’70s—nay, of all time—kicks off this spaced-out, blues-rockin’ party tune. Yes, you’ve heard it 9 billion times, but its widescreen grandeur, crystalline crunch, and wonky, wah-wah-heavy solo refuse to pall, even after all that exposure. It’s a tough act to follow, but the rest of The Smoker… bears some low-key treasures.

“Wolf” is a spare, bleak ballad in the vein of Aerosmith’s “Season Of Wither” and some of Robin Trower’s ’70s output, generating some chilly melancholy. Written by keyboardist Rocke Grace, “Midnight Moodies” surprises with its elegant jazz-rock vibe, bolstered with piano, cowbell, and flute by drummer Joe Vitale. Another shockingly pleasant tangent comes courtesy of bassist Kenny Passarelli’s Caribbean-spiced rock cut “Happy Ways,” with its sprung rhythm and killer bass line. The song really blossoms into a rousing rocker during the choruses, bursting with “la la la”s and “na na na”s. It’s the feel-good non-hit of the record.

The second side of The Smoker… is more subdued and less interesting than the first side, but it has its moments. “Meadows” is tender, melodious rock with beefy-riffed power surges, while “Days Go By” (another Vitale composition) brings the sort of flute-augmented baroque rock that, oddly enough, sounds more like the Left Banke than anything else.

The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get is the sort of wildly popular major-label album that litters nearly every bargain bin in the country, but don’t underestimate it. It reveals Walsh and company’s instrumental depth and aptitude for emotionally resonant songwriting beyond of the radio staples for which they were known and loved by classic-rock radio programmers and the people mesmerized by them. -Buckley Mayfield

Norma Tanega “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog” (New Voice, 1966)

Though she had a single that reached #22 on the charts in 1966 and wrote songs for British pop-soul diva Dusty Springfield (with whom she also had a long-term romantic relationship), Norma Tanega has remained an obscure cult figure. Call me an optimist, but I think that situation might be remedied by Real Gone Music’s recent green-vinyl reissue of Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog, a delightfully quirky folk-rock record that quickly charms its way into your heart—especially that chart-dwelling title track alluded to earlier. I mean, RGM only produced 1,000 copies, but maybe this review will tip the scales in Tanega’s favor. (HAHAHAHA.)

All kidding aside, you gotta love the moxie of opening your debut album with a song title “You’re Dead.” Tanega grabs you from the get-go with a matter-of-fact voice that’s somewhat flat yet alluring, like Bobbie Gentry (or indeed Springfield), with a lower timbre and less breathy flamboyancy… or like Buffy Sainte-Marie without the stentorian vibrato. Tanega’s music is urgent, stripped-down folk-rock that gives Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs’ songcraft a run for its trenchancy. “Treat Me Right” is upbeat folk with gospel-vocal call-and-response uplift. “Waves” and “Jubilation” form a diptych of feel-good, intimate anthems that celebrate coupledom, in waltz time.

The dramatic orchestral pop of “Don’t Touch” features a chorus paraphrasing that of Petula Clark’s “Downtown.” It should’ve been a hit! What did become a hit, “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog,” is simply one of the greatest songs of the ’60s, a lolloping melody that makes you want to tear off all of your clothes, wad ’em up, and throw ’em in the air. Mutedly euphoric, the song sounds like Martha & The Vandellas gone folk, and it reflects Tanega’s genius for surprising song structures and idiosyncratic harmonica tones. “A Street That Rhymes At Six A.M.” offers another Motown simulacrum, but in off-kilter folk mode. So damn fresh.

For variation, there’s “What Are We Craving?” (a stomping, martial tune with Nico-like vocals), “No Stranger Am I,” (an Astrud Gilberto-esque saudade folk tune in an odd time signature), and “Hey Girl” (a cover of the 1870s Appalachian folk standard “In The Pines,” which was made famous by Lead Belly… and then more famous by Nirvana and Mark Lanegan). Oddly, the album closes with its most conventional track, “I’m The Sky,” whose jaunty poppiness recalls the 5th Dimension.

Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog is one of the most welcome reissues of the year. The fact that the latest edition of it already has sold out bodes well for its rehabilitation. Now get to repressin’, Real Gone Music. -Buckley Mayfield

Fleetwood Mac “Mystery To Me” (Reprise, 1973)

Mystery To Me is one of those sort-of-overlooked Fleetwood Mac albums that came between the Peter Green and Stevie Nicks-Lindsey Buckingham phases. Keyboardist Christine McVie and guitarist Bob Welch dominate the songwriting here; while it’s not the best pre-Rumours Fleetwood Mac album, it does contain a few serious highlights. Your enjoyment of Mystery To Me will be predicated on how much you dig Welch’s Valium’d vox, McVie’s plummy singing, and medium-cool blues rock. The strange thing about this record is that its peak, “Hypnotized,” is an anomaly in the Fleetwood Mac catalog. More about that later.

Side one stands out for a couple of McVie compositions. The peppy, catchy “Believe Me,” the most uptempo tune here, comes across very much like “Homeward Bound” off Bare Trees. “Just Crazy Love” is mildly ebullient pop that hints at Christine’s vibrant songwriting on Rumours. “Forever” shambles in on an odd reggae-rock rhythm that’s endearing almost despite itself. The rambling orchestral, quasi-flamenco rock of “Keep On Going” is unusual for bearing a McVie vocal in a Welch-written song.

Side two’s standout is “For Your Love,” as Fleetwood Mac deploy a a subtly different and dreamier rearrangement of the Yardbirds classic, bolstered by lots of dual-guitar fireworks. In “The City,” Welch explains how he can’t handle New York’s darkness, which is all around—even in Central Park, apparently—as his wah-wah guitar squawk propels a swaggeringly funky blues-rock workout. “Miles Away” is breezy, kinetic rock that makes you want to floor it as you zip down the freeway on a journey to the periphery of your mind, while Welch grinds out some seductive, highly torqued blues rock on “Somebody.”

But the real reason to cop Mystery To Me, is “Hypnotized”—which was a minor US radio hit and covered by the Pointer Sisters on their 1978 album, Energy. Urged along by a coolly detached yet insistent, rolling rhythm and colored by the chillest of spangly guitar embroidery, this song is pure proto-Balearic-beach enchantment. Welch’s mellow-bronze vocals perfectly cap this aptly titled jam. “Hypnotized” is my go-to Fleetwood Mac tune when I’m DJing in a bar and as the night’s winding down and I’m trying to lay the foundation for its boozing patrons to get laid.

Overall, Mystery To Me is a slow-grower that boasts a few cuts that belong on any Fleetwood Mac best-of mixtape. You should still be able to find a used vinyl copy for under $10. -Buckley Mayfield

Nico “The Marble Index” (Elektra, 1968)

When you think about records that could be considered the antithesis of a party album (and who doesn’t, at least weekly?), you have to place Nico’s The Marble Index near the top of the heap. Recorded with fellow former Velvet Underground band mate John Cale, this record stood in stark relief against 1968’s kaleidoscopic array of vibrantly hued psychedelia and rabble-rousing soul like an ice castle in the desert. Anyone expecting another lissome folk-pop gem like Nico’s 1967 debut LP, Chelsea Girl, would have to have been shocked upon hearing The Marble Index. According to interviews, Nico is on record as saying the latter is a more true expression of her art and soul than the former, which abounded with songs written by men. Angst for the memories, Ms. Päffgen.

After the brief “Prelude,” a relatively sprightly glockenspiel and piano reverie that doesn’t prepare you for what’s to follow, things snap into proper foreboding with “Lawns Of Dawns.” The song seems to rise out of a murk, not unlike some of the tracks on Tim Buckley’s Starsailor. Harmonium drones, glockenspiel tintinnabulations, Nico’s stentorian intonations of oblique, personal poetry mark Marble Index‘s dominant mode, and it’s icy, mate. Trivia: “Lawns Of Dawns” reportedly was inspired by peyote visions Nico experienced with paramour Jim Morrison.

No One Is There” is minimalist, Northern European art-folk lieder, as Nico trills morosely over Cale’s saturninely beauteous viola. Written for her son, “Ari’s Song” is a lullaby that probably offered cold comfort, given its frigid atmosphere and piercing bosun’s pipe tonalities. Over a slightly woozy and fragile cacophony, Nico sings, “Sail away, sail away, my little boy/Let the wind fill your heart with light and joy/Sail away, my little boy.” Sweet dreams, child, ha ha. “Facing The Wind” is haunted desolation incarnate. Nico’s waxing and waning harmonium drones slur around banging piano dissonance and random, disconcerting percussion. Our heroine sings through a Leslie speaker for added eeriness about an existential crisis exacerbated by the elements in nature.

Toward Marble Index‘s end, things really get dark. The polar viola drones in “Frozen Warnings” shiver with unbearably poignant forlornness, shrouded by Nico’s pitiless yet dulcet vocals. It’s up there with Buckley’s “Song To The Siren” for tender, heart-shredding sonic beauty. Listen and feel your blood slowly freeze with sympathy. Album-finale “Evening Of Light” features gradually intensifying bell tolling, grim bass groans, and viola drones that overwhelm Nico’s doomed crooning. Nico and Cale are not even trying to make the music and singing sync up, which adds to the sense of menace. The refrain “Midnight winds are landing at the end of time” sums up The Marble Index‘s pervasive mood of crushing bleakness and captures the song’s artfully apocalyptic tenor.

In the liner notes to the deluxe CD reissue of The Marble Index and Desertshore titled The Frozen Borderline: 1968-1970, the LP’s producer, Frazier Mohawk said: “After it was finished, we genuinely thought people might kill themselves. The Marble Index isn’t a record you listen to. It’s a hole you fall into.” The man speaks the truth. Nevertheless, you need to hear it. -Buckley Mayfield

Hapshash And The Coloured Coat “Featuring The Human Host And The Heavy Metal Kids” (Minit, 1967)

This album seemingly just materialized from the vapors of that heady year of 1967. It’s a freakish one-off, a slapdash, communal psychedelic happening magicked into existence by British graphic designers Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, with help from producer Guy Stevens and many other ringers and hangers-on (Groundhogs’ Tony McPhee, Tyrannosaurus Rex’s Mickey Finn, and some bloke named Brian Jones are in the mix). If the music lived up to its spectacular cover, it would be one of the greatest records of all time. It’s not quite in that echelon, but it is mighty great—especially for visual artists dabbling with music.

H-O-P-P-WHY” launches the album with a deep, primal chug that’s bolstered by barrelhouse piano—an approach that foreshadowed the Rolling Stones side project Jamming With Edward! It also sounds not too far off from what the Mothers Of Invention were doing on “Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet” from 1966’s Freak Out! LP. The spirited, chanting vocals and harmonica here recur throughout Featuring The Human Host And The Heavy Metal Kids, and I’m not complaining.

The awesomely titled “A Mind Blown Is A Mind Shown” is a tambourine-, harmonica-, and bongo-heavy hippie hoedown that nicely sets the scene for the LP’s zenith, “The New Messiah Coming 1985.” This cut is perhaps the biggest influence on krautrock demigods Amon Düül I; it’s a hypnotic mantra riding a basic, folkadelic, acoustic-guitar riff, unison chants (“WE ARE!”… “I AM!”), bells, finger cymbals, awesome gong splashes, and a clodhopping caveman beat. Honestly, if the whole album had been just 40 minutes of this, it would be a stone classic and everyone who heard “Messiah” would have a hard time not basing a religion around it. As it is, the song fades out right when it should be intensifying. Oh, well… maybe next lifetime. “Aoum” is more a kundalini-yoga chanting exercise than a song, but what do you expect from a track named after the sacred sound that signifies the essence of ultimate reality?

Empires Of The Sun” is a relentless, joyous romp that fills all of side 2. Hapshash throw in everything they’ve got in this maximalist über-jam, which appears to be tumbling down a mountainside in an avalanche while all of the group’s friends whoop, holler, intone “hari krishna” and “om,” and fake orgasms to the tumultuous freakout. There are also some of the wildest flute or ocarina trills you’ll ever hear. It’s a peak-time burner, for sure, and a helluva way to end a debut album.

Hapshash’s second full-length, Western Flier (1969), sounds little like this dazzling gem, going off in a corny, song-oriented direction that doesn’t play to their strengths. It’s shockingly bad, one of the biggest sophomore slumps in rock history. Little wonder Hapshash split after this, but wow, what an initial splash they made. -Buckley Mayfield

McDonald And Giles, “McDonald And Giles” (Island, 1970)


McDonald And Giles sounds like the name of a high-level law firm, but it actually was the evanescent project of multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald and drummer Michael Giles, who played on King Crimson’s groundbreaking 1969 LP, In The Court Of The Crimson King. (Michael’s brother Peter plays bass on McDonald And Giles.) They left the band following a US tour that year, although Michael Giles helped out on King Crimson’s second album, In The Wake Of Poseidon. It was one and done for Ian and Michael, but oh what a relic they left behind.

McDonald And Giles begins with the multi-part epic “Suite In C,” which exudes an elegance and pulchritudinous intricacy that were the province of British prog-rock musicians of the late ’60s and early ’70s. What I mean is, there was a post-Sgt. Pepper’s frou-frou quality that mated with the folkadelia of Pentangle, Incredible String Band, and Fairport Convention to form a pastoral, beatific sound that transported you to Elysian Fields—but in a very circuitous manner. This was beyond the ken of Americans. Although there is a point at 7-and-a-half minutes in when the song swerves into a parody of old-timey genres à la the United States Of America’s “I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar,” so I contradict myself. Sorry.

“Flight Of The Ibis” is startlingly similar to KC’s lilting, gorgeous ballad “Cadence & Cascade,” but “Ibis” is even more sublime and as fragilely spectacular as peak Left Banke. Somehow, Giles just nudges out Greg Lake for vocal poignancy. Whenever I play this zither-enhanced tune in a DJ set, I’m disappointed when the whole bar or club isn’t in tears and hugging one another. Similarly, “Is She Waiting?” is a melancholy ballad with spindly acoustic guitar and piano that can hold its own with the Zombies, Moody Blues, and White Album-era Beatles.

McDonald And Giles‘ zenith is the Giles-penned “Tomorrow’s People – The Children Of Today,” which contains some of the most robust, funky drums in prog history. No wonder the Beastie Boys sampled it for “Body Movin’”; it’s surprising more hip-hop producers haven’t leveraged its meaty hits. McDonald’s flute takes flight in a display of rococo jauntiness while Michael Blakesley’s trombone and McDonald’s clarinet form soar in an incomparable effusion of optimism. We could all benefit from shooting this horn chart into our veins daily.

The 21-minute suite “Birdman” features former KC lyricist Peter Sinfield scripting another many-tentacled composition, this time about a man who learns how to fly. This is one of those sidelong marathons that flaunt McDonald and Giles’ prog inventiveness and eclecticism (freakbeat, jazz, churchy organ prog, orchestral soundtrack bombast, etc.). It’s not all amazing, but the ambition is breathtaking.

If you dig the first two King Crimson albums, you should check out McDonald And Giles—and maybe sample that killer drum break in “Tomorrow’s People” while you’re at it. -Buckley Mayfield

Woo “Awaawaa” (Palto Flats, 2016)

All it takes is about 10 seconds of a Woo song to understand that you’re in the presence of utterly distinctive artists who appear to operate in cloistered, idyllic settings, far from the usual circumstances of music-making. British brothers Clive and Mark Ives use electronics and percussion and guitars, clarinet, and bass, respectively, to create music that eludes easy categorization. They touch on many styles, including chamber jazz, ambient, dub, prog-folk, exotica, twisted yacht rock, Young Marble Giants-like post-punk, and winsome miniatures not a million miles from Eno’s instrumentals on Another Green World.

Listening to their releases, you sense that the Iveses are totally unconcerned about music-biz trapping; neither fame nor fortune seems to enter their minds. They simply want to lay down these genuinely idiosyncratic tunes that work best in your headphones/earbuds while you’re alone in nature. That’s an all-too-rare phenomenon.

Recorded from 1975 to 1982 in London, Awaawaa only recently gained wider recognition, thanks to a 2016 reissue by the Palto Flats label. Its 16 instrumentals rarely puncture their way to the forefront of your consciousness. Rather, they enter earshot with low-key charm, do their thing for a few minutes, then unceremoniously bow out. “Green Blob” is the closest Woo get to “rocking out,” coming across like CAN circa Ege Bamyasi (sans vox) burrowing deeply into inner space, with Mark Ives’ guitar recalling Michael Karoli’s yearning, clarion tone. Similarly, “The Goodies” sounds like the Residents interpreting CAN, casting the krautrock legends’ irrepressible groove science in a more insular context.

The pieces on Awaawaa exude an unobtrusive beauty, a congenial mellowness; the cumulative effect is a subtle, holistic well-being. It’s a sprig of joy that will keep you enraptured and hearing new delights with each successive listen. -Buckley Mayfield