The Doors – L.A. Woman (1971)

Doors_LAWoman4.5 out of 5 Stars!

I freely confess, I was never a fan of The Doors during the band’s actual existence (from 1965-1973). In hindsight, the reason was certainly understandable—when the band burst onto the scene in ’67 with its self-titled album, I was only seven years old, and during that time in my young life, The Monkees were (to my mind) the next best thing to peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and chocolate milk. Then, when I really started “getting into” music around the age of eleven or twelve, no one within my circle of friends even owned an album by The Doors, but instead, introduced me to “new” and exciting groups they’d discovered such as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull, Yes, The Allman Brothers Band, Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin, Bloodrock, and Black Sabbath. Plus, by this time, The Doors had already lost Jim Morrison (RIP) and were already considered “old hat” and “hanging on by a thread.”

Therefore, it wasn’t until the early ’80s—when I’d reached my twenties and regularly performed in my own groups—that I gained an interest in the band. For this sudden exposure, I thank a Chicagoland act called Moonlight Drive. As the name implies, the outfit was a “Doors tribute band,” fairly popular in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, and I luckily found my own band playing several shows with the group in the tri-state region. Of course, I’d certainly heard of The Doors, but only knew the hit singles such as “Hello, I Love You” and “Touch Me,” and had always thought the band rather lightweight and way too “acid rock poppish” for my tastes. But after seeing Moonlight Drive deliver a dramatic, heavy-hitting set of The Doors’s best tunes, including many of the non-hit singles, on several nights, I suddenly found myself hooked. Only then did I realize that The Doors’s back catalogue apparently had much more to offer than the Pop-Rock fare I’d always associated with the band, so on a whim, I subsequently purchased the six studio albums from the “Jim Morrison” heyday.

My favorite of the group’s platters not only proved to be the “rockingest” of them all—no surprise, considering my preference for heavier material—but also the last of the Morrison albums. On L.A. Woman, the group included one amazing track after the other—not one “filler” in sight—and I ended up playing it regularly through the decades, certainly more so than any of the group’s earlier efforts, which I consider less consistent (and yes, as on 1969’s The Soft Parade, for instance, occasionally way too light for me). Additionally, this collection had a biting edge to it, along with a darker atmosphere (perhaps since I knew it would end up being Morrison’s swansong), and also included more Blues-based tunes as opposed to much of the group’s previous and “trippier” Psychedelic-tinged work.

Here, Morrison performs at his grittiest and gruffest best, belting out the lyrics with an almost punkish urgency and dementia—I have to believe that vocalists such as David Johansen from New York Dolls gained much inspiration from Morrison’s performances—where I can easily forgive his occasional inaccuracies regarding pitch. Moreover, his often cryptic and mysterious lyrics are, as ever, pure poetry, justifiably earning him legendary status in the rock ‘n’ roll world.

Meanwhile, although never a stable fan of Ray Manzarek’s organ tones (depending on the track, such as the catchy hit “Love Her Madly,” where the Hammond has a Farfisa sound that always rubbed me the wrong way), his rollicking performances on the funky opener “The Changeling” and the thumping “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” helped launch both tunes to the top of my “favorites” list, plus his strange Hammond insertions on “L’America” made for some creepiness I found endlessly charming. And of course, his wildly melodic traditional piano dexterity on the bopping “L.A. Woman” as well as the Fender Rhodes that graces that composition and also provides the haunting leads and solid chord patterns on the stunning “Riders on the Storm” aided to create two unforgettable and endurable classics, which incidentally are my other two favorite tracks not only on this album, but in the band’s entire catalogue.

Meanwhile, Robby Krieger impresses throughout. His guitar leads (especially on the bluesier songs “Been Down So Long,” “Crawling King Snake,” and “Cars Hiss By My Window”) are always tastefully executed and often inspired, while his rhythm guitar bits (as well as those provided by “guest” rhythm guitarist Marc Benno) never distract or hog center stage when not warranted, allowing the songs to breathe without clutter. Drummer John Densmore also displays the full spectrum of his skills, his tempos always tight and punchy, and his fills perfectly appropriate on both the rockers and the laid-back numbers. Additionally, although just one in a long string of session bassists playing on each of the band’s studio albums, Jerry Scheff also delivered a meritorious performance, his bass lines working in perfect tandem with Densmore’s beats, and his riffs always melodious with first-rate implementation. Plainly speaking, in my estimation, he was the “guest bassist” through the years who offered the most energy and backbone to the band’s overall sound.

Regardless, anyone still unfamiliar with The Doors (and without the good fortune of having a tribute band like Moonlight Drive to provide a marvelous replica) who yearns to investigate the band, L.A. Woman is a great place to begin, since it shows the group at the height of its fame and creativity. After Morrison’s passing, the surviving members went on to release two additional albums, but alas, the music seemed a pale imitation of what appeared on this platter, so who knows what else the band may have fashioned had Morrison not left this planet so tragically young? I can’t help thinking that, if L.A. Woman gives any indication, chances are it would’ve likely been just as exceptional.

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Stone The Crows – Ode to John Law (1970)

StoneCrows_OdeJohnLaw4 out of 5 Stars!

With the terrific Maggie Bell as the band’s front-woman, one might expect to hear thunderous and raspy Janis Joplin-inspired vocals, loaded with angst and emotion, over hard-driving Blues Rock, which is exactly what’s on offer here. To me, Stone The Crows is what Faces might have sounded like with a female vocalist at the helm—had Rod Stewart perhaps undergone a gender reassignment.

Ode to John Law, the band’s second studio album—and its second album released in 1970—continues on from where the debut left off, with more Psychedelic-tinged, Blues-based Rock ‘n’ Roll, along with a touch of Funk and Soul added to the mix, thick-sounding Hammond, trippy electric piano, spirited and tasty guitar, and a solid and punchy rhythm section. And with not only Maggie Bell belting out tracks such as “Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” “Sad Mary,” “Love 74,” “Things are Getting Better,” and a cover of Percy Mayfield’s “Danger Zone,” but also with the underrated guitarist Les Harvey (band founder and brother of the “sensational” Alex Harvey, who would be fatally electrocuted on stage only a few short years later) and bassist/vocalist James Dewar (who would soon join with Robin Trower to create a string of classic albums), the band’s lineup, rounded out by keyboardist John McGinnis and drummer Collin Allen, simply smokes!

Of course, the band would go on to release one additional top-class album (Teenage Licks) in ’71 without Dewar and McGinnis, and another (Ontinuous Performance) in ’72, just after the death of Harvey, where the remaining musicians quickly hired Jimmy McCulloch (Small Faces/Wings) to finish the album. But surviving in the wake of such a tragedy proved too difficult, and Stone The Crows fell apart shortly afterward. A shame, really, since as heard especially on its self-titled debut and Ode to John Law, the band possessed a unique style, had undeniable chemistry, a seemingly endless drive, and a knack for skillfully incorporating touches of numerous influences into its sound.

(RIP to Les Harvey, James Dewar, and Jimmy McCulloch, true legends and horribly missed.)

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Omega – Omega (1973)

Omega_14 out of 5 Stars!

This Hungarian band’s self-titled album from 1973, thanks to the fuzzy/distorted tone of the guitars and the use of Hammond organ and early synths, often reminds me of other Heavy Prog bands from the same period, such as Lucifer’s Friend, Birth Control, Eloy, Deep Purple, Warhorse, and most especially, Uriah Heep.

Indeed, the Heep influences here are quite numerous. In general, on tunes such as “After A Hard Year,” the grandiose vocal harmonies are definitely “Heep-esque,” and on one track in particular, “Parting Song,” Omega even adds an instrumental passage taken almost exactly note-for-note/chord-by-chord from Uriah Heep’s classic “Circle Of Hands” fade-out/main melody. The instrumentation on the songs “Delicate Sweep” and “The Bird” are in the same class as that displayed on Heep’s Very ‘eavy, Very ‘umble album (or even Lucifer’s Friend’s debut release), and on the lengthier closing tune, “White Magic Stone,” an instrumental riff/passage seems almost like a reworking of Heep’s famous “July Morning.”

Yet, despite all the obvious Uriah Heep flourishes, the band is not a direct clone. The English group had a fuller, grander sound overall, often considered Heavy Metal, not to mention a highly recognizable and flamboyant vocalist in the form of Dave Byron, whereas Omega did not. Overall, the guitars lack Mick Box’s fierce, raw power, and the keyboards don’t have nearly as much force as Ken Hensley’s mighty Hammond, and while the vocals are certainly passable, they are hardly delivered with the fiery gusto as Byron possessed. Plus Omega’s vocalist lacks that identifiable stamp when it comes to his tone, range, timbre, and vibrato. And as far as the music goes, in the periodic softer portions of songs when the band adds Mellotron, influences from other acts such as Procol Harum and the Moody Blues rush to the fore. Moreover, two tracks on the album, “Everytime She Steps In” and “The Lying Girl,” are fairly standard and catchy rock ‘n’ roll ditties, sounding almost like tunes by Kiss, Silverhead, or Mott the Hoople, believe it or not, only with Heavy Prog/Heavy Psych influences—and Heep-like keyboards/synths, of course.

Anyway, several reviewers at various music-related websites have called Omega “The Hungarian Uriah Heep,” and for good reason, as detailed above. Regardless, this eponymous album is a classic of underappreciated and obscure Heavy Prog/Heavy Psych, one I continue to enjoy to this day, and any fans of the aforementioned groups seeking additional music from the early ’70s are likely to appreciate the band.

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East Of Eden – Snafu (1970)

EastEden_Snafu4 out of 5 Stars!

From out of the U.K., East Of Eden’s sophomore album Snafu, like its predecessor, is a blending of Progressive Rock and some jazzy and wacky Avant-Prog, even Blues-based Psychedelic Rock, with guitars and bass diddling and twiddling, with flutes fluttering and saxes wailing and trumpets harping and violins screeching and percussion occasionally clanging and banging at the oddest of times.

Certainly, a few of the tunes here are fairly “normal,” where the band plays relatively “straight” full-out rock and roll, such as on the short opener “Have To Whack It Up” or the bonus tunes “Biffin Bridge,” or “Blue Boar Blues,” where the band comes off as almost an early Jethro Tull or Blodwyn Pig imitator. But then, sounds and styles quite similar to groups such as King Crimson and Gentle Giant seem to come into play on compositions like “Leaping Beauties for Rudy / Marcus Junior” and “Nymphenburger,” where East of Eden adds wild Avant-Prog or Jazz-Rock elements. Moreover, on “Xhorkom / Ramadhan / In the Snow for a Blow” and “Gum Arabic / Confucius,” Middle Eastern atmospheres and rhythms infiltrate a portion of the songs before the band heads back into more traditional Jazz-Rock territory, occasionally reminding me of Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats period. And then, there are other tracks, such as “Uno Transito Clapori” and portions of “Habibi Baby / Beast of Sweden / Boehm Constrictor,” that are just plain bizarre and experimental, sort of in the same relative musical sphere as Amon Düül II or Can.

By the way, if hunting for this album, it’s worth the effort to seek out the copy of the remastered version that includes numerous bonus tracks—a few additional songs that either didn’t make the actual release and some alternate versions of the tunes from the album-proper. These include the rocking and fiddling “Jig-a-Jig” (released as a single, if you can believe it), the rather catchy yet Symphonically Proggish “Petite Fille” (where the string orchestration reminds me of The Beatles’s “Eleanor Rigby”), as well as the aforementioned “Blue Boar Blues” (which is a definite highlight for me).

But like the music of Frank Zappa and the other bands mentioned throughout this review, the strangeness of Snafu as a whole, the experimental sounds, the extended free-form jamming passages mixed with solid Jazz-Fusion, just somehow seems to work, as if by magic. Therefore, Snafu—as well as East of Eden’s debut album Mercator Projected—is recommended for Prog-Rock fans who yearn for something a bit off-the-wall and adventurous.

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Man – Do You Like It Here Now, Are You Settling In? (1971)

Man_DoYouLikeItHereNow4 out of 5 Stars!

The group Man, a Progressive Rock/Psychedelic Rock outfit from the U.K., is not only a long-lasting group, but one that remains (horribly enough) an obscure one.

From the late ’60s through the mid-’70s, Man released a string of engaging and clever albums (and more, since the band reformed in the ’90s and continues to this day) that remain cloaked in controversy—in other words, which genre label is the best to describe Man?

Although I’m sure no response will fully satisfy die-hard fans of the group, my answer would simply be “Progressive Rock.” Seriously, since the band was nothing if not experimental, created a style all its own by jumbling together so many various genres and was indeed true to the meaning of the term, “Progressive Rock” is quite apt.

Therefore, Do You Like It Here Now, Are You Settling In? (the band’s fourth album), with highly diverse tracks such as the experimental “Many Are Called But Few Get Up” that sounds almost a cross between Nektar and Gentle Giant, the ultra-wacky “All Good Clean Fun” with its crazy time signature shifts, the rocking “Love Your Life” with its Heavy Psych guitar and organ solos, and the bopping “Angel Easy” with its countrified-Pop feel, will be of possible interest to those Prog-loving individuals unfamiliar with Man, yet who are also seeking interesting music outside the norm that has inexplicably escaped their turntables throughout the decades.

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Supertramp – Supertramp (1970)

Supertramp_13.5 out of 5 Stars!

On the debut album from Supertramp, although much of the material is seemingly a million miles away from the style of music the group would produce during its 1974-1979 “glory period,” the band showed great promise nevertheless.

Additionally, since the line-up at the time of this release included only two members—Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies—who would continue on with Supertramp into its “glory period,” that explains much of the difference in style from subsequent albums.

One initial caveat…for those unfamiliar with this period in the band’s history, don’t be fooled by the cover art, which always brought the group Genesis to mind. But the music on offer here, although more Progressive than later Supertramp releases, has only marginal similarities to Genesis, mostly some of the folksier, pastoral atmospheres the groups occasionally shared in the beginning of their respective careers. Therefore, despite the cover art, don’t expect anything along the lines of “Supper’s Ready” or “Cinema Show.”

Instead, other than the song “Maybe I’m a Beggar,” where original guitarist Richard Palmer-James sings a portion of the lead (and has a voice not associated with the band’s popular sound), the music, for the most part, is still undeniably Supertramp. Tunes such as “It’s a Long Road,” “Words Unspoken,” “Shadow Song,” “Aubade and I Am Not Like Other Birds of Prey,” and “Surely” are probably the closest in style to the band’s heyday period, whereas “Nothing to Show” and sections of the lengthy “Try Again,” especially with the heavier guitar leads and Hammond organ, are completely different than what fans are used to hearing from the most popular version of the group.

So basically, what we have here is a promising band still struggling to find its trademarked sound/style, but producing some enjoyable music in the process.

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Golden Earring – Golden Earring (1970)

GoldenEarring_GoldenEarring4 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 1970, when the band’s big breakthrough song “Radar Love” wouldn’t even be on the “radar” (sorry, couldn’t resist) for several more years, Golden Earring released a self-titled album (its sixth studio collection overall, I believe), also nicknamed “The Wall of Dolls” based on a song title as well as the bizarre cover art background.

Regardless, this ended up being my favorite period of the band’s lengthy history, before it hit the (relative) “big time” and the albums started sounding a bit overproduced.

Here, the more stripped-down style and the occasionally “darker” atmosphere on tracks such as “I’m Going to Send My Pigeons to the Sky,” “The Loner,” “Back Home,” the mellower “See See,” and the aforementioned “The Wall of Dolls” (which strongly reminds me of The Guess Who, thanks to the instrumentation featuring electric piano and singer Barry Hay’s gruff performance) gives Golden Earring a rough and youthful edge. The mostly guitar-driven, Blues-based Hard Rock with a touch of Psychedelic Rock, even Prog-Rock ala Jethro Tull (thanks to the trickier song arrangements and the inclusion of flute mixed with acoustic and electric guitar on “Yellow and Blue” and “Big Tree, Blue Sea”), along with a hungry, almost rebellious “punk” attitude, especially from vocalist Hay, pervaded the vinyl grooves and proved both entertaining and enchanting.

Thankfully, Golden Earring continued on with this particular style/attitude for two additional albums, 1971’s Seven Tears and 1972’s Together, which I also continue to enjoy on a regular basis. And with the arrival of drummer Cesar Zuiderwijk, this album is the first to feature Golden Earring’s classic and endurable line-up of musicians, which not only makes it a definite milestone, but also marks the beginning of the band’s most satisfying era to my ears.

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Landskap – II (2014)

Landskap_24 out of 5 Stars!

Like the group’s other two albums, Landskap’s sophomore release shows that this U.K. band is a rather unique animal on today’s music scene. Imagine what would have happened had The Doors gone Heavy Prog/Heavy Psych with more than a touch of Doom Metal and Stoner Rock included, with even a few jazzy rhythms sneaking in, and that’s what this act brings to the table.

Generally, on tracks such as “Leave It All Behind,” “Through the Ash,” “South of No North,” and “Tomorrow’s Ghost,” the music is delightfully dark and creepy, with growling Hammond organ and dreamy electric piano ala “Riders on the Storm,” grooving and often Sabbath-tinged guitar riffs, and a Jim Morrison soundalike behind the microphone.

Landskap would likely appeal to fans of other Retro-Rock bands such as D’Accord, Hypnos 69, Siena Root, Witchwood, etc. I find myself being drawn to this album more and more as the months pass by, continually reveling in the eerie yet driving atmospheres and the rock-solid performances by each musician.

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Guru Guru – Dance of the Flames (1974)

GuruGuru_DanceFlames4 out of 5 Stars!

Guru Guru, and I say this with admiration, has to be one of the more “goofy” Krautrock bands to have emerged in the early 1970s, and (with, I believe, one original member, drummer Mani Neumeier, still at the helm) continues through to the present day (although I’m unfamiliar with the band’s material after the early ’80s).

Dance of the Flames, the group’s sixth studio album, is one of my favorites in the band’s vast catalogue of releases since it includes the wonderfully silly track “Dagobert Duck’s 100th Birthday” (the song that actually introduced me to Guru Guru long ago), slamming and highly avant-garde (and mostly instrumental) tracks such as “The Girl From Hirschhorn,” “The Day of Timestop,” and a wicked, almost free-form jazzy piece called “God’s Endless Love for Men,” all of which left me reeling upon initial hearing.

The impressive guitar work (both electric and acoustic) from Houschäng Nejadepour, along with Hans Hartmann’s wild bass runs and Mani Neumeier’s frantic drumming includes the seemingly perfect degree of strangeness and jaw-dropping Prog-magic.

Generally speaking, Guru Guru was nothing if not creative through the years.

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Gong – You (1974)

Gong_You4 out of 5 Stars!

I’ll admit, I’ve always had a bit of a Love/Hate relationship with Gong, loving much of the French group’s excursions into Canterbury Prog and Jazz-Rock territory, but hating (or rather, “not fully embracing,” since “hate” is too strong a word) much of the silliness that appears on some of its albums, like the hippy-dippy-trippy Psychedelic ingredients that occasionally seem to go on too long, and the spacier, free-form elements that sometimes seem more “endless, boring noise” than actual “engaging music.”

Yet the one factor that has me continually revisiting this band’s early albums is undeniable—the masterful guitar work of Steve Hillage. I adore the man’s talent and his guitar tones, the way he creates a unique sound for himself and, thus, the band in general. And on You, the band’s sixth studio release, Hillage provides some wonderfully tasty solos and fills, especially on tracks such as “The Isle of Everywhere,” “Master Builder,” and “A Sprinkling of Clouds.” I also savor the group’s use of woodwinds and various percussion instruments, often bringing some of Frank Zappa’s best work to mind.

Therefore, I can usually put up with the aforementioned hippy-dippy-trippy Psych and Space Rock experimentation as long as Hillage’s enjoyable guitar contributions, the creative woodwinds, and the exciting percussion remains at a higher percentage of an album’s overall content such as it does on this particular release, one of my favorites by the band.

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