Khan – Space Shanty (1972)

Khan_SpaceShanty4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Space Shanty is a terrific one-off album from Khan, a short-lived “supergroup” from the U.K. that included lauded and legendary guitarist Steve Hillage (Gong/Arzachel), bassist Nick Greenwood (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown), and keyboardist David L. Stewart (Egg/National Health/Hatfield and the North).

The album is nothing less than a giant caldron bubbling with Canterbury-Prog magic, with only six tracks in total, including “Mixed Up Man of the Mountains,” “Hollow Stone (inc. Escape of the Space Pilots),” “Driving to Amsterdam,” and the wonderful opening title track, officially known as “Space Shanty (inc. The Cobalt Sequence and the March of the Sine Squadrons).” But each tune is crammed with megatons of creativity, haunting melodies, both heavy and lighter passages, some Space Rock atmospheres, and inspired instrumentation. For those who may be unfamiliar with the often-jazzy and occasionally quirky “Canterbury Scene” Progressive Rock sub-genre, then Space Shanty is an album that will more than likely get you hooked.

I can’t help but wonder what Khan might have achieved had it stayed together longer, but thankfully, it left behind at least one enduring masterpiece.

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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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Steve Hillage – L (1976)

SteveHillage_L4.5 out of 5 Stars!

The legendary guitarist Steve Hillage (Gong/Khan/Arzachel) backed by the band Utopia (Roger Powell, Kasim Sulton, and Jon Wilcox)—with Todd Rundgren producing—created this often underappreciated album simply entitled L, which is Hillage’s second solo album overall.

His first solo effort, Fish Rising, is typically rated higher on most music-related websites, and I can easily see why. But for some reason, L is the album that really hit home for me.

I vividly recall hearing Hillage’s cover of Donovon’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” on an “underground” Chicago radio station when the album came out, which introduced me to this exceptional guitarist, and it became the reason I hunted down the album several days later. Therefore, since L was the first music I owned by Hillage, I’ll admit that nostalgic prejudice taints my overall rating.

Nevertheless, with additional tracks such as “Hurdy Gurdy Glissando,” “Electrick Gypsies,” and the lengthy “Lunar Music Suite” all capturing my attention and leaving a lasting impression on me, I slowly collected Hillage’s back catalogue of releases from his days with Gong, Khan, etc. and became a lifelong fan.

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