Reviews in this issue:
- Solution - Mythology
- Gnidrolog - In Spite of Harry's Toenail
- Gnidrolog - Lady Lake
- Kayak - Royal Bed Bouncer
- Spriguns - Revel Weird and Wild
- Spriguns - Time Will Pass
- Alquin - The Marks Sessions
- Marillion - Radiation 2013
- Wigwam - Tombstone Valentine
Solution - Mythology
CD 1: CHAPTER 1 - Trane Steps (10:20), Koan (7:50), Phases (12:17), Preview (0:58), Circus Circumstances (7:04), Jam [live] (10:32), Koan [live] (9:54), Theme (0:42), Divergence (5:58), Concentration (12:30)
CD 2: CHAPTER 2 - Second Line (8:46), New Dimension (6:27), Fever (4:26), Divergence [single version] (3:45), Chappaqua (10:35), Black Pearl (6:17), A Song For You (3:56), Last Detail (5:32), Whirligig (9:02), Third Line (7:24), Chappaqua [single version] (3:49), Empty Faces (6:35)
CD 3: CHAPTER 3 - French Melodie (4:36), Carousel (7:18), Sonic Sea (7:21), Give Some More (5:25), Free Inside (6:21), Koan [live] (9:34), Circus Circumstances [live] (6:45), Divergence [live] (5:49), Trane Steps [live] (10:20), Empty Faces [single version] (4:24), French Melodie [single version] (4:01), Give Some More [single version (4:51)
Déjà vu once again! The cult Dutch '70s jazz-prog band Solution comes to the fore on DPRP once more in this new Mythology 3CD set by Pseudonym, similar to the previously reviewed Finch Mythology set. According to the notes, this four-hour collection contains the complete '70s studio recordings, including singles and live tracks to garnish the band's first four albums. All in all, this is a more hearty offering than what Esoteric gave us last year, but if you'd like to read about the band's first two albums - which are, of course, a part of this set - I thoroughly recommend you read my original review HERE.
The band's third album, titled Cordon Bleu, was the first to be released by Elton John's Rocket Records in 1975, after a temporary hiatus. The core of Tom Barlage, Willem Ennes, Guus Willemse and Hans Waterman were reunited, but this album saw the band take a more commercial-oriented route than the darker material that had gone before. Radio friendly tracks such as Black Pearl, A Song For You and Last Detail see Willemse giving an unintentional impression of Steve Walsh from Kansas. In an interesting development, the unrelated Preview and Second Line from the first two albums are made into a trilogy which is concluded with Third Line, drawing themes from its retconned predecessors. However, the cream of the crop is the ten-minute instrumental Chappaqua, accessible from the sample link, which blasts itself into jazzy outer space in the sixth minute.
The next album, Fully Interlocking, would also be released by Rocket Records in 1977. After the experimentation with verses and lyrics on Cordon Bleu, Solution realised that their strength lay in the instrumentals, with four out of the six tracks containing no lyrics whatsoever. Miles away from Koan and Concentration, the instrumentals on this record are of a faux-Camel style, with Sonic Sea looking incredibly suspect. While some beautiful moments occur, especially in French Melodie, the band simply don't aim quite as high as Chappaqua, a real shame. Nevertheless, I've found some joy in one of the two tracks with lyrics. Empty Faces is the perfect cheesy soft rock song; that key change at the end couldn't be more predictable! A true guilty pleasure. Fully Interlocking is an adequate album, but not too ambitious.
The strength in this set really lays with the bonus tracks, which give the listener a fuller view of the band. Take the single version of Divergence, which sounds absolutely nothing like its original, and doesn't even have the same line-up; Jaap van Eik was temporarily called in to replace the absent Willemse on bass. Or listen to one of the plethora of live tracks, mainly drawn from the self-titled debut. For such a technical band, they seemed to have no problem recreating the effect on stage. My complaints:-
- Artwork: While the four album covers and single covers are shown, we are given nothing else. Moreover, they are in miniscule form. I don't care for the 'speaker inside the Earth' art either, as it seems meaningless.
- Tracklist: Incredibly convoluted. As with Finch, the tracks for various albums are not in the right order. Furthermore, albums are split across CDs, with bonus tracks in between albums. This seems especially silly when Empty Faces from Fully Interlocking appears by itself on CD2, ahead of the other five tracks on CD3. The CDs are labelled 'Chapters', but it's hardly as if these 'Chapters' are self-contained.
- Liner notes: Actually, these are quite interesting and informative, but sometimes the grammar is a little off. Still, I've read far worse!
Pseudonym easily win in this contest against Esoteric. I don't know whether Esoteric are planning on releasing any more Solution albums, but without bonus tracks, they aren't doing themselves any favours. This is really the place to come to discover a fantastic jazz-oriented prog band from the '70s.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Gnidrolog - In Spite of Harry's Toenail
Gnidrolog - Lady Lake
Tracklist: I Could Never Be a Soldier (11:37), Ship (6:42), A Dog with No Collar (2:09), Lady Lake (8:51), Same Dreams (2:48), Social Embarrassment (6:35)
Bonus Track: Baby Move On (4:08)
The year 1972; was it the best year in prog to date? This pair of albums by the minor league band Gnidrolog certainly lend weight to the argument. Formed by multi-talented twin brothers Colin and Stewart Goldring at the beginning of the '70s, the band - whose title is a bastardised anagram of their surnames - demonstrated incredible dexterity and clever inventiveness both in their albums and on stage.
In Spite of Harry's Toenail was the product of roughly two years of relentless touring. ProgArchives justifiably classifies this group as 'Eclectic Prog', because they are truly in a league of their own; elements of folk, rock and also psychedelia creep into the mix. The two-part Long Live Man Dead kicks off the album with some very cryptic lyrics, washing them down with a fierce, yet not boastful instrumental. It's the quietest fierce instrumental I've heard! The second half is much slower, but the wait is worth it, as we are rewarded with a reprise of the initial theme.
An aside about the instrumentals on the first album: whilst technically impressive, the textures are hardly very rich. Indeed, the band's complex playing doesn't allow much depth, and the pieces feel as if they are held together by a thread. To use a bridge analogy, if Heart of the Sunrise was Tower Bridge - firm, grand and majestic - then the instrumentals here would be a rickety rope bridge, dangling across an enormous canyon. There's little richness in the musical fabric, only raw energy. It is because they have written their music in such a way that it has to be performed just correctly, otherwise it simply would not work. Amazingly, this lack of texture is not only refreshing, it's also incredibly exciting. It's as if the band is running on empty, yet it all seems to come out right in the mix.
The structure of this album is nice and symmetrical, two 7-minute centrepieces, surrounded by a pair of shorter (and unfortunately less interesting) tracks, and sandwiched overall by two epic 9-minute tracks. The 7-minuters are very different indeed; the dark, spooky Snails follows an ominous repetitive structure that sees themes played in various combinations. On the other hand, Time and Space starts off with a folky ditty before collapsing into a noisy prog track. The instrumental coupled with the guitar solo has to be heard to be believed! The closing title track is another beast altogether; with a ballad-y early Fruupp-style opening followed by a 7-minute rock and roll session, replete with harmonicas and guitars.
The group's second album sees them make a subtle change in their music; as Colin puts it, "Lady Lake is a much more professional album." The band is a bit more restrained, especially on the slow-burning opener I Could Never Be a Soldier. In fact the addition of saxophones - baritone, tenor and soprano - along with their player, John Earle, gives the album a much fuller sound, less exciting than before, but oh so much richer.
Unfortunately, this album contains something of a flop in the form of Ship, which is just a bit too dreary and repetitive to enjoy. However, this is quickly remedied by the title track, whose multifarious facets are sure to please even the most stubborn prog fan. That jazzy intro and that heavy outro; what's not to like? The final track is something of a throwback to the previous album; Social Embarrassment is a labyrinth of time signatures and various polyrhythms but with something of an early punk mentality in the lyrics department. Very interesting stuff!
Esoteric are usually on the ball with their reissues, and for the most part, these releases are absolutely fine. However, there is one griping issue about the ...Toenail album; the bonus tracks from the 1999 Audio Archives release, including Smokescreen and Saga of Smith and Smythe are now missing, lost in the ether. A pity, as they sound like decent tracks. Instead, the respective bonus tracks are an instrumental version of Snails on ...Toenail, and the previously unreleased Baby Move On on Lady Lake. The artwork is mainly intact, and I'm impressed that they've kept all thirteen black-and-white images from the ...Toenail album. However, the image on page 3 is missing its name tag; I had to Google the original sleeve to find out that the person is none other than the band's producer John Schroeder.
Here is a band that combines the incredible skill and dexterity of Gentle Giant with the dark, twisted nature of Van der Graaf Generator. The music is utterly fantastic, but if listened to too frequently, loses its lustre; once you work out some of the complicated structures in the music, you'll have lost a piece of the magic. However, if savoured correctly, this is quite a rewarding pair of albums. The group would return at the turn of the millennium for a new album, Gnosis, although this endeavour might have been rather hopeful. Best stick with the old stuff.
In Spite of Harry's Toenail: 8.5 out of 10
Lady Lake: 8 out of 10
Kayak - Royal Bed Bouncer
Very few bands from the Netherlands have gained international interest which in itself is strange. Internationally people all know bands like Focus or Shocking Blue. Yet little is known of the massive progressive rock scene in the Netherlands. This may have a lot to do with the fact that most Dutch bands have little or no marketing to speak of.
Kayak is one of the main exponents of the Dutch progressive scene in the 1970s and in recent years they have come to life again, releasing new albums and touring. On Esoteric Records, this third album from Kayak has been remastered and re-released. Royal Bed Bouncer sees Kayak in their most prolific form, sounding as authentically Kayak as they can; short pop-like songs with all the ingredients of more progressive tracks. Music of course is subject to the tastes of the listener and opinions are there to have and differ.
Only recently one of the founder members of Kayak drummer Pim Koopman passed away. He was one of the driving forces behind this band together with keyboard player Ton Scherpenzeel, who also did most of the writing for the band. The other members of Kayak for Royal Bed Bouncer were Max Werner (lead vocals, mellotron), Bert Veldkamp (bass) and Johan Slager(guitars), all band members taking care of backing vocals.
The mix of uptempo songs interchanging with ballads, but also the rocking guitars and clean piano sound give Kayak a distinctive sound of their own. Max Werner's singing is also very recognisable. For Patricia Anglaia Dutch singer Patricia Paay sings lead and this is an example of Pim Koopman's writing, all the other songs were written by Ton Scherpenzeel. By far my favourite tracks on this album are Royal Bed Bouncer, Chance For A Lifetime and Said No Word.
As always and like with all their other releases Esoteric have done their best on the artwork of this release with additional liner notes and a short background story about the band. The sound for this remastered re-release is very clear and good. Many of us will look at the release and miss the additions, the bonus tracks, but in my opinion this is a solid release and a fine example of Dutch progressive rock.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Spriguns - Revel Weird and Wild
Tracklist: Trysting Tree (4:04), Outlandish Knight (4:36), Sir Colvin (5:58), Piscie Song (4:06), Nothing Else To Do (3:01), Hasberry Howard (2:55), Lord Lovell (4:50), Laily Worm (3:19), When Spring Comes In (3:09)
Spriguns - Time Will Pass
Tracklist: Dead Man's Eyes (3:49), All Before (2:47), For You (3:39), Time Will Pass (2:31), White Witch (3:07), Blackwaterside (5:16), You're Not There (2:54), Devil's Night (2:55), Letter To A Lady (5:12)
I thought my knowledge extended to virtually every band from the 1970s but I have to confess Spriguns passed me by. That said I did fall blindly in love for the first time in 1976 so probably a good deal from this period passed me by. Originally a folk duo formed in 1972 by husband and wife Mike and Mandy Morton, they released their debut album Jack With A Feather in 1975 under the name Spriguns Of Tolgus. It contained mostly traditional tunes and was produced by Steeleye Span's Tim Hart which gives a fair indication of where they were coming from musically at the time. It also brought them to the attention of a major label, Decca Records, and after reducing their name to the more economical 'Spriguns' they released Revel Weird And Wild and Time Will Pass in 1976 and 1977 respectively.
For these reissues Esoteric have done their usual fine job with the re-mastered sound and packaging although the fact that the singles released to support the albums contained no new material means that there are no bonus tracks. Whilst for me that's not an issue I did note that with a combined playing time of less than seventy minutes both albums could have been accommodated onto one disc. In these cash strapped times and declining CD sales it would have been a more commercially attractive option although admittedly the artwork would have been compromised as a consequence.
In addition to the change of name, the Morton's established a new band for the recording of Revel Weird And Wild which included Tom Ling (electric violin, vocals), Dick Powell (electric guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Chris Woodcock (drums). Mandy provided the lead vocals and acoustic guitar whilst Mike took care of bass guitar and vocals. Tim Hart was once again responsible for production and guesting on pedal steel guitar for two tracks was the imitable B.J. Cole. The end result was more rock friendly than its predecessor although their folk roots were still very much in evidence as track titles like Trysting Tree and Piscie Song testify.
Whilst the songs on Revel Weird And Wild are all original compositions penned mostly by Mandy Morton, they have an earthy folk charm thanks to her warm and sensitive delivery, the story-telling lyrics and the traditional instrumentation. Mandy's singing has been misleadingly compared to Steeleye Span's Maddy Prior even though her tone is less distinctive and closer to the late Sandy Denny and the neutral side of Kate Rusby. This she uses to good effect, sounding suitably melancholic or playful (as in Piscie Song) as the mood takes. Violinist Tom Ling also plays a major role, shining throughout with a succession of lively jigs, reels and hornpipes during Outlandish Knight, Sir Colvin and Nothing Else To Do. Elsewhere as in Hasberry Howard and Lord Lovell his playing is masterfully rich.
B.J. Cole's pedal steel appearances are brief but sublime adding a country tinge to Trysting Tree and When Spring Comes In (but he can be forgiven for that) whilst Dick Powell provides beautiful, rippling piano for Sir Colvin and When Spring Comes In. Laily Worm features strong, almost a capella harmonies whilst electric guitar and bass add an edge to the multi-part Outlandish Knight and the instrumental Hasberry Howard. Regular visitors to this website will also be encouraged by the fact that in true prog fashion the longer songs are divided into several distinct sections. Perhaps the only drawback to Revel Weird And Wild is the drums could have been more prominent and the production punchier.
That was to change with the follow-up album Time Will Pass which has a more dynamic folk-rock sound courtesy of Sandy Robertson. Whilst Robertson had the credentials having worked with the likes of Steeleye Span and Ian Matthews for me his production is more impersonal, lacking the warmth of Hart's. The Mortons also brought along two new band members, Australians Dennis Dunstan and Wayne Morrison on drums and lead guitar respectively. This time, with the exception of the traditional Blackwaterside, Mandy Morton wrote all the songs, contrasting lyrical ballads with edgy folk-rock tunes.
Of the former, Dead Man's Eyes features prominent drums and electric guitar whilst the title song Time Will Pass is based around a persistent, hypnotic keys riff. The heavy mid-section of the aforementioned Blackwaterside even includes a touch of histrionic guitar soloing. In contrast All Before is one of the most beautiful songs penned by Mandy with piano and acoustic guitar enhanced by soaring strings. Likewise the orchestra (arranged by Robert Kirby noted for his work with Nick Drake) dominates the lush White Witch whilst the lovely For You benefits from rich mandolin and electric slide guitar.
On the downside, after being such a vital contributor to the previous album, Tom Ling is reduced to a bit player on Time Will Pass with his violin appearing briefly at the end of You're Not There as it does on the title song. Both songs, and Ling in particular, fall victim to Robertson's production trait of ending certain tracks with an abrupt fade. This is especially noticeably on the epic closer Letter To A Lady where the majestic (if a tad bombastic) orchestral finale disappears after little more than a minute.
Appearing as these two albums did in the wrong half of the '70s may have been a contributing factor for the lack of commercial success and the record labels indifference. As a result the Mortons did what many bands were doing which was to establish their own label Banshee Records where in 1978 they released the final Spriguns album Magic Lady under another name change 'Mandy Morton and Spriguns'.
Revel Weird And Wild and Time Will Pass collectively provide an entertaining document of a band transcending their traditional folk roots to become a fine exponent of British folk-rock, a genre that was becoming increasingly scarce during the late '70s. If the likes of vintage Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Pentangle and Gryphon float your boat then Spriguns almost certainly deserve a place in your CD collection.
Revel Weird and Wild - 7 out of 10
Time Will Pass - 7 out of 10
Alquin - The Marks Sessions
CD 1: CHAPTER 1 – The Marks Sessions
Oriental Journey [demo 1] (4:45), Oriental Journey [demo 2] (3:28), Soft Royce [demo 1] (9:12), Soft Royce [demo 2] (7:05), I Wish I Could [demo 1] (11:52), I Wish I Could [demo 2] (3:13), You Always Can Change [demo 1] (3:08), You Always Can Change [demo 2] (3:01), Marc's Occasional Showers [demo 1] (8:47), Marc's Occasional Showers [demo 2] (4:04), Catherine's Wig [demo 1] (2:38)
CD 2: CHAPTER 2 – Live At The Circustheater
Overture / The Least You Could Do Is Send Me Some Flowers (9:04), Hard Royce (2:44), Soft Royce (9:48), Marc's Occasional Showers (9:17), I Wish I Could (10:02), Mr.Barnum Jr.'s Magnificent And Fabulous City (10:05)
Pseudonym continue the celebration of '70s Dutch prog with a release that may only appeal to a very limited audience. The band is Alquin, a sextet who really put the 'eclectic' in eclectic prog; and the album is Marks, the group's remarkable debut, adorned with letter-shaped potato artwork. However, this release doesn't contain the actual album itself, only the demos and a concert performance. To this reviewer who doesn't own the original album, this all seems rather perplexing. Still, the music is rather good!
Disc 1 - as with all Pseudonym releases, also called Chapter 1 - comprises of The Marks Sessions. Six songs are demoed in total, with the first five tracks demoed twice each, and with Catherine's Wig left in solitary last place. This does make listening slightly awkward; as we finish a track, it begins once more. Nevertheless, the two demos for a general track can be profoundly different: I Wish I Could comes in both 12-minute and 3-minute formats; Marc's Occasional Showers comes in 9-minute and 4-minute formats. The music is such that I have very little idea of what's coming next. My favourite track in the collection is the Soft Machine-inspired Soft Royce, followed by the epic I Wish I Could, which comprises of a long, tense build up, followed by a verse-chorus section. Marc's Occasional Showers also follows the Soft Machine vein, but in a more proggy light. Elsewhere, there are folky elements, soul and even Celtic influences. Quite the melting pot!
The live disc then crystallises these demos by allowing us to engage with the band. Most of the songs we've just heard are played live, giving us an idea of just how complete they were in the demo versions. It's a great set, and you can hear the band's confidence playing tracks like Hard Royce. While this double-disc set is chock full of interesting music, I can't help feeling it would be improved by the presence of the original album itself, to put things in context. Without it, this merely seems like an album of bonus tracks, disconnected from their source material. Nevertheless, the strength of these tracks has convinced me to get the original album - and perhaps its sequel too - from Esoteric Recordings. To summarise, this is surprisingly good music, but just a little out of context on its own.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Marillion - Radiation 2013
CD 1: 2013 Remix - Costa De Slough (0:45), Under The Sun (4:52), The Answering Machine (3:45), Three Minute Boy (5:58), Now She'll Never Know (4:48), These Chains (4:50), Born To Run (5:06), Cathedral Wall (6:27), A Few Words For The Dead (10:25)
CD 2: Original 1998 Mix - Costa De Slough (1:27), Under The Sun (4:10), The Answering Machine (3:47), Three Minute Boy (5:59), Now She'll Never Know (4:59), These Chains (4:49), Born To Run (5:12), Cathedral Wall (7:19), A Few Words For The Dead (10:32)
It has been 15 years since Radiation was first released, coming as it did after the somewhat bewildering experimental ambient remix of previous album This Strange Engine released under the title of Tales From The Engine Room. As ever with Marillion, news of a new album was met with anticipation and expectations of a return to ploughing the furrows of former glories which were not exactly fulfilled, at least not if one reads Ed Sander's DPRP review. Of course, reviews are always subjective and will be tempered by one's past relationship with the band in question. Personally speaking the best thing to happen to Marillion was the departure of Fish who, although I'm sure is an extremely nice chap, does nothing for me as a singer and the music the band produced during his tenure as lead vocalist was, in my opinion, nowhere near as good as some of the other music that was prevalent in the early eighties. However, I digress, time to see how the Radiation has fared after a distance of one and a half decades.
First off, one has to wonder why the remix, by Mike Hunter, was undertaken. There are no notes at all within the booklet as to what prompted it, why the band thought it was necessary and what was so wrong with the original mix that it warrants an overhaul and new reissue. Unlike IQ's excellent recent remix of Tales From The Lush Attic, which brought a whole new lease of life and greater in-depth sense of discovery for the album, along with copious notes as to how and why the remix was undertaken, Radiation 2013 has a large justification hurdle to surmount. As the most likely purchasers of this album will be the fans who are already familiar with the material, a normal type review would seem to be somewhat unnecessary. Instead I shall try and identify how the new remix differs from the original version which, incidentally, is included on the second disc of this re-release, which is nicely packaged in hardback booklet form with re-worked artwork by original designer Carl Glover.
A quick perusal of the running times will elicit the surprise discovery that opening track Costa De Slough has been reduced to half of its original length. However, no cause for alarm as all that has been omitted is the somewhat superfluous 'trying too hard to be arty and angsty' opening mishmash of Hogarth exhortations of global disaster with the album leading straight into the bluesy acoustic guitar and 'voice through a megaphone' introductory piece. This preamble sets the scene for Under The Sun which sounds a lot cleaner, and heavier, than the original mix. Gone is the rather annoying 'wooden' snare sound to be replaced with a more conventional drum sound which is a definite improvement. An extra guitar break has been inserted at about the one-minute mark and the fade out has been extended. The Answering Machine has been improved dramatically by the simple act of leaving Hogarth's voice in a natural state without the previously applied manipulations that made it sound as if the singer was in a different location to the rest of the band and had phoned in his vocals. The song still sounds cluttered though and would have benefited, in my opinion, from a more open arrangement. The balladic mini-epic Three Minute Boy also sounds crisper and cleaner with Mark Kelly's synth cellos given a greater degree of prominence and a few extra keyboard flourishes added here and there. Rothery's acoustic guitar also gains a greater degree of separation from the electric, which has a slightly warmer sound to it. The unhumourous comedy voices at the song have also been eliminated giving the piece a more satisfying ending.
Originally Now She'll Never Know was very sparse and while Mike Hunter has not dramatically altered the track he has created more of a balance with the often barely audible keyboards now given a louder airing (and displaying some elements that are very Beatles like) and Hogarth's vocals also given a few extra dBs as well. These Chains also creates more space in the sonic spectrum for the backing, most evident in the pizzicato strings in the intro and the orchestral support in the chorus, although otherwise not much tinkering has been done to this piece. The loud and prominent snap of the snare has been somewhat muted on the intro to Born To Run and again a warmer touch has been applied to Rothery's solo with the Hammond organ also gaining an enhancement. The slightly reduced running time is purely down to a shortening of gaps between songs. Cathedral Wall isn't, for the main, really altered that much; a few tweaks here and there to enhance, or even make audible, some of the background playing. The low key reprise of These Chains at the end of the piece has also been excised. The more ambient A Few Words For The Dead has had its intro revamped with a lot of the atmospheric 'noises' completely changed in tone and Hogarth's spoken voice being taken right back in the mix. It is also a tad shorter. The vocals are slightly purer throughout and the slow transition to the meatier elements of the song is more prominent with Mosley's tribal drums having been eliminated, large backing vocals added to the 'All you could learn' lines and the following fuzz guitar being dropped back leaving room for the sitar sounding guitar to be heard. The fade out is much improved as well.
So, what's the overall verdict? I do think the remix has improved the album somewhat, added some extra nuances here and there and removed some of the quirky stuff that, in retrospect, was superfluous. However, it is possibly the fact that revisiting and becoming reacquainted with a rather overlooked album from Marillion's back catalogue that offers the greatest, and freshest, insights into this album. Even though I was not one of the 'disappointed' when the album was first released, I freely admit to Radiation not being my first choice when picking some Marillion to bung on the stereo. Listening to it again, one found a greater degree of sympathy with the objectives of the writing and recording and the rediscovery of a genuine Marillion classic in Under The Sun. However, I am not sure how much of this recent reappraisal can be solely attributed to the remix. If you've not heard the album before then this package is worth the money but for other people, well I guess it depends if you are a die-hard completist fan or not.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Wigwam - Tombstone Valentine
Bonus tracks: Pedagogi (3:30), Haato (4:11)
Back in 2010 I reviewed a trio of Esoteric reissues from legendary Finnish band Wigwam including their third and fourth studio albums, Fairyport and Being. Esoteric delve even further back into the band's archives to revisit their second album, Tombstone Valentine, originally released in 1970. After their formation in Helsinki two years earlier, Tombstone Valentine followed hot on the heels of the (unfortunately titled) 1969 debut album Hard 'N' Horny. In between these two releases a couple of changes in personnel established a line-up that would remain consistent for three albums, namely Jukka Gustavson (vocals, organ, piano), Jim Pembroke (vocals), Pekka Pohjola (bass, violin), Ronnie Osterberg (drums) and regular guest guitarist Jukka Tolonen.
On the previous album the songs penned by Gustavson and Pembroke had each taken up one side of the vinyl disc but here they are evenly mixed and all sung in English including a couple of contributions from their recently joined bassist Pohjola. Also working with the band for the first (and last) time was infamous American producer Kim Fowley who somehow managed to persuade Wigwam to include a piece by experimental electronic artist Erkki Kurenniemi.
The thing about listening to a Wigwam album for the first time is you're never sure what you're going to get even if you're familiar with the band. The truth is there's no such thing as a typical Wigwam song as the title track to Tombstone Valentine testifies. With the accordion of guest Kalevi Nyqvist playing prominently throughout, the jaunty Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band style verses nestle uneasily alongside the psychedelic string driven pomp of the Beatle-ish chorus. Unfortunately, the rest of the album doesn't maintain this level of imagination although the songs do have their moments.
In Gratitude is basically blues-rock with Gustavson's boogie-woogie piano and organ to the fore and his own soulful vocal bringing Stevie Winwood to the table. The brief Dance Of The Anthropods is the aforementioned Erkki Kurenniemi sequence and it's almost a relief when the high pitched electronic warbling comes to an end. Frederick And Bill is more blues-rock, centred around Tolonen's twangy guitar histrionics spurred on by Pohjola's lightning fast bass runs. It brings to mind American rockers Steppenwolf who were very active at the time. Wigwam stay on the same side of the Atlantic for the wistful Wishful Thinker which has a laidback West Coast feel and also Autograph where Pohjola's violin and guest Heikki Laurila's banjo provides a rustic deep south/Cajun setting. On the former, Pembroke's soulful singing has a touch of Van Morrison about it.
Along with the title song, Pohjola's short but effective instrumental 1936 Lost In The Snow is probably the album highlight for me with piano and violin producing a lilting waltz like theme, a pity it fades so soon. For America displays Gustavson's penchant for traditional jazz with his fluid Oscar Peterson style playing and tasteful guitar picking creating a night club atmosphere with bass and drums blending beautifully. Pembroke's Captain Supernatural on the other hand is a typical slice of late '60s British pop-rock that is especially evocative of Traffic. The aptly titled End that closed the original album begins as an exercise in Hammond atmospherics before emerging almost hymn like with evocative piano and celestial organ.
The two bonus tracks here are the A and B sides of a single that appeared between Tombstone Valentine and the previous album Hard 'N' Horny. The sound is quite different again with both songs sung in Finnish. Pedagogi is a jazz come psychedelic affair with shades of The Nice whilst Haato is a bizarre fragmented song that'’s part Finnish, part English with sampled voices, a whistled sub-theme and (the best part) some fine organ and piano. The latter song incidentally was written by the bands previous bassist Mats Hulden.
The re-mastered sound of this reissue is well up to Esoteric's usual high standards making the most of Fowley's rather good production. The main problem with Tombstone Valentine however is a lack of identity, symptomatic of a band still searching for a true direction. Whilst many of their European contemporaries were taking a more adventurous progressive rock route, Wigwam's blend of rock, blues, pop, country and jazz is firmly rooted in the '60s. As a band they certainly had the musical and vocal ability, and on later albums this would be channeled into a more creative direction.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10