Album Reviews

Wydawnictwo 21 Special

Reviews in this issue:

Wydawnictwo 21 were a fairly new and very small Polish record label at the time of writing this article (amended 02.01.2010)

So far, they have released, as far as I know, eight CDs, and most of them are re-issues from a long time ago. Before Polish law changed, one was allowed to release anything older than 25 years. After that, this label changed their policy and will release original albums only, starting with Tony McPhee, featured here.

Some time ago they contacted DPRP if we were interested in reviewing some of their CDs. A couple of their releases were already sold out, so there were no review copies left. It wouldn't make sense to review them, because if you'd be interested, you would not be able to get them. But here are reviews of their currently available catalogue, in alphabetical order.

Sorry for some of the Eastern European characters I couldn't reproduce. I only encoded the diactric marks that are possible within standard HTML. Correct pronunciation of the titles on these records would not be within the capabilities of most of our readers anyway. Read about the music and maybe you'll discover something very nice...

On all the re-issues (that is, all except the Tony McPhee CD), the label states that the recordings were taken from "the original vinyl records". Some bonus tracks, however, were taken from CD releases that probably used the original master tapes. The sound quality is surprisingly good on all of the CDs. OK, put on Flamengo and you know you're listening to something very old, but what the heck if it is that good!

Also, in the case of Bayon, reading the booklet you're led to believe the recordings on that CD were never released, so why say the recordings are taken from the original vinyl albums? Compilation albums of various artists maybe, but I'm not sure. Well, not very important, as it's the contents we're interested in, not the original package.

The items reviewed here:

Bayon - First Recordings 1971 - 1973
Country of Origin:Germany
Record Label:Wydawnictwo 21
Catalogue #:21.003
Year of Release:1971~73/2000
Tracklist: Stell Dich Mitten In Den Regen [Stand In The Middle Of The Rain] [1972] (5:09), Die Nacht [The Night] [1972] (5:47), Die Lerche [The Lark] [1972] (2:44), O Mangobaum [Oh, Mango Tree] [1973] (4:00), Synthetic-Waltzer [Synthetic Waltz] [1973] (7:34), Bayon-Suite [Bayon Suite] [1971] (a. Auf Der Brücke I [On The Bridge I], b. Zwischenspiel [Intermezzo], c. Auf Der Brücke II [On The Bridge II]) (12:35)

Bayon were a group from East Germany, which guitarist Christoph Theusner had formed around him. The info tells me they used to be progressive in their very early days, but let folklore from the Far East influence their music, playing mostly acoustic instruments. This could make an interesting combination, so I was very interested to hear this.

The booklet states three albums released under the name of Bayon (1977, 1980, 1986) and a Theusner solo album (1989). I don't know those albums, so I can't say anything about the band's music after the recordings on this CD were made. From 1973 on, they began to play jazz-rock, and in 1975 the music contained elements of folk, jazz, and contemporary chamber music... Well, we're here to talk about this album, First Recordings 1971 - 1973, so forget about chamber music!

Well, to start with the last track, Bayon Suite is the oldest track. It's the best track on the album. Here, elements of progressive rock are most obvious. This is the only track with keyboards in it. Like the booklet said, the band started out playing progressive rock, and this is proof of that. Especially the first, organ-dominated part is great.

Also interesting are the first two tracks (from 1972), and the live track (1973). More jazz-rock, and with mainly acoustic instruments, it has a gentle, delicate sound. But there's also a bit of classical music, making it more serious.

Completely out of place are the remaining tracks, 3 and 4. Far East folklore alright, but taken one step too far. It's like listening to a bunch of street musicians playing their hymns. Musically, almost whining. Track 5 was recorded in January of 1973, and I guess they made their musical sidestep after that. After the Bayon Suite, this track is the most interesting - rocking with a lot of violin. Do I hear you think Kansas? :-). I am less interested in hearing their other albums now... (Although on their first official album there's a track called Suite Nr. 3, the second album is called Suite and has a track called Bayon Suite Nr. 4, and the third album contains a track called Suite V - can't be merely Far Eastern folk music, now can it?)

The rating of this album partly depends on tracks 3 and 4. On one hand you could say, for completists sake, let's include those two tracks. On the other hand, why could a band like this record tracks like that? I'd rather have more live recordings from that January 1973 gig where track 5 was taken from. Tracks 3 and 4 are less than 7 minutes on a total of almost 38, so you might still have a listen at those other tracks, which are definitely interesting enough for a CD release like this!

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

Flamengo - Kure V Hodinkách
Country of Origin:Chech
Record Label:Wydawnictwo 21
Catalogue #:21.002
Year of Release:1968~1972/2000

Original 1972 Album Kure V Hodinkách [Chicken In The Watch] (38:40): Kure V Hodinkach (Introdukce) [Chicken In The Watch (Introduction)] (2:30), Rám Prístích Obrazu [Frames Of Future Pictures] (4:00), Jenom Láska Ví Kam [Only Love Knows Where] (2:55), Já A Dým [Me And The Smoke] (4:55), Chvíle Chvil [Moment Of The Moments] (4:20), Pár Století [Some Centuries] (6:30), Doky, Vlaky, Hlad A Boty [Dockyards, Trains, Hunger And Shoes] (4:30), Stále Dál [Further On] (3:15), Kure V Hodinkach [Chicken In The Watch] (5:30)

Tracklist 1971 single (8:01): Kazdou Chvíli [Every Moment] (3:58), Týden V Elektrickém Meste [A Week In The Electric Town] (4:05)

Tracklist Live 1970 (5:32): Vím, Ze Placem To Skonci [I Know It Well End With Tears] (5:32)

Tracklist 1969 Single (8:22): Too Much Love Is A Bad Thing (4:21), Summertime (4:00)

Tracklist Live Prague, 23-12-1968 (9:20): Get Off My Life Woman (5:50), Say It Loud (3:15)

"Early 70's Czech progressive rock with jazzy touch". That's what the back cover reads. The beginning is very promising. Blues rock (not Gary Moore, but Deep Purple-like) with brass. Not a very common combination, and the first reference that comes to mind is Van Der Graaf Generator, but it's not a good reference. VDGG are much more prog, Flamengo are more blues. Also a bit of soul, I realize. Jazzy, definitely. A better reference is Colosseum. The blues sound also reminds me of Omega, but that has also to with the vocals - I don't understand either... :-) Great voice, by the way. Not a very raw voice, but also not too clean as too many prog singers.

The brass section has a big role in the music. I usually don't like brass very much, but they way Flamengo use it, it simply fits. Sometimes, there's a little too much of it in the foreground, but for the rest, the brass is just part of the whole thing creating the music, the energy. Varied energy, I cannot say it enough. A blues song like Get Off My Life Woman is turned into something jazzy. It's not out of style with the rest of the album, it's just part of the overall experience.

This band makes relatively short songs, and still they put a lot of ideas into them. Very powerful and emotional, very good songs. Live they must have been quite a show. The combination of styles is uncommon. The inclusion of James Brown's Say It Loud shows the band's soul influences, Summertime a blues background (with a female lead vocalist, by the way - incomparable to Brainbox's marvellous version)... A combination of styles simply cannot result in something other than progressive. A great album that will appeal to everybody who likes the early days of prog.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

Tony McPhee - Live In Poland At Blues Express
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Wydawnictwo 21
Catalogue #:21.008
Year of Release:2000
Info:Tony McPhee
Tracklist: 32-20 (4:21), No Place To Go (6:54), No Mo' Doggin' (5:26), Evil (5:48), Garden (5:12), Mistreated (6:00), Dimpless (5:30), Sitting On The Top Of The World (4:10), Can't Be Satisfied (3:31), Groundhog Blues (6:33), Little Red Rooster (4:52), Drop Down Mama (5:56), Write Me Few Short Lines (5:47), Old Polish Blues Song (2:12), The Grand Finale (1:12)

This CD proves Wydawnictwo 21 is not only interested in releasing prog and related. Tony McPhee is playing old blues songs on an acoustic guitar, accompanied on a few songs by two Polish musicians. I could go into great detail of this record as I quite like this kind of music, but since this is DPRP, I won't. I'll just include this bit because this review issue is a Wydawnictwo 21 special, and we got the CD, and maybe one or two people among you readers like this kind of music too. I guess there must be at least some Groundhogs fans reading this!

Starting a gig with a Robert Johnson song says it all - a song from the beginning of the blues recording history (Johnson recorded it around 1937). This is a gig Johnson could have played if he was still alive: blues on acoustic guitar, singing with a whiskey-drenched voice. McPhee is a good blues player. Not a great singer, not the best guitar player, but very good in what he is doing - playing music driven by emotion. This kind of performance works better in a small pub (like where it was recorded) than on CD. Not brilliant, but exactly the kind of sound and atmosphere you can expect from a gig like this.

Like I said, I can enjoy this very much, now and then. But I'll stop here considering the nature of this website.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

Pop Masina - Kiselina
Country of Origin:Yugoslavia
Record Label:Wydawnictwo 21
Catalogue #:21.007
Year of Release:1973/2000
Info:Pop Masina
Tracklist Original Kiselina album (September 1973): 1 Na Drumu Za Haos [On The Road To Chaos] (4:11), 2 Pesma Srecne Noci [Song Of The Happy Night] (4:31), 3 Mir [The Peace] (2:49), 4 Kiselina [The Acid] (5:25), 5 Trazim Put [I'm Looking For The Way] (3:48), 6 Povratak Zvezdama [Return To The Stars] (4:31), 7 Svemirska Prica [Tale Of The Universe] (3:10), 8 Slika Iz Proslih Dana [Pictures From The Past] (4:25), 9 Jark [The Dne] (0:54)

Tracklist December 1972 (8:25): 10 Put Ka Suncu [The Way To The Sun] (4:53), 11 Sjaj U Ocima [Shine In The Eyes] (3:32)

Tracklist October 1973 (8:03): 12 Promenicemo Svet [We'll Change The World] (4:47), 13 Svemirska Prica [Tale Of The Universe] (single version) (3:15)

First thing I noticed that this CD contains the worst recordings when mixing quality is concerned. The sound quality is OK, but the mix isn't. I think this is the result of the original, 1973, mixing. The band consists of three members: Zoran Bozlinovic (guitar, vocals), Robert Nemecek (bass, acoustic guitar), and Mihajlo Popovic (drums, congas). Already on the first track, it's a bit annoying that you hear the bass a lot better than the distorted guitars. OK, the title refers to "chaos", but I think the atmosphere would have been pretty clear with better mixing as well. Sometimes it's like you're listening to three separate musicians instead of a band, but beware that this doesn't say anything about the music, only the mix. This bad mixing is less of a problem during the quieter parts, and fortunately it gets better after a couple of songs. Probably due to the age of the recordings, the sound is a bit dull. Well, you simply cannot forget you're listening to 1973 recordings.

The back cover states "early 70's Yugoslavian progressive hard rock". So, I expect something like Hawkwind or Mountain. However, I think Flamengo are heavier! Of course, there are heavy bits, like the opening track. But the music is a good mix between heavy and easier songs. The band is assisted by several musicians playing, amongst others, organ, piano, flute, and sitar.

Track 8 is a lot of acoustic guitar, beautiful electric guitar picking, and flute. Reminds me a bit of sweet Mountain songs. Track 10, for example, shows the heavier side, purely blues-based hard rock, again like Mountain, although the guitar play is not as "phat" as Leslie West's - how can it be?! :-) Also some of their contemporaries are evident, like Cream, and even bits of Hawkwind (distorted vocals on a couple of tracks, repetitive guitar riffs). It's definitely not all hard rock. I think half of the tracks are songs creating a bit trance-matic atmosphere, played to have effect on the listener, as was the case with all above-mentioned influences. At times, I wonder what a full-time band member on keyboards could have done to the sound, but the next minute I already forget about it. It's good the way it is. I like this very much, and hope I get a chance to hear the other things this band has recorded: a couple more albums, and in the early Eighties they recorded under the name of Rock Masina.

Track 9 is a piece of music turned backward. So I suspect this is why the translation of the title says "dne", and that the original word for "the end" is "kraj".

I think this could have been a popular album, had it been released all over Europe or even in the USA. I wonder what this band would be like on stage... Of course, you must know that I really love this kind of music. The rating is purely for the music. If you like this mix of blues-based, progressive (hard) rock, try it, but only if you're sure you can handle old recordings like this, lacking a lot of high.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Time - Vrijeme
Country of Origin:Yugoslavia
Record Label:Wydawnictwo 21
Catalogue #:21.005
Year of Release:1972/2000

Tracklist Original 1972 Time album (33:05): Istina Masina [The Real Machine] (4:40), Pjesma No. [Song No. 3] (5:54), Hegedupa Upa (4:57), Kralj Alkohol [The Alcohol King] (7:22), Za Koji Zivot Treba Da Se Rodim [For What Life Should I Be Born] (10:05)

Tracklist 1973 Single (11:09): Reci Eiganko, Sto Mi U Dlanu Pise [Tell Me Gypsy, What Is Written On My Palm] (6:12), Makedonija [Macedonia] (4:55)

Tracklist Live 1973 (22:41): Za Koji Zivot Treba Da Se Rodim [For What Life Should I Be Born] (13:07), Reci Eiganko, Sto Mi U Dlanu Pise [Tell Me Gypsy, What Is Written On My Palm] (9:21)

Alphabetically, Time are last. But if I'd put the reviews in order of interest, I'd still save this one for last, as it's the best of the lot.

The music of Time is, in some respects, in the same vein as Pop Masina and Flamengo, but is more like early Deep Purple than the others. A great blues voice with a lot of power and soul, and a very nice organ sound. After the rocking opener, there's some flute as well in the easy second track. Almost jazzy, this ballad.

On the hypnotically rocking third track, the singer shows great blues qualities once more. Improvisation, this time - meaningless vocal sounds. He's really part of the band more than a lead singer. More Purple references, but also nice flute playing, and also parts with percussion and bass more up front.

After another quiet song, there's the album's highlight. A bit of Omega here as well. Maybe their Hungarian musical brothers could do it grander than this, but that's mainly because Time didn't put up a wall of keyboard sounds. The composition is definitely more progressive, though! Oh, I love that organ sound. Great vocal melodies, although I don't understand the lyrics. It's like all they have they are able to show in ten minutes.

The first two bonus tracks are taken from a single, released after the album. The music is a bit heavier maybe, but in the same vein. The first has less keyboards than the others, with the bass more up front. This lesser mix doesn't do the track a lot of good. The second one, however, Makedonia, is a lot better. Gypsy-like rhythmic guitar, with very enthusiastic and stirring vocals.

Wow, a live version of their magnum opus... It's even more powerful than the album version. The sound quality reveals its age, as again it was not possible to re-mix the sound from the original master tapes. But still I close my eyes and enjoy this! Some soloing makes the track longer than its original. The keyboard solo reminds me a bit of The Doors jamming, the guitar solo is Blackmore. The last track is a live version of the first bonus track. It sounds a bit better, less agressive but still powerful.

What a revelation! I've explained many times that I like this kind of music, but even compared to all the others in the same sub-genre, this is a very good album. Definitely the best this label has to offer so far.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Well, some very interesting releases, and some less interesting releases. But then again, that depends on your personal taste. I find it amazing that this label managed to get these old recordings, especially those live bonus tracks on some of the CDs. Especially in the cases of Flamengo, Pop Masina, and Time I am really wondering how much more there will become available on CD...

Jerry van Kooten

Album Reviews