Sunday, July 19, 2015

Earth Opera - 1969 - The Great American Eagle Tragedy

Earth Opera 
The Great American Eagle Tragedy

01. Home To You    4:27
02. Mad Lydia's Waltz    3:47
03. Alfie Finney    2:34
04. Sanctuary From The Law    2:54
05. All Winter Long    5:57
06. The American Eagle Tragedy    10:41
07. Roast Beef Love    3:16
08. It's Love    4:09

- Peter Rowan / acoustic guitar, electric guitar, tenor saxophone, vocals
- David Grisman / mandolin, mandocello, piano, alto saxophone, vocals
- Paul Dillon / drums, acoustic guitar, percussion, vocals
- John Nagy / electric bass, cello, mandocello

Earth Opera was joined on this recording by:
- Jack Bonus / tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, flute
- Richard Grando / c-soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass recorder
- John Cale / viola
- David Horowitz / piano, organ
- Bill Keith / pedal steel guitar
- Herb Bushler / double bass
- Bob Zachary / triangle

Earth Opera was one of several groups to come out of the rather infamous “Bosstown” scene, a motley wave of rather disparate bands modeled on the highly successful San Francisco sound and pushed by MGM publicity man Alan Lorber. Despite being grouped together in marketing and subsequent rock and roll history, the only real common denominator among these groups is, well, Boston. Each band really did have its own unique sound and aesthetic, and each deserves to be looked at independent from the record company hype that clouded their reputations back in the late 1960s. Earth Opera, headed by future bluegrass pioneers David Grisman and Peter Rowan (who had already made something of a name for himself singing with Bill Monroe), gave testimony to this spirit of individuality when they released The Great American Eagle Tragedy in 1969.

This is the second of Earth Operas two albums, released in 1968 and 1969. Their first was ornate, combigning tight songs with jazzy arrangements.

But between 1968 and 1969, rock changed. The Byrds replaced their fuzz-wrapped experiments with country. The Band became stars with roots Music From Big Pink. The Stones got shredded with Satanic Majesty's Request, but invited you to a Beggars Banquet, the stripped calling card to their peak years. Even the Beatles-who ushered in psychedelia and still indisputably ruled the hen-house-came back to base. Elvis joined in, making two masterpieces of Memphis soul.

The Great American Eagle Tragedy followed this parade. Peter Rowan, singer and mandolin player for Earth Opera, had bluegrass roots. The album's first side reflects this. "Home To You" could be straight from Nashville. "Alfie Finny" was a folk ballad. These and other tracks create a homey, rustic landscape.

But next is the title track, a long, driving peice about Vietnam carnage. Rowan sings operatically, building to a scream. "Stop The War. I can't take it anymore." Moving, almost violent, it still maintains an organic sound. The song was used in protest sets on FM progressive radio.

The album ends, returning to roots music. Rowans voice is searing, giving an ominous hue to even the lighter material. The title track is the only topical one here, and still works. The lyrics date it, but the music and the emotional impact is fresh.

Earth Opera may be buried in long-ago rock history, but both albums hold up.

Highly recommended

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