Monday, February 8, 2016

Aorta - 1969 - Aorta


01. Main Vein I
02. Heart Attack
03. What's in My Mind's Eye
04. Magic Bed
05. Main Vein II
06. Sleep Tight
07. Catalyptic
08. Main Vein III
09. Sprinkle Road to Cork Street
10. Ode to Missy Mxyzosptlk
11. Strange
12. A Thousand Thoughts
13. Thoughts and Feelings / Main Vein IV

Bass – Jim Nyeholt
Drums – Billy Herman
Guitar, Vocals – Bobby Jones
Keyboards, Vocals – Jim Donlinger

Originally known as The Exception, singer/guitarist Jim Donlinger, drummer Billy Herman, bassist Billy Jones and keyboard player Jim Nyeholt started out as a top-40 cover band. By the mid-1960s the quartet was adding original material to their repertoire, eventually catching the attention of producer Bill Traut and Atlantic Records. A 1969 single "Strange" b/w "Shape of Things To Come" (Atlantic 45-2445) failed to sell, but caught the attention of Columbia Records, which promptly signed the band. 

Produced by Traut and Donlinger, 1969's "Aorta" showcased one of the better slices of late-1960s major label psychedelia. Almost a concept piece, the individual numbers were strung together by a series of segues ("Main Vein" sections I through IV). Featuring largely original material (three of the four members contributing songs), the collection offered up a nice mélange of poppier numbers (The Buckinghams-styled "Magic Bed" and "Sleep Tight") and harder edged, more experimental efforts (the psych-flavored "What's in My Mind's Eye" and "Catalyptic"). Columbia also chose to included a rerecorded version of "Strange" which b/w "Ode to Missy Mxyzosptik" was subsequently released as a single (Columbia catalog number 4-44870).    Sure, it wasn't a major creative statement or something that would drastically change your life, but full of nice fuzz guitar, interesting melodies, and weird studio effects, it made for a solid player; every track worth hearing. 

A monster classic of 60s psych! Yes!

This jewel has some of the most creative studio production of the day, creating an album that flows from the beginning to end and has all kinds of glorious details popping in and out.

This album really has the whole package, from the sophisticated production blending killer organ and guitar sounds, horns, strings, etc to distinctive, great vocals and outstanding songwriting. There are no weak tracks here, and each one has some melodies or hooks or stinging, powerful instrumental ideas that suck me in. There are also at least two or three bona fide elite classic songs here, really memorable, catchy slices of genius that belong on any comprehensive "best of 60s psych" comp.

In the flow of the album, there are a number of fascinating departures from conventional pop song format, notably the opening track and its unforgettable "main vein" chorus.

The whole vibe of the album is really unusual, not something that fits in with any of the standard reference styles for the era. One minor reference point, however, is early Chicago and the bright, hard-rocking horn-pop sound. The blues-rock element is masked with Aorta though. Something of this general flavor is in parts of Food's classic Forever is a Dream too, and I'd bet most fans of Food would dig Aorta and vice versa, just on an abstract sensibility, not on any especially strong similarities.

Probably the primary feeling of the music comes from the organ. Stripping away the brilliant compositional and production maneuvers, This is slightly heavy, trippy, psychedelic organ prog-psych-pop with an exaggerated, dramatic vocal style atypical of psych bands. (Not to the extremes of Arcadium or Vanilla Fudge though!)

The prog element deserves special mention. This was 1969. I'd argue this was one of the earliest prog albums in history. It really has a lot of the prototypical features of prog despite the psych context.

A singular gem whose peaks don't approach the highest of the era, but which earns a privileged place in my 60s rock collection for its consistent excellence and evocative, unforgettable creativity.

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