Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Various Artists - 2016 - Wake Up You! The Rise & Fall of Nigerian Rock Music 1972-1977. vol. 2

Various Artists
2016
Wake Up You! The Rise & Fall of Nigerian Rock Music 1972-1977. vol. 2 




01. Theodore Nemy – Come Back 4:07
02. The Funkees – Slipping Into Darkness 4:37
03. The Hykkers – I Want A Break Thru 3:08
04. The Hygrades – In The Jungle (Vocal) 3:20
05. Shadow Abraham with Monomono Friends – Babalawo 3:25
06. Waves – Wake Up You 4:02
07. War-Head Constriction – Shower Of Stone 3:40
08. Question Mark – Love 5.01
09. Action 13 – Set Me Free 4.01
10. Jay U Experience – Baby Rock 5:23
11. The Doves – Flying Bird 3:31
12. Kukumbas – Awa Lani Arawa 3:53
13. The Believers – Life Will Move 5:10
14. Tony Grey & the Black 7 – The Feelings 4:40
15. Ceejebs – Life In Cannan 3:10
16. The Identicals – Who Made the World 4:32




Where other Nigerian vinyl compilations have focused on various permutations of rock, funk, soul, and disco, Wake Up You! specifically covers the short-lived but influential period of Nigerian rock in the country’s post-Civil War era (after 1970). On 34 tracks across two volumes and two accompanying books, the compilation documents some of the musical, socioeconomic, and political trends that shaped Nigerian Afrorock.
The majority of both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 feature music from the height of Nigerian rock in the early ‘70s, before the scene started to decline. The decade saw Nigeria experiencing a petroleum-fueled post-war economic boom, which ushered in a renewed sense of optimism that proved a huge boon to the growth of the country’s music industry.
And yet, as the government sought to rebuild the nation, leftover wartime trauma and unresolved tensions got swept under the rug. So it’s very possible that the sense of discomfort and melancholy that had never really gotten addressed then ended up bubbling over into rock, particularly in the East, which had borne the brunt of the war as the former secessionist Republic of Biafra. The compilation reflects that reality, featuring mostly Eastern rock bands.
Despite regional differences, there was a collective desire, especially among youth, to have some kind of contemporary music they could claim as their own that was “distinctly African.” This was one of the reasons why James Brown’s soul music, with its pro-Black messaging and funky rhythms that meshed well with pre-existing West African musical traditions, had exploded in popularity during the region’s independence era. His influence continued into the next decade and beyond, as evidenced throughout Wake Up You! For instance, on Vol. 1, The Hygrades’ 1971 B-side “Keep on Moving” directly references “Cold Sweat” and has the cathartic screams to match. This desire for a homegrown music was also what helped make Fela’s self-branded Afrobeat so popular, which would soon eclipse Afrorock, even though the two weren’t initially that different. The stylistic similarities between the two are clear in their shared highlife percussion rhythms and off-kilter organ work. This can be heard across Vol. 1—on The Hygrades’ “In the Jungle (Instrumental),” The Funkees’ “Baby I Need You,” OFO the Black Company’s “Beautiful Daddy,” and many more.
On Vol. 1 opener “Never Never Let Me Down” (1973), the little-known Formulars Dance Band deliver a touching number filled with nostalgic doo-wop harmonies and lyrics steeped in heartache: “Just one thing you do not know, girl,” the lead singer croons. “And that is I need you/And one more thing you do not know, girl/And that is I love you.” By contrast, War-Head Constriction’s record “Graceful Bird” (1973) ramps up into a heavy metal track with long, snarling guitar solos and piles of distortion. According to Ikonne’s liner notes, War-Head Constriction also often played with a later iteration of the band Waves, whose psychedelic “Wake Up You” (featured on Vol. 2) b/w “Mother” (on Vol. 1) is the comp’s namesake. Vol. 1’s closing track, P.R.O.’s 1976 “Tell Me,” in turn references dub by way of delay effects, hinting at the fact that towards the end of the decade, a several schoolboy and college rock bands—including teen sensations Ofege—started shifting their heavy rock sound towards “dub and militant rockers-style reggae.” But even then, with the exception of Afrobeat and with the advent of disco, the public wanted something smoother and glossier, and Nigerian rock slipped more or less into darkness (related: Funkees’ cover of War’s “Slipping into Darkness” on Vol. 2).



In that way, Vol. 1 comes to a logical close. The album itself is very loosely chronological, though it doesn’t follow the arc of the accompanying book, which is an important part of the compilation. Vol. 1 sags a bit towards the middle of its 18 tracks, but it picks up again later on—perhaps not unlike the trajectory of Nigerian rock over the decades. Many of the narrative threads present on Vol. 1  are also those that run through Vol. 2, and certain bigger bands, such as The Hykkers, The Hygrades, and The Funkees, appear on both volumes. However, where Vol. 1 is generally more exuberant and brighter, Vol. 2 is more melancholy, reflecting some of the darker realities of the time.
Much of Vol. 2 expresses a desire for freedom and a resistance to the social and political dis-ease of post-war Nigeria. On “Life in Cannan,” Ceejebs lament the state of what could have been their promised land. Over nimble jazz keys and thick bass, lead vocalist Eyo “Crosbee” Hogan gathers his listeners around him, intoning, “Come around, people of this world/let’s get together and pray/Evil things are happening every day/Many rich are getting poor/The poor ones are dying away.” Echoing that sense of despair is The Identicals’ nearly-apocalyptic “Who Made the World,” on which they demand answers to questions they know they’ll never get, howling, “Who made the world? Who made the land? Who made the moon?” Even the love songs here ride on a sort of desperation bordering on futility: on opening number “Come Back,” band leader Theodore Nemy’s voice cracks time and time again as he begs for his “baby” to “come back.” An organ drones beneath him, sympathetic (figuratively and musically) to Nemy’s grievances.
Perhaps most clearly exemplifying the intersection of Afrorock and the politics of the time on Vol. 2 is the band Action 13, who appear on Vol. 1 as their later iteration, Aktion. On Vol. 2, their song “Set Me Free” could easily be interpreted as a protest against the band’s prison-like relationship to their then-patrons, the Nigerian military’s 13th Brigade. Many brigades of the time used bands to entertain their soldiers, boost morale, and reassure citizens, via music, that all was well. Initially, their patronage was helpful in providing a number of Eastern musicians with a living. But Action 13, like many other bands with brigade numbers affixed to their names, eventually grew frustrated, and many tried to break free to make a name for themselves independent of the military. These outside pressures, as well as labels’ jostling to sign artists with varying degrees of success, often augmented bands’ internal instabilities as well. There was a ton of back-and-forth between bands. For instance, on Vol. 2, we see Tony Grey, (former?) keyboardist of the Magnificent Zenians (Vol. 1) leading his own band, The Black 7; certain members of Afrorock pioneer Joni Haastrup’s Monomono appear here backing one Shadow Abraham; juju icon King Sunny Ade makes a surprise appearance producing The Believers’ “Life Will Move.” Trying to make sense of the bands’ relationships to each other, to regional trends, to labels, and to military involvement is like trying to make sense of a messy maze of crossed paths, dead-ends, and false starts.
But in that sense, Wake Up You!: The Rise and Fall of Nigerian Rock, 1972-1977 does a thorough job of conveying the angst and mutability of Nigeria’s protean post-war period. This was music that helped people, young people especially, to sort through their own identities in the wake of war, even if it was to define what they weren’t. On Vol. 1, in the chorus of their track “Scram Out,” from their 1977 album Be Nice To The People, young schoolboy rockers Question Mark sing, “I want to feel free, I want to feel happy!” Which at the end of the day, through all its ups and downs, was what the movement was about.

Various Artists - 2016 - Wake Up You! The Rise & Fall of Nigerian Rock Music 1972-1977, vol. 1

Various Artists
2016
Wake Up You! The Rise & Fall of Nigerian Rock Music 1972-1977, vol. 1 



01. Never Never Let Me Down - Formulars Dance Band
02. Keep On Moving - Hygrades
03. Everybody Likes Something Good - Ify Jerry Krusade
04. In The Jungle (Instrumental) - Hygrades
05. Onye Ije - Stranger
06. Stone The Flower - Hykker
07. Baby I Need You - Funkees
08. Mother - Waves
09. Beautiful Daddy - Ofo The Black Company
10. Graceful Bird - War-head Constriction
11. Ije Udo - Magnificent Zenians
12. Never Too Late - Apostles
13. Groove The Funk - Aktion
14. Ballad of a Sad Young Woman - Wrinkar Experience
15. I Can’t Be Satisfied - Founders
16. Float - Tirogo
17. Scream Out - Question Mark
18. Tell Me - P.R.O.



When the African vinyl-digging trend peaked five or six years ago, there was a rush, mostly among American and European collectors, to press and publish retrospective compilations. From the mid/late-‘00s onward, there was a feverish proliferation of digitized vinyl on mp3-sharing blogs, many of which featured music from West Africa. One of those blogs was the popular Comb and Razor, run by Uchenna Ikonne, who’s since become the main man behind a number of Nigeria-focused projects for labels like Soundway, Luaka Bop, and Now-Again. Since the early 2010s, what some have called the “Scramble for African Vinyl” has slowed down a bit, if in part because various collectors have rendered certain vinyl-rich areas comparatively “dry.” So it says something about Now-Again that they took the better part of a decade to properly license, credit, and release what is now Wake Up You!: The Rise and Fall of Nigerian Rock, 1972-1977.

Where other Nigerian vinyl compilations have focused on various permutations of rock, funk, soul, and disco, Wake Up You! specifically covers the short-lived but influential period of Nigerian rock in the country’s post-Civil War era (after 1970). On 34 tracks across two volumes and two accompanying books, the compilation documents some of the musical, socioeconomic, and political trends that shaped Nigerian Afrorock.

The majority of both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 feature music from the height of Nigerian rock in the early ‘70s, before the scene started to decline. The decade saw Nigeria experiencing a petroleum-fueled post-war economic boom, which ushered in a renewed sense of optimism that proved a huge boon to the growth of the country’s music industry. And yet, as the government sought to rebuild the nation, leftover wartime trauma and unresolved tensions got swept under the rug. So it's very possible that the sense of discomfort and melancholy that had never really gotten addressed then ended up bubbling over into rock, particularly in the East, which had borne the brunt of the war as the former secessionist Republic of Biafra. The compilation reflects that reality, featuring mostly Eastern rock bands.


Despite regional differences, there was a collective desire, especially among youth, to have some kind of contemporary music they could claim as their own that was “distinctly African." This was one of the reasons why James Brown’s soul music, with its pro-Black messaging and funky rhythms that meshed well with pre-existing West African musical traditions, had exploded in popularity during the region’s independence era. His influence continued into the next decade and beyond, as evidenced throughout Wake Up You! For instance, on Vol. 1, The Hygrades’ 1971 B-side “Keep on Moving" directly references "Cold Sweat" and has the cathartic screams to match. This desire for a homegrown music was also what helped make Fela’s self-branded Afrobeat so popular, which would soon eclipse Afrorock, even though the two weren’t initially that different. The stylistic similarities between the two are clear in their shared highlife percussion rhythms and off-kilter organ work. This can be heard across Vol. 1—on The Hygrades’ “In the Jungle (Instrumental),” The Funkees’ “Baby I Need You,” OFO the Black Company’s “Beautiful Daddy,” and many more.

On Vol. 1 opener “Never Never Let Me Down” (1973), the little-known Formulars Dance Band deliver a touching number filled with nostalgic doo-wop harmonies and lyrics steeped in heartache: “Just one thing you do not know, girl,” the lead singer croons. “And that is I need you/And one more thing you do not know, girl/And that is I love you.” By contrast, War-Head Constriction’s record "Graceful Bird" (1973) ramps up into a heavy metal track with long, snarling guitar solos and piles of distortion. According to Ikonne’s liner notes, War-Head Constriction also often played with a later iteration of the band Waves, whose psychedelic “Wake Up You” (featured on Vol. 2) b/w “Mother” (on Vol. 1) is the comp’s namesake. Vol. 1’s closing track, P.R.O.’s 1976 “Tell Me,” in turn references dub by way of delay effects, hinting at the fact that towards the end of the decade, a several schoolboy and college rock bands—including teen sensations Ofege—started shifting their heavy rock sound towards "dub and militant rockers-style reggae." But even then, with the exception of Afrobeat and with the advent of disco, the public wanted something smoother and glossier, and Nigerian rock slipped more or less into darkness (related: Funkees’ cover of War’s “Slipping into Darkness” on Vol. 2).

In that way, Vol. 1 comes to a logical close. The album itself is very loosely chronological, though it doesn’t follow the arc of the accompanying book, which is an important part of the compilation. Vol. 1 sags a bit towards the middle of its 18 tracks, but it picks up again later on—perhaps not unlike the trajectory of Nigerian rock over the decades. Many of the narrative threads present on Vol. 1  are also those that run through Vol. 2, and certain bigger bands, such as The Hykkers, The Hygrades, and The Funkees, appear on both volumes. However, where Vol. 1 is generally more exuberant and brighter, Vol. 2 is more melancholy, reflecting some of the darker realities of the time.

Much of Vol. 2 expresses a desire for freedom and a resistance to the social and political dis-ease of post-war Nigeria. On “Life in Cannan,” Ceejebs lament the state of what could have been their promised land. Over nimble jazz keys and thick bass, lead vocalist Eyo “Crosbee” Hogan gathers his listeners around him, intoning, “Come around, people of this world/let’s get together and pray/Evil things are happening every day/Many rich are getting poor/The poor ones are dying away.” Echoing that sense of despair is The Identicals’ nearly-apocalyptic “Who Made the World,” on which they demand answers to questions they know they’ll never get, howling, “Who made the world? Who made the land? Who made the moon?” Even the love songs here ride on a sort of desperation bordering on futility: on opening number “Come Back,” band leader Theodore Nemy’s voice cracks time and time again as he begs for his “baby” to “come back.” An organ drones beneath him, sympathetic (figuratively and musically) to Nemy’s grievances.

Perhaps most clearly exemplifying the intersection of Afrorock and the politics of the time on Vol. 2 is the band Action 13, who appear on Vol. 1 as their later iteration, Aktion. On Vol. 2, their song “Set Me Free” could easily be interpreted as a protest against the band’s prison-like relationship to their then-patrons, the Nigerian military’s 13th Brigade. Many brigades of the time used bands to entertain their soldiers, boost morale, and reassure citizens, via music, that all was well. Initially, their patronage was helpful in providing a number of Eastern musicians with a living. But Action 13, like many other bands with brigade numbers affixed to their names, eventually grew frustrated, and many tried to break free to make a name for themselves independent of the military. These outside pressures, as well as labels’ jostling to sign artists with varying degrees of success, often augmented bands’ internal instabilities as well. There was a ton of back-and-forth between bands. For instance, on Vol. 2, we see Tony Grey, (former?) keyboardist of the Magnificent Zenians (Vol. 1) leading his own band, The Black 7; certain members of Afrorock pioneer Joni Haastrup’s Monomono appear here backing one Shadow Abraham; juju icon King Sunny Ade makes a surprise appearance producing The Believers’ “Life Will Move.” Trying to make sense of the bands’ relationships to each other, to regional trends, to labels, and to military involvement is like trying to make sense of a messy maze of crossed paths, dead-ends, and false starts.

But in that sense, Wake Up You!: The Rise and Fall of Nigerian Rock, 1972-1977 does a thorough job of conveying the angst and mutability of Nigeria’s protean post-war period. This was music that helped people, young people especially, to sort through their own identities in the wake of war, even if it was to define what they weren't. On Vol. 1, in the chorus of their track “Scram Out,” from their 1977 album Be Nice To The People, young schoolboy rockers Question Mark sing, "I want to feel free, I want to feel happy!" Which at the end of the day, through all its ups and downs, was what the movement was about.



There have been several excellent Nigerian rock and psychedelic music compilations issued by fine record labels that have gone to great lengths to assemble tapes and/or rare pressings of exemplary recordings. That said, Now Again’s Wake Up You! The Rise and Fall of Nigerian Rock goes a step further: it attempts to tell this music’s entire story between 1972 and 1977 in the aftermath of the three-year civil war.
The music is contained inside a sleeve placed between the covers of a hardbound book with a narrative essay written by musicologist and researcher Uchenna Ikonne (who assembled Who Is William Onyeabor?). This first of two volumes offers 18 burning cuts released between 1972 and 1977. Well-known acts from the Hykkers and the Funkees to Ify Jerry Krusade, the Strangers, and others are represented — though the choices are not always obvious and add another layer to the already complex dimensions of the Afro-rock portrait already available. One example is the inclusion of “Stone the Flower,” the B-side of the Hykkers’ “God Gave His Only Son” single from 1972 — it’s wonderful, but nowhere near the best cut here. Arguably, that honor is split between Ofo the Black Company’s “Beautiful Daddy,” the B-side of their “Allah Wakbarr” single, and “Graceful Bird” by War-Head Constriction, both frantic psychedelic scorchers with screaming guitars, rumbling basslines, and tom-tom-heavy polyrhythms. For rock guitar freaks, the Apostles’ “Never Too Late” from 1976, deeply influenced by Fela Kuti’s Afro-beat, is another excellent choice. There are plenty of funky grooves here too, from the Motown inspiration of the Formulars Dance Band’s “Never Never Let Me Down” (1973) to the psychedelic soul in the Strangers’ Temptations-influenced “Onye Ije” (1972) and the wailing Farfisa and bubbling conga rave-up in “Groove the Funk” by Aktion (1975). There isn’t a dud in this bunch, even though the music is all over the rock and funk map.
This set’s ultimate achievement, however, doesn’t only lie in the recordings presented (all of which were officially licensed). Instead, it’s in the way they offer a soundtrack to Ikonne’s essay, which is exhaustively — even painstakingly — researched and vastly illustrated (truly amazing photographs), containing quotes from artists, label heads, managers, etc. It also offers an informed opinion near the end that many — particularly in the white world — may find shocking (though it’s tough to argue). On the other side, Ikonne’s narrative posits another thesis that contradicts some popular Nigerian historical thinking on just how lasting the cultural and artistic import of the period is. If you want to know what they are, buy it. Sure, you pick this set up just for the music and it would be worth it. But when music and visuals are combined, the story is so exhilarating, heartbreaking, and revelatory, it eclipses that intention. Wake Up You! The Rise and Fall of Nigerian Rock is essential for anyone even casually interested in the era of Afro-rock.


Podipto - 1974 - Homemade

Podipto 
1974 
Homemade




01. Livin’ In The Country – 2:12
02. When The Sun Fades Away – 2:37
03. You Say You Lost A Friend – 2:06
04. Lilac And Tumbleweed – 3:26
05. Play That Song Again – 1:57
06. Pisces Lady – 2:29
07. Northern Minnesota – 2:09
08. Sunshine Day – 2:53
09. We Had Ways Of Knowing – 2:57
10. Black Eyed Susie – 3:03
11. Got A Feelin’ – 3:13

Dan Lund – lead guitar, pedal steel, fiddle
John Collins — rhythm guitar, vocals
Ron Kelley – bass, vocals
Karen Lund – piano, vocals
Chester Ellingson – drums




"This record was made for a number of reasons; basically to get seme new stuff for people to hear and to give them a chance to hear the new band. We made it as inexpensively as we could, recording in Ron's living room for the instrumental tracks and in Chet and Clarence's house for the vocals.


Podipto - 1970 - Podipto

Podipto 
1970
Podipto




01. Morning Song 2:47
02. Mr. Robin 3:42
03. Can't Stand To Beg 3:47
04. Karen's Song 2:08
05. Mississippi Woman 4:15
06. Three Day's Runnin' 3:58
07. Love Of The One 3:52
08. Think I'm Likin' You 2:08
09. (Lola) You Ease My Achin' Heart 4:01
10. Misty Morning 2:25
11. Good Morning Blues 2:04

Bass, Vocals – Jack Sundrud
Drums – Steve Rundquist
Lead Guitar – Dan Lund
Piano, Vocals – Karen Lund
Rhythm Guitar, Vocals – John Collins



Podipto formed in Northern Minnesota in 1969. Until disbanding in 1974, Podipto was known as one of the brightest acts hailing from the Midwest, blending rock, blues and country into a unique sound that would never be forgotten by those who heard them or saw them perform. Throughout the early 1970s, Podipto toured the country, performing with acts such as Elton John, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, The Carpenters, Kenny Rogers, The Guess Who, Poco, John Sebastian and many others.

The band's unique sound was created by the blend of three vocalists—two male and one female—who traded leads and joined in harmony. Podipto could shift from feel-good dreamy 70s folk to growling twin-guitar blues on a dime, refusing to let any one genre of the time define their sound. Most of the band's original songs were written by rhythm guitarist and vocalist John Collins, and bassist Jack Sundrud. Dan Lund played electric guitar with (then wife) Karen Lund on vocals and piano. John Calder was the band's initial drummer, but after being drafted, Steve Rundquist replaced him on drums. The band had a couple of lineup changes in 1973, when Steve and Jack left the band to pursue other projects. For a short time Ron Kelley provided on vocals and bass in 1973, until Wilson Roberts joined the band. Chester Ellingson took over drums in 1973.

Podipto recorded two albums, the first in 1970 with GRT Records of Canada. Shortly after the album's release, the label faltered, leaving Podipto and its other bands with an uncertain future. Dubious of record companies, Podipto recorded its second album just as its title suggests: Homemade. The band broke up in October 1974, to the dismay of many fans who embraced their sound and messages of peace and love, good times, political awareness and relentless groove.

Ilmo Smokehouse - 1970 - Ilmo Smokehouse

Ilmo Smokehouse 
1970 
Ilmo Smokehouse





01. Devil Take My Grandma 3:25
02. Are You Happy 5:35
03. Movement 1 And 13 9:45
04. Johnny B. Goode 3:23
05. Meyer Gold 4:46
06. Have You Ever Had The Blues 6:50
07. Pine Needle Bed 2:45
08. Watch Jimmy Crash 2:32

Keith "Slink" Rand - Lead Guitar, Percussions
Freddie Tieken - Vocals, Rap Vocals, Tenor Saxophone
Gerry Gabel - Vocals, Flute, Harmonica, Piano
Dennis Tieken - Vocals, Drums
Craig Moore - Bass, Vocals




While it's not unusual for a new band to form from the ashes of other collapsing, simpatico groups, it's rare for one to emerge from the funeral pyres of two distinctly different musical units, but thus was begotten Ilmo Smokehouse. Freddie Tieken and the Rockers was the more established of Ilmo's parents, a smoking R'n'B band that had been burning up Midwestern stages since the late '50s.

With an obvious penchant for bluesy rock and soul, the band boasted one of the best horn sections in the region. In contrast, Gonn came on the scene in 1966, dragging behind them their British beat influences, following the herd into psychedelia and even space rock a few years later. Smokehouse had a ferocious live reputation, but this set did that little justice, with only "Johnny B. Good" and "Pine Needle Bed" hinting at their stage potential.

What the record does do, however, is showcase precisely why this band was born to die. The nearly seven-minute long "Have You Ever Had the Blues" is a flawless example of talking blues, a sound Freddie Tieken had perfected years before. Elsewhere, jazz and prog rock collide on "Are You Happy," while jazz, soul, and rock smack straight into each other on "Movement 1 and 13," while "Pine Needle Bed" pulls in so many directions, you expect the whole tree to splinter apart. And splinter the band quickly did, in the end, becoming three different bands. There was just too much experience and quality musicianship in the ranks, all pushing too hard for their own preferred style. For some bands, eclecticism is a badge of honor, for Ilmo it sounds more like a bone of contention.
by Jo-Ann Greene

Gracious! - 1971 - This Is...Gracious!!

Gracious! 
1971 
This Is...Gracious!!



01. Super Nova: - 24:59
 .a.Arrival of the Traveller
 .b.Blood Red Sun
 .c.Say Goodbye To Love
 .d.Prepare To Meet Thy Maker
02. C.B.S. - 7:07
03. Once on a Windy Day - 4:03
04. Blue Skies and Alibis - 4:58
05. Hold Me Down - 5:05

*Alan Cowderoy - Guitar, Vocals, Percussion
*Paul Davis - Lead Vocals, Percussion
*Martin Kitcat - Keyboards, Mellotron, Percussion,  Vocals
*Robert Lipson - Drums, Percussion
*Tim Wheatley - Bass, Vocals, Percussion




No sophomore jinx here: on their second album, Gracious truly hits its stride. The first half of the album is a four-part suite, "Super Nova." After its Floydian opening instrumental, the band launches into the bleak "Blood Red Sun"; with a dystopic narrative of environmental holocaust and its martial drumbeat, it's an ideal complement to King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man."

Strange, then, that this should lead to "Say Goodbye to Love," an effectively weepy guitar ballad of lost romance and tear-jerking harmonies. It's on the second half of the album, though, that Gracious hits escape velocity. On "C.B.S." the band shifts effortlessly from a groovy clavinet jam to a bouncing barrelhouse piano in the verse. "Blue Skies and Alibis" is a prime example of Martin Kitcat's Mellotron technique; powered along by Cowderoy's graceful guitar, smoky vocals, and a lush piano progression worthy of Joe Jackson, it's one of their most enduring tracks.

A truly undervalued gem, This Is... Gracious! sat on the shelves for two years after completion before being issued; it's a shame that it was to be last anyone heard from the band for the next two decades.
by Paul Collins

Gracious! - 1970 - Gracious!

Gracious! 
1970 
Gracious!





01. Introduction - 5:53
02. Heaven - 8:09
03. Hell - 8:33
04. Fugue in 'D' Minor - 5:05
05. The Dream - 16:58
06. Beautiful - 2:50
07. What A Lovely Rain - 2:49
08. Once On A Windy Day - 4:03


Alan Cowderoy - Guitar, Vocals
Martin Kitcat - Piano, Harpsichord, Keyboards, Vocals, Mellotron
Robert Lipson - Drums
Tim Wheatley - Bass
Paul Davis - Vocals, Acoustic Guitar




Gracious began as a schoolboy lark in 1964, when guitarist Alan Cowderoy and vocalist/drummer Paul Davis banded together to cover pop songs at school concerts. To arouse maximum ire at their Catholic school, the adopted the band name "Satan's Disciples." Over the next several years the recording lineup of the band coalesced with Cowderoy and Davis (who now only sang), former road manager Tim Wheatley on bass, Martin Kitcat on keyboards, and drummer Robert Lipson.

Renamed Gracious (or Gracious!), the band toured Germany in 1968 and then recorded a concept album about the seasons of the year, although this went unreleased. Still, their ambitions were unabated. After playing on a double bill with the newly formed King Crimson, an awestruck Kitcat immediately adopted the Mellotron as a lead instrument for the band. Kitcat and Davis were the band's composers, and Kitcat in particular lent the group its distinctive sound. He played the Mellotron as a lead instrument, much like a blues organ -- that is, with percussive single notes, rather than the grandiose chords favored by bands that used it as a faux-orchestral backdrop.

The debut of Gracious! begins with the blandly but accurately titled "Introduction." One of the album's strongest tracks, it's a Nice-like combination of menacing Moog breaks and shimmering harpsichords, and it foreshadows the band's use of both heavy prog music and ghostly lyrics tinged with Catholic dread. "Heaven" is a gorgeous minor-key ballad of stately Mellotron and chiming guitar tones, with harmonies reminiscent of late-model Zombies.

"Hell," not surprisingly, is another thing altogether: a descent into drunken declamations, clinking bottles, rowdy bar sounds, loopy piano riffs, and creepy phasing effects. In coclusion it's a fine debut, and it presaged the superb second effort that was to follow.
by Paul Collins

Damin Eih, A.L.K & Brother Clark - 1973 - Never Mind

Damin Eih, A.L.K & Brother Clark 
1973
Never Mind



01. Tourniquet 2:45
02. Sing A Different Song 4:15
03. Take Off Your Eyes 5:45
04. Soft Margins 4:59
05. Thundermice 3:47
06. Monday Morning Prayer 0:37
07. Gone 4:36
08. Marching Together 4:37
09. Kathryn At Night 1:47
10. Party Hats & Olive Spats 2:57
11. Return Naked 1:50


Vocals, Bass – Brother Clark
Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar – Damin Eih
Vocals, Percussion – A.L.K.




Psychedelia was a fortuitous intervention in the development of music technology. At the same moment as recording and amplification technologies were exponentially improving fidelity and reducing signal distortion, psychedelic rock was in the process of formalizing distortion as a method of reflecting altered states of consciousness. Guitar distortion had already been a fascination for 1950s R&B artists; think of Chuck Berry’s overdriven valve amp on “Maybelline” or Link Wray’s habit of poking holes in his speaker cones to create his signature tone. This fashion for distortion led to the development of technologies such as the Fuzztone, which paradoxically lend a measure of control to distortion, focusing and directing the stochasticity of dissonance and clipping toward musical ends. This tension between the proliferation of signal distortion and the technological means to control flows of noise is one of the many alternative historical narratives of pop music.

Seen in this way, the history of psychedelic music is no longer a narrative of human genius, the expansion of the mind resulting in the expansion of pop music’s vocabulary, but rather a highly contingent meeting of technologies: psychoactive drug states reorienting attention to the excess of recorded music (i.e. noise, inharmonics, decay, etc.), and technology responding by developing ways to produce signal distortion that can be artfully controlled. Lest we forget: LSD was the accidental invention of a Swiss chemist, and the history of guitar distortion is all about the creative misuse of gear and the use of malfunctioning or modified equipment. In other words, psychedelic music became the accidental laboratory for excess, for pushing music technology beyond its limitations in order to signify the chemically-altered consciousness in which noise, transience, and decay signify as much or more than melodies and lyrics. Someone had to be the first to turn the dial on the reverb unit all the way to “wet,” completely silencing the original signal, leaving only the feedbacked echoes.

In the realm of underground psych, this logic is intensified. Unsigned psych musicians of the first era had no choice but to turn their technological limitations into an alternate set of aesthetic values. The world of vanity-press psych is filled with home producers who pushed consumer-level technologies well beyond their breaking point, not just to evoke hallucinatory perceptual states, but also to cover over weaknesses due to substandard recording and mixing equipment. The rise of “lo-fi” as a pop aesthetic in the mid-1980s (Beat Happening, Tall Dwarfs, etc.) was already old news for rare psych enthusiasts, who had long ago embraced the shortcomings of home recording as a desirable alternative to the slick, soulless commercialism of art rock and new wave. The song “Take Off Your Eyes,” by a trio with the unwieldy name Damin Eih, A.L.K. and Brother Clark, is an excellent example of these strategies at work. The song was included on Never Mind, the first and only album by the Minneapolis group, recorded and released in a tiny private press edition in 1973.

Like the rest of the album, “Take Off Your Eyes” is marked by strange mixing, guitar and bass often cancelling each other out, and the nearly incessant cymbals far too prominent in the mix. The heavy delay on the main guitar part often results in the song seeming strangely out of sync rhythmically. At times, the drums appear to be rushing forward while other elements of the composition fall behind. Though it threatens to become annoying, the persistent ping-pong doubling effect on the vocals is an unorthodox gamble that pays off, evoking the mirroring effects of psychedelics and making other syncing problems seem intentional in context. It helps that the main vocal refrain is a bit of an earworm, and the melody is more than functional, but the appeal of “Take Off Your Eyes” is ultimately its own excess. It signifies too much. It insists on its own absurd lysergic imperative too emphatically, and yet paradoxically, it is this wide-eyed (or dilated-pupil) conviction that sells the lyric’s central conceit: “Take off your eyes/ And heading toward emptiness/ You can see everything suddenly new.”

We live in a brave new world in which the evolution of psychedelic compounds and the development of new audio technologies have become articulated together in ways that are not always apparent, such that it is hard to remember it wasn’t always the case. Terence McKenna claimed that the evolutionary leap from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens was due to the monolith-like influence of psychedelic mushrooms. The specifics of his argument don’t matter as much as his basic conjecture; that the advances of humankind are incomprehensible without a consideration of what was in the water. In this same spirit, we should be willing to consider the history of pop music in terms of a machinic evolution; the ways in which technology, with its own contingencies and trajectories, may often be a decisive factor in the (r)evolution of musical forms. Would techno be what it is today without the commercial failure of the TR-606 and TB-303, two bargain basement synth modules created as electronic accompaniments for jazz musicians? Similarly, the story of psych rock is one shaped by a series of stochastic collisions between emerging technology, psychopharmacology, culture, and the human psyche.

In 1973, three young men from Minneapolis unleashed a sonic time bomb called Never Mind. The private-press album was probably hard to find even if you were a 1973 Minnesotan, and as its legend grew in subsequent decades, it became a ridiculously rare collectors' item at the top of every serious psychedelia maven's want list. There's little background info available on the trio; the only one who has maintained any kind of public profile is Clark Dyrcz, who went on to the alt-psych outfits Code 7 and DYRC. Outside of perhaps Dyrcz, no one seems to know what became of main singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Damin Eih; legend has it that he went to India after releasing Never Mind and was never heard from again. Finally given its first legit CD reissue in 2010, the album these mysterious Minnesotans left behind truly lives up to its reputation. This is the acid folk record of every psych aficionado's dreams, a mind-altering journey that not only embodies the expansiveness of the era in which it was made, but goes well beyond. Never Mind has it all -- fuzzed-out electric guitar leads; hypnotic acoustic picking; ethereal, heavily processed vocals; space-is-the-place analog synth lines; atmospheric percussion -- with everything pressed into service to deliver an off-kilter song suite as heady and brain-bending as anything ever to emerge from the late-‘60s/early-‘70s golden age of head music. But for all its trippy appeal, part of the reason Never Mind has earned so much acclaim is that, unlike some other private-press artifacts from the same era, this is no amateurish, primitivist piece of "outsider" art -- these guys were skilled musicians who knew exactly what they were doing and how to navigate their way around the impressive number of instruments they played between them. Whether or not they were lysergically inspired at the time of the album's recording, it's clear that Never Mind sounds exactly the way it was intended to sound. The fact that this far-out masterpiece was far from accidental shouldn't detract from its legend; if anything, it should give listeners a greater appreciation for this obscure, unfortunately short-lived ensemble.