Monday, December 12, 2016

Nektar - 1974 - Down To Earth

Down To Earth

01. Astral Man (3:07)
02. Nelly The Elephant (5:02)
03. Early Morning Clown (3:21)
04. That's Life (6:49)
05. Fidgety Queen (4:04)
06. Oh Willy (4:00)
07. Little Boy (3:03)
08. Show Me The Way (5:55)
09. Finale (1:36)

Bonus Tracks on 2005 remaster:
10. Astral Man (2:59) *
11. Nelly The Elephant (4:47) *
12. Early Morning Clown (3:23) *
13. That's Life (6:44) *
14. Oh Willy (4:08) *
15. Show Me The Way (5:57) *
16. "Robert Calvert out-takes" (2:07)

* Original Chipping Norton mixes

- Roy Albrighton / guitar, lead vocals
- Allan "Taff" Freeman / keyboards, backing vocals
- Derek "Mo" Moore / bass, backing vocals
- Ron Howden / drums, percussion

- Stephen Wick / tuba (1)
- Phil Brown / bass tuba (1)
- Butch Hudson / 1st trumpet (2,5,6,9)
- Ron Carthy / 2nd trumpet (2,5,6,9)
- Steve Gregory / tenor sax (2,5,6,9)
- Chris Mercer / baritone & tenor saxes (2,5,6,9)
- Chris Pyne / trombone (2,5,6,9)
- Chipping Norton Mandies Choir / chorus vocals (2,9)
- P.P Arnold / backing vocals (3,4,7)
- Kenneth Cole / backing vocals (3,4,7)
- Bob Calvert / voice - ringmaster (1,2,4,5)
- Dieter Dierks / effects

DOWN TO EARTH is the second of Nektar's three essential albums, and, like its title would suggest, is less psychedelic and science-fictional in sound and subject matter than both its predecessor (Remember the Future) and its successor (Recycled). Though this is classic 70s progressive rock, the emphasis is decidedly and delightfully upon the ROCK. Furthermore, rather than dealing with an enlightening alien contact, or a dark future of genetic engineering and ecological disaster (hmmm, sounds familiar), our setting this time out is a circus, complete with (an English-speaking) German ringmaster.
The evening gets off to a flying start with the entry of "Astral Man," a rocking, and catchy tune about a high-wire man. Then things slow down a little -- but gain in power -- and the whole tent reverberates as "Nelly the Elephant" thunders in (complete with brass fanfare!), an "extraordinary exhibition" of good-humoured versatility by the band. Next we take a look at a sadly beautiful "Early Morning Clown," and the keyboards and acoustic guitars shine in the dawn, as "warm rays" fall on the dew-speckled leaves. That's life, one might conclude, and indeed "That's Life" ends "side" one. Things get deeper on this great and longer track, as guitarist Albrighton, cranking out funky, infectious riffs, reflects upon life in the vocals, while stalwart bassman Mo Moore provides a masterfully solid prog underpinning with his Rickenbacker (the same bass that gave Chris Squire his trademark sound on the classic Yes albums). "Side two," -- or act two, if you will -- opens with the frantic "Fidgety Queen." Albrighton really excels on the slide on this rocker, but whereas Yes's Steve Howe oftimes uses slide when things slow down and get "prettier" (as on "To be Over"), Albrighton uses his "tubular" finger to fly! The following track, "Oh Willy" is another up-tempo number where the rhythm section of Moore and drummer Ron Howden more than earn their keep, while in a quieter middle-part, Albrighton lays down some very tasty and dreamy licks, only to have the crisp drums and bass urge him to run with them once more. We then take a hushed and melancholy look at one of the younger members of the circus troupe, a "Little Boy," before Albrighton, ably assisted by "Taff" Freeman (keys) and the rest of the band, enters again with his slide to get powerful closer "Show Me the Way" off to a rousing start. Albrighton, always good, but never particularly outstanding or distinguished as a singer, really manages to inject some passion into his vocals here! Just when you think the show has ended, however, the band fades back up for a short "Finale" repeat of the "Nelly" theme, thereby neatly bookending the proceedings. With that, the show really is over, and some thirty-seven highly-pleasurable minutes have flown by beneath the "big top," bringing you once more "Down to Earth."

I was fortunate enough to listen to this superb and uplifting disc today (for the eleventy-first time!) while driving down the highway in a large, powerful -- and borrowed -- car with a large and powerful stereo. With Albrighton speeding along on the slide, it was hard not to do some speeding and sliding on the winter roads myself! This disc is a must for Nektar fans, and as good an intro as any for the uninitiated. Highly recommended!

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