Bonehead Proto-Metal Awesomeness, Part II
The Litter - Emerge: Holy Jesus. I think I said this about the Randy Holden album in Part I, but fuck it: this is pretty much the shit, right here. For those of you who, like me, only knew The Litter before this list from their excellent contribution to the first Nuggets box, "Action Woman", and were therefore a bit worried when you learned that they'd changed styles on their third album, fear not. Yes, The Litter have largely abandoned the R&B/garage-punk song structures of their earlier work for a more psychedelic sensibility, but the breakneck energy of "Action Woman" is still here, and in spades. The drummer is all over his kit, the guitarists stomp their fuzz pedals and shred their strings with hell-for-leather ferocity, and the singer shouts and wails in a manner that leaves no room for doubt re: his commitment to rock n' fuckin roll of whatever stripe. I got into downloading the records on this list so that I could have something to play when my copies of "Vincebus Eruptum" and "On Time"* hadn't scratched my itch completely. "Emerge" fits that bill to a tee--in fact, it does so better than any of the other albums I've heard from this list so far. Hunt this one down with the quickness. P.S.--Wait til you hear their cover of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth". Thought that particular hippie-era chestnut was overplayed beyond hope of redemption by decades of moldy classic rock stations? Think again.
*--Yes, it's true, I now have a vinyl copy of "On Time." I bought it last weekend, FOR A QUARTER, AT A SIDEWALK SALE. I only wish I could have seen the look on my own face when I found it.
Glass Harp - Glass Harp: Well. If there's anything about this album that caused it to make Decibel's list, it was definitely not some element of heaviness. This isn't proto-metal by any stretch, and its even somewhat heavy moments are few and far between. None of that's to say that I don't like it, though. Quite the contrary. This album won me over from the first track, "Can You See Me", which is a 6 and a half minute psychedelic epic, complete with a string quartet and a layer of acoustic strumming beneath the electric guitar leads. This song brilliantly evokes the same morose pastoral feel that I got from The Poets a few weeks ago. It's the perfect soundtrack to a rainy afternoon at an English countryside estate, and therefore probably makes those who are inclined in that direction feel the urge to smoke weed. The rest of the album is rather eclectic, and ranges from totally acoustic, drumless acid-folk tracks to the heaviest tracks here, relatively speaking, which still aren't very heavy but have a really nice San Francisco 1967 psychedelic rock sound to them. Nothing else is quite as awesome as the opening track, but there's no noticeable dropoff in quality either, and I'd therefore recommend this record to anyone who isn't just here for the proto-metal.
Damnation of Adam Blessing - Second Damnation: Oh damn. The first song on this album, "No Way", kicks it off in about as fine a fashion as is possible. A thick, funky bassline over syncopated drumming that has that same fine 60s analog production that made Don Brewer's simplistic beats sound amazing and brilliant on Grand Funk Railroad's "On Time." These beats aren't any more complicated than Brewer's--both drummers are blessed with a heavy bass foot, but that's about all they've got to make them stand out--but they sound great, as does Adam Blessing himself, vocalist of this quintet, who has the chops to do both heavy blues singing, as he does on this opening track, and prettier melodies, as on tracks like "Everyone", which have more of a San Fran psych feel. The group alternates between these two styles pretty much throughout the album (though bassist Ray Benich's lines always sound thick, which gives this record a heavy edge at all times), and since they're good at both, it stays enjoyable throughout. Nothing quite stands up to that first track, though. Holy crap.
Peter Green - The End Of The Game: I had heard some of this guy's work from back when he was leading the original incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, and it was good bluesy stuff, so I was in no way prepared for what I got when I put on this album. The thing in the Decibel story about Peter Green going down a steep cliff and just falling and falling and falling is pretty goddman accurate, really--I just wouldn't have known how to interpret that. Now that I've heard it, I can tell you what they mean: this album is entirely instrumental, and consists of 6 songs, most of which are between 5 and 10 minutes. Said songs all occupy the territory that exists in the space between Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain" and pretty much everything I've ever heard involving Helios Creed. So: basic rhythmic backing while Peter Green unspools long, drawn-out guitar solos that don't really seem to be going anywhere in particular. I have enough respect for Peter Green to really cringe at the idea of calling this directionless noodling. But rest assured, if I'd never heard of the guy, I would have said that right up front. You should probably avoid this.
Three Man Army - A Third Of A Lifetime/Gun - Gunsight: I'm lumping these two together because both bands were driven by the Gurvitz brothers, Adrian and Paul. Apparently Gun came first, and the version of their second album, "Gunsight", that I found was paired with their debut album, "Gun", on one CD. I can certainly understand why it was that Decibel recommended the second album rather than the debut--"Gun" is not all that great for the most part, and on first listen to the two-fer disc, I found myself thinking "this is really not very good." But then it made the switch from the first to the second album, and there was a noticeable improvement.
Before we go any farther, I have to admit something. Fact is, it's getting a bit harder to write these reviews, because a lot of these bands sound very similar, and it's hard to point out elements that distinguish them from the others--especially when there aren't really any to speak of. But that's not to say that "Gunsight" is boring or mediocre. It's a pretty good heavy-blues/proto-metal album, with occasional acoustic slide guitar blues intervals that actually are reasonably unique. However, I can't really say that anything in particular about this album stands out. If you've already checked out all of the albums I've highly recommended and you still want more, by all means, grab this one.
But before you do that, you should probably grab the Three Man Army album. It's their debut release, which makes it the next thing that the Gurvitz brothers did after "Gunsight". And "A Third Of A Lifetime" is just as significant of an improvement over "Gunsight" as that album was over the self-titled first Gun album. "A Third of a Lifetime" kicks off with an uptempo rocker called "Butter Queen", with a catchy and amusing chorus ("If your name is Barbara, how come they call you 'Butter Queen'?") that will get stuck in your head all day. Admittedly, this is the album's strongest song, but there are others here that are worth your time, and that give ample demonstration of the reasoning behind Decibel's praise of Adrian Gurvitz's guitar skills. Interestingly enough, the album features, in addition to the Gurvitz brothers on guitar and bass, a revolving cast of superstar drummers, including Buddy Miles and Carmine Appice. None of them distinguish themselves as anything other than solid timekeepers, but they serve their purpose, which is about all one can ask. By the way, allmusic will tell you that neither of these albums is very good. Ignore them. Remember, boneheadedness is a virtue.
Dust - Dust: Some more nice proto-metal slide-guitar rockin that doesn't distinguish itself as unique but certainly proves its worth. Decibel mentions "From A Dry Camel", a ten-minute dirge epic, but I'm a lot more excited about the higher-energy stuff on side one. Also, it's interesting that this is Marky Ramone on drums (he's certainly doing a good bit more with his drum parts than he did on the classic Ramones tracks he's famous for), but it's singer/guitarist Richie Wise who really dominates the proceedings here, and dude rips off some really fine solos in a lot of places on this record. This is a fine addition to my growing list of stuff to put on when I've already played "Vincebus Eruptum" and "On Time" and still want more of the same.
Road - Road: Far be it from me to ever pretend that Jimi Hendrix's best work (i.e. his three albums with the Experience) were only good because of what he himself did. In fact, I can't imagine there's anyone out there who has ever heard those albums that won't admit the importance of bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell to the greatness of those records. For that reason alone, I was excited to hear this album from Noel Redding's post-Experience project. It's not Hendrix, of course, but it's not bad. The songs have that same epic-quest feel that I get from a lot of Led Zeppelin's more pastoral moments (think "Over The Hills and Far Away" or "Ten Years Gone"), but much like Zeppelin, Road manages to retain the heavy rock feel even as they explore more melodic territory. Guitarist Rod Richards (ex-Rare Earth) sings on some of these songs, and he has a better voice than Redding, but Redding's songs, especially the bluesy "I'm Going Down To The Country", which features a lot of acoustic slide guitar, are still good. This album is as good a place as any to bring up one other thing: the preponderance of drum solos on early 70s proto-metal albums. They seem to have been almost obligatory in the wake of Cream's "Toad" and Zeppelin's "Moby Dick", and it's kind of a shame, because nothing ruins the flow of an album quicker. Often, it's the second-to-last track that contains the drum solo: "Friends" here, "T.N.U.C." on Grand Funk Railroad's "On Time," "Future Of The Past" on The Litter's "Emerge", etc. I kind of wish this wasn't the case, but what are you gonna do?
The Litter - Feeling
Glass Harp - Can You See Me
The Damnation Of Adam Blessing - No Way
Three Man Army - Butter Queen