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Sunday, January 30, 2011

The United States of America - The United States of America (1968 us, baroque psych milestone, remaster edition with bonus tracks)

It takes balls —well, at least, something like that— to call your band The United States of America. And the San Francisco-based eggheads who dared to do so in the late-'60s were doing so with no little irony. At a time in which their country was waging a hated war and opposition to it was steeped in "all you need is love" delusion, their name had a mocking quality to it.

It hardly endeared them to the establishment, including their own record label, Columbia. "There was," USA mastermind Joseph Byrd would later recount, "scant enthusiasm from the executives for a band whose name they hated, whose music they didn't understand, and whose politics they thought treasonous."

That sense of treason extended to their approach to popular music. These United States were a band of serious avant-gardists; young composers and scholars who were students of modern-composition titans John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Even though none had a background —or, even, a sensibility— in rock'n'roll, Byrd decided that they should try their hand at a rockband.

And they were like no band ever before assembled. Rather than electric guitar, The United States of America employed a bizarre arsenal of instruments: circus calliope, harpsichord, scrapes of atonal violin, a ring modular, and electronic oscillations all being used to assault the 'sacred' form of the rock'n'roll song.

It was part subversion, sure, but The United States of America weren't simple provocateurs. Listening to their one-and-only album —a 1968 self-titled album that sunk quickly without a trace— and what stands out isn't its sense of invention or its preponderance of experimentation, but the way that its experimental edge works with its surprising, charming tunefulness.

Whilst The United States continually deconstruct the sanctity of songs —passages of white noise, eerie atmospheres, and cacophonous collage derailing the forward progression of verse/chorus— they don't shy away from the sweetness of songcraft. With Dorothy Moskowitz's voice as their most melodic instrument, Byrd and his crew composed tunes that were tuneful; be they raucous, psychedelic rockers, or eerie, barely-there lullabies.

Since this album has been rediscovered by a new generation, it's those sparse songs that've most entranced modern audiences; the marriage of Moskowitz's gentle singing, scrapes and wails of Gordon Marron's violin, and sci-fi squalls of electric circuitry make for most modern-sounding compositions on cuts like "Cloud Song."

The influence of the spectral side is apparent on their biggest new-millennial boosters, Broadcast, the amazing English electro minimalists who've cited The United States of America as their chief influence. In many ways, this album makes more sense over 40 years on than it would've in its day; even if the band were an obvious product of their era.
by Anthony Carew

1. The American Metaphysical Circus (Joseph Byrd) - 4:56
2. Hard Coming Love (Joseph Byrd, Dorothy Moskowitz) - 4:41
3. Cloud Song  (Joseph Byrd, Dorothy Moskowitz) - 3:18
4. The Garden Of Earthly Delights  (Joseph Byrd, Dorothy Moskowitz) - 2:39
5. I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar  (Joseph Byrd, Dorothy Moskowitz) - 3:51
6. Where Is Yesterday  (Gordon Marron, Ed Bogas, Dorothy Moskowitz) - 3:08
7. Coming Down  (Joseph Byrd, Dorothy Moskowitz) - 2:37
8. Love Song For The Dead Che  (Joseph Byrd) - 3:25
9. Stranded In Time  (Gordon Marron, Ed Bogas) - 1:49
10.The American Way Of Love - 6:38
...Metaphor For An Older Man (Joseph Byrd)
...California Good Time Music (Joseph Byrd)
...Love Is All  (Joseph Byrd, Dorothy Moskowitz, Rand Forbes, Craig Woodson, Gordon Marron) - 6:38
11.Osamu's Birthday  (Joseph Byrd) - 2:59
12.No Love To Give  (Dorothy Moskowitz) - 2:36
13.I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar (Joseph Byrd, Dorothy Moskowitz) - 3:45
14.You Can Never Come Down  (Joseph Byrd) - 2:32
15.Perry Pier  (Dorothy Moskowitz) - 2:37
16.Tailor Man  (Dorothy Moskowitz) - 3:06
17.Do You Follow Me  (Kenneth Edwards) - 2:34
18.The American Metaphysical Circus  (Joseph Byrd) - 4:01
19.Mouse (The Garden Of Earthly Delights)  (Joseph Byrd, Dorothy Moskowitz) - 2:39
20.Heresy (Coming Down)  (Joseph Byrd, Dorothy Moskowitz) - 2:32

The United States Of America
*Joseph Byrd – Eectric Harpsichord, Organ, Calliope, Piano
*Dorothy Moskowitz – Lead Vocals
*Gordon Marron – Electric Violin, Ring Modulator
*Rand Forbes – Electric Bass
*Craig Woodson – Electric Drums, Percussion
Guest Musician
*Ed Bogas – Occasional Organ, Piano, Valliope

Related Act

Pearls Before Swine- The Use Of Ashes (1970 us, psych folk rock, 2003 water issue)

For their second Reprise Records outing, Pearls Before Swine worked primarily with Nashville-based musicians, including a small orchestra who provide a stately feel to the highly intimate nature of the material. According to Tom Rapp's comments in the liner booklet accompanying the Jewels Were the Stars (2003) box , the songs were written while he and his wife were living in the Netherlands, which Rapp said contributed significantly to the air of romanticism throughout.

"Jeweller" opens the album with an exquisite tale that exemplifies Rapp's remarkable abilities to draw upon disparate metaphors such as shining coins and worshiping God, both involving the Use of Ashes -- hence the title. The rural mood created by the notable Music City USA stalwarts effortlessly fuses with David Briggs' baroque-flavored harpsichord on the delicate "From the Movie of the Same Name," featuring Rapp and spouse Elisabeth on non-verbal vocalizations as they "da-da-da" the melody.

Although "Rocket Man" predates the Elton John cut by a couple of years, Bernie Taupin cites it as his inspiration for the lyrics behind John's 1972 Top Ten hit. The words are credited as having been influenced by a Ray Bradbury novella that dealt with the universal emotion of loss. Again, Briggs' keyboard runs relate the story with subdued refinement. By contrast, "God Save the Child" is one of the more amplified inclusions, making good use of session heavies Kenneth A. Buttrey (drums) and Charlie McCoy (guitar), especially when placed against the restrained string section.

Another sonic texture in the tapestry is the jazzy "Tell Me Why," shimmering with an uncredited vibraphone lead gliding beneath Rapp's whimsical lines. These tracks are offset by the noir "When the War Began," the ethereal love song "Margery," and the mid-tempo retelling of the "Riegal," a ship whose 4,000 inhabitants perished during World War II.

Rapp's juxtaposition of stark imagery reveals that while Pearls Before Swine might not have continued the bombastic direction set about on their earlier protest works "Uncle John" or "Drop Out," they maintained social and political relevance.
by Lindsay Planer

1. The Jeweler - 2:48
2. From the Movie of the Same Name - 2:21
3. Rocket Man  (based on a short story by Ray Bradbury) - 3:06
4. God Save The Child (Elisabeth helped) - 3:08
5. Song About A Rose - 2:21
6. Tell Me Why - 3:43
7. Margery - 3:03
8. The Old Man - 3:16
9. Riegal - 3:13
10.When the War Began - 5:07
All words and music by Tom Rapp

* Tom Rapp - Vocals, Guitar
* Elisabeth - Vocals
* Charlie McCoy - Dobro, Guitar, Bass, Harmonica
* Norbert Putnam - Bass
* Kenneth Buttrey - Drums
* Buddy Spicher - Violin, Cello, Viola
* Mac Gayden - Guitars
* David Briggs - Piano, Harpsichord
* John Duke - Oboe, Flute
* Hutch Davie - Keyboard
* Bill Pippin - Oboe, Flute

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Pearls Before Swine - One Nation Underground (1967 us, great psychedelic folk rock, japan remaster)

Tom Rapp, an 18 year-old draft resistor and college dropout living in Eaugallie, Florida, sent a small unsolicited reel of tape to ESP. Bernard Stollman invited him to bring his musicians to New York, where they recorded their acclaimed debut, One Nation Underground in 1967.

This is still a stunning piece of work, from the nightmarish sleeve art -- the "Hell Panel" from Hieronymus Bosch's 15th century painting "Garden of Delights" -- to the strange yet powerful songs. - Peter Kurtz
by Peter Kurtz

1. Another Time - 3:05
2. Playmate (Saxie Dowell) - 2:17
3. Ballad To An Amber Lady (R.Crissinger, T. Rapp) - 5:13
4. (Oh Dear) Miss Morse - 1:52  
5. Drop Out! - 4:07  
6. Morning Song - 4:05  
7. Regions Of May - 3:25  
8. Uncle John - 2:52  
9. I Shall Not Care (Teasdale, R. Tombs, T. Rapp) - 5:10
10.The Surrealist Waltz (L. Lederer, R. Crissinger) - 3:27
All compositions by Tom Rapp except where indicated

Pearls Before Swine
*Tom Rapp - Vocals, Guitar
*Wayne Harley - Autoharp, Banjo, Mandoline, Vibraphone, Audio Oscillator, Harmony
*Lane Lederer - Bass, Guitar, English Horn, Swinehorn, Sarangi, Celeste, Finger Cymbals, Vocals
*Roger Crissinger - Organ, Harpsichord, Clavioline
*Warren Smith - Drums, Percussion

Pearls Before Swine
1967 One Nation Underground (Japan remaster)
1968  Balaklava (Japan remaster) 
1969-70  Pearls Before Swine - Use Of Ashes / These Things Too (2011 remaster issue)
1971  Beautiful Lies You Could Live In
1971  City Of Gold

Tom Rapp
1972  Tom Rapp - Stardancer (2009 Lemon edition)
1973  Sunforest (2009 Lemon edition)

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