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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Glass Prism - On Joy And Sorrow (1970 us, amazing heavy psych, 2011 korean remaster)

Glass Prism's first album, 1969's Poe Through the Glass Prism, was one of the most unusual early concept albums of the psychedelic era. Despite some initial encouraging promotional push from RCA however, it and a single drawn from the LP, The Raven TEl Dorado," didn't make the national impact for which the band and their management had hoped. 

Glass Prism did get to put out another album on RCA, On Joy and Sorrow, but not under ideal circumstances, the group's momentum having been curtailed by business complications. Explains Glass Prism guitarist Tom Varano, 'We're pretty sure (our managers) Mort Lewis and Gene Weiss made a deal with RCA that when they released the album, if RCA would do everything possible, they would do everything possible on their end. Which means, they were gonna put us on tour with Blood, Sweat & Tears. That was gonna be a major tour." 

The tour was canceled, however, "and as soon as that broke off, RCA shut down their promotional campaign. It killed the whole thing. Because we were gonna be punished, along with Mort Lewis, for losing what was gonna help RCA to sell more records." Complicating the situation was Lewis's withdrawal from the music business, which to some degree is a mystery that's persisted to this day "He managed Dave Brubeck, the Four Freshmen, Simon & Garfunkel and Blood, Sweat & Tears, and we were his fifth act," says Varano. 'That was it. I met Paul Simon at his office, and Paul had listened to our stuff. 

I remember Paul saying, 'Hey, why don't you guys write your own words?'" he laughs, Poe Through the Glass Prism having been devoted to the band's adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe works to music. The following year Simon, continues Varano, "married Mori's wife. I'm pretty sure Mort probably had a breakdown. He never, ever again managed anybody. He went down to Florida. I could never reach him again by phone, ever. Gene Weiss went down to Florida, and could not get in touch with him; he was out on his yacht and wouldn't come in. And he never spoke to Gene Weiss again, according to Gene's wife, in all those years." In the meantime, however, "we were still performing. 

We still had to make a living, but it was really somewhat depressing because of what happened. We were still trying to communicate '••.in Lewis; It wasn't happening. I didn't know whether something was gonna still happen, whether we were gonna end up still having another shot. Gene called up one day and said, 'Oh, your record contract calls for a second album.' I said, 'Well, are we supposed to do something?1 He said, 'Yeah, you're supposed to record it. And you got eleven days to get ready.'" Taken aback, the band would have to get enough original material together almost on the fly. 'We were writing just a little bit, a few songs," notes Tom. 'We weren t doing any more Edgar Allan Poe stuff. 

That whole thing became depressing to us. We would still play 'The Raven' and maybe a couple of songs, 'cause people would ask for them. But we were sick and tired of it. Because of the way things worked out, it wasn't of interest. We were just playing copy music, and there were just a couple of original songs." Nonetheless, "Gene said, 'You have to record an album.' I said, 'We don't even have an album. We don't have songs.' So I went home and just wrote a bunch of songs, and we got together in rehearsals. Augie wrote a couple songs, and we just worked those out within a few days. 

When we got to the studio, we weren't ready; we didn't even have enough songs. We had to pull some stuff together in the studio. So you're hearing songs that were all written within a few days for the most part. There may have been one or two songs written on that album that were written before, but not many. We practiced for a few days, and went into the studio and recorded the songs. I don't even remember being in there for the mix." With RCA's diminishing interest in the band, giving Glass Prism more time to prepare and record their second LP did not seem to be a priority, "'cause we didn't have any notice. 

I just figured they could care less about the contract, 'cause they shut everything down. They stopped all the ads, they stopped doing everything. We had a great distribution situation; the first album went everywhere, that's why there were so many of those albums around. The second album, it was just part of their contract" - which likely accounts in part for why original copies of On Joy and Sorrow are so much more difficult to find than original copies of Poe Through the Glass Prism. Like Poe Through the Glass Prism, On Joy and Sorrow was recorded in just three days, though this time Glass Prism would use RCA's Studio A in New York, rather than guitar legend Les Paul's studio in Nyack. 

One day, Varano reveals, "Pat Boone was upstairs. He had a priest with him that would pray before he would go and record. He ended up leaving early that day, because he just couldn't get it right or something." Yet despite not being hatched under optimum conditions, On Joy and Sorrow did showcase the distinctive elements of Glass Prism's sound that had been introduced on the musical arrangements of their Poe adaptations. There was bassist Augie Christiano's husky soul-rock singing, balanced by songs on which drummer Rick Richards took lead vocals; B3 organ in the spirit of bands like the Spencer Davis Group (whose "I'm a Man" the band covered onstage), Procol Harum, and Vanilla Fudge; and Varano's versatile lead guitar, equally accomplished at fuzzy hard rock riffs and deft jazz-influenced picking. 

Most of the material was written by Tom, with Augie contributing "Maggie Don't You Hear Me" and "Renee," and organist/guitarist Carl Siracuse coming up with "I Laugh." "There are little pieces of each song, I guess, that were kind of interesting, but it never got developed," reflects Tom. "She (On Joy and Sorrow)' and 'She's Too Much' had the theme of the album, and we tried to write songs kind of around that, so we would keep within some kind of a focus. 'Cause we thought we were supposed to; that's what the first album was. I kind of like the song 'She (On Joy and Sorrow)' that Rick sings; the way the harmonies come in, it's a little different, it has some unusual chords in it. 'She's Too Much was going to be a single. 

It was kind of like a John Kay and Steppenwolf thing. But again, listening to it, it's like that really needed work to get it where it needed to be." Still, he adds, "I kind of like some of the ideas. 'Maggie Don t You Hear Me' is neat, kind of a rhythm and bluesy thing. The song that a lot of people like, which has two chords in it,'I Laugh,'was written in the studio. It was just, 'Let's fill the album.' It was also kind of a bluesy thing." The jazzy lick that kicks off "Here You Are," he says, has been sampled, as has the wah-wah guitar from Poe Through the Glass Prism's "Dream Within a Dream," and guitar from the same LP's "Hymn." 

As for Christiano's two songs named after girls, Varano confirms that both "Renee" and "Maggie Don't You Hear Me" are about real people. That was the Edgar Allan Poe thing, when you write about a girl, but you change her name," he explains. "Maggie"s about one of his girlfriends." Released by RCA with minimal promotion and no accompanying 45, On Joy and Sorrow would be Glass Prism's final record for the label. In retrospect, Varano muses, "we probably should have been sticking with the Edgar Allan Poe thing. We should have been going further with it, and that's what they should have been telling us to do. Because if it was working, why would you want to change it? I know Augie, that's all he ever wanted to do - just do more and more of it, as much as possible. 

He thought the second album should have been the same way. But we weren't prepared for that. Even though there were more songs [based on Poe's work] that I had written, I hadn't brought them to the group. When it was time to do the second album, nobody said, 'Do some more.' They just said, 'Come and do an album, do what you have.' All we had was a couple of songs that we were playing live - I think 'She's Too Much' was one of them - that were not even really related." But while Glass Prism's association with RCA had ended, the band continued, if not always under the Glass Prism name. 

Playing not just in the northeast Pennsylvanian region that was their base, but also New York, New Jersey, and Ohio, they shared bills over the course of their career with Procol Harum, Vanilla Fudge, Three Dog Night, and Guess Who. In 1971, with Carl Siracuse departing and Louie Cossa joining on bass and keyboards, they evolved into Shenandoah. The self-titled album they recorded was, in Varano's view, "a better album than the first two. We wrote all the songs; we actually figured out how to write our own words." But "it never got released. The guy who was producing, Seth Greenkey, could not get a deal. Almost had a couple deals that never happened." Two years later, in 1976, "we quit." In October 2007, however, this lineup reunited as Glass Prism to play a concert in Philadelphia at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, naturally featuring material from Poe Through the Glass Prism. 

A reunion concert at the Scranton Cultural Center on June 7, 2008 was filmed and used for a recent 55-minute documentary on the band. On Joy and Sorrow: The Glass Prism Story. They're now working on a new studio album {details on their website, that will combine new material, a medley of classic rock tunes, and re-recordings of songs from Poe Through the Glass Prism. "Five of those songs are gonna be on the new album, and they're gonna be different," says Varano. "You're still gonna have the song, but you're gonna have some things that have happened. 

Like we've created an introduction to The Raven' that's a piece within itself. It's just a piano and bass; it's like a mood, it brings the song in, and the song itself is much more powerful. You can't change it that much, but we did. We changed it just enough." In addition, "we have a song on the new album that is about Edgar Allan Poe, as opposed to using his words." Summarizes Tom Varano when looking back at Glass Prism's RCA albums, "I think if you listen to the two albums, they're from a long time ago, written by young guys writing their first songs. They're simple. We would have progressed. 

We just did what we did, 'cause that's what we liked to do. We didn't really think that we could have done it any different at the time, although listening to it 40 years later, you say, 'oh wow, what about this, what about that, and where are the strings,' you know? You think of all these other different things. But that was the true band in 1969. "Really, it was the Poe stuff that caused the attention. Those songs were being developed based on the theme of the music. 'Can I capture what this guy's trying to say here?' As a musician, I like the fact that something doesn't sound like something else. And something happens maybe by itself."
by Richie Unterberger

1. She's Too Much (Lay Your Body Down) - 4:10
2. Extention 68 - 2:18
3. What Can We Do - 2:32
4. Who Loves Me - 2:13
5. Nothin's Wrong Song - 2:46
6. Maggie Don't You Hear Me (T. Varano, A. Christiano) - 3:53
7. She (On Joy And Sorrow) / I Want To Play - 4:22
8. Here You Are - 3:07
9. Renee (T. Varano, A. Christiano) - 2:01
10.I Laugh (Rick Richards) - 3:07
All songs by Tom Varano except where indicated.
*Note that by mistake the Korean label merged two songs together,
(She (On Joy And Sorrow) / I Want To Play),
that's why we have 10 songs listed, 
actually all 11 original songs are included.

The Glass Prism
*Tom Varano - Guitar, Piano, Vocals
*Carl Syracuse - Guitar, Organ, Vocals
*Rick Richards - Drums, Vocals
*Augie Christiano - Bass, Vocals

1969  Poe Through The Glass

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