The love of his fiancée led Jim Spencer to move from his native Kentucky to Milwaukee. The South’s loss became a boon to the Cream City from the late 1960s to the early ‘80s. A cultural polymath of eclectic and esoteric interests, Spencer published an underground newspaper and chapbooks of his own poetry and operated an antique store, among other pursuits. Decades after his death in 1983, however, it’s his music that has given him the following beyond his adopted hometown that eluded him in life.
2nd Look retains some of the rural charm that gave its predecessor potential appeal to a mass audience (it’s fun to think that Spencer could have developed into a mainstream country music outlier). However, providing tension against that middle of the road are the way his psychedelic adjacency morphs into prog rock experimental atonality; what were once relatively unadorned melodies are endowed with choral and string arrangements recalling English madrigals. Even Spencer’s singing sounds fuller and more impassioned. What remains constant from his first to second sets is his lyrical navigation through what sounds like contentment to warier emotional terrains of paranoia and despair.
by Jamie Lee Rake, May 13, 2020
Jim Spencer was always looking for a stairway to success beyond, but Milwaukee was a Mobius loop he could not escape. He played many roles with grace; he was a musician, songwriter, poet, magus, and congenial salesman of ideas. He was a dealer in rare books, antiquities, and fantasies. He was a D.I.Y. publisher and indie recording artist at a time when circulating self-produced poetry and music beyond one’s hometown was a challenge on par with swimming the English Channel. He was Milwaukee famous—at least to anyone who cared about music and poetry. He was not much known elsewhere.
He released three albums under his own name and one as Major Arcana, a band-persona that enabled him to escape his singer-songwriter image. All were issued under the imprimatur of cryptically-monikered labels: Thoth, Akashic, and Castalia Records. “He had forbidden books in his basement,” said frequent collaborator Sigmund Snopek, a classically trained progressive rock keyboardist. “He was fascinated by other cultures and religions and incorporated some of that into his music.”
1974’s 2nd Look, his second LP, finds Jim Spencer in a deeper, darker place. The ten song album was assisted by Milwaukee scene star Sigmund Snopek III on keyboards and flute, and features a pair of songs written by and with Anonymous’s Ron Matelic.
1. Second Look (Mike Pageant) - 4:30
2. No Place To Land (Jim Spencer, Mike Pageant) - 3:22
3. There Comes A Time - 3:40
4. What Am I Doing Here? - 7:31
5. Just A Little Time With You - 2:32
6. Laura Fair (Ron Matelic) - 2:40
7. Interlude (John Nebi) - 0:57
8. Lament - 2:52
9. Next To You - 2:38
10.The Devil Is A Fat Man - 6:37
Lyrics and Music by Jim Spencer except where noted
*Jim Spencer - Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
*Sigmund Snopek III - Piano, Organ, Synthesizer, Flute, Strings, Backing Vocals
*Jay Borkenhagen - Electric Lead Guitar, Saxophone, Flute
*Tom Ruppenthal - Bass
*Jay Borkenhagen - Flute
*Alan Ek - Harmonica
*John Nebi - Acoustic Lead Guitar
*Kent Carpenter - Acoustic Lead Guitar
*Gary Kemp - Electric Lead Guitar
*Rob Fixmer - Percussion
*Mike Pageant - Acoustic Rhythm Guitar
*Richard Thomas - Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals
*Jay Borkenhagen - Saxophone
*Jim Gorton - Tambourine, Backing Vocals
*Sue Francheschi - Backing Vocals
*Susan Thomas - Backing Vocals