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Plain and Fancy

Music gives soul to universe, wings to mind, flight to imagination, charm to sadness, and life to everything.


Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Help - Second Coming (1971 us, impressive hard classic rock with spirituals references, 2021 korean remaster)

Help were a Christian power trio from California that included future Doobie Brothers drummer Chet McCracken. They released an excellent self-titled album for Decca in 1970, the style of which was very melodic rural-rock. By the time of their second album, Second Coming, they had incorporated distortion, fuzz and wah-wah which made them a more incendiary hard rock outfit.

Opening track Do You Understand The Words is a stormer, spiced with acid guitar from Jack Merrill. Pounding drums, tight production, solid bass playing and strong vocal melodies throughout the album make for a pleasurable listen, although it’s the guitar playing of Merrill that makes Second Coming such a curio for hard-rock/proto-metal fans.

There’s the nine-minute epic Dear Lord, which can be something of a test for a Black Sabbath fan. he album’s second half, however, features an intense, heavy jam, showing off their accomplished talents. Oh My features a killer lead riff and is one of the heavier tracks, along with All Day and its infectious, funky wah-wah riff.
by Lee Dorrian

1. Do You Understand The Words - 3:42
2. All Day - 2:47
3. Good Time Music - 3:32
4. Hold On Child - 4:03
5. T.C.A. - 6:50
6. Dear Lord - 9:22
7. Oh My - 4:42
8. Power - 6:12
All songs by Bob Rochan, Chet McCracken, Jack Merrill

*Jack Merrill - Guitar, Vocals
*Bob Rochan - Bass, Vocals  
*Chet McCracken - Drums

Saturday, August 19, 2023

The Countdown 5 - Complete Recordings (1965-69 us, garage beat rock, r 'n' b, 2018 double disc release)

Members of the Galveston Bay, Texas’ rock scene of the middle to late 1960’s, The Countdown 5 were part owners of the renowned Houston recording studio Andrus Productions, where producer Walter Andrus recorded many bands, including the 13th Floor Elevators and Fever Tree. While the group never got the big break to record an LP, they did manage to release several singles on a variety of labels, and while none hit big in the US, years later the group did learn that one of their singles had actually topped the charts in Germany for a short period of time. Finally, nearly fifty years after the band called it quits, their entire recorded legacy has been compiled on a two CD collection by Gear Fab Records, and quite a treat it is.

The band consisted of Mack Hayes who possessed a wide, versatile vocal range and was quite comfortable fronting the band, while the rhythm section of bassist/vocalist Tommy Murphy and drummer Tommy Williams was indeed formidable, always solidly holding down the band’s bottom end sound, Left handed John Balzer was one of the most talented, versatile and innovative guitarists of the day as well as being a fine singer in his own right and Steve Long’s keyboards gave the band their special style of 1960’s Texas rock, while he also contributed saxophone to the group’s sound. The Countdown 5’s recorded repertoire was mostly original material, with Hayes and Balzer being especially prolific writers, mixed with tasty covers of tunes written by the likes of The Isley Brothers and Johnny Otis. 

Disc one of the set opens with a series of rhythm and blues numbers, beginning with the saxophone led “Bamboo Hut,” a Balzer composition taking its title from the Galveston Beach club that the band often played. This was the Countdown 5’s debut single backed by a faithful cover of The Isley Brothers r & b standard “Shout,” highlighted by the band’s call and response vocals. “Do What You Do Well” was the a-side of their second single, with Long’s keyboards and the group’s vocal harmonies on display. These songs also contained the group’s Texas rock foundation reminiscent of Buddy Holly and The Bobby Fuller Four. Without question one of the collection’s highlights is the hard rocking “Uncle Kirby (From Brazil)” with its heavily echoed vocals from Hayes reminiscent of The Beatles and Balzer’s fuzzed out guitar filling the air. The tune contains a ‘George of The Jungle” chant giving it a danceable quality.

Balzer also contributes a couple of hot solos to the track which unbeknownst to the band at the time found its way into European discos in the 1970’s and was a hit in London and Paris among other places. The versatility of The Countdown 5 is apparent throughout. Their cover of Johnny Otis’ “Willie And The Hand Jive” has a Bo Diddley feel while remaining rather loyal to the original. By contrast “We Are All One” features delicate, melodic vocal harmonies and harpsichord while “Shaka Shaka Na Na” is a dance number with its title becoming a repeated chant, yet Balzer’s fuzz guitar and a driving beat driven by Williams’ drums gives it lots of energy. Like “Uncle Kirby (From Brazil)” the song found its way into European discos and in fact topped the German Billboard charts for a period of time in 1968, a fact not discovered by the band until long after the fact. In “Money Man” the band exhibits Eastern influences, its gentle guitar intro emanating a raga feel. 

The songs repeated chorus of “Don’t Try To Impress Me” is accentuated by Balzer’s lead guitar slashing in and out, and the tune features not only another hot solo by Balzer but also a tasty organ interlude by Long. Two tracks from disc one come from compilation appearances, namely, “Candy” and “Sweet Talk” both feature Balzer’s guitar, snarling lead on the former, and hot dashes of stinging fuzz on the power pop latter. Also included on disc one are stereo versions of four of the single sides, with the bouncing beat, organ led “Time To Spare” and the previously mentioned “Uncle Kirby (From Brazil)” and “Money Man” in particular standing out. The track is rounded out by the acetate of “Something On Her Mind” a mid tempo keyboard driven tune spotlighting the band’s vocal harmonies.

The second disc of the set features eighteen unreleased tracks recorded at Walter Andrus Studio and two radio spots for a New Year’s Eve show. The first track, the interestingly titled “Don’t Buy Meat From The Milkman” sounds like Crosby, Stills and Nash, well before their existence, with its gorgeous vocal harmonies, tasty guitar and delicate keyboards added for texture. “Big Big Man” is folk rock melody with banjo and keyboards complementing luscious vocals. “Unfair To Me” is a snappy rocker featuring numerous tempo changes and the group’s ever present vocal harmonies. “Good Woman” is a mid-tempo song with a fuzz intro by Balzer and Farfisa organ by Long leading up to a fuzz filled solo that plays the song out. “I Gotta Keep What I Take” shows more Eastern influence with its insistent guitar riff, another fine lead guitar line, more Farfisa and a restrained guitar solo. Long’s harpsichord, Balzer’s understated guitar and vocal harmonies give “So Pass Me By” a Beatlesque feel. 

Just as quickly the band switches gears to the upbeat rocker “What Can You Do When You’re Down” with Balzer’s lead guitar pushing the beat as he throws the tempo into overdrive. The tune’s tempo slows, but only long enough for Balzer to fire it up, his lead guitar stabbing to and fro. The group’s mellower side shows through on “When I’m Gone Away” a ballad with handclaps and percussion taking charge. “Legs” is a real head shaker, and a nice dance tune, complete with an a capella section, yet filled with pumping Farfisa organ and fuzz guitar. “Sallazar” spotlights Balzer’s acoustic guitar and more Crosby, Stills and Nash style vocal harmonies. Despite its title “Stone Fire Garden” has a gentle acoustic intro which gives way to delicate vocal harmonies with horns added for accent. “One Way Traffic” brings Joe South to mind, as its vocals harmonies accompany pounding drums and driving guitar with a twist of organ added for good measure. 

The disc closes with three gentle numbers, “These Few Things” with its delicate vocals and “I Gotta Leave You” with swirling organ, gentle rolling guitar and sensitive lead vocals, set the stage for the final song, a cover of the theme from the musical “Hair” another melodic tune with horns added for accentuation. The set closes with two radio spots for a New Year’s Eve gig by The Countdown 5, indicative of the group’s versatility and a most fitting end to the complete works of a sadly overlooked and underappreciated works of this talented, versatile Galveston Beach quintet.

 “Complete Recordings 1965-1969” comes in a double slimline jewel case and is accompanied by an 8 page full color booklet containing a forward by Gear Fab owner Roger Maglio, an essay by Mack Hayes, wonderful photos of the band and artwork from the band’s singles released on the Toucan, Pic, Cinema, Hansa, Cobblestone, Polar, Saint Martin and Audiodisc labels, and other band memorabilia. This collection will be of interest to garage bands, especially the Texas variety, as well of fans of mid to late 1960’s rock in general and comes most highly recommended. 
by Kevin Rathert

Disc 1
1. Bamboo Hut (John Balzer) - 2:18
2. Shout (O'Kelly Isley, Ronald Isley, Rudolph Isley) - 3:45
3. Do What You Do Well (Ned Miller) - 2:00
4. My Own Style Of Living (John Balzer, Mack Hayes, Steve Long) - 1:43
5. Uncle Kirby (From Brazil) (John Balzer, Mack Hayes, Tommy Murphy) - 2:41
6. Speculation (John Balzer, Mack Hayes, Tommy Murphy) - 2:18
7. Time To Spare (Mack Hayes) - 2:16
8. Elevator (Mack Hayes) - 2:32
9. Maybe I'll Love You (John Balzer, Mack Hayes, Tommy Murphy) - 2:25
10.Willie And The Hand Jive (Johnny Otis) - 2:40
11.We Are All One (David Mitchell, Gary Lum) - 3:29
12.Shaka Shaka Na Na (Mack Hayes, Steve Long) - 2:40
13.Money Man (Mack Hayes) - 3:10
14.Uncle Kirby (From Brazil) (John Balzer, Mack Hayes, Tommy Murphy) - 2:58
15.Time To Spare (Mack Hayes) - 2:22
16.We Are All One (David Mitchell, Gary Lum) - 3:31
17.Money Man (Mack Hayes) - 3:09
18.Something On Her Mind (John Balzer, Tommy Murphy) - 2:19
19.Candy (Steve Long) - 3:18
20.Sweet Talk (John Balzer, Tommy Murphy) - 2:31

Disc 2
1. Don't Buy Meat From The Milkman (John Balzer, Mack Hayes) - 3:03
2. Big Big Man (John Balzer, Mack Hayes, Steve Long, Tommy Murphy, Tommy Williams) - 2:32
3. Unfair To Me (John Balzer, Mack Hayes, Steve Long, Tommy Murphy, Tommy Williams) - 2:18
4. Good Woman (John Balzer, Mack Hayes, Steve Long, Tommy Murphy, Tommy Williams) - 3:24
5. Beneath My Rug (John Balzer, Mack Hayes, Steve Long, Tommy Murphy, Tommy Williams) - 4:07
6. We're Just People (John Balzer, Mack Hayes) - 2:42
7. I Gotta Keep What I Take (John Balzer, Mack Hayes, Steve Long, Tommy Murphy, Tommy Williams) - 2:32
8. So Pass Me By (John Balzer, Mack Hayes) - 2:44
9. What Can You Do When You're Down (John Balzer, J. Permemter) - 2:30
10.When I'm Gone Away (John Balzer, Mack Hayes, Steve Long, Tommy Murphy, Tommy Williams) - 2:14
11.Legs (John Balzer, Mack Hayes, Steve Long, Tommy Murphy, Tommy Williams) - 3:03
12.Sallazar (John Balzer, Mack Hayes, Steve Long, Tommy Murphy, Tommy Williams) - 2:42
13.Sally Greene (Steve Long) - 2:21
14.Stone Fire Garden (Tommy Murphy) - 3:46
15.One Way Traffic (John Balzer, Mack Hayes, Steve Long, Tommy Murphy, Tommy Williams) - 2:54
16.These Few Things (John Balzer, Mack Hayes, Steve Long, Tommy Murphy, Tommy Williams) - 2:26
17.I Gotta Leave You (Traditional) - 4:14
18.Hair (Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni, James Rado) - 2:09
19.Countdown's Radio Commercial - 0:34
20.New Years Eve Greeting - 0:36

The Countdown 5
*John Balzer - Guitar
*Mack Hayes - Lead Vocals
*Tommy Murphy - Bass, Vocals
*Tommy Williams - Drums
*Steve Long - Saxophone

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Thomas Jefferson Kaye - Thomas Jefferson Kaye (1973 us, marvelous blend of folk country gospel classic rock, 2016 korean remaster)

Thomas Jefferson Kaye was a bit of a prodigy. Born in North Dakota, by the age of 18 he was already in New York working for the record label Scepter as an A&R man. In next to no time he was producing and writing material for their acts The Shirelles, Judy Clay, Maxine Brown, Chuck Jackson and The Kingsmen. But it was when he produced Loudon Wainwright III first release for Columbia in 1972 that his stock really rose. He then followed that up with work on the country funk fuelled Be What You Want to by Link Wray and it was around this time that Kaye moved to the sunnier climbs of California and started recording the self-titled solo album we're looking at here. He passed over the production duties to Gary Katz dedicating himself to the writing and performing of this collection of music. 

The opening number Body Song creeps in unsteadily, like a drunk with his shoes in his hands, sneaking through the door before inevitably tumbling over and collapsing in a heap on the floor while the room spins round and round. The tempo lifts with Collection Box and the sound toughens up with a groove still lazy enough for the band to dig in deep and then completely out of nowhere the strings come in. Oh yeah! The Stonesy strut of The Door Is Still Open is up next, followed by some finger picking boogie on Learning How to Fly. Although I'll Be Leaving Her Tomorrow is in serious danger of veering too far into slushy country ballad territory it is saved by some excellent vocal harmonies courtesy of Donald Fagen. His Steely Dan cohort, Walter Becker, also appears on the album and his bass playing on the next track Hole in The Shoe Blues helps create the Dr John-ish spooky-funk groove that underpins the songs repeated refrain "I read in the paper this morning that you were dead". The tune Snake in The Grass sounds like it was recently exiled from Main Street for bad behaviour while the wistful air of Thanks For Nothing is complimented by the subtle interplay of Tom Salisbury's piano dancing round the steel guitar of Bobby Black. 

But if you need just one reason to track this hidden gem down then it's the albums closer Hoe Bus. Driven along by some seriously salty guitar playing from Rick Derringer, the song is a full-on embodiment of the Whiskey Preachin philosophy, all wrapped up in a five-minute mind-meld of country, soul, blues, gospel, rock and funk. There's even a middle eight detour into something akin to High Heeled Sneakers and the final few bars of the track wouldn't even sound out of place on Sly Stone's There's a Riot Goin On. It's a real renaissance song from a real renaissance man who would then arguably go on to produce Gene Clark's finest recording, No Other, to be reviewed here sometime soon. But that's a whole other story.
by Michael Hosie

1. The Body Song - 4:17
2. Collection Box - 4:07
3. The Door Is Still Open - 3:26
4. Learning How To Fly - 3:36
5. I'll Be Leaving Her Tomorrow - 4:22
6. Hole In The Shoe Blues - 5:18
7. Snake In The Grass - 5:01
8. Thanks For Nothing - 4:29
9. Hoe Bus - 5:01
Music and Words by Thomas Jefferson Kaye

*Thomas Jefferson Kaye - Guitars, Vocals
*Rick Derringer - Electric Guitar
*Donald Fagen - Keyboards, Piano, Vocals
*Jeff Baxter - Guitar
*Walter Becker - Bass
*Joe Frank Carollo - Bass
*Terry Adams - Cello
*Victor Feldman - Percussion
*Venetta Fields - Vocals
*Richie Furay - Vocals
*Jim Gordon - Drums
*Randy Jo Hobbs - Bass
*Clydie King - Vocals
*Jim Mason - Vocals
*Sherlie Matthews - Vocals
*Diane Morrison - Vocals
*Dorothy Morrison - Vocals
*Michael Omartian - Keyboards
*David Palmer - Vocals
*Dean Parks - Bass
*Micki St Clair - Vocals
*Tom Salisbury - Piano
*Rick Shlosser - Drums
*Mark Springer - Vocals
*Dusty Springfield - Vocals
*Chris Williamson - Vocals

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Valdy - Country Man (1972 canada, awesome folk country rock, 2020 korean remaster)

Valdy, was born of Danish parents, in 1946 as Valdemar Horsdal in Ottawa.  He began his career playing guitar in rock and country groups. In 1966 he made his home in British Columbia, where he farmed for several years near Sooke. Adopting a country-folk style, he performed in Victoria coffee houses and in 1972 came to national notice with his 'Rock and Roll Song' (from the LP Country Man, Haida HL-5101). Other popular singles for Haida and A & M followed 1973-6: his own songs 'A Good Song' and 'Simple Life,' and David Bradstreet's 'Renaissance (Let's Dance That Old Dance)'. Valdy has also recorded several songs by Bob Ruzicka, including 'Yes I Can (Anyway You Want Me).'

Although less prominent during the 1980s, Valdy remained a fixture on the Canadian folk circuit and also appeared for children and, on occasion, with symphony orchestras, maintaining a yearly itinerary of some 200 performances. He released three more LPs: Valdy (1980, Sloth SL-1001), Valdy's Kid's Record (1982, Sloth SL-1003), and Notes from Places (Duke Street DSR-31010, which included a version of Ron Hynes's 'Sonny's Dream,' a country hit in 1985). To his early concern as a songwriter for environmental and social causes, he added a decided political slant with such titles as 'Living Next to a Candy Store' (re the Canada-US Free Trade agreement, 1988), 'Ten Little White Men - The Ballad of Meech Lake' (1990), and 'Hey Mr. Michael Wilson' (re the Goods and Services Tax, 1990). His, however, has generally been a voice of concern and caution rather than anger, the passion of his message moderated by his sweet, relaxed tenor.

1. Country Man - 2:38
2. Place At The Table - 2:30
3. A Good Song - 2:08
4. Mm-Mm-Mm-Mm - 2:31
5. Rainmaker - 5:40
6. Rock 'N' Roll Song - 3:00
7. Hello Mr. Record Man - 2:07
8. See How The Years Have Gone By - 3:03
9. Goin Down Slow - 3:03
10.Bruce And The Green Stock - 2:41
11.Goin To The Country - 2:35
12.Country Man - 1:43
All songs by Valdemar "Valdy" Horsdal

*Valdy - Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Piano
*Jim Gordon - Drums
*Max Bennett - Bass
*Brett Wade - Acoustic, Electric Guitars
*Claire Lawrence - Organ, Flute

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Help - Help (1970 us, outstanding folk psych jam rock, 2021 korean remaster)

The pleasures of record collecting aren’t always obvious. Some albums avoid the shop-front glare to modestly wait in a gloomy rack, whispering anecdotes like Dostoevsky said happens in forgotten churchyards. An interesting cover might provoke a quick pull up, thinking we knew every name under the sun, then comes decision time guided by that sweet frisson of excitement or a heavy sigh. In the case of Help, if one can get over the less-than-prepossessing moniker, the surprise will be something like “How come I missed this nugget – after all it’s on Decca for Christ’s sake?” or words to that effect. 

There are actually two Decca albums from one year to choose from (plus two lifted singles) with enigmatic sleeves: suggestions of leafy autumn side-streets coloured by summer’s recent adventures. This also fits the band’s brief life, featuring a snapshot of a great (and much-loved) musician who had one fleeting chance at the big time, snatched away as mysteriously as it was given. Jack Merrill (guitar, vocals), Ron ‘Bobby’ Rochan (bass, vocals) and Chet McCracken (drums, vocals) formed Help in 1969, in the clubs and studios of North California. It was the dawn of titanic trios such as Cream, Taste and Hendrix – but with three singers? This is just one surprise from a band with its own sound which soon led to a prestigious label deal. 

It was a natural progression for drummer Chet, who started in Skip Battin’s Evergreen Blueshoes based in LA, the band of the legendary bassist who went on to fame with The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers. Their period-typical ’69 LP on Amos, The Ballad Of Evergreen Blueshoes, was picked up by London for UK release – the frolicking nudies in the wood had a lot going for it at the time (and probably later). It’s a weird potpourri: hardy perennial Dylan, Leonard Cohen’s obscure Mrs Cohen’s Little Boy, The Incredible String Band’s The Hedgehog’s Song, a track based on Poe’s Raven, and a bizarre cover of Johnny B Goode for a single. No slavish copying like Corporal Gander’s Firedog Brigade, bless ’em, just quirky originality. Chet McCracken became a sought-after sessionman before Jack Merrill appeared on the scene. 

Help’s eponymous debut first appeared in Germany in 1970, on MCA, then stateside as Decca DL-75257 with the barest of information for nine co-written originals, and a cover produced by Val Garay and Mark Hopkins MacNabb. The latter went into film music production, most notably with The Cure and The Mask, while Garay has a stellar career of Grammy Best Album Awards (Michael Jackson/Quincy Jones; Paul Simon’s Graceland; Tina Turner etc). He recalls working in ’71 with young musicians at the renowned Sound Factory on Hollywood’s Selma Avenue, and that was where Help cut their teeth too. It’s interesting that Decca issued the album soon after, as it coincided with one of their biggest declines after the Stones left them in 1970 (as did Genesis and Bowie). Help would not improve that situation. 

For some the debut is a grower, for others it hits the mark straight away. The lyrics prove the band’s name is better chosen than first assumed. They don’t proselytise against selfishness, including a still-relevant obsession with money, but let’s see this another way. It’s refreshing, but never saccharine: it was a new decade after all. There’s Merrill’s tempo-shifting wah-wah and Rochan’s innovative, hyperactive bass drive, like Grand Funk Railroad when they lived up to their name. The track Runaway boasts maracas for a bouncy samba beat, then a Stax-feel solo through the foot pedals. Shared vocals, with a tasty bass-to-the-fore interlude adding a progressive touch, convinced the label to issue it as a debut single (Decca 32783), backed with Keep In Touch, which is so melodic one can bathe in it and imagine a blue lagoon. The album closes with a speedy version of Tennessee Waltz, the King/Stewart classic but more like Leonard Cohen’s rendition on his first live album. The debut is more Man or Blossom Toes than Brinsley Schwartz in terms of a British equivalent. 
by Brian R Banks 

1. For Sale (Jack Merrill) - 4:34
2. Open Up The Door (Bob Rochan) - 2:32
3. I Tried Too Hard (Bob Rochan, Jack Merrill) - 1:45
4. Easy To Be Free (Rick Nelson) - 3:09
5. Run Away (Bob Rochan) - 6:51
6. Keep In Touch (Jack Merrill) - 4:00
7. Take A Look At Yourself (Bob Rochan, Jack Merrill, Chet McCracken) - 4:43
8. Commit Yourself (Bob Rochan, Jack Merrill, Chet McCracken) - 2:59
9. Help Me, Help You, Help Me (Bob Rochan, Jack Merrill) - 4:06
10.Tennessee Waltz (Redd Stewart, Pee Wee King) - 4:03

*Jack Merrill - Guitar, Vocals
*Bob Rochan - Bass, Vocals  
*Chet McCracken - Drums