Friday, 15 May 2015

Various Artists - Follow Me Down: Vanguard's Lost Psychedelic Era (1966-1970), album review

Not at the Vanguard, But....

This is such a fun listen, these nascent psychedelic sounds from bands that never really quite made it, though I do know a few as they have attained cult status over more recent years, and even when completely new they aren’t because of the reflection of a sound so steeped in this late 60s/early 70s time-window, all bands signed to the previously entirely folk label Vanguard, and in most cases, but not all, only producing a single album. The fun has also been in researching the bands, discovering those who have gone on to other music or just other directions, and those who disappeared but left their imprint now getting exposure, if brief, on this compilation celebration.

This album opens with Third Power Getting Together from their album of 1970 Believe. They were a rock band out of Detroit with heavy guitar from Drew Abbott. It is a classic of its generic time and a great opener.

Next is Erik singing You Said/But I Got My Way from the album Look Where I Am from 1967 with its wonderfully naïve fuzz guitar. 

Third is from band Listening and their eponymous and only album of 1968, singing a requisite themed Stoned Is with the Hammond organ getting its period showcasing here and the vocal reminding of the much more recent Charlatans [not the band of this album’s time period] which is rather light and indistinct. 

Fourth is The 31st of February with the brilliantly titled A Nickel’s Worth of Benny’s Help from 1968. There is harmony vocal and some funky rhythm here and neat psychedelic guitar with a machine-gun effect from the wonderful Steve Weingarten. 

Jeff Monn who had been lead singer in band Third Bardo gets a track I Can Understand Your Problem from his 1968 solo album and there is background trumpet jazzing up the sound that is otherwise briskly garage.

Listening’s See You Again does just what it says in the title in a mainly guitar-driven track.

Circus Maximus is the eighth celebration, another garage sound from their eponymous album of 1967, some jagged guitar before an extended solo and stomping bass as well as staccato vocal that merges into a rousing overall sound.

Ninth is The Frost with Take My Hand from 1969 album Frost Music, and this is the first representative of that emerging ‘complex’ musical narrative of the time, mixing genres, beginning here with some ‘classical’ inserts and then into rock from Dick Wagner who has a powerful vocal. The song shifts between pomp rock and folky elements to provide that mix. Wagner went on to play for Lou Reed, Alice Cooper and David Bowie. 

Tenth Notes From the Underground play Where I’m At and sound pretty much just like that great Vanguard label band Country Joe McDonald and the Fish. 

Eleventh is a single from The Vagrants I Can’t Make a Friend which as well as having Leslie West in the band plays a very generic sound of garage with vocal harmony, some echo of, oddly, The Four Tops, and organ, and this single also featured in another of those great promoters of this musical time, the Nuggets series. 

A favourite is twelfth The Serpent Power with The Endless Tunnel, a 13 minute psychedelic folkrock number that sounds like The Doors and not surprising as it features then and now poet David Meltzer with his lyrics getting their far-out musical representation, like Jim Morrison’s did, though not quite the same. 

At thirteen we have The Family of Apostolic, and this with its predecessor reflect the psychedelia I most like on this collection [and in general from this time] with their 1968 Saigon Girls which is an amalgam of found and made sounds including screaming and short cries and a marching band sound and taped recordings – real or not – and it is a song written by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon who also wrote for The Turtles including their beautiful hit Happy Together, with this bit of info The "new report" on it was recorded on a two-bit 7/8ips dimestore machine and played back on it with a snare drum for gunfire. The woman crying on that cut later married (for a time) our first engineer Tony Bongiovi, cousin of Bon Jovi, more of which can be found in an interesting extended article here

Fourteen is Third Power again with Persecution and great guitar rock at a fast pace with driving bass.

Fifteen is Notes From the Underground once more and Why Did You Put Me On, still sounding like Country Joe.

Sixteen is The Hi-Five with a garage solo song Did You Have to Rub It In from 1966 that you can view here [and if you have the time, these next two clips feature the same performance but from a longer excerpt from the show I've Got a Secret where the boys then go on to something for which they should be deeply ashamed, here].

Penultimate track Hellhound is from Boston Band The Far Cry and their 1969 eponymous album, sounding very much, and in a good way, like The Paul Butterfield Blues Band with a slant from the Beefheart-esque [lite] vocal of Jere Whiting screeching out some vocal grooves.

The album closes on The Frost again with their track Big Time Spender and some excellent vocals.

There are hundreds of collections out there like this, some from labels, and labels with a much larger and more famous roster of psychedelic talent from this time, and some that are wider collections, and some that are much more esoteric, and I could go on with the possibilities/realities but suffice to say there is a wealth with which to explore this kind of musical exploration and experiment from this amazingly rich musical time, and this Vanguard collection is an enjoyable addition to that with something sweetly special in its small appropriation of such representatives to its mainly folk clientele.

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