Sunday, 17 May 2015

White Eyes - White Eyes [1969/1970], album review

Could Have Been Them

This makes a neat link to my recent review of the Vanguard compilation of late 60s/early 70s one-album [largely] bands of the era, not that White Eyes was with the Vanguard label: they didn’t even get so far as to have one.

It is a wonderful story: the band toured and played coffee houses and similar during the late 60s, driving themselves and their gear around in a 1953 Cadillac hearse – an incidental detail but somehow appropriate to the iconoclastic spirit of the time – and they never recorded an album but did make in 1969-70 a set of demos to shop around to hopeful music industry/promoter types, an offering never taken up at the time. Some 40 years later and the details better told here, we can now listen to this wonderful slice from that early psychedelic past.

Not the White Eyes' Cadi, but a 53 and in its more familiar context

It is a brilliant album by any standards. The opening vocally versatile track It’s For You [Lennon/McCartney] should have and would have been a huge hit, I’m sure, if picked up at the time. The ensemble singing – harmony and overlapping – with the heavy guitar and hand claps is a gem of that period. It would have been radio-friendly in its pop sensibilities as well as that guitar work giving just enough to suggest its more psychedelic leanings, but not so much as to alienate those liking their commercial hits quick and restrained. Second Streetcar Love is much more obviously garage-pop with more sweet but less complex harmonies. Third I Know You Rider [which you can hear on the link in the previous paragraph] is again very much in that garage mode – having a chord sequence as simple as Gloria – but the heavy guitar is present again, and the harmonies, especially with lead vocalist Kathy Helmick, are clearly reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane. The following ballad October showcases Helmick’s superb solo vocal [and astonishingly I can’t find any online references to her having pursued a singing career beyond this time]. Sixth Hard Hard Livin’ is a rousing rockblues with Helmick’s vocal a raw and grittier sound, the gospel harmonies from the band adding a broader layer. Seventh A Girl on a Hill adds the requisite folk embrace - the acoustic guitar, flute and developing harmonies sustaining the impressive depth of songwriting and performance. Eighth and final track I’m Not a Free Man has a strong male vocal – with sweet harmonising to accompany at times – in this also requisite ‘political’ commentary of the time when will the people learn, not that we are ever told explicitly what that is but whatever it is it is curtailing freedom, and that is quite enough to sing about in rock’s defiant roll.

Like the Vanguard bands presented as perhaps unsung but worthy representatives of that time, White Eyes deserve this similar recognition, even if it is so far removed from the exciting possibilities of the actual moment.

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