REVIEWS #71 - 80 



NEW AGE
          INSTANT ORANGE         HUGH ROMNEY


EXTRADITION         YAHOWA 13         THE BACHS       

SCHIBBINZ    FORTUNE TELLER  
ONE ST STEPHEN      PERRY LEOPOLD



Note: Some of the reviewed titles have not been reissued, while others are out of print. The availability stated reflects the status at the time of writing.


 


(Review #71)

NEW AGE: All Around (R D Records, 1967/2007) 

Rating: 9 out of 10

Sounds best on: ayahuasca

More info: http://www.rd-records.com/releasedprojects_vinyl.htm

Availability: currently in print

Patrick Kilroy's rapid rise in stature, from that of an obscure name in Elektra's back catalog into a highly respected pioneer of acid folk, is one of the more remarkable rediscovery stories of recent years. The buzz lost no momentum when David Biasotti's eminent feature in UT#25 showed that Kilroy the Man was just as extraordinary and passionate as his 1966 "Light Of Day" album indicated. Thus this release of "lost" recordings from his subsequent project, the avant-folk trio New Age of 1967, is one of the most eagerly anticipated folk/psych retrospectives of 2007. Hush-hush previews seemed to indicate something truly special. 

A vital realization concerning Patrick Kilroy is that he was neither a hit music artist, nor a hippie. He was a serious, near possessed, folk musician who, unlike Donovan or the Byrds, went straight from folk to psychedelia, without ever passing "pop". Many artists, most famously the Incredible String Band, would later explore similar paths, but in 1966 and early 1967, Kilroy's combination of elements was groundbreaking. Predating and untouched by "flower power" softness or Sgt Pepper whimsicality, his music is dark, arresting, intense. A couple of tracks on side 2 of his Elektra album seem fully developed expressions of his vision, but they were mixed with remnants of an earlier, more typical Village folk-boom style. With New Age, Kilroy and his two associates left the coffee house scene far behind. 

This is the Rolls Royce of early acoustic Eastern trance recordings. The emotional commitment and presence is absolute, almost scary. Some of Tim Buckley's most intense moments may spring to mind, although it doesn't really sound like him. Comparisons could be drawn to contemporaries such as the Seventh Sons on ESP or the Estribou-Pickens "Intensifications" LP, but those albums were basically acoustic jams, while the music of New Age gives a sense of being composed, even as the three musicians (given excellent support by Mark Levinson on bass) set off on hallucinatory journeys into the Indus valley. Special mention must be made of Susan Graubard's flute playing. As her detailed liner notes indicate, she was the consummate musician, the kind you may expect to find performing Bartok in prestigious concert halls. It's her album as much as Patrick Kilroy's, while Jeffrey Stewart's percussion (mainly tabla) communicates flawlessly with Kilroy's guitar excursions and Graubard's tamboura flourishes. The occasional vocals and chants are so integrated into the advanced raga folk mood that it appears as an instrumental album, even with several lines of spiritually charged lyrics sprinkled about. 

Patrick Kilroy was dying as he recorded this music, literally. Only a few days after completing the sessions at Warner Brothers Studios in LA, he was admitted into hospital with a terminal diagnosis of Hodgkin's Disease. While psychedelic culture exploded across the western world, the almost unknown Kilroy passed away in a San Francisco hospital bed in late 1967. This outstanding release from RD Records should finally set the record straight on the depth of his achievement.


- review by Patrick The Lama, previously published in Ugly Things #26


 

(Review #72)

INSTANT ORANGE : Five Year Premiere (Shadoks 2-LPs, Germany 1973/2007) 

Rating: 7 out of 10

Sounds best on: SoCal weed

More info: 

Availability: Currently in print


Original 1973 LP sleeve; the reissue is altered

Kicking off their unfailingly obscure recording career with a local 45 at the tail end of the garage era in 1968, San Bernardino's Instant Orange were something of an anomaly. As the world around them "progressed" into various new forms of music, they remained true to their amateur mid-60s folkrock roots, and in the mid-1970s would release two EP:s and even a whole album in that style. The jangly guitars and light vocals recall early Love in particular, if you imagine Love recording demos in a San Berdoo basement while smoking weed and drinking beer. Comparisons could also be drawn to other 1970s time travellers such as Creme Soda or the News. 

The band's private press "Five Year Premiere" album from 1973 was discovered only a few years ago, and constitutes the first disc of this deluxe double LP retrospective. The primitive Love/Byrds sound makes for a charming and atmospheric experience, with "White Album"-style chatter and brief audio experiments between the songs, but the music may at times seem bland if you're not in the mood. Most memorable to me is the aggressive garage sound of tracks like "Silent Green" and "Ballad Of The RTD". The second disc features the band's various 7-inch releases, and is more successful to my ears. The debut 45 is a teenbeat delight, and there's stronger focus and direction, even with a couple of instros that sound like backing tracks where someone forgot to add vocals. The doomy "Plight Of Mary Celeste" from a 1975 EP is the band's highpoint to me, and again a departure from their core sound. All over, the band would perhaps have been better served by a single LP condensation, although a case can be made for this "warts and all" route too, especially with the extreme rarity of all the original discs. 

Weighing in at almost 2 lbs, this orange colored gatefold set is as beautiful as anything Shadoks has come up with, and the remastered sound of the "5 Year Premiere" album is clearly superior to the original 1973 pressing. There's also liner notes, band pics and a color insert with label photos. In view of the Inland Empire origins and partial excellence of the music, this release should interest some people, but beware - you don't get a Porsche production value without paying a Porsche price.


- review by Patrick The Lama, previously published in Ugly Things #26




(Review #73)

HUGH ROMNEY : Third Stream Humour (World Pacific, US 1962) 

Rating: 7 out of 10

Sounds best on: a beatnik roach & psilocybin

More info: 

Availability: seldom seen

Before transforming himself into performance artist, westcoast scenemaker, and hippie commune godfather Wavy Gravy, Hugh Romney hung around the beat scene on both coasts, and made some recordings. This poorly documented album, titled "Third Stream Humour", dates from 1962 and is a live recording (at least partly) from a stand-up performance at the Renaissance in Greenwich Village — incidentally, the last night before the club closed. 

Apart from the overall interest as a Beat and Merry Prankster artifact the LP is quite enjoyable. Romney has a good, atmospheric voice, and shows remarkable skill in his microphone technique, producing sound effects and voice alterations this way. The text material is frequently surreal, and some of it obviously draws on psychedelic experiences — Romney refers directly to Mexican mushrooms in one of the monologues. There's also lots of hip jazz talk & dope references, at the tail end of the original Kerouac era. 

The crowd is in a good mood and laughs generously at the two most successful pieces on side 1, while side 2 is less funny and more bizarre and poetical, with an Eastern zen-like feel. Released on World Pacific it's probably not a major rarity, but I haven't seen many copies of this floating around. 

Here's an audio clip with  4 minutes from Finger Snap


- review by Patrick The Lama


 


(Review #74)

EXTRADITION: Hush (Sweet Peach, Australia 1971 /CD Vicious Sloth, 2003)

Rating: 8 out of 10

Sounds best on: A starry night in the garden of your mind

More info: 

Availability: the CD reissue should be findable



Australia produced its fair share of good folk and folkpsych albums during the 1970s, but prior to being exposed to the obscure Extradition outfit via a “gray area” vinyl reissue a few years back, I hadn’t really come across anything to rank among the sacred COB:s and Stone Angels of Olde England. To be honest,
Hush didn’t really blow me away on the first play either, but there was enough mystique and atmosphere in there to have me return, until one late evening with headphones on the coin fell down with an audible “clonk”. It must be heard that way I think, for even among delicate folk trips this is a cerebral excursion particularly ill-suited for casual background spins while sniping bids on eBay or re-reading old music zines.

Actually, “folk” may not be the proper genre for such a marvellous stroll by quiet monastery gardens and running brooks; it’s rooted in anglo folk and global ethnic sounds but the ambition and end result is more Meditative than anything else. This may sound scary, and indeed most LPs in this style are either dull and overly private or collapsing under their own pretensions, but somehow this Sydney 3-piece, none of whom created much of significance before or after, manage to get every tricky detail right. The soundscapes are simple yet extremely evocative, using organ and exotic percussion to paint for each song a vivid stage set full of nocturnal whispers and shadows, in front of which Shayna Karlin’s beautiful vocals serenade the moon, running water, the sun and, well, Meher Baba.

The religious angle used to have me think that
Hush might have been recorded for spiritual purposes only, which seemed to fit with its mood and rarity. However this new official CD reissue downplays the Meher Baba angle, stashing away his photo inside the booklet and letting some of the band members distance themselves from that presence. Apparently the somewhat loose Extradition line-up was influenced by members of progressive Sydney band Tully who were deep into the Master and also appear on a few tracks on the LP. In any event, while the actual story is interesting I miss a bit of the eerie guesswork that came with the earlier vinyl reissue.

In addition, the CD liner notes oddly lay special praise on the album’s only moment of weakness, the track “Ice” on side 2 where Extradition for a few minutes sound just like any bombastic prog-rockers, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. The subtle “Song For Sunrise” that follows repairs most of the damage but can’t fully reinstate the transcendental, hypnotic nature of the first halfdozen tracks. The CD closes with some fine bonus tracks of the band playing live before a huge audience at a local folk festival in 1970. While the master tapes are lost, the sound is remarkably good and all over this reissue confirms Extradition’s status as my favorite folkpsych album from the Antipodes.

- review by Patrick The Lama, previously published in Ugly Things #22


 


(Review #75)

YAHOWA 13: Penetration (Higherkey US 1974 /various reissues)

Rating: 9 out of 10

Sounds best on: Psilocybe Cubensis (moderate dose!)

More info: Gary Bearman's interview

Availability: the most recent, legit reissues are in print

It was fun being a Yahowa (or Yahowha -- the spelling varies) devotee back in the 1980s when all you knew was that they were some sort of L A acid cult led by a middle-aged prophet who looked like Moses and on their most famous LP was shown having sex with a pretty young hippie lady. Inside the sleeve you found well-played, crudely recorded extensions of Avalon guitar-psych with Father Yod rapping, howling and whistling in the most unrestrained manner. Every other year a new, previously unknown Yahowha album would surface, adding to their canon and furthering the mystery until it took on Area 51 proportions. For students of the utmost reaches of psychedelia, this was manna from heaven.

Then in 1998 the Japanese came out with a glossy box set of 13 CDs that covered (almost) the entire Yahowha oeuvre, a massive testament of Yankee-Nippon weirdness to put on proud display when “square” friends are paying a visit. Shortly after, an extensive interview with four of the main band members was published on the Internet, documenting their whole story for the first time. Now there’s newsgroups and reunions and biographies and what have you, and while much about the Source Family and Father Yod turned out to be as bizarre as it had seemed, you can’t help but miss some of that original mystique.

The good news is that their recordings are so heavy they keep the balloon from bursting. After a Florida-based label failed to deliver, Swordfish Records in Birmingham have taken up the vinyl reissue cross, presenting us with the first legal microgroove reprints ever of Father’s teachings.
I’m Gonna Take You Home – the 2 LP set with the Svengali Sex Tarot cover – came first, and most recently we have this companion piece from 1974. Penetration seems to be the fave YHWH album for many (although personally I rate Expansion and Contraction even higher), including several of the brethren themselves, and thus a good starting point for those interested in being brainwashed and subsequently deprogrammed. But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves.

Housed in a glorious color cover showing Father in action behind his slave galley drum,
Penetration is as darkly tribal and ritualistic as they ever got. Less improvised and ad libbed than the bulk of their catalog, this album shows obvious signs of preparation and arranging, building and dissolving awesome cinematic mindscapes with a percussion/bass/piercing acid fuzz guitar interplay as seamless as Quicksilver ’68. Penetration is not a Yod sermon but a sinister journey through genetic memory, a cerebral initiation rite; a Yma Sumac 10” interpreted by Ash Ra Temple. The uncanny telepathy of the arrangements and the intense purity of the moods sends it into a spiritual domain beyond rock music, yet at the same time it’s a psychedelic basement trip not unlike “Fantasies” by the 50 Foot Hose. Even if the hippie cult aspect makes you cringe you must hear this music, which is hard, eerie and occasionally evil. White robes optional.

Update: the most recent reissues of
Penetration are Tee Pee (vinyl) and Cold Sweat (CD); both are legit 2008 releases for the US market.

- review by Patrick The Lama, previously published in Ugly Things #22

 



(Review #76)

THE BACHS: Out Of The Bachs (Ro-To US 1968 /various reissues)

Rating: 9 out of 10

Sounds best on: carefully calibrated amounts of liquor

More info: Mike Dugo's interview

Availability: reissues are in print, but they suck (details below)

This review consists of two parts. The first half, which we might call the “Happy” part, begins like this: coming out of Chicago’s shorefront suburbs in the mid-1960s, the Bachs were a group of high school punks who played their home turf with above-average success, winning band-battles, securing high-paying gigs, and bringing home young ladies after each club show. Their story – told terrifically in Misty Lane #18 – is an upbeat one from an upbeat era, yet ultimately not different from 100s of other teenbeat sagas from the Days Of ’66. What is different is the longplaying album they left behind, Out Of The Bachs, pressed in 150 copies and barely released at the time (1968), but today the stuff of legend and changing hands for insane sums. And no wonder.

Looking over my notes for this review, the words “unique” and “unusual” occur frequently.
Out Of The Bachs is that rare bird, the white elephant in a jungle of uninspired Stones covers: a garage band LP with 12 originals, sounding like nothing else. Vague references to the British invasion and certain folkrock bands could be made, but ultimately the Bachs come across pretty much only like the Bachs. Part of this is due to the band’s sound, which is a jigsaw puzzle of irregular pieces. The vocals are raw, crude, dramatic: as real as anything I’ve heard. The rhythm guitar is upfront and played without distortion, no fuzz or gadgets – just pure guitar, like the opening chord on “A Hard Day’s Night”. The rhythm section chugs along, sometimes not entirely on the same wagon, while vintage paraphernalia such as maraccas and tambourines are used to good effect. Put this band in a butcher shop converted to a makeshift studio, point some microphones their way, adjust the levels, set the Echo switch “On”, and go out for lunch while the band lets it rip. The result: a record with a rare, timeless quality and a seeming complete lack of contrivance. It’s as naturalistic a face as the “garage” era ever displayed; challenging, at first listen almost disencouraging in its warts-and-all realness. It doesn’t really sound like a 1960s LP, but seems to exist outside of time, which is perhaps also why it has gained so many fans.

Apart from the sparkling folkrock hymn of “Tables Of Grass Fields”, the songs are played in minor keys. Unusual, eccentric chord progressions are employed, as are tempo changes and skillful arrangements that contrast nicely with the raw, upfront nature of the recording. A couple of the songs are simplistic in a classic garage style and seem almost unworthy the band, although they help create the album’s diversity. The folkrock-inspired downers such as “Free Fall”, “Sitting” and “Answer To Yesterday” could perhaps be seen as the band’s most archetypal sound, but it’s the middle third of the LP that leaves all other moptop contenders behind. Beginning with “Independence Day” the Bachs deliver 10 minutes of razor-sharp teenage rock’n’roll that is unparalleled from a local, unknown 1960s band. It’s complex, challenging music, covering a wide emotional spectrum, from the nihilist anthem of “Minister To A Mind Diseased” to the joyful lovesong of the aforementioned “Tables”. The tracks that precede and follow this triple-play outburst are almost as good, yet take the shape of intro and outro for the Bachs’ buzzing core of creativity.

Truly great local 60s teenbeat LPs are rare. Mostly they’re unexceptional cover version jobs with a certain charm. The Tempos on Justice and the Savages on Duane are respectworthy 12-inchers often summoned, but to my ears the only real challenge posed to the Bachs as the best genuine garage LP of all time is the Mystery Meat (reviewed in Ugly Things #20 & on this website), who oddly were also from Illinios and also released their LP in 1968. Which one is the best of these two $3000 behemoths is one for our children’s children to ponder. No one who likes 1960s music can afford to miss them anyway.

This review could have ended here, and I certainly would have preferred that. However, I have a reissue to consider, and so the “Sad” part begins.

I have played the Gear Fab CD on three different players, through headphones and speakers, and the outcome is the same: it doesn’t sound any good. It’s a washed-out, thin sound lacking bottom and dynamics and presence. I would compare it to what you may hear on a flexi disc, or through a cheap radio. Some may be tempted to conclude that this simply is
Out Of The Bachs nature, but since I know what a Ro-To label 1968 original sounds like, I can tell you that it most definitely isn’t. The original recording was crude in terms of engineering, but it had lots of presence and warmth and dynamics. Furthermore, due to levels not being correctly set and the band’s inexperience in the studio, it is a recording with a lot of “peak” values (such as an unexpectedly loud vocal), and these were obviously beyond the capacity of whatever digital equipment Gear Fab uses. As a result there is high-end distortion in some places, and a weird rumbling bass effect in other spots. Track #4 “I See Her” is the worst victim, it sounds just atrocious. I also caught some digital mastering skips on my CD, one at the beginning of track 6, and one halfway through track 12. Adding this all up, and listening to it side by side with an original, I would deem this reissue CD technically defective, and it should be recalled.

The really sad, almost heartbreaking fact, is that the Bachs LP has never been properly reissued. The 1992 vinyl reissue from Del-Val was mastered 2% too slow and had somewhat muddy sound, and a subsequent European CD bootleg was sourced from the Del-Val reissue, not an original, which of course propagated both these problems onto the new format. Since this recent Gear Fab failure is a legit reissue in cooperation with the band, it will be some time before the Bachs get another chance in the recycling game. Considering the extraordinary nature of the original 1968 album, this is a disgrace, but also typical for the amateurish, careless approach of most reissue labels active today. Gear Fab is just one of several offenders, and the Bachs CD is just one of many substandard reissues floating around. Why should we put up with this?

Update: after 3 years of nothing but the inferior Gear Fab reissue on the market, Void Records in 2008 decided it was time for another round of Bachs. Good news in theory, except that the Bachs curse continues. For inexplicable reasons, Void decided to use the poor Gear Fab master for their reissue! Lord knows what they were thinking, since the poor quality of the Gear Fab reissue is generally acknowledged.

This whole saga is taking on surreal proportions. A ray of hope is offered via the CD-R transfer from a clean Bachs original which has been distributed among garage fans, and should be findable via some internet inquiries. Several people have told me that the sound quality of this CD-R reveals qualities in the Bachs album that none of the reissues capture.


- review by Patrick The Lama, previously published in Ugly Things #22

 


(Review #77)

SCHIBBINZ: Livin' Free (no label Argentina 1967 /various reissues)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Sounds best on: soda pop

More info:  reissue liner notes

Availability: Guerssen reissue; the original is impossible to find

For many years, only one copy was known to exist of this album, recorded by three American teenagers and one native son down in Argentina, 1967. Cassette dupes flew around the world and were often met with excitement, as the music reflected a kind of innocent ‘60s beat that made things like the first New Colony Six LP a favorite among the moptop cognoscenti. The only problem was that positively no one, not even Argentinian collectors, knew anything about this record or where to find it. Then in 2009, an ex-member suddenly popped up in Texas, and spoke in a local newspaper article about his teenage adventures with a group called Schibbinz. Spain’s renowned Guerssen label were quick on the ball, and thus we now have a band-authorized, annotated reissue of a record that had seemed destined to remain a mystery.

None of this brouhaha would have mattered if Livin’ Free was a disappointment, but many people (including myself) feel that its reputation is mostly justified. It’s not the unique garage visions of the Bachs, or the searing fuzz orgies of the Litter, but it is a well-written, highly atmospheric slab of moody ‘60s pop and folkrock, which in its best moments (like “The Ring Of Bright Water”) crosses over into pure magic. The Schibbinz’ aesthetics are reminiscent of the New England style of the Summer Sounds or the Rising Storm, but with a slightly different compass bearing – it’s less Zombies and Rubber Soul, and more the turtleneck folk-pop of duos like Simon & Garfunkel and early Chad & Jeremy, the latter whom supply one of the album’s three cover versions. The young band shows remarkable skill in both songwriting and vocal harmonies, and the consistency of style impresses.

The recording isn’t exactly dynamic, but tinny and somewhat muddy, which contributes to the atmosphere, but may annoy mainstream ears. The great old New England Teen Scene series offers a good stepping stone towards the Schibbinz soundscape. I saw someone complain about the sound of this reissue, but since I have access to a original copy, I can report that the Guerssen repro is pretty close. More curious is that the liner notes detail the band’s story without answering the most obvious question: what were these yankee kids doing in a remote part of Argentina? That minor quibble aside, this is a nicely done reissue of one of the last missing pieces in the pre-Sgt Pepper ‘60s LP puzzle.

- review by Patrick The Lama, previously published in Ugly Things #30

 


(Review #78)

FORTUNE TELLER: Inner City Scream (private press US 1978/reissue)

Rating: 8 out of 10

Sounds best on: Bud & buds

More info:  reissue liner notes

Availability: Anazitisi reissue; the original is pretty expensive

Contrary to what you may have read in the Rolling Stone History Of Rock, early-to mid 1970s America was full of bands playing straightforward teenage rock’n’roll. Neither hippies nor headbangers, they took their cues from the Stones, Creedence and old ‘60s radio hits to write basic 3-chord tunes about girls and Saturday night partying. Since rock historians are usually too arrogant to look outside the big music centers, and too lazy to listen to any LP not on a ‘real’ label, these bands have remained more or less unknown for the past 30 years.

The very real-looking quintet of Fortune Teller came together in the streets of mid-‘70s Baltimore to play club gigs and avoid work, and left behind this self-financed, crudely recorded album. Inner City Scream bears some resemblance to Baltimore’s classic proto-punk LP Jungle Rot by George Brigman (who doesn’t recall ever hearing about these guys), but its connection to ‘60s garage music is stronger than Brigman’s. Indeed, the great “Looking Glass World” sounds just like one of those rare 45 tracks off the old Psychedelic Disaster Whirl comp, with raw fuzz leads and acid-punk lyrics. The chord progressions and song structures are very much in a ‘60s modality, and in fact some of the songs had been written as early as 1968. At the same time, Fortune Teller’s greatest strength may be their ability to reflect the tough reality of the urban blue collar 1970s, and in that sense they resemble the more openly sarcastic Brigman.

A tinny recording even by private press standards, this LP offers a formidable task for a reissue label, but after close comparison with my original I’m happy to report that Anazitisi have done an excellent job. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve written enough about Fortune Teller (see Ugly Things #24) in the past to be thanked (wondrously misspelled) on the sleeve, but I have no involvement with this reissue.

- review by Patrick The Lama, previously published in Ugly Things #29

 


(Review #79)

ONE ST STEPHEN: same (Owl US 1975/reissue)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Sounds best on: hashish

More info:  reissue liner notes

Availability: Anazitisi reissue; the original is pretty expensive

Originally released in Ohio 1975, One St Stephen has been on the map among private press collectors for many years. A cheaply done vinyl bootleg appeared as early as 1987, soon followed by a CD version from the same Austrian source. After that the album has been somewhat overshadowed by flashier discoveries, and it had in fact never been officially reissued until 2009.

While not a perfect work, One St Stephen contains a number of powerful, skilfully realized tracks that could be laid on your average rock fan and have him exclaim ‘hey, that’s actually pretty good’. Unlike many dubious finds touted these days, you don’t have to be a field specialist to enjoy the spooky Edgar Allen Poe channelings of “November Edgar”, or the powerful, late-Doors moods of “Nightly Drift” – it’s simply very good ‘70s underground rock, with mystic-psychedelic overtones and eerie moog ornaments. The moody vocals and ambitious lyrics are above average, and it’s not far-fetched to see a major label back then take interest in this work – which they’d probably strip of all its best qualities. Alas, ‘Stephen’ (real name Don Patterson) felt the need to shake his ‘rock’ bone on some tracks, and to me the sarcastic glam-punk postures of “You May Be Religious” and “Junkie’s Lament” break the elegiac Poe & Doors spell in an unfortunate way. That still leaves us with 2/3rds of a mid-‘70s underground classic, rich in talent and atmosphere.

The reissue is one of the best I’ve seen all year, with a glossy color poster and booklet containing the man’s previously untold story (including QCA pressing plant censorship) and some remarkable artwork.

- review by Patrick The Lama, previously published in Ugly Things #29



(Review #80)

PERRY LEOPOLD: Experiment In Metaphysics (no label US 1970/reissues)

Rating: 9 out of 10

Sounds best on: a late night acid trip

More info:  below & reissue liner notes

Availability: legit reissue from Guerssen; originals are very expensive



Long before anyone had heard of ’loner folk’ or even ’acid folk’, Perry Leopold was an underground legend. He had made enough of a mark on the ‘70s club scene in Philadelphia to trigger vague reminiscences among local elders, and when word on his self-released 1970 album started getting around in the mid-1980s, its uniqueness was quickly realized. Decades later, Experiment In Metaphysics remains a dark beacon among ‘70s underground folk records, a $1000 yardstick against which recent genre discoveries are measured and usually found lacking.

It’s not just a question of fulfilling the basic criteria of good songwriting, vocal ability and instrumental prowess – and here we’ve already left most of the acoustic private press competition behind – but intangible elements such as atmosphere, presence, and artistic vision. These are qualities found in Tim Hardin or Nick Drake, very hard to define through language, but easy to experience by listening to their albums. Anyone can make a record with just acoustic guitar and words, but almost no one can make that record memorable for years to come.

Back in the Summer of 1970, between street busking and coffee house gigs, Perry Leopold recorded this album in a 5-hour session in the basement of a shoe repair shop in Philadelphia. A person in attendance remembers it as “…one incredible evening of altered and accentuated creativity”. Probably intended as a demo only, 300 copies were pressed, most of which were given away. Adding to the mystique, the record came in a thick, textured gold sleeve with only a tiny sticker indicating the artist and contents. Leopold would later record an ambitious prog-folk album titled Christian Lucifer, which remained unreleased until 1999, and a somewhat disappointing EP in 1978. After this, nothing, until he was contacted many years later.

Experiment In Metaphysics is deliberately and intelligently arranged. Side 1 – marked as ‘Kommercial’ on the label – opens on a fairly conventional note, with a few Hardinesque verses about alienation: “You never see your face… Never in your lifetime will you know your friends”. Suddenly the mood changes, and the first of the album’s many doors into the psychedelic experience opens. A philosophic monologue of the kind sometimes found on avant-jazz albums follows, urging us to “look at the walls of the universe”. After a couple of minutes inside this half-spoken trip, Leopold returns to baseline and wraps up his song with no loose ends left dangling. The ‘Kommerical’ side continues to move like this, from  brooding folk into the trip space and back. The modern hobo lament of “Cold In Philly” is followed by “And Then, The Snow Came”, refracting the drifter mood through a psychedelic lens of intensely concentrated, unorthodox guitar figures.

Indeed, Leopold’s steel string guitar playing is one of the most remarkable aspects of the album. Originating with John Fahey and Davy Graham, avant-folk guitar emerged as a vital stream within the ‘60s folk-boom, one that kept nourishing local solo artists through the 1970s. A friend who is an expert in the field suggests that Perry Leopold’s playing may draw on Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, who of course in turn were deeply indebted to Graham. Leopold is not necessarily a better technician than anyone else, but somehow, via his two Martin guitars and perhaps that ‘altered and accentuated creativity’, he manages to instill atmospheres and images that are transcendental.

It’s highly appropriate that side 2, where the label instructs the listener to ‘Drop’ (LSD), opens with another arresting instrumental, and the two epic tracks that follow also contain extended acoustic guitar passages. “Everything Goes (When You’re Gone)” marks the album’s apex, with both lyrics and music traversing Leopold’s trademark path from human reality into the far reaches of psychedelia. At first a love song, then a metaphysic encounter with Satan and/or Jesus Christ, and then an extraordinary climax with dual guitar interplay. The authority and presence is absolute, untouchable. Perry Leopold sounds as big a star as Tim Buckley. He was inventing a genre, and he may even have known it. Maybe that’s why the label of his 1970 record says ‘Acid Folk’, about 25 years before that term became trendy.

- review by Patrick The Lama, previously published at the Anthology Recordings and Grounded Magnet websites

 

 


Patrick Lundborg 2007-2013

The Lama Reviews