Friday, 13 January 2017

"Velvet Mountain: An Anthology 1970-1972" by COCHISE [feat Mick Grabham and BJ Cole with Steve Marriott of Humble Pie and Members of Hookfoot as Guests] (2013 Esoteric Recordings 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...






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This rather beautifully presented 2CD set from reissue champs Esoteric Recordings of the UK (part of Cherry Red) puts up the notion that the West-Coast influenced COCHISE (they came out of the Cambridge and Sunderland) are worthy of your attention - a forgotten British Americana Folk-Rock band with Guitarist Mick Grabham and B.J.Cole on Pedal Steel that deserve a second go-round. There are even appearances from Caleb Quaye and Nigel Olsson of Hookfoot and Elton John's Band, Tim Renwick of Junior's Eyes and Quiver and a rare duet with Steve Marriott of Humble Pie on the second LP to draw in collectors...

Unfortunately even with my penchant for all things Bronco, Matthews Southern Comfort and Brinsley Schwarz (see reviews) - there are only sporadic moments of greatness on offer here and its easy to hear why the slightly plodding Cochise sank without a trace despite popping out three albums at the beginning of that most receptive of decades - the Seventies (1970, 1971 and 1972 and a rare stand-alone 45). Still - if you're a fan of them and like-minded Americana music (The Band, Poco, The Flying Burrito Brothers and even America) - the presentation is superlative and the audio absolutely top notch (from original master tapes). There's a lot to get through so let's get to the nitty gritty...

UK released 29 April 2013 (7 May 2013 in the USA) - "Velvet Mountain: An Anthology 1970-1972" by COCHISE on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 22388 (Barcode 5013929438842) is a 2CD Remastered Retrospective with 30-tracks and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (58:41 minutes):
1. Velvet Mountain
2. China
3. Trafalgar Day
4. Moment And The End
5. Watch This Space
6. 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)
7. Past Loves
8. Painted Lady
9. Black Is The Colour
Tracks 1 to 9 are their debut LP "Cochise" - released July 1970 in the UK on United Artists UAS 29117. Produced by DICK TAYLOR

10. Love's Made A Fool Of You - November 1970 UK 7" single on Liberty LBF 15425 (A-side - a Buddy Holly cover version)

11. Jed Collder
12. Down Country Girls
13. Home Again
14. Lost Hearts
15. Strange Images
16. Why I Sing The Blues
Tracks 11 to 16 are Side 1 of their 2nd studio album "Swallow Tales" - released April 1971 in the UK on Liberty Records LBG 83428.

Disc 2 (60:22 minutes):
1. Another Day
2. Axiom Of Maria
3. Can I Break Your Heart
4. O Come All Ye Faithful
Tracks 1 to 4 are Side 2 of their 2nd studio album "Swallow Tales" - released April 1971 in the UK on Liberty Records LBG 83428.

5. Words Of A Dying Man - November 1970 UK 7" single on Liberty LBF 15425 (B-side of the Buddy Holly cover version "Love's Made A Fool Of You" on Disc 1)

6. Cajun Girl
7. Blind Love
8. Dance, Dance, Dance
9. So Many Times
10. Diamonds
11. Thunder in The Crib
12. Up And Down
13. Wishing Well
14. Midnight Moonshine
Tracks 6 to 14 are their 3rd and final studio album "So Far" - released May 1972 on United Artists UAS 29286 (not 28286 as is mistakenly credited on the back cover). The track "Dance, Dance, Dance" (a Neil Young cover) was recorded 'live' at Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1971.

COCHISE was:
STEWART BROWN - Lead Vocals and Acoustic Guitar on the "Cochise" album only
JOHN GILBERT - Lead Vocals on "Swallow Tales" and "So Far" albums
B.J. COLE - Pedal Steel Guitar and Dobro on all albums (Cello also on "Cochise") 
MICK GRABHAM - Lead and Acoustic Guitars, Piano, Organ and Vocals on all albums (Lead Vocals on "Dance, Dance, Dance" on "So Far")
RICKY WILLS - Bass on all albums
JOHN WILSON - Drums, Percussion and Vocals on "Cochise" album
"WILLIE" WILSON - Drums, Percussion and Vocals on "Swallow Tales" album
ROY O'TEMRO - Drums and Percussion on "So Far" album

The three-way foldout card digipak has two picture CDs - photos beneath the see-through trays - LP artwork for the three albums on the flaps and a quality 16-page booklet with new liner notes from MICHAEL HEATLEY (with thanks to founder member Mick Grabham). It comes with the usual plethora of trade adverts, publicity photos and discography info and is very nicely done. But the big news is the stunning audio care of PASCHAL BYRNE (done at Audio Archiving) that lifts the original master tapes off the ground in a big way. I had the first two LPs on original British vinyl back in the day and they sounded o.k. - here they are full of beans - great clarity and without ever overdoing the treble knob. Onto to the music...

The debut sported some typically provocative but strangely off-putting nipple artwork from Hipgnosis – then beginning their long association with Pink Floyd and all things oblique yet cool. Problem is that the artwork doesn’t reflect in any way the music contained within. From the outset you can hear how heavily influenced the five-piece was by the emerging Americana scene across the pond - so "Velvet Mountain" is sub Band territory while "China" is so America. Some of the tunes are stuff like "Past Loves" is a grower. But a dreadful cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "59th Street Bridge Song" and Stewart Brown's frankly dead vocals do for so many. BJ Cole makes his Dobro presence known on his own "Trafalgar Day" where our heroes liken their lovelorn loins to that of Nelson but it descends after a promising opening into dreadful guitar wailing. Stewart Brown wails on "Moment And The End" and you wish he wouldn't.

But things get better with "Swallow Tales" which is way more Country than the debut - PJ Cole's Pedal Steel to the fore and John Gilbert sounding like the enthusiastic vocalist this kind of music needs sing of 'hound dogs' that need to 'scratch an itch'. The song quality picks up with Mick Grabham's "Home Again" - his jangling guitar sound akin to the Byrds and serious dollops of Gene Clark and Gram Parsons. "Lost Hearts" gets all Spanish in its rhythms and begins a duo of BJ Cole songs - the second being "Strange Images" - far better than the lame first (it features Caleb Quaye and Nigel Olsson of Hookfoot). Over on Side 2 "Another Day" continues Mick Grabham's melancholic songs underpinned by Cole's lovely playing. It comes as blessed relief to hear the unmistakable larynx of Steve Marriott on "Why I Sing The Blues" (plays Piano on the track also). After a very Ozark Mountain Daredevils "Can I Break Your Heart?" (sweet vocals and production values) - the album ends on a short but slightly pointless Pedal Steel instrumental of that Gospel Traditional "O Come All Ye Faithful".  

Things funk up with the opener "Cajun Girl" on album number three - a great slinky guitar groove supplied by new drummer Roy O'Temro. Dave Elliott provides "Blind Love" - a lovely song that feels like early Seventies Hollies (Gilbert's voice is akin to Allan Clarke). Quite why a live cover version of Neil Young's "Dance, Dance, Dance" is slapped into the middle of Side 1 is anyone's guess - but after an inaudible spoken intro - you can partially hear why - they rocked in a Country way when live. Back to the Pedal Steel and Country Rock for "So Many Times" - a sweetheart of a melody penned by the band's permanent Bassist Ricky Wills. They rock with "Diamonds" - Grabham finding his inner Crazy Horse even if BJ Cole accompanies him too much. That Country rocking continues with "Wishing Well" and the LP ends on the decidedly funky "Midnight Moonshine".

Of the three albums - "So Far" is probably the most accomplished - but in truth none of them light up in a way that would have had punters take notice. With the great presentation and audio - fans should dive in - I'd advise others to nab a listen first...

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