Tuesday, 25 August 2015

"Expecting Company" by SASSAFRAS (2014 Esoteric Recordings Expanded CD – Paschal Byrne Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Beans And Things..."

Now here's a sweetheart. I remember a pal of mine in Dublin who was Wishbone Ash mad at the time and was pigging out on "Argus" and "Pilgrimage" on an almost daily basis. It didn’t take him long to discover the twin lead guitars of Cardiff's SASSAFRAS who came on like a combo of Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash – a mix I’ll take any day of the week. I never thought I’d see their brill 1973 debut on CD and you have to say that Esoteric Recordings of the UK (part of Cherry Red) have done a bang up job with it. Great audio from original tapes, interviews with Lead Guitarist Dai Shell, repro of the original and distinctive Ian Murray gatefold artwork, period photos etc - very tasty. Here are the beans and things...

UK released April 2014 – "Expecting Company" by SASSAFRAS on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2442 (Barcode 5013929454248) is an 'Expanded Edition CD' with Two Bonus Tracks and breaks down as follows (46:28 minutes):

1. Electric Chair
2. Busted Country Blues
3. Beans And Things
4. Across The Seas Of Stars
5. School Days [Side 2]
6. The Way Of Me
7. The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg
8. (a) Expecting Company (b) Meanwhile Back In Merthyr
Tracks 1 to 8 are their debut album "Expecting Company" – released December 1973 in the UK on Polydor Super 2383 245.

9. Oh, Don't it Make You Want To Cry
10. Kansas City Wine
Tracks 9 and 10 are a non-album UK 7" single released July 1974 on Polydor 2058 497 in the UK

The 5-piece Welsh band SASSAFRAS featured Vocalist Terry Bennett (ex Exit), dual Lead Guitarists Ralph Evans and Dai Shell, Ricky John Holt on Bass and Rob "Congo" Jones on Drums (Jones was ex Dave Edmunds' Love Sculpture). PHIL SAMPSON produced the original album and PASCHAL BYRNE has done the transfers and CD remaster from original master tapes. Paschal Byrne has compiled, researched and co-ordinated the release in conjunction with the band – and his huge experience of CD remasters shows (has done hundreds of these reissues). This CD sounds fabulous – really great Audio – all the instruments 'there' in the mix – not too trebled up for the sake of it either.

It opens with a huge fan fave "Electric Chair" – a five-minute slice of wicked Classic 70ts Rock – riffs that hook and stay. You're also struck by the band’s sound (so Wishbone Ash) - Terry Bennett's great gravely vocals out front backed by interlocking guitars and a tight rhythm section – in fact the group sounding like they’ve been playing together since 1970 never mind early 1973. The trio of Ricky Holt, Ralph Evans and Dai Shell wrote all the songs except "Across The Seas Of Stars" which is by Ricky Holt and "The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg" which is by Steve Finn. After the boogie of "Electric Chair" – the countrified jaunt that is "Busted Country Blues" comes as bit of a pleasant shock. It’s witty lyrics, harmonising vocals and Elvin Bishop hog-rhythm is very Area Code 615 - an American Country-Rock band Shell liked (their "Stone Fox Chase" was used as the theme to "The Old Grey Whistle Test"). We go back to Rock and MAN territory with the excellent "Beans And Things" – a crowd pleaser to this day whenever they play live (the licks flicker like wild in one speaker while the harmony vocals come out of the other – and it has that clever keyboard break half way into its 5:35 minutes). We end Side 1 with a guitar ballad – six minutes of the pretty "Across The Seas Of Stars" which is almost like the Byrds in its harmony structure.

Side 2 opens with more twin-axes in "School Days" which (with an edit) would have made a great lead-off single. "The Way Of Me" again mines that Man and Wishbone Ash groove – Bennett's vocals really making the tune (the bass on this track is amazing too). We get a little Heavy Metal Kids Rock 'n' Roll on "The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg" – where (uncool title aside) the vocals and boogie-guitars chug along very nicely. The album finishes of a two-parter (a) Expecting Company and (b) Meanwhile Back In Merthyr – probably the best sounding tracks on this reissue. The complex vocal lines are impressive (almost Prog) - while Part 2 goes into a faster twin-guitar battle that is very Man. The single shows how they'd progressed – far removed from the sound of the album – why it's almost AWB in its brass Funk rhythm like Ned Doheny years later on Warner Brothers. The B-side is a straightforward 3-minutes of Barroom Boogie (boys in the band) that's actually impressive. Brilliant extras...

Their debut isn't an out-and-out masterpiece for sure – but it’s a hugely accomplished start. They would release two further LPs - "Wheelin' 'n' Dealin'" on Chrysalis CHR 176 in April 1975 followed by "Riding High" on Chrysalis CHR 1100 in July 1976 – both of which were put on CD by Gott Discs in 2005 but is hard to find now. In the meantime – check out the classic 70ts Rock of Sassafras – remembered with real affection for a reason...

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