Friday, 9 October 2015

"The Incredible String Band/The 5000 Spirits.../The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter" by THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND (2015 Beat Goes On 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Gently Tender..."

Finishing off their reissue campaign for THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND in real style – Beat Goes On of the UK give fans their revered first three albums – a Folky beginning in 1966 followed by two genuinely masterful, mind-expanding Acid-Folk-Rock platters from the Lava Lamp glory days of 1967 and 1968. Here are the hangman’s beautiful details...

UK released 25 September 2015 (October 2015 in the USA) – "The Incredible String Band/The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion/The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter" by THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1205 (Barcode 5017261212054) offers fans 3LPs onto 2CD Remasters and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (70:07 minutes):
1. Maybe Someday
2. October Song
3. When The Music Starts To Play
4. Shaeffer's Jig
5. Womankind
6. The Tree
7. Whistle Tune
8. Dandelion Blues
9. How Happy I Am [Side 2]
10. Empty Pocket Blues
11. Smoke Shovelling Song
12. Can't Keep Me Here
13. Good As Gone
14. Footsteps Of The Heron
15. Niggertown
16. Everything's Fine Right
Tracks 1 to 16 are their debut album "The Incredible String Band" – released June 1966 in the UK on Elektra Records EUK 254 and in the USA on Elektra EKM 322 – both in Mono Only. The Stereo mix was released on Elektra EKS 7322 in the USA in 1969. The Stereo mix is used for this CD.

17. Chinese White
18. No Sleep Blues
19. Painting Box
20. The Mad Hatter's Song
21. Little Cloud
22. The Eyes Of Fate
Tracks 17 to 22 are Side 1 of their 2nd album "The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion" – released July 1967 in the UK on Elektra EUK 257 (Mono) and EUKS 7257 (Stereo) and in the USA on Elektra EKS 74010 (Stereo). The Stereo mix is used.

Disc 2 (74:30 minutes):
1. Blues For The Muse
2. The Hedgehog's Song
3. First Girl I Loved
4. You Know What You Could Be
5. My Name Is Death
6. Gently Tender
7. Way Back In The 1960s
Tracks 1 to 7 are Side 2 of their 2nd album "The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion" – released July 1967 in the UK on Elektra EUK 257 (Mono) and EUKS 7257 (Stereo) and in the USA on Elektra EKS 74010 (Stereo). The Stereo mix is used.

8. Koeeoaddi There
9. The Minotaur's Song
10. Witches Hat
11. A Very Cellular Song
12. 'Mercy', I Cry, 'City' [Side 2]
13. Waltz Of The New Moon
14. The Water Song
15. Three Is A Green Crown
16. Swift As The Wind
17. Nightfall
Tracks 8 to 17 are their 3rd album "The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter" – released March 1968 in the UK on Elektra EUK 258 (Mono) and EKS 7258 (Stereo) and June 1968 in the USA on Elektra EKS 74021 (Stereo only). The Stereo mix is used.

The card slipcase gives this 2CD reissue classiness - as do the new ANDREW THOMPSON Remasters (done at Sound Mastering in London). Elektra/Rhino, Hannibal and Collector’s Choice have all done these albums before to great effect on varying CD remasters down through the years – but these latest 2015 editions have an extra 'oomph' in them. I've had the 5CD "Original Album Series" with its five dinky card sleeves for a few years now to have the music - but have missed proper liner note details and uniformly great sound. Beat Goes On has supplied both in their extensive 2014 and 2015 ISB CD reissues/remasters (see list below) - all of which I've reviewed. The 24-page booklet has full track-by-track credits, the liner notes of each LP (UK and USA on the debut), LP artwork repros (UK and US versions of “5000 Spirits”) and a stormingly good new essay by JOHN O'REGAN discussing the albums and the coloured history of the ISB – the most eclectic of British Folk-Rock bands. But I keep coming back to the gorgeous Audio – especially on my fave "The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter".

I've never understood the lesser rating "The Incredible String Band" receives – as if it wasn't somehow a magnificent but simple beginning – I've always thought that its both. And man does this sucker sound good here. If you skip to Track 3 on the debut – the lovely "When The Music Starts To Play" – the clarity of Robin Williamson on Flute with Mike Heron on Lead Vocals and Acoustic Guitar is startling to say the least – the Remaster as warm as you could hope for. Even if the instrumental "Schaeffer's Jig" is only one minute long - Clive Palmer's Banjo and Williamson's Fiddle fill your speakers with UK Folky joy. Sweet too is a mesmerising "Womankind" – Williamson on his own with a melody, that weirdly lovely voice of his and an Acoustic Guitar (and man can you hear where Led Zeppelin's folk leanings came from in this tune). Mike Heron takes over the solo singing/acoustic reins for the equally pretty "The Tree" – and again in superlative Audio.

While the debut was a purely Folk affair - with the 2nd album came the expansion of instruments and added talent – Richard Thompson on Double Bass (from Pentangle), John Hopkins on Piano and Licorice on Vocals and the occasional finger cymbal (Palmer left - later formed The Famous Jug Band). The combo makes the album feel utterly amazing – unique even – and ahead of its time. Producer JOE BOYD and Engineer JOHN WOOD gave "The 5000 Spirits..." album a real polish and combined with great new material – it saw the LP top Folk lists and even dent the UK Pop & Rock charts by peaking at 26. Along with "Pet Sounds" by The Beach Boys – ISB received the ultimate Summer Of Love accolade – a nod from Paul McCartney who had released the magical "Sgt. Peppers" with The Beatles only a month earlier (June 1967) as one of his favourite albums of that mercurial year.

As Heron sings and plays Acoutsic on the magical "Chinese White" – what knocks you out is the Bowed Gimbri played by Williamson – because suddenly you're listening to the invention almost of Acid Folk. There is discernable hiss in the background but it's not too distracting. "When I look inside my painting box...I seem to pick the colours of you..." - Heron sings on the lovely "Painting Box" - while "The Mad Hatter's Song" takes in some vaudeville with the added barrelhouse piano of John Hopkins plinking away tastily in the background. There is hiss again but you’re so entranced by that Soma and Sitar playing and the jagged tempo breaks that it doesn’t matter somehow. It has to be said that the 'ta ta ta' hippy nonsense in "Cloud Song" grates a tad nowadays – but Side 1 of "5000 Spirits" ends on the 'lands of no winds blowing' druggy Folk beauty of "The Eyes Of Fate" – their voices combining into an almost monastic chant (brilliant stuff). Side 2 offers the Harmonica of "Blues For The Muse", a foreboding "My Name Is Death" and the sweet acoustic innocence of "First Girl I Loved" and the tabla/flute "Gently Tender" (gorgeous Audio on the lot). The whole record feels like several light years ahead of the debut in terms of playing, song structures and the ‘to Hell with what people think’ honesty of their chosen lifestyles seeping into every song and witty word.

With Williamson in the song-writing ascendancy (Heron put up three while he put up seven originals) - the tripping of the light psychedelic continues on the wonderfully adventurous, evocative and (damn it) pretty "Hangman's Beautiful Daughter" which the good people of Great Britain even took to the unlikely placing of 5 on the LP charts in April 1968. This time the album is entirely the duo of Robin Williamson and Mike Heron playing a dizzying array of instruments – Gimbri, pan pipe, piano, mandolin, Jew’s harp, oud, chahanai, water harp, harmonica, organ, hammer dulcimer and harpsichord (as well as all vocals and guitars). The only guests are UK Folk hero Dolly Collins on "Waltz Of The New Moon" and "The Water Song" while Licorice returns for Vocal and Finger Cymbals on "The Minotaur's Song". I love the almost entirely Acapella beginning of "A Very Cellular Song" which then descends into thirteen minutes of flute, harpsichord, Jew's Harp and mandolin hippy happiness. Side 2 opens with two peaches – "'Mercy', I Cry, 'City'" and the accomplished "Waltz Of The New Moon". Williamson waxes lyrical about 'quiet pastures' as a counterpoint to the manic and peopled fumes of cities while Dolly Collins arranged the Harpsichord and Harp on the soaring "Waltz Of The New Moon". Dolly does the Flute Organ on the trickling 'mother of life' ode to nature’s finest ingredient - "The Water Song". Acid Folk probably reached some kind of zenith with the Sitar-beautiful floatation tank of "Three Is A Green Crown" – a near eight-minute trip out that sounds utterly astonishing even to this day. Both "Swift As The Wind" and the short but incredibly beautiful "Nightfall" finish the album off on a peaceful riverflow of Sitar notes...

Once derided by certain quarters of the music press as hippy claptrap given far too much free recording time and leeway - The Incredible String Band’s first three albums feel magical to me now. In fact like the double-album "Wee Tam And The Big Huge" from later in 1968 - they seem to grow in beauty and stature as the decades pass. We are almost certainly never going to see their like again. And you have to say that Beat Goes On have done those pioneering gems a proper knighthood on this brill 2CD reissue/remaster.

"...I remember your long red hair falling in our faces as I kissed you..." - Williamson sang on the confessional love-remembered "First Girl I Loved". How sweet it all was. Peace and Love man and pass us that cauldron of Dandelion Soup with a platter of pink and purple slices of bread...

PS: Beat Goes On CD Remasters for The Incredible String Band are:

1. The Incredible String Band (1966)/The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion (1967)/The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (1968) – September 2015, Beat Goes On BGOCD 1205, 2CDs

2. Wee Tam And The Big Huge (1968) – July 2015, Beat Goes On BGOCD 1191, 2CDs

3. I Looked Up (April 1970) – September 2014, Beat Goes On BGOCD 1166,1CD

4. "U" (October 1970) – September 2014, Beat Goes On 1164, 2CDs

5. Be Glad The Song Has No Ending (April 1971)/Liquid Acrobat As Regards The Air (October 1971) – June 2004, Beat Goes On BGOCD 627, 2CDs)

6. Earthspan (1972)/No Ruinous Feud (1973) – July 2004, Beat Goes BGOCD 628, 2CDs

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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