Friday, 30 March 2018

"It Shall Be: The Ode & Epic Recordings 1968-1972" by SPIRIT (March 2018 Esoteric Recordings 5CD Box Set - Ben Wiseman Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Dream Within A Dream..."

Now here's something a bit tasty. Five studio albums in Stereo including their debut in Mono for the first time, a rare Mono Soundtrack from 1969 to Jacques Demy's film "Model Shop" that few remember (it starred Anouk Aimee and Gary Lockwood, was about Los Angeles and remained unreleased musically until Sundazed reissued it in early 2005), the original Stereo Mix of the second album, all the straggler outtakes and session pieces from the 1991 "Time Circle..." 2CD retrospective and the Bonus Cuts from the 1996 Bob Irwin/Vic Anesini Remasters of the albums, Single Sides and more (check out those eye-popping total playing times on CD1 and 2). 108-Tracks across 5CDs. It shall be indeed.

And I love that Randy California story of how he met Jimi Hendrix at the back of a Village Record Shop in New York when he was only 15 (Manny's Music on West 48th Street) just before the God of Guitar was about do his first gig. The two bonded on first eye contact and Randy played with Jimi for 3 months at $7 a night whereupon as legend would have it - it was Hendrix who famously renamed him Randy California as there was someone else in the band called Randy Texas (young Randy thereafter forever waving goodbye to his real surname of Wolfe). Hendrix was then discovered by the savvy Chas Chandler, brought to England to become a star - but Randy was too young to travel and had to stay in the USA to finish his schooling. The band Spirit is full of such stories – great music, great ideals but perhaps not the greatest of luck commercially. A dream within a dream - It certainly was.

There's a mountain of detail to wade through - so let's have at the five and seven dreams...

UK released Friday, 18 March 2018 - "It Shall Be: The Ode & Epic Recordings 1968-1972" by SPIRIT on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 52619 (Barcode 5013929471948) is a 5CD 108-Track Clamshell Box Set of New Remasters that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (79:44 minutes):
1. Fresh Garbage [Side 1]
2. Uncle jack
3. Mechanical World
4. Taurus
5. Girl In Your Eye
6.  Straight Arrow
7. Topanga Windows [Side 2]
8. Gramophone Man
9. Water Woman
10. The Great Canyon Fire in General
11. Elijah
Tracks 1 to 11 are their debut album "Spirit" in 'STEREO' - released January 1968 in the USA on Ode Records Z12 44004 and June 1968 in the UK on CBS Records S 63278. Produced by LOU ADLER - it peaked at No. 31 in the US LP charts (didn't chart UK). NOTE: the previously unreleased on CD 'MONO' mix of the album (Ode Records Z12 44003 and CBS Records 63278) is presented on CD4 for the first time - along with other outtakes from the 1967 sessions that appeared on Spirit compilations.

12. I Got A Line On You [Side 1]
13. It Shall Be
14. Poor Richard
15. Silky Sam
16. The Drunkard
17. Darlin' If
18. It's All The Same [Side 2]
19. Jewish
20. Dream Within A Dream
21. She Smiled
22. Aren't You Glad
Tracks 12 to 22 are their 2nd studio album "The Family That Plays Together" - released December 1968 in the USA on Ode Records Z12 44014 in Stereo (only) and June 1969 in the UK on CBS Records M 63523 in Mono and CBS Records S 63523 in Stereo - the ORIGINAL STEREO Mix is used here (outtakes from the album sessions appear on CD5). Produced by LOU ADLER - it peaked at No. 22 in the US LP charts (didn't chart UK).

Disc 2 (83:19 minutes):
1. The Moving Van
2. Mellow fellow
3. Now Or Anywhere
4. Fog
5. Green Gorilla
6. Model Shop I
7. Model Shop II
8. The Rehearsal Theme
9. Song For Lola
10. Eventide
11. Coral
12. Aren't You Glad
Tracks 1 to 12 were recorded in 1968 in-between the second and third album (in Mono) and used in the 1969 Jacques Remy film soundtrack to "Model Shop". The music including unreleased material (Tracks 2, 4 to 6 and 10 to 12) was finally issued February 2005 on Sundazed/Sony Music SC 6095 (Barcode 090771619723) as the 12-tracks presented above. 

13. Dark Eyed Woman [Side 1]
14. Apple Orchard
15. So Little Time To Fly
16. Ground Hog
17. Cold Wind
18. Policeman's Ball
19. Ice [Side 2]
20. Give A Life, Take A Life
21. I'm Truckin'
22. Clear
23. Caught
24. New Dope In Town
Tracks 13 to 24 are their 3rd studio album "Clear" - released July 1969 in the USA on Ode Records Z12 44016 in Stereo (only) and October 1969 in the UK on CBS Records S 63729 in Stereo. Produced by LOU ADDLER - it peaked at No. 55 in the US LP charts (didn't chart UK).

Disc 3 (77:30 minutes):
1. Prelude - Nothin' To Hide
2. Nature's Way
3. Animal Zoo
4. Love Has Found A Way
5. Why Can't I Be Free
6. Mr. Skin
7. Space Child [Side 2]
8. When I Touch You
9. Street Worm
10. Life Has Just Begun
11. Morning Will Come
12. Soldier
Tracks 1 to 12 are their 4th studio album "Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus" - released November 1970 in the USA on Epic E 30267 and February 1971 in the UK on Epic S EPC 64191. Produced by DAVID BRIGGS - the album peaked at No. 63 on the US LP charts (didn't chart UK).

13. Rougher Road - Previously Unreleased "Twelve Dreams..." session outtake that first appeared on the November 1996 CD reissue as a Bonus

14. Chelsea Girls [Side 1]
15. Cadillac
16. Puesta Del Scam
17. Ripe And Ready
18. Darkness
19. Earth Shaker [Side 2]
20. Mellow Morning
21. Right On Time
22. Trancas Fog-Out
23. Witch
Tracks 14 to 23 are their 5th studio album "Feedback" - released March 1972 in the USA on Epic Records KE 31175 (Gatefold Sleeve) and June 1972 in the UK on Epic Records EPC 64507. Produced by DAVID BRIGGS - it peaked at No. 63 in the US LP charts (didn't chart UK)

Disc 4 (76:01 minutes):
1. Fresh Garbage [Side 1]
2. Uncle jack
3. Mechanical World
4. Taurus
5. Girl In Your Eye
6.  Straight Arrow
7. Topanga Windows [Side 2]
8. Gramophone Man
9. Water Woman
10. The Great Canyon Fire in General
11. Elijah
Tracks 1 to 11 are their debut album "Spirit" in 'MONO' - released January 1968 in the USA on Ode Records Z12 44003 and June 1968 in the UK on CBS Records 63278. Produced by LOU ADLER - it peaked at No. 31 in the US LP charts (didn't chart UK). NOTE: the STEREO mix of the album is presented on CD1 - the mono mix here for the first time.

12. Veruska
13. Free Spirit
14. If I Had A Woman
15. Elijah (Alternate Take)
Tracks 12 to 15 were first released as Bonus Tracks in 1996 on the CD Remaster/Reissue of "Spirit" - Epic/Legacy 485175 2 (Barcode 5099748517524)

16. I Got A Line On You ("Time Circle" Mix)
17. It Shall Be ("Time Circle" Mix)
18. Poor Richard ("Time Circle" Mix)
19. Silky Sam ("Time Circle" Mix)
Tracks 16 to 19 first appeared on the 1991 2CD retrospective "Time Circle (1968-1972)" on Epic/Legacy 471268 2 (Barcode 5099747126826)

Disc 5 (70:19 minutes):
1. Scherozode ("Time Circle" Mix)
2. All The Same ("Time Circle" Mix)
3. A Dream With A Dream ("Time Circle" Mix)
4. Aren't You Glad ("Time Circle" Mix)
5. Eventide ("Time Circle" Mix)
6. Model Shop Theme ("Time Circle" Mix)
7. Green Gorilla ("Time Circle" Mix)
8. Rehearsal Theme ("Time Circle" Mix)
Tracks 1 to 8 from the 1991 "Time Circle (1968-1972)" 2CD Retrospective

9. Fog
10. So Little To Say
11. Mellow Fellow
12. Now Or Anywhere
13. Space Chile
Tracks 9 to 13 recorded for "The Family That Plays Together" Sessions in 1968 - released as Bonus Tracks on the 1996 reissue CD of that album on Ode/Epic/Legacy 485174 2 (Barcode 5099748517425)

14. Fuller Brush Man
15. Coral
Tracks 14 and 15 recorded for "Clear" Sessions in 1969 - released as 2 of the 4 Bonus Tracks on the 1996 reissue CD of that album on Ode/Epic/Legacy 484416 2 (Barcode 5099748441621)

16. 1984
17. Sweet Stella Baby
Tracks 16 and 17 were the A&B-sides of a non-album US 7"single released December 1969 on Ode Records ZS7 128. Also released 2 of the 4 Bonus Tracks on the 1996 reissue CD of that album on Ode/Epic/Legacy 484416 2 (Barcode 5099748441621)

18. Animal Zoo (Mono Single Version)
19. Red Light Roll On (Mono Single Version)
Tracks 18 and 19 are the A&B-sides of a non-album US 7" single released July 1970 on Epic Records 5-10648. Also released as two of the four Bonus Tracks on the 1996 reissue CD of "Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus" on Epic/Legacy 485173 2 (Barcode 5099748517326)

20. Morning Will Come (Alternate Mono Mix)
Track 20 released as one of the four Bonus Tracks on the 1996 reissue CD of "Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus" on Epic/Legacy 485173 2 (Barcode 5099748517326). NOTE: the fourth Bonus track from the "Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus" CD reissue was "Rougher Road" and is Track 13 on Disc 3.

SPIRIT was (all albums except "Feedback"):
JOHN LOCKE - Keyboards
MARK ANDES - Bass & Vocals
JAY FERGUSON - Vocals & Percussion
ED CASSIDY - Drums and Percussion

"Feedback" album only:
JOHN LOCKE - Keyboards
ED CASSIDY - Drums & Percussion
AL STAEHELY - Lead Vocals and Bass

While the 20-page booklet is pretty enough and has MALCOLM DOME liner notes - period photos and so forth (the "Model Shop" film poster, sleeve repros etc) - it actually feels rather slight somehow given that there's six albums worth of material here. The LPs are discussed but none of the extras - the five singular card sleeves might have served the set better if they used the five studio albums as artwork so we don't find ourselves missing the mighty "Twelve Dreams..." or "Feedback" in their Gatefold Sleeves. On the rear of each card there are band photos, the CDs are picture discs too and the booklet's last page uses the rear sleeve of the "Clear" LP as its artwork.

But that aside - I'm digging the new BEN WISEMAN Remasters - tapes licensed from Sony Products. I had the Vic Anesini/Bob Irwin versions from 1996 - two Audio Engineers I love - and I'd have to say that here even though the difference is slight - I'm noticing it in the bottom end. Those Marty Paich arranged strings on the instrumental "Taurus" on the debut are wonderful  (hello Jimmy - got an acoustic guitar opener sequence you need) and the ah-ha-ha opening of "Mr. Skin" on "Twelve Dreams..." as well as the fade-out echoed brass is as good as the Mobile Fidelity CD I had decades ago. I'd still prefer the Stereo Mix to the Mono when it comes to the treated Sitars on the debut's wicked and cool "The Girl In Your Eye". And the whole recorded shebang is here too. Let's get to the space children...

Famously "Fresh Garbage" from the wonderfully confident self-titled debut was on the early playlists of the newly formed Led Zeppelin while the Acoustic guitar notes in the instrumental "Taurus" bear an uncanny resemblance to the opening acoustic-guitar passage in "Stairway To Heaven". And given their Houses of the Unholy penchant for nicking other people's tunes on all of the first four albums - this similarity landed them in court in 2004 over copyright infringement (Zep won - much to Randy's decades-long chagrin). There's a wonderful rolling Byrds feel to "Straight Arrow" while Randy gets to stretch out Bloomfield-style on "Topanga Windows". Tracks like "Gramophone Man" and "Water Woman" would have enamoured them to Jefferson Airplane fans and you have to love those counterpoint vocals. Both "The Great Canyon" and "Elijah" show experimentation and how good a songwriter Jay Ferguson was - the latter being one of those cool so-60ts instrumentals that's part Rock, part Jazz-Fusion and very 'Spirit' in its eleven-minute's long 'we don't care if it isn't commercial' structure. Great audio too...

Sexily Hitsville and cool into the bargain - "I Got A Line" opened the second album and their singles account proper. Feeling like Spirit had suddenly arrived - Randy California's Motown-Rock-Soul song hit No. 25 in the States on Ode ZS7 115 (the album's "She Smiled" was the flipside – a pretty flowers-in-her-hair ballad over on Side 2). The record just gets better with "It Shall Be" a co-write between Randy and Keyboardist John Locke - one of my favourites of their early tracks (Marty Paich arranged the Horns but we still don't know whose playing the flute). Jay Ferguson's "Poor Richard" runs into his "Silky Sam" - a talkative nutter and a travelling salesman immortalised in each song. I love the string arrangements on "The Drunkard" (a drunk missing his daughter's message) while the Randy California penned "Darlin' If" has more to do with Buffalo Springfield than Spirit. Things go to grungy boogie with Randy and Ed Cassidy's "All The Same" while the weirdly wonderful "Jewish" is a Psalm put to Space Rock (dig those twinned guitars). But my fave-crave is "Dream Within A Dream" - a Jay Ferguson song – slipping off his mortal coil for trippy Californian Rock and enjoying the process of both. "The Family That Plays Together" ends with Ferguson's equally ambitious "Aren't You Glad" - five and half minutes of slow piano and guitar rock - the kind of tune that has an epic feel as those strings come floating in and Randy let’s rip on that 48th Street guitar.

The Mono Audio gives the short but hugely interesting instrumentals on "Model Body" a very focused urgency. "The Moving Van" and "Mellow Fellow" feel like Spirit have merged with The Doors and gone off on an early Santana experimental guitar trip - whilst the guitar chug of "Green Gorilla" (one of the few tunes with some singing) is way cooler than it had any right to be. The near six-minutes of "Song For Lola" is a blast - a mixture of echoed Bass lines, shimmering vibes, empty spaces and plaintive-gumshoe piano notes - like its Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd searching for a tune. Hell even the five and a half-minute demo of "Aren't You Glad" is truly excellent as a Bonus - tremendous guitar soloing over a slinky keyboard refrain. Many people rate 1969's rocking "Clear" as placement number two behind "Twelve Dreams..." (I think they’re equal) and on hearing tracks like the superb "Dark Eyed Woman" and the sexy "So Little Time To Fly" – both show how much the guitar prowess had come on. "Ground Hog" sounds amazing as it opens – those flicked Bass notes to the left and the layered vocals to the right. Ferguson could surprise with the tender and lonesome-lovers vibe to "Cold Wind" – the same with the hugely evocative instrumentals "Clear" followed by Locke’s piano-lounge-room-sexy "Caught" both feeling like something off of a particularly effective John Barry soundtrack. "Give A Life, Take A Life" is fantastic 60ts Rock-Pop – a rare co-write between Producer Lou Adler and Randy California.

For me "Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus" has always been their zenith. "Prelude - Nothin' To Hide" is a wickedly good opener showcasing the Bluesy slide guitar of Randy California arising out of an Acoustic beginning. Its 3:43 minutes is full of clever chords, vocal layering and that unexpected slide break (funky) - it's lyrics about being "married to the same bride" sounding racy without knowing why. The acoustic balladry of "Nature's Way" comes as a melodic calmer after all the preceding speaker-to-speaker riffage. "Nature's Way" is a short but gorgeous song and one I return to again and again. It's followed by the album's lead off single "Animal Zoo" - the 7" Mono Single Mix of which is a Bonus Track. You can hear why Epic picked it's upbeat rhythms as an album taster - that hooky beat, the Bass break and Keyboard interlude making it more musically interesting that most anything else on the scene at the time. And as they sing "...much too fat...and a little too long..." during the sound-effect fade out in their best Todd Rundgren mad hatter voices - it had a 'Spirit' sound.

"Love Has Found A Way" floats in with speeded up guitar sounds floating over clever melodic vocal lines - sort of Frank Zappa with a melody at its vibe core. The one-minute and acoustic "Why Can't I Be Free" feels like a beautiful plea for peace of mind as it swirls around in a haze of marijuana. But then we get Side 1's other masterpiece - the brill "Mr. Skin" - it's fantastic choppy beat benefitting from Brass Arrangements done by David Blumberg. Epic in Britain gave it a belated 7" single release in February 1973 with "Nature's Way" on the B-side (Epic S EPC 7082).

Side 2 opens with probably my fave instrumental by them – the trippy brilliance of “Space Child” – a piano floater with superb sound scapes and ideas. We then get wickedly good speaker-to-speaker guitar in the driving "When I Touch You" - a Jay Ferguson song that already has Jo Jo Gunne in it - the band he would form after Spirit with Mark Andes and his brother Matthew. "Street Worm" could easily be "Stand Up" or "Benefit" Jethro Tull - a very catchy Guitar/Piano duo back up Ferguson's wailing about 'not making any deal' with the man. Things go seriously melodic with the beautifully produced "Life Has Just Begun" - an acoustic builder where all their voices are featured to great effect (wonderful remaster). The album goes into its only Rock 'n' Roll boogie in the shape of "Morning Will Come" (lyrics from it title this review) cleverly offset by the faded-in Elton John-type piano of "Soldier" - a serious song giving huge power by the pipe organ Producer David Briggs recorded for the finisher. It rounds off an album that just grows and grows with each listen...

I had expected the Bonus Tracks to be throwaway - but if anything the Previously Unreleased Byrds-sounding "Rougher Road" is a bit of a gem. The single mix of "Animal Zoo" has a visceral punch in Mono - not so sure about the Alternate Mono Mix of "Morning Will Come" which I think loses its power compared to the finished Stereo LP cut. The 'tapes rolling - this is Take No. 1' dialogue at the beginning of the non-album B-side "Red Light Roll On" only adds to its excellence (shame there appears to be no Stereo variant of this wicked groover). The extras elsewhere are all good too.

Ok you could argue that the weak "Feedback" album lets the side down (four stars for that alone) and others have moaned about the card sleeve presentation (I think they are fine). But whatever way you look at it – Esoteric Recordings have stumped up yet another goody here. And if ever a band deserved reappraisal – there surely SPIRIT shall be that band...

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