Saturday, 17 March 2018

"Truth: The Columbia Recordings 1969-1970" by THE FLOCK (September 2017 Esoteric Recordings 2CD Reissue - Ben Wiseman Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Big Bird..."

Reading the liner notes on the rear cover to "The Flock" - you knew your were in good hands - they'd been penned by the much-admired and musically trusted British Bluesman John Mayall. He talked of their July 1969 "Whiskey A Go Go" live debut in the famous Los Angeles musical bolt hole - and how only two months later with the US September 1969 release of their self-titled debut album on Columbia Records - it was time for both the British Press and Public to wake up to their Chicago based Fusion-Rock headed by the Vocals and Guitar of Fred Glickstein and the wild bow magic of Violinist Jerry Goodman.

The Bluesbreaker mainman was of course right. Sporting a seven-man line-up, The Flock joined with the likes of Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears in that initial flowering of Fusion-Based Rock coming out of America in 1969 - a sound that encompassed a little bit of Blues, complicated and challenging Rock, Jazz, Psychedelic and even Gospel. In fact along with the Latin Fusion of Santana – Columbia Records was the big-label home of innovation and this kind of music at the time. And how good is it to see their small but tasty legacy of Art Rock be treated so well by England's champions of all things complex and well 'Flocky' - Esoteric Recordings. Let's get to those high-flying big birds...

UK released Friday, 29 September 2017 - "Truth: The Columbia Recordings 1969-1970" by THE FLOCK on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 22606 (Barcode 5013939470644) is a 2CD anthology which offers both of their studio albums - "The Flock" from 1969 and "Dinosaur Swamps" from 1970 – six outtakes first issued in 1993 (two from the debut and four from an abandoned third album) and six US and European single sides/edits (Previously Unreleased on CD). This new twofer plays out as follows...

Disc 1 (65:30 minutes):
1. Introduction [Side 1]
2. Clown
3. I Am The Tall Tree
4. Tired Of Waiting
5. Store Bought - Store Thought [Side 2]
6. Truth
Tracks 1 to 6 are their debut album "The Flock" - released September 1969 in the USA on Columbia Records CS 9911 (Stereo) and April 1970 in the UK on CBS Records S 63733 (Stereo). Produced by JOHN McCLURE - it peaked at No. 48 in the US LP charts and No. 59 in the UK.

7. What Would You Do If The Sun Died?
8. Lollipops And Rainbows
Tracks 7 and 8 first appeared on the April 1993 CD compilation of Remasters - "Flock Rock: The Best Of The Flock" (Columbia CK 53440 – Barcode 74645344027). Both were unreleased outtakes from the debut album sessions recorded 6 June 1969.

9. Tired Of Waiting (Single Version, 2:40 minutes)
10. Store Bought - Store Brought (Single Version, 2:41 minutes)
Tracks 9 and 10 are edits (for both sides) released as a US 45 on Columbia 4-45021 in October 1969 and in the UK in April 1970 on CBS Records 4932 (Previously Unreleased on CD)

11. Clown (Part One)
12. Clown (Part Two)
Tracks 11 and 12 released as two-part 7” single in France only (with a picture sleeve) on CBS France 4965 (Previously Unreleased on CD)

Disc 2 (65:19 minutes):
1. Green Slice [Side 1]
2. Big Bird
3. Hornschmeyer's Island
4. Lighthouse
5. Crabfoot [Side 2]
6. Mermaid
7. Uranian Sircus
Tracks 1 to 7 are their second and last studio album "Dinosaur Swamps" – released October 1970 in the USA on Columbia Records C 30007 (Stereo) and in the UK on CBS Records S 64055 (Stereo) – both in Gatefold Sleeves. Produced by JOHN McCLURE – it peaked at No. 96 in the US charts but didn’t chart in the UK.

8. Chanja
9. Atlantians Truckin’ Home
10. Afrika
11. Just Do It
Tracks 8 to 11 first appeared on the May 1993 US CD compilation of Vic Anesini Remasters - "Flock Rock – The Best Of The Flock" (Columbia/Legacy CK 53440 – Barcode 074645344027). They were outtakes to their unreleased third album recorded 16 December 1970.

12. Mermaid (Single Edit, 2:43 minutes)
13. Crabfoot (Single Edit, 2:48 minutes)
Tracks 12 and 13 issued a US 45 7” single in January 1971 on Columbia 4-45295 (Previously Unreleased on CD)

The 16-page booklet has new liner notes from noted writer MALCOLM DOME featuring photos of the band, the outer and inner gatefold sleeve to "Dinosaur Swamps" and of course that famous photo of Jerry giving it some wired violin. MARK POWELL of Esoteric did the compilation and archiving whilst long-standing Audio Engineer BEN WISEMAN handled the superb Remasters. Last time Columbia/Legacy handled the Flock was 25 years ago on the "Flock Rock...Best Of..." CD compilation from May 1993 – which featured Vic Anesini Remasters of 15 tracks – here we get comparable Audio – beautifully clear and powerful.

FRED GLICKSTEIN - Lead Guitar and Vocals
JERRY GOODMAN - Violin and Vocals
TOM WEBB - Tenor Sax
FRANK POSA - Trumpet

JERRY GERBER on Saxophones, Flute, Banjo and Vocals replaced Tom Webb for "Dinosaur Swamps"

Most British fan's introduction to The Flock came not through the belatedly released debut album in April 1970 - but through a 6 March 1970 double-album sampler designed to promote CBS UK's roster of artists - the David Howell compiled "Fill Your Head With Rock - The Sound Of The Seventies". CBS Records SPR 39/40 was the third release from the British side of Columbia Records capitalising on the June 1969 chart-placing of their first two budget LP samplers - the fondly remembered "Rock Machine I Love You" and "The Rock Machine Turns You On". I mention all this because on the front cover of the 6 March 1970 2LP sampler "Fill Your Head With Rock" was Jerry Goodman of The Flock giving it some full-colour bare-chested Rock-God Prog-Jazz-Fusion Violin-Virtuoso (yeah baby). The image had graced the back cover of the debut album "The Flock" - but in black and white. Here he looked amazing - the 2LP set contained the album-cut of their Ray Davies and The Kinks cover "Tired Of Waiting". Although the double wasn't issued Stateside - it was a hit across loads of European and Asian/Australian markets. The Flock played Rotterdam 26 June 1970 on the back of it - only to stand naked and tall two days later at the Bath Festival in the UK where a certain Led Zeppelin made a pivotal impression. On that bill were other Prog acts like Pink Floyd, Colosseum and The Nice as well as Rock acts like Rory Gallagher's Taste, Ten Years After and their British pal/champion - John Mayall.

I must admit it’s been decades since I played their debut and I’m struck by how damn good most of it sounds after all these hairline-receding years. Opening sweetly with Acoustic strums - "Introduction" – the first of five original band compositions - soon succumbs to Jerry's ever-present Violin - sounding not unlike Fiddler On The Roof on acid. For sure the overly long "Clown" has some very dated vocal passages before the music takes over and romps to its 8:49 ending - but Glickstein proves himself a rocking guitar player – battling it out with Jerry Smith’s Bass lines (they released the wildly un-radio-friendly "Clown" as a two-parter single in France with a picture sleeve – wow – them was the days!). "I Am The Tall Tree" features some toe-curling lyrics vying for space with soulful playing - while it’s not surprising that Columbia and CBS both tried the band’s cover of The Kinks 1965 hit "Tired Of Waiting For You" (shortened to "Tired Of Waiting") as a 45 to plug the album – it’s probably the most (dare we say it) commercial cut on the record. Unrecognisable here – The Flock do the tune proud with some suitably grungy guitar work that ups the garage feel of the Kink Size original (the single edit is particularly impressive). Side 2 has only two tracks – the guitar-laden "Store Bought – Store Thought" which features wicked guitar and brass passages – and the seriously challenging but brilliant fifteen and half minutes of this compilations namesake - "Truth". Part Blues, part Prog, part Jazz Rock – it’s an amazing tour-de-force of Violin vs. Guitar vs. Brass - even if by the end the Bluesy jam – the song threatens to overstay its welcome. Having said that - if I were asked to point a singular finger at an example of this American band’s brilliance – it would be at this musicianship-showcase track "Truth".

By the time the band reached mid 1970 – a chemically enhanced visit to Boston became the basis for their ELP vs. The Mahavishnu Orchestra second album – the ambitious and occasionally brilliant "Dinosaur Swamps". With a doomy fade in - "Big Bird" then suddenly and unexpectedly becomes the Fiddle of Area Code 615 meets the Brass section of Blood, Sweat & Tears. By the time the voices arrive – it may have lost its way a tad – but structurally its impressive stuff nonetheless (and the Audio is fab). The near nine minutes of "Hornschmeyer’s Island" offers more of the same – our seven-piece heroes floating jazzily upstream in a musical canoe. The bopping "Crabfoot" is almost a single similar to Chicago’s "25 or 6 to 4" and the mad "Uranian Sircus" ends the album on loony laughter and dense rhythms that sound like they’re too stoned for their own creative good. Of the four jams that were to make up the unreleased third album supposedly to be entitled "Flock Rock" – the short "Chanja" offers up wild Zappa-like guitar – while the trumpet-soloing of "Just Do It" shows how far they’d veered towards Jazz and away from Rock.

For sure The Flock won't be everyone's idea of a fun night in with a bottle of Chardonnay and a scented Michael Buble candle. But if your like your Prog Rock and Fusion with a dash of Jazz Brasso and some Vim Violin as a chaser – then this wicked reminder of headier days is the "Fill Your Head With Rock" bare-chested brat for you...

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