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Spirit

 

Proto-Prog

2.40 | 16 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
2 stars Well this is the album that somehow got released in the wake of Spirit’s fracturing during the tour for ’Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus’. Singer Jay Ferguson and bassist Mark Andes were gone and working with their new band Jo Jo Gunne, and child prodigy guitarist Randy California, arguably a few diodes short of a full circuit board, was off attempting a solo career and frolicking in the sands of Hawaii. Drummer and de facto band leader Ed Cassidy and keyboardist John Locke found themselves still in possession of an Epic distribution contract though, so they recruited brothers Al and J. Christian Staehely, whose band Pumpkin had itself broken up after their drummer Curly Smith joined Jo Jo Gunne. The family that plays together, indeed…

This is the only Spirit album I’m aware of that Randy California did not play on, and it is really a Spirit album in name only. That said, it’s not nearly as bad as some would have you believe, but it is certainly not what I would call a progressive or psychedelic album by any means. It’s more in the vein of the Flying Burrito Brothers, or Neil Young or something, kind of ‘countryfied’ rock with some pretty decent guitar and drum work, but quite a bit distant from the hybrid jazz trippy stuff Spirit had done with California and Andes in the band. The two tracks that keep this from being simply another ho-hum early seventies release are (not surprisingly) the two John Locke instrumentals, “Puesta del Scam” and “Trancas Fog-Out”. Otherwise this is largely forgettable stuff, but decently produced so it’s not a total disaster.

The difference in sound hits you immediately on “Chelsea Girls”, as Chris Staehely is nowhere near as dynamic a guitarist as California was. Also, the female doo-wop backing vocals sound more like something Eric Clapton would have done than they do a Spirit album. Al Staehely is a typical rock singer, competent but conservative, and the loss of Ferguson simply accentuates the blues-driven tempo of this track even more. Locke’s piano is the only thing that sounds even remotely like the older Sprit music, but he gets kind of buried in the mix and doesn’t do much to improve this song.

“Cadillac Cowboys” is really more of the same, except that Chris Staehely manages to kick up his heels on guitar a bit and Locke lays down some piano bits that would have fit right in just about any Lynyrd Skynyrd album, which is kind of what this one sounds like.

“Puesta del Scam” is a pleasant departure from the good-ole’ boys onslaught, with both Locke and Ed Cassidy settling back into more familiar free-form jam territory and Chris Staehely doing an admirable job of wailing along with them. This is way too short though, and ends rather abruptly.

A title like “Ripe and Ready” makes me think this was an early Triumph tune or something, although it sounds more like Dr. John with a decent guitarist. Decent guitar and energetic piano, but there’s not much else here.

The front side of the vinyl release ends with “Darkness”, which starts off as a mostly piano arrangement but eventually gives way to more of Al Staehely’s dated vocals with those Claptonettes backing him up and his brother hitting some working man’s blues riffs as Locke shifts between piano and organ. I actually think this would have been better as an instrumental, as the music is pretty good but the vocals border on trite.

Side B opens with “Earth Shaker”, which isn’t different enough from “Chelsea Girls” to really make it worth commenting on any further.

The first of two Jim Croce-sounding numbers is “Cadillac Cowboys”, a rambling tale of a couple of slackers who wile away the day picking their guitar and lamenting the loss of jobs and women, all in the guise of a “mellow morning, just the way every day should begin”. Yeah, if you say so.

This is followed up immediately with another Croce clone, “Right on Time”, but this one kicks up the tempo a bit with some decent guitar and piano, but really just repeats the opening stanza a couple times and fades away. It should be noted that most of the songs on this album are only two or three minutes long, and most of them sound like there wasn’t a whole lot of thought or energy that went into them.

The second Locke instrumental is “Trancas Fog-Out”, which like “Puesta del Scam” is jazzy and vigorous but altogether too short. I’m not sure why the band felt that a couple more like these two, or at least developing these more fully wouldn’t have been better than the numerous substandard Staehely brothers numbers, but I guess the times they were a changin’.

The album closes with “Witch”, which based on the lyrics would have more appropriately been labeled “Bitch”, but I suppose this was a nod to commercial palatability. The backing vocals here, according to the record sleeve, are something called the ‘Marin County off-the-wall Singers’, and they help to make this sound like some sort of .38 Special composition. Not that I have anything against .38 Special, but they aren’t Spirit.

Things got even worse after the album released, since surprisingly it managed to chart so the band was obliged to launch a supporting tour. Both Locke and Cassidy eventually abandoned the band and the tour, and the Staehely brothers had the dubious distinction of finishing the live shows with a lineup that did not include a single member of the original Spirit band. That’s showbiz!

California and Cassidy eventually hooked up again and would release numerous Spirit albums with various lineups over the years until California’s death in 1996 (and even later with a series of post-mortem issues of previously unreleased material). But the sound was never the same, and the magic of those first four albums became the real legacy of the band.

Like I said at the beginning, this is not a progressive album, nor does it have much of the psychedelic or jazz tendencies that the early material did. It is okay if you are looking for early seventies blues rock with a bit of a twist, but this one is really only for mildly curious collectors. Two stars.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 2/5 |

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