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Spirit - The Best Of Spirit CD (album) cover





3.13 | 5 ratings

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3 stars When the renowned record producer Lou Adler helped to pull off the legendary Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 he saw firsthand unknown groups like The Who and The Jimi Hendrix Experience alter the direction of modern rock music as they totally blew the minds of those in attendance and the millions who would later see it all on the silver screen. What he quickly realized was that the peace and love generation was ready to hear sounds that were radical, revolutionary and, well. progressive. Adler wasted no time in signing and recording a new L.A. band he had found called Spirit. They were the right group in the right place at the right moment and they were writing music that didn't sound like anyone else's. With a background in almost every kind of genre imaginable, they blended all their influences together and created a hybrid of jazz, folk and rock that reflected the constantly changing and sometimes volatile atmosphere of the late 60s/early 70s southern California scene.

Like all compilations tend to do, this one gathers together not necessarily their best material but their most popular. But keep in mind that these guys put out four albums of all original material in a little more than two years time so what they managed to accomplish is extraordinary by any standard. However, they were never as prog- minded as they were on their debut LP, represented here by four outstanding songs. Bassist Mark Andes and vocalist Jay Ferguson's "Mechanical World" has very unorthodox (for the time) orchestration that gives the tune a very ominous feel to go along with an excellent guitar solo from Randy California and a unique drum pattern from Ed Cassidy. You can't help but detect a smidgen of a Doors influence (understandable considering the splash that band was making). Jay's "Fresh Garbage" is a true prog classic and the song that hit the airwaves first. Its modern jazz rock flavor is still vital today and will always be one of their greatest achievements. Pianist John Locke's solo is totally inspired. Ferguson's "Uncle Jack" may be my favorite tune by the band. It has a certain "British" slant and a clever vocal arrangement built over a powerful riff and churning drums that I find irresistible. California's "Taurus" will immediately educate you on the origin of the famous opening guitar theme of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."

The second LP, "The Family that Plays Together" was assembled in haste to capitalize on their overnight rise to fame and there seemed to be more emphasis on getting a single in the Top 40. To that end Randy's catchy but lyrically inane "I Got a Line on You" was the perfect song but, unfortunately, I feel it changed the emphasis of their music forever. Having a hit tune made a lot of things easier for a fledgling group circa '68 yet it also steered them away from making the intriguing, progressive type of music that characterized their debut. "Silky Sam" and "Aren't You Glad" are included here from that album but neither is at all remarkable.

The "Clear" album came out in 1969 and "Dark Eyed Woman" gave a lot of us hope that they were returning to their prog ways because it had a cosmic groove and the middle section was very impressive with its spacey guitar lead and riveting percussion track. Alas, the rest of the album wasn't nearly as exciting as is clearly demonstrated by the other representative songs on here, "I'm Truckin'" and "So Little Time to Fly." "1984" was recorded around the same time but wasn't included on any album. It made a fine single for that era with its paranoid theme and alarmist tone but it faded from the charts rather quickly. (Orwell's spooky forecast of the future was a worrisome topic back then but no one could have predicted that Big Brother wouldn't have to impose his will at all since people in the 21st Century would voluntarily post their innermost secrets and personal information on the web without coercion. Go figure!)

The last LP from the original five members, "Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus," would prove to be one of their most popular and mark a slight return to their prog roots. The folksy "Nature's Way" is a timeless "green" anthem that was way ahead of its time and was a huge FM radio hit in the early 70s. "Prelude - Nothing to Hide" starts with an acoustic guitar and vocal before launching into a driving rock rhythm that later segues into an up-tempo psychedelic affair. "Morning Will Come" is another popish tune that features a basic horn section which also graces the somewhat soulful "Mr. Skin" that actually has a funky sax ride. "Animal Zoo" is just too commercial for my tastes and could have been replaced by something better.

I'm glad that Spirit is respectfully recognized as proto-prog because they definitely pushed the envelope of what was accepted in American rock music four decades ago. But my strong suggestion is that if you really want the best of this band then just buy their first album and relish the non-conformist attitude that permeates it and made them so appealing to those of us who yearned for something new and different in those unbelievable days.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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