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Skin Alley - Skin Alley CD (album) cover

SKIN ALLEY

Skin Alley

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.59 | 20 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
4 stars A cop (and an ugly one at that) pulling his tongue right in your face under their bloodied name is the opening image that Skin Alley chose as an approach to music fans. Despite such a poor decision, the album was well received by the press and the fans alike, and rightfully so, because this unusual quartet (line-up wise) developed a distinctive mix of jazz and blues into their rock music, fronted by Bob James' wind instruments and Juskiewicz's (bless you ;-) organ and piano and usually offering "male" lyrics.

Opening on one of their most popular track Living In Sin (it was part of the sampler Fill Your Head With Rock), the group sets the tone for the whole album, as their jazz-inflected rock (it can be included in the early 70's UK proto prog) that enthrals the listener directly as the communicative enthusiasm of the band is almost overwhelming. Indeed Bob James alternates between the flute and guitar, while bassist Crimble sounds like Cressida's Angus Cullen on vocals. The same Cressida name is also reminded on Tell Me (mellotrons), this time more to do with the songwriting (I'm sure there is an unintentional borrowing from whomever recorded their track second, which is probably Cressida). The Mother Help Your Child track is one of the album's highlights, as Crimble's voice takes on dramatic Out Of Focus tones, after a menacing church-organ sound and an isolated flute opened it. The lengthier Marsha is an up-tempoed organ-driven groove that allows for a few wild sax solos, alternated by organ lines, reminiscent of the second-era Traffic.

On the flipside, past the short pastoral and medieval (piccolo flute and harpsichord) Country Aire, with the other mammoth track, the dark 8-mins All Alone, SA gets to serious business with the slow sinister organ that will drive the entire track, sharing the spotlight with the sax. Night time is one of my fave from the album, loaded with flute and tron layers, and later on evolving rolling jazzy piano ditty. Juskiewicz gives us another pointless taste of his harpsichord before the group closes the album with a boogie-ing Highway, maybe the album's weaker moment.

Included as bonus tracks are the two songs from the non-album single (engineered by Martin Birch, the first being a fairly different version of Tell Me with some wild cello lines replacing the melotron, the track resembling less the Cressida track, under this version, which I find better. Better Be Blind has a deceiving vocal line coupled with an annoying whistle, but outside this, it remains a worthy SA track, but sounding fairly different from the album per se.

A bit of a lost classic proto-prog album, Skin Alley's debut has recently received a re-issue through Eclectic Discs, with an excellent booklet and extensive liner notes, the object narrowingly missing the perfect mark, because of the band's name being black instead of the orange-blood colour scheme on the front cover, the rear artwork taken from a much weather-beaten vinyl. Besides this nitpicking, Skin Alley's debut comes awfully close to a masterpiece, but no cigar. Essential, certainly!!

Sean Trane | 4/5 |

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