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It's A Beautiful Day - It's A Beautiful Day CD (album) cover

IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY

It's A Beautiful Day

 

Proto-Prog

3.83 | 99 ratings

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4 stars It's a Beautiful Album

Nearly flawless, this piece of progressive psychedelic folk music is remarkable - not in the way it pummels you into submission with outstanding virtuosity (although there is plenty of virtuosity here in David LaFlamme's amazing violin playing), but more in the way the delicate subtleties creep upon you almost unnoticed and hook you in despite yourself.

The album's construction is unconventional - it's always the first track that attracts the most attention, and most often this will be an uptempo rocker that sets the overall mood for everything that is to follow.

Here we have the sublime White Bird, gently lulling us into a tranquil blue sky filled with resonating Hammond and what sounds like a mandolin - but is probably LaFlamme's violin played pizzicato in 3rds, providing a descending melody that is Venetian yet Eastern in flavour. The wonderfully transparent production allows the delicate guitar lines to shine through this, providing a sensual texture for the voices to harmonise over in a manner strongly reminiscent of the Jefferson Airplane.

But this is no carbon copy, despite the similarities. The guitar rhythms change subtly and the violin snakes its way around an instrumental before the next vocal section, during which the guitar interjects tasteful flamenco punctuation - all the while, the phased snare disturbing the whole edifice before it takes off She must fly... into a mellow build-up, packed with more guitar flamenco statements - and a couple of interesting modulations.

The violin solo that soars atop this flutters and chirps with wonderfully executed double-stopped trills - there is some really skilful playing here. Small wonder that LaFlamme was sometimes referred to as the Hendrix of the violin.

Clocking in at just over 6 minutes, this is a terrific piece of proto-prog.

Hot Summer Day begins with a surprise - a dark and slightly dissonant Hammond with satisfyingly rotating Leslie - which slides into a mid-tempo jazz-flavoured riff, with more beautiful punctuation from the guitar, and the violin's continual support of the harmonised vocals. The free feeling and melancholy mood of this piece carries flavours of Nina Simone's Feeling Good, with some superb kit work backing up the rhythms perfectly.

An unexpected breakdown around 3:10 brings a barrage of changes somewhat reminiscent of The Doors, with incredible tension building towards the all-too-short instrumental.

Next up is Wasted Union Blues, deliciously loose, yet rhythmically as tight as it needs to be, deeply disturbing in a Doors-like fashion before the opening chaos comes together in the main body of the song, the snarling guitar ripping at the balance that is trying to establish itself. Then in comes a killer piano line to drive the next vocal section into the instrumental - and just as it hots up, the guitar snarls in again to destabilise things. This inherent battle in the music provides an incredible dramatic tension to produce a section of full-blown progressive rock - before King Crimson managed to release their world-changing debut - and it happens again and again, and each time it is deeply disturbing and destabilising teetering on the borders of control, yet the musicians skillfully and collectively drive the piece to a conclusion that has a real Wow! factor.

A haunting harpsichord and dischordant electric piano kick off Girl With No Eyes, a twisted tale with twisted music. At 1:20, the music careers off into a different direction and key, backed with descending guitar and violin ostinato lending a peculiar otherwordly folk atmosphere to the piece, modulating cunningly back to a simple but tasteful harpsichord solo.

Side 2 of the vinyl begins with the now famous Bombay Calling, used as the foundation for Child in Time by Deep Purple, in case that fact has somehow passed you by. The familiarity of Child in Time meant that it took me a few listens to realise that this piece is every bit as good as the Deep Purple number when taken for itself. It's also incredibly progressive, with rhythmic changes and instrumentals that sound like improvisations, until you consider the tight-knit harmonies in the different voices. It's at this point you need to pinch yourself and remind yourself that this was released in 1969. Standard psychedelia this ain't.

Bulgaria follows - and is dripping with hippie psychedelic sounds. All together now... AU-U- U-U-U-UMMMMMM!!!. The bass is particularly notable - such a sumptuous and altogether DEEP sound even Chris Squire couldn't match. While the organ whistles in an uncomfortably high register, there is no getting away from the fact that every note is composed and in place, and, as the song unfolds slowly, you realise that there is a solid plan behind the scenes being acted upon before your very ears.

A lovely dischordant piano takes over from the whistling around 2:50 - it's worth sticking around for. Here we have music that builds slowly, as the music of Can did - but this is far more melodic than Can ever were. As the tempo picks up, ever so gradually, this piece really unfolds into something rather special, the female backing vocals pre-empting Renaissance a little, but the piece bearing entirely its own signature. This is pure Prog before the event, and worth owning the album for.

So, too, is the final track, Time Is, which seques masterfully from Bulgaria, then kicks into a 2-time, psychotic, ska-inspired dance. When the vocals start, the underlying tick-tock becomes clearer than the ska-dance, and the piano and guitar take it in turns to skew events in turn, before it's all stripped down, then built up again - LaFlamme again seeming to do his best to impersonate Jim Morrison. The next instrumental section is mad, as the clock ticks more insistently than before, and the instrumentalists play in what seems to be their own time dimensions to skew things further.

While it's tempting to provide a kind of running commentary for the rest of this piece, running as it does to 9 and a half minutes, I think it's one to discover. If Bulgaria was worth the price of the album by itself, this one makes it an utter bargain.

This may be a Proto-Prog album, but there are many moments of the genuine article on here - and even if it's not your personal idea of Prog Rock, it's in so many ways a blinding album with superlative musicianship and incredible compositions, the nuances of which are so skillfully assembled that you can simply drift along to the music with the analytical side switched off and still get immense enjoyment from it.

I'd love to award it the 5 it fully deserves, but I think that the psychedelic edge is too strong for me to vote it a masterpiece of fully-fledged prog.

It's a masterpiece in it's own right though - buy it - and thank me for the recommendation after the 10th listen :o)

Certif1ed | 4/5 |

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