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The Move - Message From the Country CD (album) cover

MESSAGE FROM THE COUNTRY

The Move

 

Proto-Prog

3.38 | 24 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne spent the majority of their time in 1970-71 working on their studio tans. I doubt that they saw the light of day much, if ever. The reason is that they were simultaneously recording the final two Move albums, a handful of singles and the debut LP of their dream project, The Electric Light Orchestra. Rick Price, bassist on "Looking On," dropped out (to go make a living) before this album was finished so it's really the Jeff & Roy show with drummer Bev Bevan adding his questionable talents to the tracks. The most obvious difference between "Message from the Country" and "No Answer" by ELO is the fact that Wood reserved his one-man horn section for the former and relegated his cello/violin expertise to the latter. Plus, ELO was a much more serious, ambitious affair whereas the realm of The Move was more of a musical playground where they could relax and have some fun as they experimented with all sorts of eclectic ideas and studio techniques. Their "let's let our muses run wild" attitude is what makes this recording sound different from their previous albums and such a unique joy to hear.

I'm pleased that the reissued version includes what made up the two vinyl LPs I own, the original U.S. release on Capitol (with the cool green cover art shown here) and the '72 "Split Ends" on the United Artists label (with more fantastic cover art I wish you could see) that left out the novelty cuts but included the five hard-to-find singles on it. Unlike the other Move reissues, these bonus tracks are well worth having. I'll explain why further down the road.

The grandiose title song is a fitting anthem for the journey the listener is about to embark on. It has thickly-layered electric guitars, a huge Chris Squire-like bass tone, a melodic refrain that'll stick to the roof of your brain for days and a deep chorus of ahhs (they must have spent hours doing nothing but stacking their vocals) that echo at the finish like a host of angels marching through the Alps. I've read where a lot of fans think this track sounds a lot like ELO but I just consider it to be primo Jeff Lynne, whose individual style permeates everything he gets involved with. The next track is yet another of my all-time Move favorites, the killer rocker "Ella James." Another great melody, integral guitar/bass riffs and a hot piano ride cruising atop one of Bev Bevan's better drum performances make this an outstanding song to cherish. It may not be prog, exactly, but quality rock & roll on this level is nothing to sniff at and shouldn't be dismissed or taken for granted.

Strong, percussive finger picking on the acoustic guitars render the drums unnecessary on the haunting, proggish ballad "No Time" and it works like a charm. The mysterious, airy atmosphere is a precursor to what ELO would create years later on "Eldorado" but Wood's multiple recorders and some interesting 3-part harmonies give this tune its own identity. The group's affinity for authentic rockabilly is in evidence several times on this album and the whimsical "Don't Mess Me Up" with Bev bestowing an admirable Elvis impersonation on the lead vocal gives Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" a run for its money. The Jordanaires-styled background harmonies and the pristine guitar solo are terrific, too. And, speaking of acoustic finger-picking, Roy amazes again on the lively intro to "Until Your Mama's Gone" before Bev comes rumbling in with a beat that resembles that of a trotting camel. Somehow it fits, though, and this grin-inducing tune features the fat RW horn section and what I can only describe as the anti-guitar lead.

What you encounter next are probably overdubbed tracks of Wood's oboes but to me they still sound like snake-charmer horns chattering away over a descending bass line on the beginning of the strange "It Wasn't My Idea to Dance." Here Roy delivers a sinister vocal as he warbles very abstract lyrics like "the people throwing pennies in my soup/expecting me to be ashamed of you" as if he were strolling through some Gothic castle wearing a black cape. (Okay, that's how I would've shot the video). This marks the nadir of the album for me, especially the frenzied horn-a-thon that spins through the ending, but at least Bev's sloppy drums are buried in the mix. "The Minister" brightens things up considerably with its driving beat, a big, full chorale on the bridge and a repeating tremolo guitar riff that is slightly Beatle-ish. The resonating baritone sax (one of Wood's favorite weapons) booms beneath the slithering horns at the finale.

One of The Move's most endearing characteristics is their unfailing sense of humor which keeps them from taking themselves too seriously. "Ben Crawley Steel Company" is an excellent example of that playfulness. If it wasn't so darn funny it'd be pathetic but you'll probably end up enjoying its absurdity in spite of your prog sensibilities. It's an inspired send-up of Country & Western where Bev's macho baritone delivers a Johnny Cash parody that is priceless. The pulsating, rolling groove of "The Words of Aaron" pulls you out of your chuckle hangover with a very dramatic sounding arrangement that emphasizes the electric piano in a rare appearance. If I have a complaint it's that they get a little carried away with the high-pitched voices on the chorus that take them perilously close to Bee Gees range. As is their wont they overindulge and go crazy with Roy's dueling recorders before the fadeout and the brief coda is rather pointless. At this juncture it's an ideal time for the nostalgic 30s flavor of "My Marge," a short ditty performed in the same spirit of the Beatles' "When I'm 64" except that Wood performs a spot-on, crooned-through-a-megaphone imitation of Rudy Vallee to beat the band. Nice clarinet, as well.

As I mentioned earlier, the bonus tracks truly are a bonus in this case as they are some of the best and most concise songs The Move ever recorded. The high-spirited "Tonight," with its folksy, strumming acoustic guitars, is an irresistibly infectious tune with an unforgettable romantic hook line of "I'll be over tonight/if you say you might." and a heavy half-time segment in the middle that keeps it from being too lightweight. The goofy "Chinatown" starts predictably with a Chinese gong (probably Bev's idea) and, while there's no quarrel about its catchiness, it's a kind of throwback to the group's early Top 40 approach to songwriting and I'd rather they didn't go back there. (Let's leave well enough alone, shall we?) The rockabilly vibe is back with a vengeance on "Down on the Bay" and it is true to a fault when it comes to recreating the unadulterated rock & roll spirit of the late 50s/early 60s. Roy offers up his most authentic Chuck Berry licks and the song steamrolls from the tight start to the loose finish where Elvis's ghost can be heard mumbling incoherently in the background. Yeah, the rampant duck call is annoying but that's just how these guys did their business. Let 'em have their quirks, I say.

If you don't have a copy of the original "Do Ya" in your stash of music then I feel sorry for you. It is honest-to-God metallic proto-punk at its finest. Jeff cleaned it up considerably for ELO later on but this version is the unsanitized real deal and it kicks serious tail. I mean, what's not to like? (Except perhaps Bev's clumsy, awkward drumming but by now you gotta be used to that). They sum up the frustrated, what-do-you-want-from-me attitude of the song during the fadeout with an exasperated "Look out, baby, there's a plane a comin'." The phrase means nothing and everything at the same time. In one last blast from the past the boys effectively reproduce the raw aura of Sam Phillip's Sun Record studios to a tee with the dance floor-stomping, contagious "California Man." Here Lynne sounds like a young Jerry Lee Lewis with both his voice and his piano pounding as he trades verses with the gravelly, growling singing style of Wood. It's a rip-roarin' track that fires the full brunt of the powerful RW horns at you and leaves you begging for more. The remaining three tracks are alternate (i.e. not as good) takes of previously heard tunes. 'Nuff said.

I guess the "Message from the Country" we fans received in late 1971 was that, sadly, there would be no more albums coming from The Move. They evolved into The Electric Light Orchestra for better or for worse and now we have only their catalogue of eclectic songs for future generations to know them by. But, thanks in no small part to this website, they'll not be forgotten. They were progressive in the sense that they knew no boundaries to their imaginations and their who-cares-what-the-record- executives-think mindset inspired many prog artists of that era to toss caution to the wind and blaze their own individual trail off the beaten highway. I, for one, am eternally thankful for their splendid legacy.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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