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Spirit - Spirit Of '76 CD (album) cover

SPIRIT OF '76

Spirit

 

Proto-Prog

3.52 | 22 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Hey Joe, the times they are a-changing

There are essentially two Spirits, the late 1960's early 1970's pioneering outfit, and the mid-late 70's more mainstream band. "Spirit of '76" is an album by the latter. Actually released in 1975, this double album was Spirit's tribute to the US bicentennial and was the first recorded as a result of their new deal with Mercury records. Only Randy California and Ed Cassidy from the band who recorded Spirit's debut in 1968 are still here, joined by bassist Barry Keene and with supplementary keyboards provided by Benji. Original band member Mark Andes was briefly involved in the reunion, but chose not to continue with the association. As a result, by this time California has become the de-facto band leader and principal songwriter.

Given the precarious nature of the band's finances, it was an admirably brave move to records enough material for a double album to form their comeback.

The album starts appropriately with an unexpected but highly enjoyable medley of "America the beautiful" and Bob Dylan's "The times they are a-changing", delivered as a soft acoustic ballad. The lighter atmosphere continues with the commercially orientated "Victim of society" where pop like nuances come to the fore. These songs set the tone for much of the album, the overall atmosphere being light and happy, drawing in the mood of California's adopted Hawaiian home. On "lady of the lakes", Ed Cassidy captures that mood by attaching maracas to his drumsticks!

Randy's high range vocals combined with the Hawaiian influences create a Beach Boys like sound at times, "My road" and "Maunaloa" being particularly reminiscent of that band. "Sunrise" was inspired by the death of California's friend and indeed inspiration Jimi Hendrix. The song is in a harder rock vein, but even here California' vocals are relatively soft against the driving guitar. Elsewhere, more orthodox West Coast sounds come to the fore on songs such as "Feeling in time", a laid back mid-paced acoustic number strong on repetition and featuring (apparently) female backing vocals.

The appearance of a number of cover versions of songs may be interpreted a number of ways. The most obvious though is that these are simply songs Cassidy and California enjoyed, and ones which they felt fitted in well with their own compositions. Of these covers, the 9 minute rendition of "Like a rolling stone" is probably the most striking, the interpretation here offering a radically different take on the song while allowing it to remain recognisable. The 6 minute take on Hendrix's "Hey Joe" demonstrates how Randy was influenced, indeed taught by that legend. This version removes all the rough edges from Hendrix's original, replacing them with a much more laid-back moody atmosphere. California does however add some superb Hendrix like guitar pyrotechnics. The album closes with what can ironically now be seen as another Hendrix tribute in "Star spangled banner".

In all, while this album bears only a passing relationship with Spirit's work of the early 1970's, it is nonetheless a decent listen. As a whole, the mood is light and at times understated, but there is a freshness and diversity to the songs which come together to offer an album worthy of this legendary band's discography.

Easy Livin | 3/5 |

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