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Third Ear Band - Alchemy CD (album) cover


Third Ear Band


Indo-Prog/Raga Rock

3.08 | 40 ratings

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Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars I bought this album solely out of curiosity after seeing the band given props as an influence by such diverse groups as Utopia, Kansas, and the Sex Pistols. After listening to it several times over nearly a year I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a moderately important piece of progressive music history, and that any influence over the previously-mentioned groups was more likely in the form of motivating them to more creative thinking than it was to actually impacting their musical styles.

As a musical work this will never be at the top of my list of albums to pop onto to the turntable on a whim, and none of the individual tracks will likely ever end up on any of the ‘favorites’ CD collections that get burned for use in the car. But if we concede that one of the important elements of progressive music is experimentation then Alchemy has to be seen as one of the forefathers of their genre, especially considering it was released about the same time the Beatles were still doing fairly docile stuff like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, and a lot of bands that would shape progressive music were still mostly regional phenomena. In this case I wonder if world music is a better classification than indo rock, but that’s just semantics.

The eight tracks here are all generally similar in structure. The whole album is acoustic, with Glen Sweeney laying down a minimalist and erratic beat uwing hand drums, and the rest of the group offering up their various elaborations in what seems to be a fairly improvisational manner. When I hear this music today, I can see clear influences with many other bands I’ve listened to over the years. Some of the ones that leap to mind include the jazz group Oregon, Todd Rundgren, and really most of the album Pawn Hearts, so I think this music has probably had more impact on other progressive sounds than I would have thought prior to hearing it.

I’ve never thought of the oboe as a very interesting instrument, but it is one of the key elements to these tracks. Although the instrument by design gives off a bit of a dissonant and dark feel, the overall feeling here is not negative at all, but rather more reflective or even respectfully deferent. Jew’s harp is another instrument that doesn’t spring to mind as even a serious musical instrument, but here guest musician DJ John Peel uses it throughout to enhance the eastern/oriental feel of the music. About the only other sounds here are from a couple violins and a cello, which like the oboe are rather somber but not depressing and are improvisational in structure.

The most interesting piece is probably “Ghetto Raga”, an extended play raga with probably the closest thing to a melody that the album offers. In addition to the oboe there are also some slide pipes here, and the overall feel is like that of a journey. Closing track “Lark Rise” is probably the weakest, with an interesting violin progression but not much else being really developed. The rest of the album is fairly consistent.

Like I said, this isn’t some sort of critical cornerstone to the whole body of progressive music or anything, but it is probably pretty close to the beginning of raga rock, and clearly provided influences on a wide range of musicians that followed. Plus, it actually is a pretty nice listen if you’re looking for music that complements rather than dominates a social setting. Not quite background music, but not an in-your-face concert-in-a-box either. A very good album which for me helps to give context to a lot of other music of widely divergent genres but which share similar tendencies toward experimentation, improvisation, and just plain love of making music. Four stars.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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