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FARTHER ALONG

Spirit

Proto-Prog


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3 stars This album is a 50/50 proposition really, but the good half is really good. All of the original members reunite with the exception of Jay Ferguson; Mark Andes' brother Matt takes his place. Farther Along almost works, unlike the later The Thirteenth Dream: The Spirit of '84. 1976 was Bicentennial Year and America was happily embracing its diversity and freedom; Farther Along expresses a musical cross section of the USA at the time.some good, some bad, and some ugly.

The record opens hopefully with the title song, but the next tune, Atomic Boogie, is a sure skipper, ala funking Kool and the Gang brand disco. The next number is the very pleasant, and slightly Steve-Milleresque, World Eat World Dog, yet that is followed by the positively horrid Stoney Night (whatever the heck that is). Following that, straight from the local roller rink, comes the mildly amusing and quirky instrumental Pineapple, The side is then appropriately capped off with the neither here nor there Colossus.

The second side raises the bar somewhat from the outset with Mega Star, a song very much in the early Spirit style. In contrast, the next number is anomalous in the Spirit discography: the soothing and radio friendly Phoebe. Don't Lock Up Your Door, the next song, sounds like it was stolen from The Eagles with its very California hippy style of country-folk. Once With You is another weak one, but Diamond Spirit sounds as if it was an outtake from Clear: it's darkly orchestrated and emotional.

The real surprise closes this frustrating disc with the orchestral version of Nature's Way It is as if Spirit had already left the building and they just might have four LP's previously and most folks wouldn't have minded. They will have missed out. Farther Along appears to be a dog's breakfast, but a discerning ear may detect a conceptual context, or at least a theme anyway( not that that makes the music any better). Nonetheless, there are a few treasures among the detritus; that's what Farther Along is all about.

Report this review (#95544)
Posted Monday, October 23, 2006 | Review Permalink
ClemofNazareth
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk Researcher
2 stars This is kind of a mixed-bag from Spirit that came out at kind of a weird time in America. Progressive music wasn’t quite dead, but disco didn’t completely dominate the airwaves (yet). There was a lot of this kind of hybrid music, most of it forgettable, which blended decent guitar riffs, catchy rhythms, and a little bit of folk all over the place – Jackson Browne, America, Beach Boys, stuff like that. That’s what this album sounds like. It’s a lot mellower than the band’s early records, probably influenced a bit by guitarist Randy California’s love affair with Hawaiian beaches and the occasional spliff.

Most of the band is back after the ‘Feedback’ debacle, except that Matt Andes has replaced Jay Ferguson on bass, and some guy named Michael Temple adds a mandolin that sort of reinforces the folk thing – kind of like Pete Seeger with electric backing. It works for the most part. There’s also lots of soft horn arrangements including a saxophone, and these blend pretty well with the jazz-heavy pedigrees of drummer Ed Cassidy and keyboardist John Locke.

The title track opens the album and pretty much sets the tone. The music is heavy on piano and mandolin, a little bit of horns, and some ultra laid-back vocals with almost imperceptible guitar from California, the guy who hit the ground running as a young teenager but seemed to run out of steam by the mid-seventies.

“Atomic Boogie” promises more energy but doesn’t really deliver. The rhythm is almost disco, but the mandolin and sanguine vocals keep it from picking up much steam. “World Eat World Dog” is almost a jazz sampler, kind of reminds me of a Sadé song but with harmonizing male vocals and string synths. This could have easily appeared on a Toto or Ambrosia album around the same time and no one would have noticed a difference.

“Stoney Night” is another jazzy number complete with solo saxophone and tinny piano, plus a mellow horn section and Motown-sounding vocals. If California could have lowered his voice a few octaves this would have passed for a Barry White tune.

By the time “Pineapple” rolls around the mood is pretty much set for the album, and this one doesn’t stray far except that it adds a little island-tinged percussion and skips the vocals altogether.

“Colossus” is a bit brooding and spacey, with some decent but still laid-back guitar work by California, and “Mega Star” has a similar tempo but adds some strident guitar and awkward lyrics for a lukewarm “Juke Box Hero” theme.

The most mellow song on the album is “Don’t Lock Up Your Door”, which sounds all the world like an America folksy ditty ala “Down to the Water” or maybe “Don’t Cross the River”. A nice tune, but is this really the same group that gave us “I Got a Line on You” and the whole Dr Sardonicus album?

“Diamond Spirit” is so spacey and detached that it almost gets missed unless you’re really listening for it, and “Nature’s Way” isn’t much different except that it has some really nice string synths.

This is a nice album if you’re into the mid-seventies soft rock sound, but it’s not prog and it’s not really Spirit. The band members were all consummate musicians by this time, but the magic was definitely gone. The songs are pleasant enough that this rates a bit higher than crap, but it’s not what I would really call good, so we’ll pin two stars on it and move along.

peace

Report this review (#104702)
Posted Wednesday, December 27, 2006 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars From the West Coast to Philadelphia via Detroit

"Farther along", the third of the new Spirit albums recorded for Mercury, saw former band members Mark Andes and John Locke returning to the fold with Mark's brother Matt Andes also joining the line up. Completing the original line up, Jay Ferguson played with the band on a few dates of the subsequent tour, but does he not appear on the album. Randy California subsequently cited this album as one of his favourites.

The title track, which opens the album, is a shuffling Simon and Garfunkel like soft harmony song. The base riff was reportedly inspired by traditional African rhythms but the endearing melody and smooth vocal style mean that the mood is primarily west coast pop. "Atomic boogie" livens things up considerably, the funky beat being emphasised by some Chicago like brass and decidedly Motown like singing. This more Earth Wind and Fire than Spirit!

Things return to normality for the oddly named "World eat world dog" (presumably as opposed to "Dog eat dog world") another light acoustic pop number. The song is sandwiched between two of the most un-Spirit like songs on any of their albums. "Stoney night" reprises the brass backing, the vocals here being more Philadelphia than Motown. We can perhaps forgive the band for the instrumental "Pineapple" given Randy's Hawaiian leanings, but the song is a real throwaway.

"Colossus" is a generally heavier and more powerful number, with a slow thumping beat and distorted lead guitar. The song contrasts well with the bulk of the album, but suffers like many of the songs here from inappropriate brevity. The following "Mega star", the second longest song on the album at 3:26, maintains the heavier mood, but in a more upbeat, rock orientated style.

"Don't lock up your door" delves deeper into Simon and Garfunkel territory with twin lead vocals and multiple acoustic instruments. The track suffers from a common practice on the album of being faded far too soon. It is followed by "Once with you", a pleasantly orchestrated song which inexplicably fades after just a minute and a half.

In all, a pleasantly diverse collection from Spirit which moves even farther from their albums of the late 1960's. There are certainly some low points, and it is hard to identify anything prog at all, but a number of the songs are irresistible and highly enjoyable.

At just over 32 minutes, the album is extraordinarily short, the longest track being a mere 3˝ minutes.

Report this review (#176823)
Posted Monday, July 14, 2008 | Review Permalink

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