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Skin Alley - Skin Alley CD (album) cover


Skin Alley

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars A cop (and an ugly one at that) pulling his tongue right in your face under their bloodied name is the opening image that Skin Alley chose as an approach to music fans. Despite such a poor decision, the album was well received by the press and the fans alike, and rightfully so, because this unusual quartet (line-up wise) developed a distinctive mix of jazz and blues into their rock music, fronted by Bob James' wind instruments and Juskiewicz's (bless you ;-) organ and piano and usually offering "male" lyrics.

Opening on one of their most popular track Living In Sin (it was part of the sampler Fill Your Head With Rock), the group sets the tone for the whole album, as their jazz-inflected rock (it can be included in the early 70's UK proto prog) that enthrals the listener directly as the communicative enthusiasm of the band is almost overwhelming. Indeed Bob James alternates between the flute and guitar, while bassist Crimble sounds like Cressida's Angus Cullen on vocals. The same Cressida name is also reminded on Tell Me (mellotrons), this time more to do with the songwriting (I'm sure there is an unintentional borrowing from whomever recorded their track second, which is probably Cressida). The Mother Help Your Child track is one of the album's highlights, as Crimble's voice takes on dramatic Out Of Focus tones, after a menacing church-organ sound and an isolated flute opened it. The lengthier Marsha is an up-tempoed organ-driven groove that allows for a few wild sax solos, alternated by organ lines, reminiscent of the second-era Traffic.

On the flipside, past the short pastoral and medieval (piccolo flute and harpsichord) Country Aire, with the other mammoth track, the dark 8-mins All Alone, SA gets to serious business with the slow sinister organ that will drive the entire track, sharing the spotlight with the sax. Night time is one of my fave from the album, loaded with flute and tron layers, and later on evolving rolling jazzy piano ditty. Juskiewicz gives us another pointless taste of his harpsichord before the group closes the album with a boogie-ing Highway, maybe the album's weaker moment.

Included as bonus tracks are the two songs from the non-album single (engineered by Martin Birch, the first being a fairly different version of Tell Me with some wild cello lines replacing the melotron, the track resembling less the Cressida track, under this version, which I find better. Better Be Blind has a deceiving vocal line coupled with an annoying whistle, but outside this, it remains a worthy SA track, but sounding fairly different from the album per se.

A bit of a lost classic proto-prog album, Skin Alley's debut has recently received a re-issue through Eclectic Discs, with an excellent booklet and extensive liner notes, the object narrowingly missing the perfect mark, because of the band's name being black instead of the orange-blood colour scheme on the front cover, the rear artwork taken from a much weather-beaten vinyl. Besides this nitpicking, Skin Alley's debut comes awfully close to a masterpiece, but no cigar. Essential, certainly!!

Report this review (#161621)
Posted Tuesday, February 12, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Many bands with challenging albums in late-60's remained under the shadow of the masterful King Crimson debut.One of this cases are Skin Alley,a British Proto-Prog band,formed in 1968, guided by the forces of bassist/keyboardist/singer Thomas Crimble, drummer Alvin Pope, keyboardist Krzysztof Henryk Justkiewicz and guitarist/sax player Bob James.Soon they were singed by CBS to record their self-titled debut in 1969.

Quite a daring sound for 1969,Skin Alley mixed Psychedelic Rock and Jazz Rock with some symphonic flute-led parts to present some full-edged Proto-Progressive Rock style,often with a dark sound,not dissimilar to MARSUPILAMI or CATAPILLA.With an obvious tendency towards long instrumental passages,their compositions are characterized by the psychedelic organ sounds, the driving flutes, the bluesy guitar work and the jazzy rhythm section.These elements are often blended with jamming sax parts in a free music form compared to Jazz, together with the good vocals of Crimble.Along with the organ, one can detect some really decent effort on Mellotron and harsichord in a couple of more Classical-inspired tracks as well as some jazzy-inspired piano lines with the band becoming a really versatile beast along the way.However the psychedelic influences are the most dominant throughout the listening with Skin Alley being a significant part of the early UK Psych/Prog movement.

''Skin Alley'' marks another interesting entry in the transmission of UK Rock from the psychedelic flourishes to the more progressive compositions,that dominated England in early-70's.Fans fond of this particular sound should be the first to chase for this release,which already succeeded a couple of CD re-issues.Strongly recommended overall...3.5 stars.

Report this review (#596376)
Posted Monday, December 26, 2011 | Review Permalink

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