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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
Mellotron Storm
4 stars John Peel apparently discovered these guys playing live somewhere and invited them to do a live gig on his show. I really like their sound with the vocals, organ and flute all being for the most part warm and nostalgic for me. A sort of melancholy too bringing CAMEL to mind at times. Two of the guys play mellotron although it's only featured on two tracks. A four piece with sax and harpsichord also in play. There are five really good tracks on here and the only two I'm not into amount to less than 3 minutes so a very solid 4 star album in my books.

"Living In Sin" is an excellent opener and the lyrics from a bye gone day talking about "sin" which is usually boasted about these days and a non-issue. Pulsating bass with a beat and flute as vocals and organ join in. A CAMEL vibe here and the guitar arrives before 1 1/2 minutes. It comes to the fore around 2 minutes as the vocals step aside. Sax replaces the guitar before 3 1/2 minutes some nice prominent bass too. Flute and that earlier sound with vocals returning late.

"Tell Me Why" is my favourite. It's melancholic with picked guitar, mellotron and sad vocals to start. The chorus is meaningful and moving with 60's sounding harmonies. Pulsating organ before 3 minutes during an instrumental section. Just a killer tune. "Mother Please Help Your Child" has meaningful lyrics and after a dramatic intro it settles right down with flute as reserved vocals join in and solemn organ. It turns fuller 1 1/2 minutes in with passionate vocals. The chorus is downright sad then themes are repeated. Some powerful lyrics here.

"Marsha" obviously a Brady Bunch reference(kidding) is an excellent almost 7 1/2 minute instrumental. Love this organ led tune as bass and drums standout as well early on. Sax before 3 minutes as the organ steps aside but it's back before 5 minutes replacing the sax. The sax is back a minute later but the organ continues this time pulsating powerfully before settling back. "Country Aire" has this fairy sounding flute with harpsichord. So not my thing(haha). It's better a minute in though when the drums, bass and more arrive. "All Alone" has relaxed organ to start as bass and drums join in, sax too then reserved vocals. Very laid back then it's fuller after 2 minutes but it settles back quickly. A sax solo follows then organ as it stays laid back. Vocals are back before 6 minutes then it turns fuller with sax after 7 minutes but again it's brief. "Night Time" opens with flute, drums and bass then it kicks in quickly with mellotron too. Nice. Vocals just before a minute. Back to that opening theme and I just love the sound of this one. Some rare piano 2 1/2 minutes in.

"Concerto Grosso(Take Heed)" is but 26 seconds of harpsichord. "(Going Down The)Highway" has a catchy rhythm and is blues flavoured with pulsating organ and vocals. Sax 1 1/2 minutes in as the vocals step aside then the organ takes over. Vocals return but this isn't one of my favs.

Kind of a weird cover not representing the music in any way. I guess they thought it was funny. Anyway the music here is quite amazing for the most part, just a big fan of their sound and easily 4 stars for this one.

Report this review (#1948443)
Posted Sunday, July 15, 2018 | Review Permalink
4 stars SKIN ALLEY were an English Jazz-Rock band who released four albums between 1969 and 1973. The eponymously-titled "Skin Alley" (1969) album, reviewed here, was followed up by:- "To Pagham and Beyond" (1970), "Two Quid Deal" (1972), & "Skintight" (1973). Their albums only met with very limited success due to a lack of publicity and general apathy from the record-buying public, and despite a change of record label from a U.K. to a U.S. label between the second and third albums, their fortunes didn't improve and the band went their separate ways in 1974. This album, with it's distinctive image of a rude American cop on the cover, included two bonus tracks added to the original nine songs on the album on the 2006 remastered CD edition. Let's cop a load of this album now and have a listen.

"Living in Sin" opens the album with a good solid slice of bluesy and brassy, psychedelic Jazz-Rock. Obviously, the term "Living in Sin" sounds rather old-fashioned and outdated now as we live in far more enlightened times fifty years on where it's no longer frowned upon for an unmarried couple to live together. In time-honoured fashioned, the bluesy lyrics tell a tale of a hard-drinkin' man fallen on hard times who's going to see his woman:- "I'm gonna see my woman, So look out here I come, I'm gonna see my young children, I love them every one, I've been living in sin, Smoking cigars and drinking gin, I was so alone, Had no-one to call my own." ..... The words might be moody and bluesy but this uplifting and energetic psychedelic Jazz number definitely won't leave you feeling blue. Song No. 2 "Tell Me" is a full-toned, emotionally-rich piece of music, featuring a powerful Hammond organ barrelling along to the sound of sweeping violins from the orchestra. It's grandiose and spectacular and the music and heartfelt lyrics could be described as an emotional rollercoaster ride, but that would be just another tired old cliche in a world full of tired old cliches. The impassioned plea of the next song "Mother Please Help Your Child" has a very solemn and religious hymnal feel to it. The music is a sombre flute and organ-driven piece with a slow marching rhythm. It's better than any music you're ever likely to hear in your average church service though. This powerful and passionate piece of music is enough to convert an atheist into a believer. You don't HAVE to be a religious devotee to enjoy this inspirational and spiritual paean, but after hearing this song, you might just believe in the restorative power of music to rejuvinate and revitalise the soul. If only they played music like this on "Songs of Praise". Hallelujah! Closing out Side One is "Marsha", a rollicking, rambunctious Jazz-Rock spectacular! The Hammond organist is given free rein here to go off on a wild keyboard jamboree with a cool saxophonist providing accompaniment. Prepare to blast off into Jazz-Rock heaven with this unrestrained and uninhibited 7-minute instrumental jam session that will light a fire in your soul. Come on baby, light my fire. We have ignition!

And so, we arrive at Side Two with the charmingly rustic instrumental "Country Aire", a short pastoral flute and harpsichord piece which reminds one of taking a long walk in the beautiful English countryside on a warm summer's day. It's the kind of traditional jolly Folk music that you might hear ridiculous-looking Morris dancers shaking their bells and tassles to as you quickly nip into the local tavern to escape them. Song No. 6 "All Alone" is just as moody and sentimental as the song title implies. Don't get too downhearted though, because this organ and saxophone piece is moody and magnificent. It's a timeless and transcendent piece of music with a slow marching rhythm, which builds up into a grandiose crescendo of sound for the tremendous finale. We're in Procol Harum "Whiter Shade of Pale" territory here with this harmonious, grand-sounding blast from the past. This impassioned and intoxicating piece of music might just inspire you to skip the light fandango and turn cartwheels across the floor, but try not to do yourself an injury. Dusk is drawing in now for "Night Time", a flutey and bluesy Jazz-Rock number with a mellow laid-back groove. This impressive and improvisational piece of Jazzy music is hip-shakingly good, so just move to the nice 'n' easy groove and shuffle those shoes, or if you're not in an energetic mood, just lay back and enjoy it and think of England. This music is groovy, baby! There's a change of mood and pace now for "Concerto Grosso", a short classical harpsichord piece which leads us gently into the closing song on the album, "(Going Down This) Highway". Yes, you've guessed it, this is a good old-fashioned rocking and rolling song for listening to as you're cruising down the highways and byways in your car, so if you're born to be wild, get your motor running, head out on the highway, and if you're looking for adventure, just take whatever comes your way.

"Skin Alley" is a nostalgic bluesy and brassy album of British Jazz-Rock with a ballsy take-no-prisoners attitude. It's foot- stompingly good!

Report this review (#2299110)
Posted Sunday, December 22, 2019 | Review Permalink

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