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MESSAGE FROM THE COUNTRY

The Move

Proto-Prog


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4 stars Message from the Country is no doubt The Move's best studio project considering that the material wasnt mostly cut from live recordings like Shazam or a collection of a year and a half's work like their debut. Its an album that showcases them at the peak of their musical creativity as they draw influence from a wide range of styles and genres. It also sees them moving in the direction of the ELO sound that the band would later morph into. On this album newcomer Jeff Lynne begins to showcase his progressive tendencies, however the band has yet to jettison Roy Wood who keeps the band grounded in the Psych/Pop Beatlesish melodies that were the band's mainstay for years.

The album opens with the title track, a mildly psychedelic hippie anthem thats get a bit of radio play these days. Guitar and bass feature prominently on this track along with some great Beach Boy type vocal harmonies from the group. I dont have a clue what the words mean but you could put this one on Pet Sounds and not find much difference. Ella James, the next track, is a pretty straight forward rocker, the most conventional on the album, nothing special. No Time, which comes next, is a lovely psych/pop ballad complete with more high (almost falsetto), perfect vocal harmonies acompanied by acoustic guitar and a lilting flute, a real highlight. Dont Mess Me Up is a 50's rock-a-billy tune with a great Elvis vocal impersonation. Side One closes with the fantastic blues-rocker Until Your Mama's Gone featuring the best guitar riffs on the album and a driving bass propelling the song along. So far nothing too progressive.

Side Two opens with the first proggy number, It Wasnt My Idea To Dance, a slow lumbering song that never sheds it rock sensibilities. This song has a very Middle Eastern fell to it as it begins with a turkish or gypsie sounding horn section. Once again the bass features prominently throughout with the horns returning between verses. You could easily find this type of song on the first ELO album. After 5 1/2 minutes the song's over after an extended fade out. Next is The Minister, a song that many accurately compare with Paperback Writer. Another driving rock track with some great vocal harmonies and the middle eastern horns making an apperence towards the end interacting with the main refrain. You can tell from the title that Ben Crawley Steel Company is more of a country track which, in truth it is. Here the band sound just like Johnny Cash. Im not a big fan, although it is well done. Words of Aaron is another prog/ELO track where the bass is again at the forefront along the piano. A long extension closes the song with nice interplay between horns, piano and bass. It fades before the drums return to finally close the song. The album closes with My Marge, a cute 30's pop tune that you could find on a Kinks album of the time.

So there you have it, these guys have covered alot of ground in +30 min, everything from Rock to Country, Blues and Prog. Personally, I think the album's weakness lies in the fact that they tried too much at once. As it stands Message From The Country has quite a bit of filler, good filler, but filler none the less. While not concentraing on playing one style to perfection, they made an album with alot of good but not perfect songs. Prog devotees may not cozy up to this one but if you have a wide musical palette you'll defiantly enjoy it as all told its a very entertaining record.

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Send comments to cohen34 (BETA) | Report this review (#174719)
Posted Saturday, June 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
Tom Ozric
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars The Move - Message From The Country - an album I've had for many years, complete with a beautiful psychedelic painting on the cover (with a Middle-Eastern guy playing a sitar on a plateau with a 'bomber' pidgeon coming in to land on a yellow-brick runway between the cliffs - the best way I can put it, anyway !!!). Art-work aside, for me, this album is an uneven mix of styles, proving mastermind Roy Wood's philosophy of 'never repeating the same musical style twice' on an album. This is the 2nd album of the year where future-legend Jeff Lynne had hopped on board, and along with mainstay Drummer Bev Bevan and the ever eclectic Wood, the seeds of the highly acclaimed band, ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA (E.L.O.), were sown. The stunning title track which opens the record could be easily mistaken for an E.L.O. track - it certainly has that distinctive sound and production. Throughout the album, Roy W is the adventurous musician, tackling such instruments as the Oboe, Recorders, Clarinet, Saxes, Bassoon, Guitars and I have to mention here that he plays the Bass - he gets a sound that is soooo BIG and grungey - best show- cased on the excellent tune 'It Wasn't My Idea To Dance', completely de-tuned and up-front (step aside, Geezer B !). The guy is talented, plays all these instruments well, but that Bass sound...... Anyway, the weaker moments of the album come in the form of Elvis and Johnny Cash impersonations - this is obvious on 'Don't Mess Me Up' and 'Ben Crawley Steel Company'. The R'n'R moments are too straight forward to stir up my neurons, and the pastiche of a song from the 30's 'My Marge', I can live without, but the handful of decent tunes (and that Bass) keeps me from relegating this album to the garage. It certainly has its moments - 3 stars, just.

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Send comments to Tom Ozric (BETA) | Report this review (#174732)
Posted Saturday, June 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
Chicapah
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne spent the majority of their time in 1970-71 working on their studio tans. I doubt that they saw the light of day much, if ever. The reason is that they were simultaneously recording the final two Move albums, a handful of singles and the debut LP of their dream project, The Electric Light Orchestra. Rick Price, bassist on "Looking On," dropped out (to go make a living) before this album was finished so it's really the Jeff & Roy show with drummer Bev Bevan adding his questionable talents to the tracks. The most obvious difference between "Message from the Country" and "No Answer" by ELO is the fact that Wood reserved his one-man horn section for the former and relegated his cello/violin expertise to the latter. Plus, ELO was a much more serious, ambitious affair whereas the realm of The Move was more of a musical playground where they could relax and have some fun as they experimented with all sorts of eclectic ideas and studio techniques. Their "let's let our muses run wild" attitude is what makes this recording sound different from their previous albums and such a unique joy to hear.

I'm pleased that the reissued version includes what made up the two vinyl LPs I own, the original U.S. release on Capitol (with the cool green cover art shown here) and the '72 "Split Ends" on the United Artists label (with more fantastic cover art I wish you could see) that left out the novelty cuts but included the five hard-to-find singles on it. Unlike the other Move reissues, these bonus tracks are well worth having. I'll explain why further down the road.

The grandiose title song is a fitting anthem for the journey the listener is about to embark on. It has thickly-layered electric guitars, a huge Chris Squire-like bass tone, a melodic refrain that'll stick to the roof of your brain for days and a deep chorus of ahhs (they must have spent hours doing nothing but stacking their vocals) that echo at the finish like a host of angels marching through the Alps. I've read where a lot of fans think this track sounds a lot like ELO but I just consider it to be primo Jeff Lynne, whose individual style permeates everything he gets involved with. The next track is yet another of my all-time Move favorites, the killer rocker "Ella James." Another great melody, integral guitar/bass riffs and a hot piano ride cruising atop one of Bev Bevan's better drum performances make this an outstanding song to cherish. It may not be prog, exactly, but quality rock & roll on this level is nothing to sniff at and shouldn't be dismissed or taken for granted.

Strong, percussive finger picking on the acoustic guitars render the drums unnecessary on the haunting, proggish ballad "No Time" and it works like a charm. The mysterious, airy atmosphere is a precursor to what ELO would create years later on "Eldorado" but Wood's multiple recorders and some interesting 3-part harmonies give this tune its own identity. The group's affinity for authentic rockabilly is in evidence several times on this album and the whimsical "Don't Mess Me Up" with Bev bestowing an admirable Elvis impersonation on the lead vocal gives Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" a run for its money. The Jordanaires-styled background harmonies and the pristine guitar solo are terrific, too. And, speaking of acoustic finger-picking, Roy amazes again on the lively intro to "Until Your Mama's Gone" before Bev comes rumbling in with a beat that resembles that of a trotting camel. Somehow it fits, though, and this grin-inducing tune features the fat RW horn section and what I can only describe as the anti-guitar lead.

What you encounter next are probably overdubbed tracks of Wood's oboes but to me they still sound like snake-charmer horns chattering away over a descending bass line on the beginning of the strange "It Wasn't My Idea to Dance." Here Roy delivers a sinister vocal as he warbles very abstract lyrics like "the people throwing pennies in my soup/expecting me to be ashamed of you" as if he were strolling through some Gothic castle wearing a black cape. (Okay, that's how I would've shot the video). This marks the nadir of the album for me, especially the frenzied horn-a-thon that spins through the ending, but at least Bev's sloppy drums are buried in the mix. "The Minister" brightens things up considerably with its driving beat, a big, full chorale on the bridge and a repeating tremolo guitar riff that is slightly Beatle-ish. The resonating baritone sax (one of Wood's favorite weapons) booms beneath the slithering horns at the finale.

One of The Move's most endearing characteristics is their unfailing sense of humor which keeps them from taking themselves too seriously. "Ben Crawley Steel Company" is an excellent example of that playfulness. If it wasn't so darn funny it'd be pathetic but you'll probably end up enjoying its absurdity in spite of your prog sensibilities. It's an inspired send-up of Country & Western where Bev's macho baritone delivers a Johnny Cash parody that is priceless. The pulsating, rolling groove of "The Words of Aaron" pulls you out of your chuckle hangover with a very dramatic sounding arrangement that emphasizes the electric piano in a rare appearance. If I have a complaint it's that they get a little carried away with the high-pitched voices on the chorus that take them perilously close to Bee Gees range. As is their wont they overindulge and go crazy with Roy's dueling recorders before the fadeout and the brief coda is rather pointless. At this juncture it's an ideal time for the nostalgic 30s flavor of "My Marge," a short ditty performed in the same spirit of the Beatles' "When I'm 64" except that Wood performs a spot-on, crooned-through-a-megaphone imitation of Rudy Vallee to beat the band. Nice clarinet, as well.

As I mentioned earlier, the bonus tracks truly are a bonus in this case as they are some of the best and most concise songs The Move ever recorded. The high-spirited "Tonight," with its folksy, strumming acoustic guitars, is an irresistibly infectious tune with an unforgettable romantic hook line of "I'll be over tonight/if you say you might." and a heavy half-time segment in the middle that keeps it from being too lightweight. The goofy "Chinatown" starts predictably with a Chinese gong (probably Bev's idea) and, while there's no quarrel about its catchiness, it's a kind of throwback to the group's early Top 40 approach to songwriting and I'd rather they didn't go back there. (Let's leave well enough alone, shall we?) The rockabilly vibe is back with a vengeance on "Down on the Bay" and it is true to a fault when it comes to recreating the unadulterated rock & roll spirit of the late 50s/early 60s. Roy offers up his most authentic Chuck Berry licks and the song steamrolls from the tight start to the loose finish where Elvis's ghost can be heard mumbling incoherently in the background. Yeah, the rampant duck call is annoying but that's just how these guys did their business. Let 'em have their quirks, I say.

If you don't have a copy of the original "Do Ya" in your stash of music then I feel sorry for you. It is honest-to-God metallic proto-punk at its finest. Jeff cleaned it up considerably for ELO later on but this version is the unsanitized real deal and it kicks serious tail. I mean, what's not to like? (Except perhaps Bev's clumsy, awkward drumming but by now you gotta be used to that). They sum up the frustrated, what-do-you-want-from-me attitude of the song during the fadeout with an exasperated "Look out, baby, there's a plane a comin'." The phrase means nothing and everything at the same time. In one last blast from the past the boys effectively reproduce the raw aura of Sam Phillip's Sun Record studios to a tee with the dance floor-stomping, contagious "California Man." Here Lynne sounds like a young Jerry Lee Lewis with both his voice and his piano pounding as he trades verses with the gravelly, growling singing style of Wood. It's a rip-roarin' track that fires the full brunt of the powerful RW horns at you and leaves you begging for more. The remaining three tracks are alternate (i.e. not as good) takes of previously heard tunes. 'Nuff said.

I guess the "Message from the Country" we fans received in late 1971 was that, sadly, there would be no more albums coming from The Move. They evolved into The Electric Light Orchestra for better or for worse and now we have only their catalogue of eclectic songs for future generations to know them by. But, thanks in no small part to this website, they'll not be forgotten. They were progressive in the sense that they knew no boundaries to their imaginations and their who-cares-what-the-record- executives-think mindset inspired many prog artists of that era to toss caution to the wind and blaze their own individual trail off the beaten highway. I, for one, am eternally thankful for their splendid legacy.

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Send comments to Chicapah (BETA) | Report this review (#175073)
Posted Tuesday, June 24, 2008 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Now a trio, but soon to be an orchestra

Having spent virtually their entire existence on the Regal Zonophone (and its subsequent names) label, The Move moved to Harvest for their fourth and final album plus three singles. This was primarily due to Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne's preoccupation with their Electric Light Orchestra project, the Move's being kept alive only due to delays in implementing ELO. Indeed, the lines between The Move and ELO became even more blurred, with recording sessions including songs destined for both bands. By this time, the Move were down to a core trio (bassist Rick Price left during the recording of the album, with Wood re-recording the bass parts), the third member being drummer Bev Bevan.

"Message from the country" was released in the same year as the previous "Looking on", that album having been virtually ignored by the record label, the pundits and the fans alike. "Message.." fared little better, being rapidly swallowed up by the hype surrounding the launch of ELO in 1972.

"Message.." was the first album not to contain any hit singles whatsoever, although the band did release the song "Tonight"* separately around the same time. While up to this point each Move album had demonstrated significant progress from the last, this final album saw the band at best standing still, and perhaps even regressing. That in itself is not a bad thing, as they had made fine music throughout their career. "Message from the country" may have been a deliberate effort, especially by Wood, to make an album which was not ELO. Songs such as "Ella James" are heavy pop rock numbers with a particular emphasis on the lead guitar riff. Jeff Lynne on the other hand appears to have been far more inclined to approach both projects in the same way. "No time" could have been lifted from either ELO's first album, or with a bit more orchestration, from "Eldorado". Lynne's Beatles sympathies are displayed loud and clear, the floating sounds of the whistle adding a suitably psychedelic atmosphere.

The distinction between the songs of Wood and those of Lynne is far more noticeable here than anywhere else, including the first ELO album. Lynne's "The words of Aaron" for example has little in common with anything Wood ever wrote for the Move, although it does offer an early pointer towards the immediate post-Wood ELO albums. The title track, also written by Lynne, could have featured on albums such as "ELO2" or "On the third day", while offering something a little closer to the adventurous proto-prog of the Move's previous pair of albums.

We reach something of a low point with "Don't mess me up", an unashamed Elvis impersonation (by Bevan) which for me simply indicates that the guys were saving their best material for ELO. "Until your moma's gone" shares the same lack of imagination; it is highly unlikely that such an ordinary song would have made it onto any of the preceding albums.

While "Message from the country" does contain some good material, it is an album by a band being pulled in many directions. Wood and Lynne seem at odds with each other on the direction they want to take, while both are simultaneously trying to keep the spirit of The Move alive. With the major distraction of the concurrent ELO debut occupying their minds it is understandable that this album should have the feel of a contractual obligation. For some, this was the band's best album, for me it is a decent, but no more, end to the band's short life.

* "Tonight" reach number 11 in the UK chart. It was followed by the minor hit "Chinatown" then the Move's final single, "California Man" which broke into the top 10. "California man" was much more an indication of the way Wood would go after leaving ELO in both solo terms and with Wizzard. These songs are all included on the expanded CD version of this album.

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Send comments to Easy Livin (BETA) | Report this review (#187770)
Posted Monday, November 03, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars As a longtime fan of early Electric Light Orchestra, I have decided to work my way through the catalog of their precurser band, The Move. The first disc I have chosen is MESSAGE FROM THE COUNTRY, which bears the most resemblance with NO ANSWER the first ELO release. There are 4 great tunes here. "Message From the Country", "It wasn't my idea to Dance", "The Words of Aaron" , and "No Time". All are Jeff Lynne numbers which I guess explains why I like them. The Roy Wood songs are more of a mixed bag with rock, pop, and even Johnny Cash ripoffs to boot. Nothing special among them. Lynne saves this album and shows the beginning of his songwriting talent. Any of his tunes here could have easily fit in on the first 2 ELO records. However, they only bring this to a good but not great release. 3 stars

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Send comments to mohaveman (BETA) | Report this review (#641543)
Posted Sunday, February 26, 2012 | Review Permalink

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