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Pearls Before Swine - One Nation Underground CD (album) cover


Pearls Before Swine

Prog Folk

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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

Debut album released on the famous ESP label (normally an experimental jazz label) in the summer 67 from PBS, a group that focused on Tom Rapp and his taste for mystic, gothic texts. If this debut album sees the group as quartet (plus an invited drummer), including multi-instrumentalist Wayne Harley and Lane Dederer, giving a fairly wide scope for a normal folk rock group at the time. Because ONU is definitely not yet PBS at its purest, often still taking much inspiration from Dylan and The Byrds, but there was a definite will to offer more than that, just their potential had not yet bloomed to its full later self. But the mystic and profound nature of the music is already apparent and not only through the splendid Flemish artworks being represented on the sleeve and the texts.

If it is obvious that Dylan's stature hovers all over side 1, it's quite easy to see in Playmate and the almost jug-band Miss Moore, where PBS almost sound like Dylan's crew on H61R, at other times (Drop Out) it's more The Byrds (Turn, Turn, Turn); but there are also more personal moments like Amber Lady (a collab with keyboardist Crissinger) with its bed of guitar arpeggios under delicates multi-layered vocals that actually is the highlight of the opening side. What might not be really apparent is that Lederer and Harvey are playing a wide array of instruments that allow the tracks to exist on their own

The flipside is much more interesting starting on the haunting Morning.Song, with its gloomy organ, and far-out sitar and a haunting flute. Regions Of May is laying on layers of solemn English horn, and support the The more upbeat Uncle John sounds like an LA garage band track complete with the Vox Continental organ and savage yelling. Totally un-like PBS, yet so much part of them as well. I shall not care is bit in that same frame of mind after a quiet intro and before an astounding middle passage digging in the nightmarish world of Bosch's Gardens of Delights (artwork of the sleeve), before returning to the garage sound. Closing the album is Surrealist Waltz penned (and sung) by bassist Lederer and keyboardist Crissinger.and is yet another highlight on this album.

While its potential is not fully developed yet, PBS put out a highly influential album, PBS made a remarked debut, but it was buried in with the hippie counter-culture. A good debut , but much better is to come.

Report this review (#174283)
Posted Wednesday, June 18, 2008 | Review Permalink
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars Tom Rapp owes a deep and obvious debt to Bob Dylan on this Pearls Before Swine debut. Both his phrasing and allegoric lyrical style smack heavily of Dylan, sometimes almost uncomfortably so. “Playmate”, “Morning Song” and “I Shall Not Care” all are culled from the songbook of a long line of Dylan wannabes.

If the entire album fell into this category it would be worth dismissing out of hand, but such is fortunately not the case. Rapp was clearly working hard to find his own voice on these songs, and appears to have relied on his deep knowledge of the Dylan catalog only partially. Elsewhere he shows an experimental side, ranging from an acoustic bard on “Ballad to an Amber Lady”, to a precocious angry young lad on “Uncle John”, to some sort of hillbilly Donovan on the closing “The Surrealist Waltz”. Sometimes the experiments work, often they just miss the mark. “(Oh Dear) Miss Morse” for example combines banjo and mandolin with weird keyboards (harpsichord I’m pretty sure, and a dated electronic analog synth known as a clavioline for an awkward and disjointed little ditty that sounds more like an outtake than something that should have made it onto the final release. “Drop Out!” must have sounded a bit dated even in 1967, and whatever sort of microphone was used for the vocals on “I Shall Not Care” doesn’t fit with the mandolin and banjo arrangements at all, nor do the faux-spacey spoken-word vocals or the minimalist mood.

But in the end this was a promising debut for an American original, or at least someone who would become something of an original. Like the Moody Blues’ ‘Go Now!’, what would follow would be a far cry from the first efforts, and more often than not much more progressive and appealing. If you have never experienced Pearls Before Swine I would not start with this one, but if you find the solo works of Tom Rapp in the early seventies to your liking you may want to check this one out to see what he sounds like as part of a real band, and to hear the early stirrings of what would come after. Three stars (just barely), and recommended mostly to really serious progressive folk fans.


Report this review (#280310)
Posted Sunday, May 2, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Pearls Before Swine - One Nation Underground (1967)

Before our beloved progressive movement there once was this attractive psychedelic movement. The songwriting was strong, the innovative atmospheres were under construction and the performers gave the music an authentic (often non-commercial) sound. PBS is one of the bands of the psychedelic scene that stood the test of time. There authentic sounding mixture of Bod Dylan-like song-writing, folk and atmospheric rock remain a winner to this day. This results in still expensive vinyls that are been sought after by vinyl collectors like me.

The main man of PFS, Tom Rapp, is a good song-writer and he has a good voice. On the next album he would sound a bit more professional, but the sixties recording of his voice sound really good. Still his voice sounds a bit strange on the debut, as if he is slissing. The acoustic arrangements on the record are good throughout, whilst the use of the organ evoke a real sixties psychedelic pop-feel. The result is a mix between the best of Leonard Cohen's style and soft psychedelic rock. My only complaint is the big difference in volume between the softer acoustic stracks and the rock tracks. The album has a lot of short tracks and most of them are good - excellent.

Conclusion. If you are interested in soft psychedelic folk with a warm '67 recording this will be a very interesting starting point. Even better would be the slightly progressive (and conceptual) '68 Baklava record of Pearls Before Swine. Three stars and recommended to those interested in late sixties rock/folk. One doesn't have to fear commercial sounding pop, this is REAL music. Worth it's reputation given by the vinyl collectors.

* rectification *

Once in a while I am mistaken. Though I had listened very well to side one of this album, I never really spend time on the second side (that at first seemed to be less attractive). I couldn't have been more wrong. Though the first side has some nice folk and psychedelic pop songs, side two is one masterful string of songs with natural progression and great psychedelic atmospheres. The extremely heavy (for it's time) uncle John with it's heavy lyrics stands out as a brave offering. The ending track, Surrealistic Waltz, is my favorite melodic moment of the album. This track has a dark gothic atmosphere that is hard to describe. Though side one is still a three star affair, side two deserves the full five stars. Which makes up for four stars in total. Excellent proto-prog.

Report this review (#296601)
Posted Sunday, August 29, 2010 | Review Permalink

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