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Psychedelic/Space Rock

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siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
5 stars There have been quite a few bands named FANTASY over the decades with the British prog band perhaps being the most famous of the lot however there was another band from Miami, Florida in the USA that was actually the first to come up with that moniker and although as a group it was only around for four years and created a single album, sure managed to make it an interesting one that packs a punch. Like many bands that started out during the Summer of Love in the hippie fueled year of 1967, this band was formed by five idealistic teenagers: Billy Robbins (lead vocals), his twin brother Bob Robbins (bass), Jim DeMeo (guitar), Mario Russo (keyboards), and Greg Kimple (drums) who had their site on peace and love through music, man!

Starting out simple by playing at teen dances, the group honed its skills and scored a regular gig at a venue called The Experience which was an underground hippie hangout in Miami, however when that venue closed its doors in 1968, it moved into an old bowling alley and reinvented itself into a much larger venue which featured some of the biggest band names of the day. With a keen sense of imitating their favorite psychedelic rock bands of the 60s, FANTASY developed a growing fanbase and was chosen to play at the venue every weekend which found them playing alongside many early big names like Cream, The Grateful Dead, The Doors, Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly, Led Zeppelin and even Frank Zappa. The band was generating huge momentum until everything went wrong.

In 1970 the lead singer Billy Robbins simply disappeared one day and nobody knew where he went. A month later his body was found in the Everglades and it was determined that his death resulted from a drug deal gone way bad and so the rest of the band was forced to reinvent themselves and fast. Replacing a charismatic singer like Robbins was seemingly impossible but the four surviving members settled on trading a great stage performer for a more talented singer of the opposite gender have ya. At only 16 years of age, Lydia James Miller stepped in as the new lead vocalist and despite her young age sounded like a seasoned professional with a vocal style that most emulated Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick with moments of bravado much like Janis Joplin however if you ask me i think her style is much more akin to Shocking Blue's Mariska Veres much of the times and at others with a more operatic flair that sounded a lot like Annie Haslam of Renaissance.

Miller's greater vocal abilities allowed the band members to explore a wider range of musical ideas and the more conventional psychedelic rock style morphed into a more progressive one right at the time when 60s simplicity was being replaced with the more ambitious sophistication of the art rock scene. This development quickly caught the attention of the Liberty/United Artists record label and the band was signed and quickly recorded its one and only self-titled album released in late 1970. Miller wasn't only talented but quite attractive and the band enjoyed a successful day in the sun while it lasted but due to the immaturity of the band, FANTASY was met with inside ego clashes which left the band disbanding shortly after it recorded this album.

Musically this FANTASY album is quite impressive as it hops, skips and jumps all across the genre spectrum with fun, catchy and bouncy numbers that fortified the 60s psychedelic pop rock sound with jazzy workouts, circus music, folk rock segments and even vaudeville showtune styles of musical elements. While based on catchy psychedelic pop hooks the tunes made hairpin turns into unexpected styles of music that somehow worked quite well. The jittery proto-zolo-esque style of bounciness was truly ahead of its time as much of the music sounds like the unlikely marriage of 60s psychedelic pop and 80s new wave with 60s fuzzed drenched organs and unusual progressive time signature deviations and clever vocal contributions. The track "Circus Of Invisible Men" only makes me think of what i have always wanted Jefferson Airplane to REALLY sound like had they taken the "White Rabbit" sound to more progressive areans. While drenched in the 60s psych pop of the day, it jumps into circus music and back again. The lengthy near 10 minute closer "What's Next" is the highlight for those seeking the more progressive side of the band.

The Janis Joplin comparison doesn't become obvious until the track "Understand" where Miller proves she can wail like the best of the bluesy mamas of the era. Overall Miller displays a quite eclectic vocal range that never ceases to amaze. This album had very minor success as it did dip into the Billboard top 200 at #194 and the single "The Stoned Cowboy" was a bottom charter at #77. It's really too bad that this band didn't stick it out because this is a very unique album that sounds like nothing else despite the references to the popular styles of music of the era. Soon after this album was released Miller left the band but the rest of the members carried on without her only under the name Year One but wouldn't release an album until 1976. Sadly Miller died in 2008 due to alcohol related problems. Albums like this only remind me of how many great talented bands existed and never made it past a single example of the possibilities that could've blossomed if only they were nurtured by better management.

4.5 stars but i'll round up because this is really so much fun!

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Posted Wednesday, February 5, 2020 | Review Permalink

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