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Eela Craig

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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4 stars Austria really isn't a hotbed of prog rock, but EELA CRAIG was by and far that country's best known prog rock band, name, for no apparent reason by original guitarist and founder Heinz Gerstmair. This self-entitled album from 1971 is very obscure and known by very few, as it was originally released on a small Austrian label called Pro-Disc and original LPs since commanding around the $500 range (but luckily a small German label called Garden of Delights reissued this on CD, meaning that you shouldn't worry about spending more than $20 to hear this album). While their later albums tended to be synth-heavy symphonic prog, this one tends to the bluesy/jazzy psych/prog realm, with the Wurlitzer electric piano dominated (and Hammond organ on only two cuts). The bluesy nature of this album has to do with original guitarist Heinz Gerstmair, and vocalist Wil Orthofer, while drummer Horst Waber gave the band that jazzy touch, add that on with the flute, organ, and acoustic guitar of Harald Zuschrader, bass of Gerhard Englisch, and electric piano of Hubert Bognermayr, and you have the original EELA CRAIG lineup.

The biggest problem I have with this album is the crappy production, it has that very obvious homemade feel to it, so it's really lacking in the dynamics. But still, it's full of good stuff like the drug-oriented "Selfmade Trip" and "A New Way". "New Born Child" starts off in that psychedelic manner with terrifying screams in the most inappropriate time (when the song slows down, unlike PINK FLOYD's "Careful With That Axe, Eugene", which the song reaches its most intense climax). Despite the flaws, it's a pretty nice piece of underground prog/psych you come to expect from this era.

Report this review (#1868)
Posted Sunday, May 2, 2004 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars Hailing from Austria's second city, Linz, this sextet 's debut album came at a time (71) when not much was happening on the progressive front. As a matter of fact until 75 and their next album and Kyrie Eylison's debut, there was only Paternoster who put out a heavy hard-prog the following year of this release. The six-man line-up had the two guitarist also twiddling the keys, and one of them blowing wind inside all sorts of hollow instruments, while the leader also blew horns.

While their later albums will be in the symphonic-type prog, this debut album is much more experimental somehow close to the Krautrock scene with moments of proto-psych-prog, as their opening track two-part New Born Child (with its primal screams) and jazz-rock (still NBC), but they were sometimes patchy or sloppy (ie: the NBC's abrupt end of one riff into the final riff break is very clumsy). The self-explanatory Selfmade Trip is an incredible 10-min+ voyage into heavy psychedelic-spacey expansion-minded trip, which will simply ravish early 70's experimental progheads. Not completely flawless, this track is pure prog. The second side is also made up of two lengthy tracks with the aptly-titled heavily flute-induced A New Way where they share their absolute enthusiasm with us. But the other lengthy (almost 12-min), Indra Elegy, is a keyboard fest mixed with dramatic saturated guitars, heavenly flutes, constant drumming fury, abrupt (but this time well-designed) tempo changes, good bass lines,

The bonus tracks on this album are essential to the band's history and help explain what these guys did for four years between albums. However, they do not sound anything alike their first record and can become annoying if you do not appreciate the experimental nature of them. Funny thing is that no-one would expect such experimental music to be issued on isolated 45 RPM singles, but we now know that the early 70's allowed for all kinds of surprises. By the time of the first bonus tracks (72) the group was down to a quartet and had a different drummer, the others forming a blues rock group that will never record. This "single" was a commissioned work where they participated in a project depicting "Dimenssions between pop and classical" including an orchestra. The two tracks were slightly reworked, but remained highluy experimental between trafficked drums, electronics space noises for the first track and the next one being a sort of easy instrumental prog improv. As their "single" came out (74), only the bassist and keyboardist remained from the original sextet, but they were back to a quintet. Heavy mellotrons greet you rioght from the beginning and you are definitely closer to their second One Nighter album with the heavy symphonic sounds: both Stories and Cheese are excellent tracks although I find the latter's singing extremely well-titled Cheeeeesy!!!

Certainly one those legendary albums that merits its reputation, but not the the extreme prices for the vinyl, and the bonus tracks are a little out of context. Definitely worth looking for the Garden Of Delight Cd release.

Report this review (#1871)
Posted Friday, June 18, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Austria is a country known for a bunch of things, ike the beautiful cities,the kings and queens,the amazing rivers,the unbelievable nature but surely not for its strong progressive rock scene.From the few bands I'm aware of,EELA CRAIG might the most well known of all.This austrian act showed the progressive world a double face as they started as a clear jazz/psych prog outfit but transformed to a space/symphonic rock band in the years to come...In both occasions the band can't be considered nothing less than talented...

EELA CRAIG made their debut in early 70's with their eponymous album and an evident jazz rock style influenced also by the blues and psychedelia.The opening track ''New born child'' spins off with some atmospheric organ and the dramatic cries of the vocalist and by the middle of the track the guitars take over until the end with some jazzy solos...''Selfmade trip'' (what a name for a track) shows clearly the blues influences of the band,as the track unfolds the flute dominates until the end where the guitars return and in the final minute the sound of the guitars and drums gets distorted...On ''A new way'' the band follows again the previous succesful bluesy/flute space/bluesy combination with a style very close to BURNIN' RED IVANHOE...''Indra Elegy'' is the most experimenting and multi-formed track of the album with some influences by KING CRIMSON...It opens with a very atmospheric piano/flute combination,then the organ and heavy guitars take over until the break of blues/jazz strikes again...The track ends exactly how it started,with the beautiful piano/flute interplay...

The CD version contains also 4 bonus tracks which are a very good example how experimental this band was while transforming to a symphonic one during the 5-years period between the first and the second album...''Irminsul'' is a psychedelic instrumental piece of...hmmm...sounds I would say (and not music) which contains electronic effects and percussion exclusively...The experimental/electronic face of the band continues on ''Yggdrasil'' which also contains smooth guitar work and some bass and drum playing...In ''Stories'' the symphonic transformation of EELA CRAIG is completed.You won't believe your ears that this is the same band that played in the original album.Very romantic organ playing,mellow guitar work,smooth vocals,an excellent track in the vein of first period GENESIS.''Cheese'' is another symphonic piece of music but this time the sound is more intense,very close to YES,with Jon Anderson style in singing and guitar play with Steve Howe influences!

EELA CRAIG were one of the most experimental and daring bands in prog rock.Although I prefer their more symphonic version,I really like their debut very much and I recommended to all fans of jazz/psychedelic/King Crimson-esque progressive rock...3.5 stars...

Report this review (#186403)
Posted Sunday, October 19, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Years ago I really self discovered the wonder of Eela Craig with "One Niter 1976" and "Hats Of Glass (1978)" both of which are great albums. The debut album in review here is very different for their mid 70's albums that I was familiar with carring a less symphonic approach for sure. This is pure classic 70's Krautrock thru and thru ...and an amazing album for sure. Saturated in tons of organ, sax, flutes, e piano this album really will blow your mind! Again very spacey and the band really like to ebb and flow between more serene moments and heavier parts. Lead vocalist Wil Orthofer has a great voice and a deep soul which really adds nicely to the music. Throw in a couple of 10 min tracks and you have an album that will work for all lovers of 70's Krautrock.
Report this review (#223802)
Posted Monday, June 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This album would be very representative of the type of oddball music still pervasive in 1971, a time away from even wilder musical trips to come , a rawer , more psychedelic Woodstock era sound (lots of groove , baby) that would be played in countless underground European clubs (some not even serving alcohol, hint?) in those early days. I remember one in Sankt Gallen, Switzerland in particular that played this album often in its entirety. As was often the case then, the testing verve had a tendency to veer off into some sublime side of the sonic sky, a breathless adventure of style and less form that could encapsulate everything from a violin to a kitchen sink. This Austrian band from Linz had quite an impact on the prog community and pioneered many future prog methods in terms of pure progressive experimentation. But it will not come across as 21st century release by any stretch, rooted deeply in the prog-rock nativity as a baby step. "New Born Child" starts off with a swirling organ dirge that introduces both a painful birth (that howl is creepy) and a morose funeral procession. Halfway through a pulsating bass comes rumbling through, supremely confident while riding Hubert Bognermayr's electric piano and Harald Zuschrader's wild sax. Heinz Gestmair rippling guitar only adds more promenade to the puzzle. The 10 minute + "Selfmade Trip" is quite aptly named, a brooding, restrained, groovy little flight, the fuzzy/bluesy guitar laying down the melodic spine, with some fab percussion work, a lazy lead vocal careening into the fray ("Acid pills no more as I have myself to play"), the chugging section flips up the tempo with the flute fluttering, the bass bopping along for the ride. Yeah, groovy, man (as we used to say)! Just as mightily, the euphoria then abates temporarily, a quiet respite before another tour of the garden (complete with tricky back-tape effects). "A New Way" is closer to West Coast psychedelia, with a laid back vocal and a butterfly flute carving the new route of aural bliss and musical adventure (as per the lyrics!). "Indra Elegy" is another extended hysterical trip into the land of Krautrock with vocalist Wil Orthofer pleading his case with sincerity. The saturated effects on the axe add even more angst to the e-piano musings, the rhythm section keeping it loosely tight, if you see what I mean. The bonus tracks are quirky to say the least, the 2 minute "Imminsul" a drum solo with added percussives , sliced with a slithery synth and "Yggdrasil" a slightly longer moody piece that search out the "dimension between Pop and Classical" , giving the guitar a front row podium to express and explore to its 6 string content in a dreamy wispy context. "Stories" is a warm cascade of string organ washing over a classy melody, thus inspiring a strong ITCOTCK?feel, as the mellotron spews its lush melancholy. "Cheese" is probably well-named, as the Santana rip-off guitar induces initial amazement and abruptly metamorphoses into a languorous pastoral arrangement that introduces a massive male/female vocal duet that is pleasing in its simplicity (I guess that's what they meant by cheese!)

This is part of the pioneering series of rock groups that formatted the future of prog and even rock music along with King Crimson, Deep Purple, Procol Harum and Roxy Music , to name only a few. Thus it is required listening for those who want to understand where today's music came from. 4 Linzer tortes

Report this review (#226729)
Posted Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Eela Craig's self-titled debut is probably the one album that most Eela Craig fans don't have. Why? First, few original vinyl copies were pressed (1500, I believe). Second, no other version was available until Garden of Delights reissued it on CD in 1997. Thirdly, the album sounds nothing like the music the band would later produce and become known for, namely, symphonic prog. Eela Craig circa 1971 was more of a heavy prog band with psychedelic leanings. The opening song, "New Born Child," starts off kind of like a gloomy Krautrock excursion, before settling into more of a heavy prog track with interesting horn sections. The song ends with the most awful editing job I have ever heard on an official release. That is the low point of the album, with the rest of the original album tracks flowing very nicely. The recording and production is sub-par, but that may be due to the fact that the original master tapes were lost, and the CD version used a previously unplayed vinyl copy as a master. The LP has a bit of a "hippie-dippy" feel to it, but is countered by some dark vibes here and there. Overall, a very enjoyable album worth a listen for those who enjoy early 70's heavy prog from Europe.

The CD version has 4 bonus tracks, which represent the band transitioning from what you hear on the debut to the more symphonic sound that they would become famous for. The first two bonus tracks, "Irminsul" and "Yggdrasil," are instrumental and feature a revamped lineup. They are OK, but nothing special or worth listening to very often. The last two bonus tracks, "Stories" and "Cheese," again with a different lineup, show their new, symphonic direction, and are quite dreadful in this reviewer's opinion. I never cared much for their later albums, but these tracks are of an even lesser quality .

To wrap things up, I would say Eela Craig's 1971 debut album is an enjoyable slab of early 70's heavy prog. While not entirely original, it is nonetheless, above average compared to many of its peers. Just hit the "stop" button after you finish track 4 ("Indra Elegy") and you'll be pleasantly surprised. 4 stars.

Report this review (#1647321)
Posted Monday, November 21, 2016 | Review Permalink

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