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SPIRIT

Proto-Prog • United States


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Spirit biography
Founded in Los Angeles, USA in 1967 - Several hiatus between 1973 and 1982 - Disbanded finally in 1997

Spirit is a legendary psychedelic rock band that has never managed to achieve great success although their albums, mainly their early ones are regarded by fans and critics as masterpieces.

Their history starts back in 1965, in San Francisco, when Ed Cassidy, an experient jazz drummer that played with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder among others, Randy California, a 14-year-old guitar player whose mother would marry Ed and Ed would become Randy┤s stepfather; Jay Fergusson and Mark Andes (Later Jo Jo Gunne) formed a band named The Red Roosters.

The band was shortlived and in 1966 Ed and Randy moved to New York where Ed started to play jazz venues. In New York Randy once saw a guy playing a guitar in a guitar shop and they started to discuss techniques. They became friends and Randy soon became a member of the Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, band which his new friend was the leader. They played for three months in Cafe Wha and then Chas Chandler discovered the band and invited Jimmy to go to the United Kingdom. Jimmy invited Randy to go with him but Randy couldn┤t since he was only 15. So Jimmy, whose real name was James Marshall Hendrix went to England and the rest is history.

In 1967 Ed and Randy returned to California and they met by chance Fergusson and Andes, the members of The Red Roosters and they formed a new band named Spirits Rebellious, which was shortened to Spirit. John Locke, an experient keyboardist joined then and in early 1968 they released their first album, a mix of psychedelia, blues and jazz. The jazz accent would be a trademark of their early albums, mainly in "The Family that Plays Together" and "Clear", two 1969 releases. The first contained their biggest hit, "I Got A Line on You". In 1970 they released the album considered by fans and critics their masterpiece: "Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus", featuring experimental sounds, good arrangements and some of their most solid compositions. The band broke up in 1971 due to tensions between the members and in 1971 Cassidy and Locke joined the Staehely brothers and released "Feedback" which has nothing to do with the original Spirit sound.

In 1973 Ed and Randy joined again and along with other musicians recorded "Potatoland" which was shelved and would be released only in 1981. Then they made their come-back in 1975 with "Spirit of '76" and released "Son of Spi...
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SPIRIT discography


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SPIRIT top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.59 | 121 ratings
Spirit
1968
3.82 | 90 ratings
The Family That Plays Together
1968
3.84 | 79 ratings
Clear
1969
4.14 | 209 ratings
Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus
1970
2.60 | 40 ratings
Feedback
1972
3.55 | 26 ratings
Spirit Of '76
1975
3.00 | 23 ratings
Son Of Spirit
1975
2.72 | 21 ratings
Farther Along
1976
3.05 | 19 ratings
Future Games - A Magical-Kahauna Dream
1977
2.72 | 16 ratings
The Adventures Of Kaptain Kopter & Commander Cassidy In Potato Land
1981
1.71 | 12 ratings
The Thirteenth Dream [Aka: Spirit Of '84]
1984
2.71 | 7 ratings
Rapture In The Chambers
1989
3.71 | 8 ratings
Tent of Miracles
1990
3.79 | 10 ratings
California Blues
1996
3.72 | 17 ratings
Model Shop (OST)
2005

SPIRIT Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.00 | 5 ratings
Made In Germany
1983
4.00 | 1 ratings
Live At La Paloma
1995
3.00 | 1 ratings
Live From The Time Coast
2004
3.00 | 3 ratings
Rockpalast: West Coast Legends Vol.3
2010
4.00 | 1 ratings
Two Sides Of A Rainbow
2019

SPIRIT Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

3.67 | 3 ratings
Spirit In Concert
2000

SPIRIT Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.30 | 8 ratings
The Best Of Spirit
1973
3.00 | 5 ratings
Chronicles (1967-1992)
1991
4.04 | 8 ratings
Time Circle (1968-1972)
1991
3.50 | 2 ratings
I Got A Line On You
1995
3.13 | 5 ratings
The Mercury Years
1997
3.00 | 3 ratings
Cosmic Smile
2000
3.67 | 3 ratings
Sea Dream
2002
4.00 | 2 ratings
Now Or Anywhere
2002
3.00 | 1 ratings
Eventide
2002
2.00 | 2 ratings
Blues from the Soul
2003
3.60 | 5 ratings
Son Of Spirit /Farther Along
2004
3.00 | 1 ratings
Mojo Presents ... An Introduction To Spirit
2004
3.33 | 3 ratings
Future Games/Spirit Of '84
2005
3.05 | 2 ratings
Son Of America
2005
4.69 | 7 ratings
The Original Potato Land
2006
4.40 | 5 ratings
Original Album Classics
2010
4.00 | 1 ratings
Tent of Miracles (Remastered & Expanded Edition)
2020

SPIRIT Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

4.00 | 1 ratings
1984
1984

SPIRIT Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Family That Plays Together by SPIRIT album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.82 | 90 ratings

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The Family That Plays Together
Spirit Proto-Prog

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars The band's sophomore album shows their tremendous growth (remember: they'd only been together as a quintet for about a year), displaying a greater commitment to rock and less to their previous jazz tendencies (which I loved: the skills and discipline that jazz training gave them are definitely serving them well), but the growth and exuberance shown on Side One of this album sadly wanes significantly with the hurried, under-developed feel of all of Side Two's songs. The result of the bane of a career in music? That is: partitioning one's time and energy between touring versus time dedicated to creating new material and spending the appropriate time (and money) to record it properly.

1. "I Got A Line On You" (2:37) a very catchy song that helped the band break into the radio/pop scene and charts. I feel quite a British influence here: less jazz tendencies, more blues-rock. John Locke's hard-pounding beer-hall piano drives the song giving full license to guitarist Randy "California" to (9.125/10)

2. "It Shall Be" (3:25) opens like a mellowed out, orchestral version and continuation of the previous song but then becomes its own thing when the vocals kick in. I love the multiple voices finally NOT singing in choral harmony but separating (even in different channels in the soundscape). It's amazing how Jay Ferbuson's sticks can. And I love the bass sound and playing. Randy's guitar alone feels a little out of place being here a bit too aggressive for the rest of the mix. (8.875/10)

3. "Poor Richard" (2:29) a great rock song with great California choral vocals within which Randy gives one of his first truly great guitar performances. (Remember: he's only 16-years old with the release of this material). Such great melodies over the fairly simple chord progression. The band is learning how to make more with less; they're really progressing! (9.5/10)

4. "Silky Sam" (4:06) more great melodies and wonderful orchestral integration and support (thanks, Marty--and Lou!) is nearly undermined by the sparse bluesy rock instrumentation. (8.875/10)

5. "Drunkard" (2:38) a step up from the nursery rhyme that was "Water Woman" from their debut album, here the band seeming to seek out an adult audience on the multiple levels of something like The Wizard of Oz. Another very interesting idea and arrangement. (4.5/5)

6. "Darlin' If" (3:38) electric guitar and piano seem to vie for dominance on the opening of this one before strummed electric guitar wins out, providing the support and guidance to the plaintive BAND and CSN&Y (and Loggins & Messina) -like Americana vocal and style. (8.7/10)

7. "It's All The Same" (4:40) opening with an "alien spaceship landing"-like sound generated from Randy's electric guitar, the fully-formed blues-rock song that then pops out of the vehicle is quite stereotypic of the bands that would soon be coming out like Grand Funk Railroad, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and The Guess Who. While I really like these bands, I am not particularly a fan of this blues-rock side of their output. Plus, drummer Ed Cassidy's playing feels a little off (weak). (Was he sick?) (8.7/10)

8. "Jewish" (2:48) An odd song for its vocals sung in Yiddish over some fast-shifting multiple-motif music. A little too weird for me--more like a novelty song--despite some nice guitar play (4.25/5)

9. "Dream Within A Dream" (3:01) piano pounding to support The Association-like group vocals with dynamically shifting sections while Randy's soloing electric guitar plays rather continuously, rising to the fore whenever the vocal choir pause or takes breaks. Interesting but not feeling fully developed. (8.75/10)

10. "She Smiles" (2:30) a nice song idea with great melodies and construction that, again, feels unfinished or cut short. (4.5/5)

11. "Aren't You Glad" (5:31) Another song with some absolutely great ideas and sounds that feels sadly under-served and not properly developed though Randy's guitar play and the horn and orchestral support in the final minute are amazing. (More of this, please!) Was the record company/producer in a hurry to get this stuff recorded and published? Was the band too busy touring to give their studio time the attention it deserved? Were the ideas really so fresh and undeveloped and studio time so dear that they couldn't take the time to fully realize these rather bare and stark bones? This song, like many on Side Two, could've easily been so much better! (8.875/10)

Total time 37:23

While the album starts out quite strongly, I get the feeling as it goes along as if some of the songs on Side Two were rushed: they feel incomplete or not-fully- or under-developed. Also, I feel that drummer Ed Cassidy's contributions here are either under-developed or even negated and that keyboard player John Locke's tendency to present as a saloon-performing piano pounder has been indulged too much. Some of the vocal arrangements also feel rather rushed or under-developed--which I find particularly disappointing since this was one of the band's remarkable strengths and features on the first album.

B+/4.5 stars; an excellent addition to any proto-prog lover's music collection. While the highs are higher than the band's debut album (recorded less than six months before this one) but the lows of so much under-developed material definitely weigh The Family That Plays Together down.

 Spirit by SPIRIT album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.59 | 121 ratings

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Spirit
Spirit Proto-Prog

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars Before forming Spirit, journeyman jazz drummer Ed Cassidy had worked with Cannonball Adderly, Gerry Mulligan, Roland Kirk, Thelonious Monk, and Lee Konitz as well as served as a founding member of the blues rock band Rising Sun with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. (Ed was born in 1923 and was thus 20 years older than the other members of what would become Spirit.) Ed met 14-year old guitar prodigy, Randy Wolfe in San Francisco in 1965 and then went on to marry Randy's mom, Bernice Pearle, whose uncle owned an SF folk music club called the Ash Grove. A series of gigs Ed had lined up in New York City led the family to move across country for the summer of 1966. While Ed sat in on many gigs at the NYC jazz clubs, Randy happened to meet Jimmy Hendrix at a music store. After talking music theory and guitar technique, Jimmy asked Randy to join him in his band, Jimmy James And The Blue Flames. Hendrix dubbed Randy "Randy California" to distinquish him from another guitarist in the band--also named Randy--whom he had dubbed "Randy Texas." At the end of the summer, Chaz Chandler tried to convince Randy to go to London with he and Jimmy, but Randy had to decline due to his 15-year age. In 1967, Ed and Randy returned to California where they met Mark Andes and Jay Ferguson of the band The Red Roosters. They clicked and formed Spirit Rebellious, which became Spirit for their first album. The new band was discovered by music and film promoter (and legend) Lou Adler of Ode Records (Ode Sounds and Visuals) which Lou had founded the year before.

1. "Fresh Garbage" (3:11) I think that this song choice for the opening of the band's debut album must have been intended to let the world know that this new band did not take themselves or their careers as pop musicians too seriously--that they were thoughtful, serious musicians who might have a little Zappa-like message of wit and social commentary to pass on to the public. Jay Ferguson's reverbed voice almost feels British for its effect and styling, but the music beneath is quite sophisticated and shifty, even moving into a jazzy vamp in an instrumental second minute for John Locke's electric piano solo. The Latin flavored percussion accompanying the blues-rock rhythm section coupled with Jay's treated voice is interesting and fairly fresh sounding. (8.875/10)

2. "Uncle Jack" (2:43) using a chord progression that sounds like some of Jay's later solo work, the harmonized group vocal presentation of the lyrics is more akin to The Byrds or The Association. At least two tracks are dedicated to Randy's searing fuzzy electric guitar soloing--an effect that is fairly constant, at times in front, often pushed more into the background while the singing is going on. Definitely a heavier blues-rocker--and probably a song that could be quite easily extended for soloing in the live concert setting. The song is also notable to me for the clear and clean distinctiveness of each and every one of the instruments throughout; excellent production. (8.75/10)

3. "Mechanical World" (5:14) a sophisticated song in which each and every one of the musicians' roles is clearly defined and integrally important to the mix and magic. Here Jay's reverbed lead vocal is virtually solo. (8.75/10)

4. "Taurus" (2:37) cinematic strings open this, soon taking on a sinister jazz flavor as horns and lower register strings join in. The appearance of acoustic guitar playing arpeggios that are quite remarkably reminiscent of the sound and chord progression that would become the most famous song of all-time, "Stairway to Heaven," confirms the reason for the legal dispute with Jimmy Page over compostitional credit to Led Zeppelin's song. On, this album, in this version, it is a truly remarkable feat of beauty and "simple sophistication" (and great production). (5/5)

5. "Girl in Your Eye" (3:15) nice with piano, acoustic guitars, sitar, banjo, and pleasant, melodic, full-group harmonized vocals. There is a nice fuzz guitar solo in the instrumental "C" passage. (8.875/10)

6. "Straight Arrow" (2:51) what opens as more of a Byrds/Buffalo Springfield-like song we are later introduced to what would become Randy Bachman's until-now unique signature guitar sound, captivating the listener's attention while Jay sings within a Americana sound. (8.75/10)

7. "Topanga Windows" (3:36) A laid-back, almost-Country & Western sound is presented with this "hip" song though it creeps into a bluesy, even, at times, jazzy form during the instrumental "C" part. (8.75/10)

8. "Gramophone Man" (3:49) an unusual song that seems driven by jazz-drummer Ed Cassidy, this one starts out slow and bland with milk toast vocals but then, at the 1:10 mark, just as the vocals have stopped, takes a slowly speeding up shift into a pure jazz vamp. Drums, bass, keys, and especially guitar shift into a strikingly electric jazz sound: Randy's guitar play closer to Wes Montgomery than the Stephen Stills sound he finishes with as the music returns to the original motif. (8.875/10)

9. "Water Woman" (2:11) sounds like a nursery rhyme that's been set to music: group vocals carrying the ditty while Ed's jazz drums and Randy's dextrous guitar picking rhythmically carry the melodies with and beneath the vocalists. Very cool and surprisingly sophisticated (for a debut album from a relatively newly formed band) song. (5/5)

10. "Great Canyon Fire in General" (2:46) using a bit of a bluesy-rockabilly foundation, the choral vocals present the melodies and lyrics with a lot of Hendrix-like bluesy electric guitar playing beneath and between the vocal phrases. (8.875/10)

11. "Elijah" (10:49) or "Elijah's Kitchen Sink" because it feels as if the band is here throwing a bunch of leftover ideas together into some kind of semi-chaotic Doors-Van Morrison pseudo-"free jazz" "suite." Very interesting and, I'm sure, very liberating for the jazzier band members like Ed Cassidy and keyboard player John Locke, but also for the more- rock-oriented guitar and bass players.(It's not hard to remember here that guitarist Randy Wolfe "California" is only 16-years old.) I do like Mark Andes' bass solo in the seventh minute quite a bit; not so much Ed's drum solo that follows. (17.375/20)

Total Time 29:35

A debut album filled with very high quality music, musicianship, with quite sophisticated, mature, and creative compositions and great engineering and production. And here's Randy California introducing an electric sound that will be borrowed heavily by many future rock and prog guitarists (including Robert Fripp, Stephen Stills, and Randy Bachman). Jay Ferguson's slightly-reverbed vocals are fairly standard for the time, recorded a little oddly within the musical mix instead of in the front (which was, again, fairly common at the time--especially among Lou Adler's other bands like The Mamas and The Papas and The Grass Roots); the lyrics are also rather typical in their na´ve, pseudo "hip" American swag.

B+/4.5 stars; an album that I like more than my ratings would seem to indicate: I really appreciate the tremendous talent and highly-ambitious commitment to sophistication that exudes from the music throughout this album. Plus, I do love Lou Adler's production.

 Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus by SPIRIT album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.14 | 209 ratings

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Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus
Spirit Proto-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Special Collaborator PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic

4 stars Of all the bands that emerged from the West Coast scene of California's psychedelic 60s, few sounded as eclectic and adventurous as the Los Angeles based SPIRIT led by the excellent songwriting team of drummer Jay Ferguson who infused the band's sound with the more commercial aspects and Randy California who offered the more experimental aspirations. The band never experienced the success they deserved and missed out on an invitation to play at the career boosting Woodstock event, yet has become recognized retroactively as one of the most innovative forces that was steering the world of psychedelically infused rock into more progressive avenues with a style that blended jazz, blues, country, folk and other elements into its proto-prog cauldron.

The band only released four albums with the original lineup of Randy California (guitars, vocals), Jay Ferguson (lead vocals, percussion), John Locke (piano, keyboards), Mark Andes (bass) and Ed Cassidy (drums, percussion) before Ferguson and Andes left the band to form Jo Jo Gunne following a final tour that ended in 1971. After two years of releasing three albums and an unreleased musical score for a film, SPIRIT returned to the studio throughout 1970 to record its fourth album TWELVE DREAMS OF DR SARDONICUS which despite failing commercially at the time, has since been reevaluated and deemed the band's finest hour however personally i still prefer the stunning debut album by a small margin. The album featured 12 tracks that were supposed to represent different dreams and is a loose concept album theme of sort but remains nebulous to the listener as to exactly what it all really is supposed to mean.

The album's title refers to the 1961 horror film "Mr Sardonicus" which strangely told the story of a man whose face was frozen into a horrifying grin while robbing his father's grave. Now how's that for weird? Sort of describes SPIRIT's giddy uplifting sound as they forged ahead into strange unprecedented musical territories only to suffer the alienating effects of the music buying public not really getting it. Like the band's previous releases, TWELVE DREAMS OF DR SARDONICUS embarks on a musical journey that you never know where it's exactly going with dreamy ballad type tracks ("Prelude Nothing To Hide," "Soldier") in complete contrast to boogie rock bluesy numbers such as "Morning Will Come" to trippy psychedelic nuggets such as The Who sounding "Street Worm." Add to that an even more spaced instrumental track in the form of "Space Child." While SPIRIT was gifted in crafting interesting songs with unusual structures and even more unorthodox flavorings, the band never really fine-tuned it all so that the tracks flowed cohesively together without sounding somewhat awkward.

While the music on DR SARDONICUS did successfully compile everything that band had engaged in up to that point, the album still sounded a bit like it was aimlessly drifting around. Likewise the band offered a more complex fusion of their style they had set forth from the debut album. Dr SARDONICUS still offered radio friendly hits in the form of "Animal Zoo" and "Nature's Way" which despite not exactly charting high still were welcomed by FM radio stations that had their pulse on the cutting edge artists forging new paths of creativity. The album was also produced by David Briggs who had helped propel Neil Young's albums to a new level of production savvy and therefore DR SARDONICUS features a warm elegant mix of instrumentation and sound effects. The music had clearly evolved into a totally new grin-bearing beast with some fiery performances complete with a sax solo on "Mr Skin." The band seemed as if it was on top of its game on this album which belies the fact that it would soon splinter apart.

The music of SPIRIT is strange in a way i've never been able to describe but the only word i can come up with is that it's aloof. It seems the talents of the songwriting team never really melded into a seamless whole unlike say The Beatles or The Doors. While the differing members may have reached a truce in terms of musical creativity, they never truly collaborated to merge their styles into one. This gave SPIRIT a rather indecisive feel to its music which was a bit alienating to the instant gratification public who didn't want to think too much about having to work to comprehend music.

Likewise the band wasn't complex enough to break through to the nascent world of progressive rock and therefore straddled the line between the psychedelic 60s and more progressive 70s. Many declare this the band's masterpiece but personally i don't think the band actually delivered a masterpiece but rather four excellent albums that have flaws. For one thing, the band's concept of TWELVE DREAMS OF DR SARDONICUS could have been more streamlined into a cohesive dream sequence of twelve songs that tie together more effectively but rather many of the tracks seem alienated from the others. In retrospect SPIRIT was primarily a band that wrote great songs but didn't deliver them in a classic album form. In this sense they were stuck in the 60s even if their aspirations had the 70s written all over it. Still though, no denying that DR SARDINICUS an excellent album. Lots of great music on here. It's just too bad that SPIRIT never was really given their chance to develop into that tier one band they were clearly capable of becoming. Still though, history has been kind and given them their kudos.

 Clear by SPIRIT album cover Studio Album, 1969
3.84 | 79 ratings

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Clear
Spirit Proto-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Special Collaborator PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic

4 stars SPIRIT had only formed in 1967 in the ashes of a previous band called Red Roosters and already by 1968 the band had released its first two albums, scored a top 40 hit with 'I Got A Line On You' AND was asked by French film director Jacques Demy to record the soundtrack to his film 'Model Shop' which ultimately would be shelved until it finally saw a release in 2005. The band had also undergone a massive touring schedule yet the pressures of the record labels were to consistently pump out product no matter at what cost to the quality. Having capitulated, the result was the rather disjointed third release CLEAR which pretty much gets panned as SPIRIT's weakest moment during its initial four album run with the classic lineup.

Although CLEAR featured the by then standard mix of songs written by both guitarist / vocalist Randy California and drummer Jay Ferguson, the album felt more like an odds and sods kind of affair with tracks scraped together for the sake of releasing an album's worth of material. The band itself has always expressed a distaste for having to release an album before it was actually ready to do so but nevertheless the album emerged in August 1969 and despite it all doesn't really sound that bad once you know the story behind why it sounds so unusually eclectic. The band delivered its usual 60s psychedelic rock soaked bluesy pop tracks and opens with the instantly catchy 'Dark Eyed Woman' followed by 'Apple Orchard' which showcases California's tasty guitar soloing and the band's excellent vocal harmonies.

While the band starts out in classic SPIRIT form, the album becomes a bit more unpredictable starting with 'Ground Hog Day' which suddenly abandons the 60s pop psych for a blues rock sound as if the band was channeling its inner John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers. Interestingly SPIRIT also seems to have written catchy melodies that others would later borrow and make their own. The rather unremarkable track 'Cold Wind' has an intro that sounds just like the main melody for Bill Wither's 1972 smash hit 'Lean On Me.' Add that to the 'Stairway To Heaven' debacle from the band's debut album track 'Taurus' and perhaps SPIRIT was one of the most plagiarized bands of the entire 60s!

Given the soundtrack score fell through, the band suddenly had a bunch of extra tracks it could pad the album with however given the three tracks 'Ice,' 'Clear' and 'Caught' sound more like something off a Weather Report album in an all instrumental jazz fusion light mode, these tracks totally clash with the brash ballsy blue rock songs such as 'Policeman's Ball' and 'I'm Truckin.' Despite sounding like totally different bands, the jazz rock tracks are actually quite brilliantly performed sounding a bit like 70s Soft Machine at times with beautiful keyboard tones and California's excellent fusion guitar soloing. The rather anachronistic 'Give A Life, Take A Life' sounds as if it was one of the band member's first songs written in the early 60s with a dreamy traditional pop song with pop harmonies right out of the early 60s.

Despite its oddball mix of tracks, SPIRIT didn't really have it in them to craft inferior material. While the album doesn't hold together as a whole, the tracks taken on their own terms hold up pretty well although not all are created equal. For a throw-it-together job, SPIRIT rose to the occasion and piece-mealed a decent selection of tracks that just happen to sound a bit quirky sitting next to each other. Newer remastered versions of the album also feature a number of bonus tracks including non-album singles such as the excellent '1984.' The band would have the proper amount of time to work on its next album 'Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus' which would got down in history as their strongest work. Sure, i concur this is SPIRIT's weakest album of its four album first run but it's not inferior by much. The songs are all decent to downright excellent. A bit awkward in how they hang together but i think the band did a commendable job of making lemonade out of lemons.

3.5 but closer to 4 than 3 so rounding up

 Tent of Miracles by SPIRIT album cover Studio Album, 1990
3.71 | 8 ratings

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Tent of Miracles
Spirit Proto-Prog

Review by Heart of the Matter

4 stars Seeing this album as a product of some proggie wannabes could lead to a poor assessing of its qualities... and that would be a sad mistake. Spirit was the brainchild of guitarist Randy California, an unrepentant follower of Jimmi Hendrix lead, and undisputed icon of the hippie psychedelic movement. The main mover of his music is, therefore, the acid electric guitar phrasing coming straight from this ancestor. Take it or leave it. I personally took it, and I'm happy with that decision. This release doesn't represent de heyday of their glory, obviously, but still so, it's a fine rendition of their superb interplay and improvisational skills. The songs are very good and even their voices sound in great form. If you like epic psychedelic rock firmly based on razor-sharp guitar, don't let it pass.
 The Family That Plays Together by SPIRIT album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.82 | 90 ratings

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The Family That Plays Together
Spirit Proto-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Special Collaborator PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic

4 stars Los Angeles based SPIRIT were riding high after their eponymous debut album found some success and even hit the Billboard album chart's top 40. While they just released that album in January of 1968, after the entire group and their families having moved into a big yellow house in Topanga Canyon, north of LA in the countryside, they all resided together for the tail end of the 60s. The musicians in SPIRIT had the luxury to work together in a relatively serene and relaxed environment and diligently crafted a second album that came out the same year in December. The title THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER not only refers to the fact that drummer Ed Cassidy, a forty-something year old ex-jazz percussionist having been the step-father of the teenaged guitarist Randy Craig Wolfe or better known by his stage name of Randy California, but more due to the fact that the entire band along with significant others, children, pets, vices and idiosyncratic irritations were all shacked up together on a musical compound where they could practice their own 60s version of peace and love and take their music to new places hitherto unheard. And that's exactly what they did.

SPIRIT's sophomore album shows a more mature band sound that took the psychedelic rock, contemporary folk, classical and jazz- fusion elements of the debut and found them woven together in a tight musical tapestry with that off-kilter 60s psychedelia basted in a strong steady backbeat. One again Marty Paich made a reprise with his unique stamp with arrangements for string and horns which added the proper symphonic backing that with the jazz-tinged rock pieces created a veritable progressive rock template for 70s symphonic bands to expand upon. While SPIRIT never cranked out the hit singles, the opener "I Got A Line On You" was the exception as it was the band's only top 40 hit of their existence and the one track that everyone has surely heard if they have delved into 60s music at all. While that single and the closer "Aren't You Glad" add heavier aspects of rock complemented by Randy California's use of double guitar tracks, for the most part THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER is a more subdued mellow affair with the emphasis on exquisitely designed compositions that are cruising on California West Coast chill mode than anything close to the heavier Cream and Hendrix sounds of the day.

Part of SPIRIT's eclectic inspiration stemmed from the fact that Barry Hansen, who would become the kind of parody as Dr. Demento who specialized in novelty songs and comedy, had a huge collection of music in the same house that he was sharing which allowed the band to peruse the vaults for musical inspiration. And that is exactly what SPIRIT sounds like to me. There are so many tiny snippets of sounds that remind me of both past and future acts that one could rightfully write quite a lengthy thesis on the matter. The music on THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER is generally characterized by a strong groovy bass line that anchors the melodic development. The guitars and keyboards provide unique and progressive counterpoints with Cassidy's jazzified drumming style adding yet another eclectic layer. The band had mastered the art of harmonic vocal interaction much like The Beach Boys or The Mamas and the Papas but were more sophisticated than the average pop band of the era despite having cleverly crafted pop hooks that took more labyrinthine liberties.

During the year 1969, SPIRIT were at their popular (if not creative) peak with two hit albums and a top 40 single under their belt. While the band never hit the big time, during this brief moment in history, it was THEY who were the headliners while bands like Led Zeppelin, Chicago and Traffic were opening for them. While at the Atlanta Pop Festival, they performed to over 100,000 music fans in the audience and Randy California rekindled his friendship with Jimi Hendrix, with whom who briefly played in Jimmy James & The Blue Flames. THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER is an excellent sophomore release from SPIRIT. While the debut may have had a few more flashy jazz-fusion moments, this one has a more cohesive band sound which shows a clear dedication to finding the ultimate band chemistry at play. Laced with subtly addictive hooks and sophisticated progressive undercurrents, THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER is actually a little more accessible on first listen although it's slightly more angular than the average pop rock band of the era but still a testament to SPIRIT's unique musical vision.

 Spirit by SPIRIT album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.59 | 121 ratings

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Spirit
Spirit Proto-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Special Collaborator PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic

4 stars Rising out of the ashes of a prior band called The Rising Sons centered around The Ash Grove venue in mid-1960s Los Angeles, a new band emerged from many bands that frequented that same establishment. The members included percussionist Ed Cassidy, lead vocalist Jay Ferguson, bassist Mark Andes and guitarist Rnady California. The like minded musical misfits started a folk rock band called Red Roosters where they managed to score the odd high school dances and small venues around L.A. but after taking a hiatus and a cross-country trip to New York City Randy California had the chance to briefly play with Jimi Hendrix in Jimmy James and the Blue Flames but ultimately was denied moving with the band to London by his parents due to his tender young age of 15. Slightly dismayed he had to head back to California to reform his prior band and with the addition of keyboardist John Locke, he and the other Red Roosters team opted to change their name to Spirits Rebellious and that's when the true magic started to gel.

Joining in on the "Summer Of Love" hippie scene after a trip to Griffith Park, the members of the band rented an entire house in Topanga Canyon and lived together with significant others, children, pets and pretty much everything else. This is the time where the inspiration for SPIRIT's eponymously titled debut album came from. After truncating their name to simply SPIRIT, the band started to make waves by having an utterly unique sound that took the disparate styles of 60s folk and psychedelic rock and married them with the more progressive jazz-fusion styles that were emerging. The band hit upon the right sound and found success with their debut which hit #31 on the Billboard chart and found a significant amount of FM radio play as well. Likewise they were successful on the touring circuit because of not only their unique sound but their oddball appearance due to drummer Ed Cassidy's skinhead look which set him apart from the long-haired hippie scene of the era.

While SPIRIT's debut is probably better known 50 years later as the album that Jimmy Page stole the beginning riffs of "Stairway To Heavena," the irony is that in their humble beginnings, Led Zeppelin actually opened up for SPIRIT and it has been determined that Page also was inspired in many other ways as well including using the theremin mounted to his amplifier as well as some of the progressive out-of-the-box ideas that SPIRIT deftly utilized. Unfortunately despite the similarities of "Stairway To Heaven's" opening arpeggiated riff with that of SPIRIT's "Taurus," a copyright infringement suit was unsuccessful in a legal sense but in retrospect has gained SPIRIT some sort of publicity albeit in a roundabout way which is better than nothing i suppose. The court of public opinion seems to have sided the other way around however it has also been claimed that the riff originated in 1659 in a classical composition called "Sonata di Chittara, e Violino, con il duo Basso Continuo" by Italian composer Giovanni Battista Granata.

Listening to SPIRIT's debut album and thinking of them touring with Zeppelin seems like an odd match. While Zeppelin rocked the house with ballsy bluesy bravado, SPIRIT is much more subdued with an earthy folk and even psychedelic rock feel that gentle flows with a more sophisticated jazz-rock compositional approach sort of like a proto-style of Steely Dan if you will. While the tracks are diverse, they pretty much follow a strange yet pleasant path down a mellow folk tinged vocal style where Ferguson does his best Byrds impersonation while Locke on keyboards and Cassidy provide a more jazzified rhythmic groove. California's guitar straddles somewhere in between folky blues and jazz. While most tracks side on the folk rock aspects, the final near eleven minute track displays some of the most progressive oriented rock of 1968 with the closer "Elijah" which unleashes the full on jazz-fusion and time signature freak outs. This track has been a staple in live settings where the band would take turns improvising solos. There are parts in this one that make me think Golden Earring developed "Radar Love" from this one as well.

SPIRIT was an amazing band that didn't really get their just dessert. While achieving minor success during their heyday, it seems that they were more successful in inspiring other artists than actually achieving greatness themselves. Their debut was really ahead of its time and despite the critics lauding words of praise, they failed to attract the masses in droves to their musical cause. SPIRIT delivers a subtle but powerful sort of sound. It never really rocks the house but rather wriggles around a strange jazzy lounge lizard labyrinth of chord progressions with idiosyncratic intricacies and therefore isn't one of those albums that is instantly catchy but rather demands a little time to let it sink in unless the listener is well-steeped in progressive rock and jazz-fusion constructs. Personally i find SPIRIT to be an unsung hero of the 60s as i hear all kinds of juicy tidbits that seem to have inspired future artists in the 70s who took them to the next level. While SPIRIT's future releases would get more adventurous, the debut is a nice gentle mix of a classic 60s feel with subtle complexities. A very nice mix indeed.

 Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus by SPIRIT album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.14 | 209 ratings

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Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus
Spirit Proto-Prog

Review by axeman

4 stars

Mostly what you can expect from a psychedelic band. Also, it contains some AOR radio favorites Nature's Way, and Animal Zoo. But after those two, we get our first (what I would consider) prog song: Love Has Found A Way. Then there is the folksy-acoustic Why Can't I Be Free. Next is the 60s boogie number Mr. Skin (think Dr. John). Space Child is a nice psychedelic prog piece, if lounge-lizardy piano with a Moog in the middle.

Then When I Touch You begins with a visit from Sid Barrett's fuzzy things, and then some raw rock guitar, which with keyboards, builds into a sort of atmospheric anthem-paced rocker. This one definitely leaves you with the feeling that you listened to some development. Street Worm rises above its potential as a formulaic rocker. A glam Morning Will Come is notable toward the end, but that about wraps it up.

I'm going to rate this as a fine addition to a collection. Definitely some well-done songs, but it never rises past the level of some good pop/rock. Still rather good pop/rock, and a solid album.

 Spirit by SPIRIT album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.59 | 121 ratings

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Spirit
Spirit Proto-Prog

Review by aapatsos
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

2 stars In Good Spirit

This debut certainly has a 'feel good' spirit about it. Almost simultaneously with the start of the legal battle against Led Zeppelin (for apparently ripping off Spirit's "Taurus" to create "Stairway to Heaven") some 40+ years from Zep's "IV" release, I was presented with the first five albums of this band as a treat. And let me say the 'spirits' in this release can go high (but also low)...

To the untrained late 60's listener (such as myself), this may sound as a fusion of Brit psych pop in the vein of the more cheerful aspects of The Beatles and The Moody Blues (e.g. "Uncle Jack") with an intermittent injection of jazzier elements and the 'looseness' of some The Doors compositions - see for example the intriguing jazzy middle sections of "Fresh-Garbage" and "Gramophone Man". It appears to me that the album tilts more towards psych-pop than psychedelic rock and builds more on accessibility rather than mature song-writing. There are exceptions to this with the highlight "Mechanical World", a dark, slow, captivating composition with serious progressive leanings, a memorable solo and epic use of background keyboards. "Taurus", which follows, is a nice atmospheric interlude with a melody ahead of its time (as it has been proven to be!!).

The long "Elijah" is potentially the most innovative piece, which reminded me of The Doors in its main theme. Unfortunately, the jazzy improvisations derail the whole composition and the numerous returns to the main theme don't do much to save it. The rest of the album flows in a rather pleasant/ok mood but somehow 'directionless', with naive, albeit catchy at times, melodies.

Potentially ahead of its time, but seldom convincing for its potent, Spirit's debut may be a pleasant listening experience for the late 60's fans but somehow fails to maintain consistency and make a mark in my books. 2.5 stars.

 Spirit by SPIRIT album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.59 | 121 ratings

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Spirit
Spirit Proto-Prog

Review by HolyMoly
Special Collaborator Retired Admin

4 stars Right at the outset, Spirit was a band that had a lot going for it. With their first album in 1968, they were active at a time when rock music was turning into an art form -- a medium for mixing and matching styles and influences, and seeing how interesting you could make it. The members of Spirit were seemingly united in their desire to take advantage of this new musical renaissance. The band hailed from Topanga Canyon near LA, neighbors of Neil Young and right in the middle of a frothy brew of local talent. Spirit also had chops galore - the Hendrix protege' Randy California was a commanding presence on guitar even at the age of 16, and John Locke (electric piano) and Ed Cassidy (drums) both had extensive jazz experience. The band even had the looks -- not exactly handsome, but striking, and the right look at the right time. Take a look at the back cover of this LP and tell me those guys weren't hip.

And yet, this debut album was just a bit too quirky, too unclassifiable, to really invade the public consciousness like it could have. Is it psychedelic rock? Blues? Jazz? What are those orchestral arrangements doing in there? Why are they singing about garbage cans and some Robin Hood character? All valid questions for the young audience at the time. Were Spirit too eclectic for their own good? Perhaps if they'd been a little easier to pin down, they might be as well known today as, say, Buffalo Springfield; and yet, they remain a relatively obscure band.

This debut album is sneaky. It never really shows you all of its cards. These songs often have surprisingly high-energy instrumental sections inserted in the middle of otherwise downbeat pop songs ("Fresh Garbage", "Straight Arrow", "Gramophone Man", "Topanga Windows"). They strongly suggest mainstream pop with their Marty Paich-arranged string parts, and yet everything else about the song screams "underground!" There's a 10-minute jazz instrumental closing the album ("Elijah"). To put it succinctly, the strange collision of styles on an essentially low-key, mellow album makes for a fascinating experience for listeners curious to hear how many different styles can all co-exist. Less sympathetic listeners would probably dismiss it as "unfocused", but I don't ever get the impression that the band wasn't sure what they were doing.

Not Spirit's absolute best album, but a pivotal first step, and pretty much set the tone for their next few albums. Jay Ferguson's lead vocals (he also writes most of the songs; future bandleader Randy California had not come into his own as a songwriter yet, notwithstanding the lovely instrumental "Taurus") are pretty tentative compared to his beautiful work on future albums, but his songcraft is already first-rate and eclectic as heck.

I like to think there is a parallel universe wherein Spirit are a household name like Hendrix. They really do seem to define the times they existed in, even as they continually throw curveballs on this puzzling but highly accomplished and successful debut album.

Thanks to chopper for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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