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EARTH OPERA

Proto-Prog • United States


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Earth Opera biography
Earth Opera emerged from the Boston folk scene (as did Appaloosa and James Taylor) and recorded two folk rock albums in the late-60's. The main figures of Peter Rowen and Dave Grisman played in various eastern US folk music groups as far back as the early 60's, and their early works can be found on the String Band Project released in 69 by folk-specialist label Elektra. Earth opera's signing to the label occurred at a moment when they were having success with rock acts, such as The Doors, Love and even Tim Buckley, so Earth Opera got their shot as well. Often portrayed as acid folk rock, they were also pinned by the reductive Bosstown (Boston) Sound syndrome, even if Earth opera didn't have much in common, certainly not in sound.

They recorded their two albums over 18 months, both produced by in-house producer Peter Siegel, with a rather stable line-up, although their second album had many guest musicians, including Velvet Underground's John Cale. Their music is a gentle folk rock with some unusual instrumentation (vibraphone), but also had a dark side, which provided some quite interesting songs, usually their longer tracks. Their second album The Great American Eagle Tragedy is maybe a bit weaker, but holds a real class title track, that should appeal to most progheads.

Not commercially successful, the group folded, and the two leaders headed for California and joined Bluegrass group Muleskinner (offshoot of The Byrds) and Old and In The Way (with Jerry Garcia, this will lead in Grisman playing on the Dead's American Beauty album). Later Rowan will form Sea Train (later Seatrain), which is of some interest for progheads. Then he joined his brothers in The Rowen Brothers, also a bluegrass group, but past 72, the Earth Opera connections are of no interest to progheads.





Why this artist must be listed in www.progarchives.com :
excellent acid folk prog



Discography:
Earth Opera (68)
The Great American Eagle Tragedy(69)

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Complete Elektra RecordingsComplete Elektra Recordings
Wounded Bird Records 2017
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EARTH OPERA discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

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

3.07 | 8 ratings
Earth Opera
1968
2.65 | 8 ratings
The Great American Eagle Tragedy
1969

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

EARTH OPERA Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

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

5.00 | 1 ratings
Earth Opera/Great American Eagle Tragedy
2004

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

EARTH OPERA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Great American Eagle Tragedy by EARTH OPERA album cover Studio Album, 1969
2.65 | 8 ratings

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The Great American Eagle Tragedy
Earth Opera Proto-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

3 stars With few takers of the uniquely idiosyncratic chamber folk progressive pop antics of their self-titled debut, Elektra Records gave EARTH OPERA one more chance to carve out their niche in an ever expanding psychedelic and experimental market that had exploded by the tail end of the 60s. On the debut album, Peter Rowan and David Grisman steered their band into the highly experimental pastures that utilized a chamber folk background and infused it with a bizarre set of unique instruments in addition to the typical rock instrumentation. Despite a highly eclectic form of psychedelic folk that ticked off the usual anti-war stances of the era, the band failed to connect to a larger audience possibly because of the awkwardness that the album exuded for despite all best efforts the everything but the kitchen sink approach didn't quite gel into a tangible and enjoyable musical reality.

Changing gears completely on the sophomore album THE GREAT AMERICAN EAGLE TRAGEDY, the band embraced the country rock and bluegrass origins of the founders Peter Rowan and David Grisman and ran with their strengths instead of forcing progressive ideas into unreceptive nooks and crannies of the music. A new lineup didn't mean the departure of previous members. Bill Stevenson continued his duties on keyboards, harpsichord, organ and vibraphone. Paul Dillon on guitar and percussion. Billy Mundi as main percussionist and John Nagy on bass. New talent was employed in order to spice up the mix a bit. Jack Bonus joined in on flute, sax and wind instruments. Richard Grando also on sax. Bill Keith on pedal steel and steel guitar and a surprise guest appearance by the Velvet Underground's own John Cale who lent a hand with guitar, viola and vocals. A couple other session musicians would also add extra bass and keys.

Once again Peter Rowan was the primary composer but this time around the music was more uniform in its approach and added the much need rock elements that were missing from the debut albeit in a more streamlined country rock context with elements of bluegrass, jazz and progressive rock finding their way into the mix. The album continued its poetic bite with hardcore anti-war lyrics and even a controversial album cover which displayed the US presidential seal with a superimposed death skull and a backdrop of bloodstains. While bold in appearance and content, the band started to make a small dent on the national music scene but ultimately was too little, too late for Elektra Records to waste any more time on the band. They would be dropped from their contract and quickly break up soon thereafter.

Lyrically both EARTH OPERA albums are rather similar with their hardcore anti-war stance but musically THE GREAT AMERICAN EAGLE TRAGEDY is by far the more consistent of the two. Despite more instruments and musicians finding their way into the mix, the album is just simply more focused albeit far less experimental. The duo of Rowan and Grisman seemed to realize that they needed to focus on their strengths rather than stuff as many elements as possible into the contours of the musical flow. On album #2 they succeed in creating a bona fide angry rock album that contains heavy guitar riffing, angry saxophone squawks and percussive outbursts woefully absent from the debut. It also helped that Rowan found his stride with his vocal presentation in a style that suits his range.

My impression with THE GREAT AMERICAN EAGLE TRAGEDY is that at this point EARTH OPERA really were starting to sound like an East Coast version of The Grateful Dead with a jazz fueled version of country rock that incorporated bluegrass and folk elements. Unfortunately the main creative duo of Rowan and Grisman were on the wrong coast for such antics. Despite the utter commercial failure of EARTH OPERA, the duo would soon relocate to California and pursue their logical musical careers in the genres of country rock and bluegrass and David Grisman would even play with Jerry Garcia on a series of solo bluegrass albums. While EARTH OPERA couldn't be considered one of the greats of rock history, they certainly deserve a special recognition for their innovative and explorative recordings. While not perfectly executed, the two albums unleashed represent an interesting moment in music history when everything was possible. Personally despite the less experimental nature, i find this sophomore album to be the more interesting of the two. 3.5 rounded down

 Earth Opera by EARTH OPERA album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.07 | 8 ratings

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Earth Opera
Earth Opera Proto-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

3 stars It's pretty much a given that the phenomenal success of The Beatles allowed the band to explore hitherto unthinkable avenues in the context of rock music which ushered in an era of extreme experimentation that was embraced by an equally explorative public. Suddenly it was en vogue to pursue every possible whim of creativity and even the record companies were getting in on the action signing new acts faster than the ink would dry. One of the more unique bands that emerged in the late 60s gold rush for all things avant-garde didn't come from England but rather the US and was the Boston based EARTH OPERA, whose prime architects David Grisman and Peter Rowan would first cross paths in 1966 with a similar interest in bluegrass, country and folk styles of music.

The duo had plenty of experience in a band setting. Rowan with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys and The Mother State Entertainers and Grisman withThe Even Dozen Jug Band and The New York Ramblers. While starting out as a folk duo, the pair acquired that infamous 60s psychedelic bug and began to craft a more eccentric style. They acquired Bill Nagy on bass, Bill Stevenson on keyboards, guitarist and percussionist Paul Dillon and primary percussionist Billy Mundi. The band found immediate interest from Elektra Records and in 1968 recorded and released their self-titled debut album which crafted a unique mix of psychedelic pop, rock, folk, jazz and classical alongside other disparate genres such as country, bluegrass and Indo-raga elements.

EARTH OPERA didn't only stand out of the pack for their unique instrumentation which in addition to the usual rock suspects included such instruments as cello, harpsichord, mandolin, mandocello and vibraphone but primarily for the bizarre tenor vocals of primary composer Peter Rowan whose darkened lyrics were right in step with the times and lashed out against the invasive powers that were devastating Vietnam in the ceaseless war that continued to send a stream of deceases soldiers back to the American mainland. While not quite a rock band and more like a heavily fortified chamber folk ensemble, EARTH OPERA nevertheless stood out from the psychedelic 60s pack especially in the less than California influenced New England area that was heavily resistant to the hippie scene.

While suited to a T in the late 60s paradigm with an anti-war stance, EARTH OPERA sounded like no other with its own musical vernacular that found bizarre juxtapositions of instruments in completely unorthodox ways. With a faux English accent and lyrics that poetically alluded to social dissatisfaction, EARTH OPERA would find orchestrated folk segments duking it out with heavy organ laden bursts of psychedelia, jangle guitar Byrds type folk rock with jazz inspired drumming, Grateful Dead styled country rock interrupted by snippets of Vaudville induced ragtime segments and in the middle of it all vibraphone solos and of course vague references to Beatles albums such as 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club.' In short, EARTH OPERA was highly experimental and one of the first bands to delve into the idea that rock music could be progressive although the rock elements seem to be the least developed.

On paper, EARTH OPERA sounds like the best thing to hit the tail end of the 60s with a highly eclectic palette that entertains the notion of complete visionary possibilities with every kind of fusion potential being strived for, however in practice the album seems a little awkward. Needless to say, Rowan's vocal style is one of the greatest hurdles to penetrating this sonic fortress. Somehow he comes off as a stoned out swami who's not sure if he wants to hit it big in Nashville or join the West coast psychedelic scene. Despite being touted in rock circles, this isn't really a rock album at all except in the most mellowed out examples. This is a folk album forced to perform all kinds of exotic circus tricks and dressed up in gaudy attire. The progressive aspects seem a little forced which finds the melodic hooks dragging around a bit trying to find that perfect foothold therefore the instruments seem to pick up the slack in unexpected ways.

Overall, EARTH OPERA cranked out an interesting debut in terms of historical value but it's not surprising to learn that the album sold poorly and failed to attract the attention that Elektra was hoping for. For a pop record, the hooks are just a little too loosy goosy and make it hard to latch onto the musical flow and as a proto-progressive rock album, the band seems to have forgotten most of the rock elements which only ooze out of the mix in rare climactic moments towards the ends of tracks. For the most part EARTH OPERA slowly played on simmer with a dreamy folk background punctuated by exotic and unexpected instrumentation for contrast's sake. Due to the lack of success, the band would undergo a completely new lineup however Elektra was willing to give the band one more chance so Rowan and Grisman returned to the studio to create their second and last album 'The Great American Eagle Tragedy' which would find a release the following year in 1969.

 The Great American Eagle Tragedy by EARTH OPERA album cover Studio Album, 1969
2.65 | 8 ratings

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The Great American Eagle Tragedy
Earth Opera Proto-Prog

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

2 stars 2.5 stars really!!

After a very interesting debut album, Earth Opera's second opus was probably the make or break album, and it was no good omen that vibraphonist Stevenson was gone, even if the group called upon many guest musician, including Velvet Underground's John Cale on viola. The album had another strong artwork, made out of a collage of faces on which was superimposed another eerie collage mixing the American eagle US emblem with a human skull, but by the time of release (it would climb up to the lower rung of the US Billboard, both single and album charts), the group was almost gone. Leader Rowen again writing the huge majority of the songs, it is a bit of a wonder how the group sounded so different with the Stevenson's vibes.

This album is unfortunately not quite as strong as its forerunner, this one veering more often in country rock, including a relatively disastrous start with Home To You and the next three tracks following suit. Only the A-side closer the 6-mins All Winter Long manages some kind of interest, with a lovely sax-flute duo.

The flipside is a totally different matter with the absolutely breathtaking 10-min+ title track, a strong cry out against Vietnam events, starting out on the spine-chilling sax wailings (ala Nucleus) then the percussion sections taking over, before the group invading the aural space in a dramatic fashion, even curdling the blood at times with all out sax and searing guitars, sometimes reminiscent of Audience's most chaotic moments. Indeed, this is really the only track hinting that the group might have had a bright future if they had not been pressured to be commercial by their label. The rest of the album is uninteresting at best, even if the closing It's Love is a rip off of the Animals' House Of The Rising Sun, offering a bit of a soothing cream over a pus-ing wound, as one can think of the waste of talent this album induced.. The album comes with a bonus track from these recording sessions After You, which is better than most of the tracks on TGAET album.

Saved solely by its awesome title track, this album is not really recommended, but it comes with their debut album in an Elektra 2 CD box-set. Peter Rowen would then go on with Sea Train (later Seatrain), whose first album is of interest for the site.

 Earth Opera by EARTH OPERA album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.07 | 8 ratings

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Earth Opera
Earth Opera Proto-Prog

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

Armed with a bizarre mock-Hindu gatefold artwork, Earth Opera's eponymous debut album is a typical US folk rock album of the time, but can't hold back the odd country flavour sprinkled here and there. Lead by guitarist and main songwriter Rowen and mandolin player David Grisman (both also play sax and sing, with the latter also playing KB), the group also has Bill Stevenson on vibraphone and keyboards, giving them a distinctive slight edge in terms of sound, even delving ever so slightly a bit in jazz realm. Rounding up the group is bassist Naggy (sometimes on the cello) and drummer Dillon who adds vocals and percussions.

Right from the leading track, Red Sox Are Winning, Earth Opera show their Boston (baseball) roots with the vibraphone providing a fun edge. But the fun is quickly over as they plunge into a 7-min+ As It Is Before, with a plaintive moaning tone taking on a dramatic twist around the end of the track; surely one of the album's highlight. The following two tracks are hesitating between different types of boosted (rocked) up folk styles, none of which are really standing out, then followed Home Of The Brave a track is grave and dramatic war track (not related to baseball or Atlanta), which finishes rather strongly and can be pointed as another highlight.

Assuming we are now on the vinyl flipside, The Child Bride is again a rather sombre track and resonates with foregone traditions. Shut The Door and Time & Again are both less interesting (wouldn't call them fillers, especially the later with its fuzzed-up guitar solos), before the weakest Full of Wonder overstays its welcome. But the album closes very strongly on the album's best moment, the superb but eerie and dreary Death By Fire, dealing with an adulteress woman, dealt away by a gay pastor.

Although a quite impressive folk rock album as such, I wouldn't dare dreaming exaggerating its importance (it didn't chart on the US billboard) and wouldn't call influential or even less essential, but it remains a good (even strong) album, borderline folk baroque and acid folk with grave Vietnam-era lyrics. Definitely worth a listen anyway.

Thanks to Sean Trane for the artist addition.

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