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Ramases - Space Hymns CD (album) cover

SPACE HYMNS

Ramases

 

Prog Folk

2.97 | 50 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars “We are most probably existing on a molecule inside the material of, perhaps, a living thing in the next size up.”

Sound familiar? Just about everyone has had this cosmic phylogeny conversation at some point, either as the person doing the positing, or while listening to some other stoner marveling in the wonder of his ‘discovery’ of the uncanny parallels between infinite space and molecular biology. It ranks right up there with the one about your perception of the color blue versus mine. Pubescent contemplation of the highest order, for sure.

But in this case the words are written in the liner notes of ‘Space Hymns’, one of the more unusual acid- folk-meets-philosophy albums of the late sixties/early seventies, and spawned from one of the more unusual characters around then.

Barrington Frost (aka Martin Raphael, aka Ramases) was a fascinating and clearly disturbed individual who had a chance visit from the spirit of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses (presumably Ramesses the Great, the one upon whom ten plagues were visited before freeing the Jews under Moses to begin their Biblical exodus). Apparently Frost became convinced he was in fact the reincarnation of Ramesses, and his calling was to spread the truth about the true nature of the universe and mankind’s place in it, so he proceeded to rename himself Ramases (and his wife Selket) and get about the business of spreading his message through music. After two false starts with some forgotten singles, the great Ramases found himself in the company of a group of young musicians who were running Strawberry Studios in England and managed to put together this album which featured not only some tasty psych and folk- inspired tunes, but also was graced with one of the early and most spectacular covers Roger Dean would ever produce. You just can’t make up stories like this one.

Or can you? Other than the fact Ramases and his spacey wife missed the acid rock age by several years, there are a few other seeming inconsistencies to this story. First, those studio musicians who engineered and played backing on his album were none other than the entire original lineup of the seventies art-rock darlings 10cc. This in itself raises some questions, as Eric Stewart, Lol Creme, Kevin Godley and especially Graham Gouldman had already been making a very good living as anonymous ‘ghost’ musicians for a whole slew of largely fictitious bands under contract to ‘Super K Productions’ pop entrepreneurs Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz. Among the band names the quartet recorded as were Amazon Trust, the New Wave Band, Ohio Express (not the 70’s bubble-gum band of the same name), Crazy Elephant, Hotlegs, Doctor Father, the Yellow Boom Boom Room, Frabjoy & Runcible Spoon, Fighter Squadron, Silver Fleet and Festival. Kasenetz and Katz were raking in plenty of dough with Gouldman penning stock pop tunes and the rest of the band recording them.

According to Gouldman the ‘Space Hymns’ project was largely the brainchild of Ramases and his wife, with the rest of the players just sitting around on the floor strumming acoustic guitars and reveling in the mystical experience of it all. But in listening to this album one has to question whether the young but very astute pre-10cc fab four had considerably more influence on the content then they may have claimed.

Another oddity is how such a minor and twice-failed musician could have not only landed Roger Dean to do the artwork, but also managed to get the label to spring for an expensive and over-the-top triple foldout cover. And to get them to distribute it not only in the UK but also Spain (with translated liner notes) and in Japan. Pretty neat trick for a relative unknown. The only thing that could have made the story less plausible (or more so, depending on your version of reality) would have been if David Bowie were somehow connected to the project. I wonder…..

Regardless of whether this should be viewed as another pre-10cc studio release or the prophetic wisdom of a reincarnated ancient deity is a matter for the cloud that encompasses everything else we’ll never know. As for the music though, I have to admit this is a pretty awesome album that, although quite uneven and uniformly dated-sounding, is still a moving experience to listen to even today. One has to wonder if the crazy guy’s second and final album will ever make it to CD.

The opening “Life Child” is not only the tightest and most accessible song on the album, it’s also the strongest argument for Godley, Crème, Stewart and Gouldman having much more of a hand in the production than any of them admit. While the slow, ethereal opening is reminiscent of “Space Oddity”, the thing picks up quickly and morphs into a catchy combination of strumming acoustic rhythm guitar, over-amped bass and psych electric guitar behind what is supposed to be Ramases himself on vocals (sounds an awful lot like Eric Stewart to me though). Around the middle this gives way to a lengthy pure psych blast of electric guitar before circling back around to the opening arrangement. Very tight, well-constructed and easily a strong single had it been released either a couple years earlier or later and been given proper promotion. The lyrics tell a disjointed tale of a disregarded deity destroyed by those he came to save: “came down to Earth to comfort me… so that my spirit could be free… we left you hanging on a hill… why won’t we ever do your will”. Sound familiar? Perhaps, but even with the spiritual leaning I don’t get the impression this was intended to be a Christian message; after all, the guy who wrote it named himself after one of the Bible’s most nefarious nemeses. I have to say that if the entire album had the same sense of purpose as this track though, I might consider it a masterpiece. But alas, such is not the case.

“Oh Mister” is more in the vein of the sixties proto-versions of many future hard rockers like Manfred Mann, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks. The instrumentation is simpler, the lyrics almost nauseatingly repetitive (“Oh mister, hello – hello – hello”, etc.), and the tempo quite tepid. The extensive percussion makes things a bit more interesting, but not a whole lot.

Ramases launches into a full-fledged Donovan-like folk anthem on “And the Whole World” with fellow divine-being Selket providing not-quite harmonizing vocal accompaniment. The story here is almost identical to the late sixties Bee Gees tune “I Started a Joke”, but in this case apparently from the point of view of that unnamed space alien cum deity the album seems to be dedicated to.

“Quasar One” was also released as a single, but was mistakenly titled “Crazy One” on that disk. This is completely steeped in space psych with whining, other-wordly vocals and flat synthesized strings along with a choppy acoustic guitar riff. I’d compare the experience of hearing this one with a clear mind to peeking through 3d-glasses at something not designed in 3d. Oddly interesting, but not exactly the audience the artist was going for. This one was meant for smoke-filled eyes.

The fifth track on the album is either an absolutely brilliant work of art, or one of the most insipid pieces of music ever recorded. Whichever, once you’ve heard it the song will never leave your consciousness. Ever. Seriously, I’m warning you. Spoiler alert. “You’re the only one Joe, the only one”. “the only one Joe, the only one”. “the only one Joe, the only one”. Damn-it, stop!

The lyrics (that’s all of them above, repeated thirty times or so whilst the music varies itself slightly from iteration to iteration) come from a line uttered by Jennifer Salt to her boyfriend and soon-to-be male prostitute Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy. You gotta’ wonder about a guy who could turn one line from a movie into an entire song.

“Earth-People”, like “Quasar One” is a whacked-out acid folk number with weird lines from an alien trying to get his message through to clueless and apathetic mankind. Kind of a very early version of Polyphonic Spree before they discovered paramilitary-style uniforms and radio.

Ramases credits himself as Martin Raphael playing sitar on “Molecular Delusions”, which as near as I can tell is a dirge-like psychedelic trance probably performed in the studio nude and late at night after a particularly tasty round of tea and brownies. The only thing I wonder about is who spits a disgusted curse (“f**k!”) out of the left speaker about a minute into the song. I guess that wasn’t caught in post- production.

Another single from album was “Balloon”, also supposedly mis-titled on the 33rpm disk as “Ballroom”. I’m fairly sure it is Crème singing on this one, and again this sounds more like a 1966 tune than one from 1971. Would have made for a decent Klaatu track on ‘Sir Army Suit’ or ‘3:47 E.S.T.’.

One of the more poignant tracks on the album is the acoustic hippy spiritual “Jesus”, which if one can dispense with 21st century jadedness is a pretty endearing song: “Jesus come back, so we’ll have no fear; come back Jesus and we’ll have no tears…”. Not much musically but another one like “You're the Only One” that will stick in your head long after the album stops playing.

The full weight of Eric Stewart and Lol Crème’s savvy with Moogs comes through on the final track from the original vinyl, “Journey to the Inside”. Ziggy Stardust-like creepy vocals, rocket launchpad synth riffs and wild reverberating sound effects make this another space-rock trip-out like “Space Oddity” or the cool part of “Frankenstein”. And just so you don’t miss out completely on the studio banter ala cosmic mysteries, the group includes a minute or so of rambling dialog about comparing distances between atomic particles and space galaxies. Yeah, good idea.

The CD reissue includes a more acoustic version of “Balloon” with prominent piano, as well as identical cuts of “Jesus” and “Oh Mister” with different titles. There’s also a tune called “Muddy Water” that sonically reminds me a whole lot of the first few Spirit albums. This is another folk number with rambling lyric chants that appear to have something to do with being spiritually cleansed in muddy water. Flashbacks all around….

This is one of those albums that hardcore prog music aficionados come across every so often and cherish even though they aren’t classics or particularly innovative or even all that great. What this album has though is stories, and character, and a messy uniqueness that you won’t ever find on a shiny and sterile shelf at your local megastore. This is the stuff you have to look for in obscure catalogs and on dubious foreign websites. Or even better, find stuck between a Rainbow Rising CD with cracked jewel case, and a K-Tel Rolling Stones compilation in some out-of-the-way, dingy and smelly used record store on the seedy side of town. Hopefully you’ll find yours there. Four stars and recommended to anyone who collects this stuff because it refuses to conform to any molds whatsoever. Rest in peace Ramases.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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