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High Tide - Precious Cargo CD (album) cover


High Tide


Heavy Prog

3.72 | 31 ratings

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4 stars This album is another in a very long list of progressive rock recordings from the early seventies that lay gathering dust in a vault somewhere over the decades it took for the rest of the music world to catch up. Recorded as a “live jam” in the studio shortly before the band dissolved in 1970, ‘Precious Cargo’ was not released (as far as I know) until violinist Simon House and guitarist Tony Hill resurrected the High Tide name and recorded ‘Interesting Times’ in the late eighties. As an aside, check out some reviews of that CD before laying out any money for it. The music is markedly different than what the original band produced, with both the drums tracks and the deceleration of middle age combining to result in something far less potent or interesting than its predecessors.

But this record doesn’t suffer that fate. This is a snapshot of the band in their creative prime, before the breakup and before drummer Roger Hadden’s permanent mental breakdown. The sound is slightly less heavy than their first two proper studio albums but still remarkably dark and disturbing, especially considering the time in which it was recorded. Just a few months after Woodstock where thousands were hugging each other in the mud and having wild, unprotected hippy sex under the stars, High Tide ensconced themselves in the studio and cranked out these deeply disturbing dirges that would have scared the sh!t out most of those hippy types had they had the chance to hear them.

One note though – the recording and production quality of these songs is a bit suspect. Despite them having been cleaned up in some fashion from the original tapes, the quality is toward the low end even for the early seventies, so listeners who didn’t grow up accustomed to muddy mid-range tones may find this distracting.

High Tide’s most distinctive sound came from Simon House’s electric violin, which was generally the lead instrument throughout this album and the band’s career. Tony Hill was also an excellent guitarist, and while he sounded more like MC5’s Fred Smith on the band’s first couple of albums, here he spends a bit more time exploring the edges of various chord shapes. His guitar work has been described as psychedelic on this album, and I only partially agree. There is a fair amount of fuzz and some whiny sustains like so much of the psych music of that era was known for. But Hill also seems to have some weird tuning stuff going on or something because he manages to play these riffs that seem to be well- formed, but are just off-kilter enough to be noticeable. I suspect an experienced guitarist would have a heyday dissecting Hill’s performance on this album.

The other thing worth noting is that there is very little singing on the album. When the band referred to this as a “live jam” in the liner notes they apparently meant that literally. In the few places where House does sing he adopts a sort of bored/stoned faux Jim Morrison sound, which probably helped encourage some of the erroneous psych music comparisons.

I’m not sure how much of the record is improvisational jamming, but it wouldn’t surprise me if much of it was. Most of the tracks have a distinctive guitar riff or snippet of a rhythm that gets repeated in various forms while House and Hill wander around exploring it on their respective violin and guitar, and bassist Peter Pavli does whatever it is that bassists do – I’ve never been totally clear on that subject. Hadden’s drumming is actually rather bland in my opinion; he is serviceable, but much of the spark he showed on the band’s first two albums seems to be waning.

All the songs here are generally similar in structure as described above. The opening “Blood Lagoon” and “Movie Madness” are the two that most prominently feature vocals, while “Quest”, “Inflight” and “Exploration” are instrumentals. The rest of the tracks feature more of the Morrison-drone vocals, but are even less coherent than what is on “Blood Lagoon”.

There seems to be a theme of sorts here, something about space exploration and destruction and rebirth – not all that sure since the few vocals that exist are mostly unintelligible and a couple songs like “Movie Madness” and “Rock me on your Wave” don’t seem to fit thematically. Both Akarma and Cobra Records released this, and each had their own album cover. One featured a sort of weird apocalyptic painting showing a military jet seeming to rain destruction down on a nondescript population group with a whirlpool forming in the nearby river. The other is a Roger Dean sort of thing with a sailboat/space ship being towed through some sort of void and odd mutated frog and fish-like creatures either trying to catch a ride, or eating the few humans in the picture. So I’ll amend my earlier comment about this not being psych music (which I don’t think it is), but will acknowledge that some of the band members may have been partaking in some of the recreational stimulants that inspired so much psych music back then.

I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about this CD one way or another, but I like to see music like this get resurrected and reissued now that we’re in a day where that can be done economically. Back when these songs were recorded that would have been prohibitively difficult. And I really like this band, primarily because there are so few of their contemporaries to compare them to – the band was truly an original. So on the strength of that sentiment I’m going to go with four stars for this record. Much of that is based on the great violin work by House, as well as Hill’s consistently superior guitar. But mostly it is in recognition of the fact that these guys were originals, and that most heavy prog, psych and even metal fans will find something to enjoy here. Well recommended.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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