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Smell Of Incense - Why Did I Get So High? CD (album) cover


Smell Of Incense


Prog Folk

2.30 | 4 ratings

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2 stars This is one of the weirder discs from a band whose entire catalog is frankly pretty odd. (The) Smell of Incense has a long history of releasing mellow psych folk that tends to be rather uneven. On their best days the band can produce stunningly creative and original progressive music, as they did with the 25- minute psych-and-trance fantasy epic "A Floral Treasury" on their sophomore release, or their take on the Peter Hammill poem "Shrine" (I guess you could call this a cover tune) that appears on their 1994 studio debut "All Mimsy Were the Borogoves". On a bad day they sound more like a bunch of acid- heads on the verge of mindless cacophony; I suppose you have to take the bad with the good.

And speaking of covers, these guys have a long-standing penchant for reworking sometimes obscure psychedelic tunes; mostly it seems just to impress listeners with the depth of their respective record collections. Previous covers have included tracks from the Kinks, Pink Floyd, Gong, the Byrds, Soft Machine, Syd Barrett, Caravan and Incredible String Band, all bands that are fairly well known even if some of the songs these guys have remade aren't. But they've also redone music from H.M.S. Bounty, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, The Jefferson Handkerchief, Velvet Illusion, Indian Puddin' & Pipe, and Faine Jade among many others. Not exactly top-drawer stuff, but some of those were exceptional renditions that demonstrated not only the band members' various talents, but also the appreciation and reverence they have for the history of psychedelic music. Or maybe just shows they have lots of discretionary time. By the way, the very tasteful psych artwork was done by lead singer Bumble B, so props to her.

Like their other single ("A Visit with Ashiya"), this was released as a 7" vinyl instead of on CD media. It's also out-of-print as far as I know, but you can find it if you really want to; I saw a copy on eBay for $8 US not long ago, and I'm sure at least one or two of the on-line services probably have it (although sadly Amazon does not). On to the music though.

The 'A' side contains "Why Did I Get So High?", a tune from the Peanut Butter Conspiracy's 1967 debut album 'Is Spreading' (funny album title - get it?). And yes, the song is about exactly what you would expect, and consists largely of repetitive lyrics with nearly every line beginning with "why did I get so high, just to " . fill in the blank. The arrangements are fairly simple; particularly the drum and bass line which sound like something a teenage dance band might roll out as a mixer number. I've heard the original version of this song by the way, and it is actually quite a bit better than this cover, with some tight guitar fuzz and excellent vocals from the late Sandi Robison (with drums from her ex- husband, the late Jim Voigt). That one is much more readily available as well, since PBC's records have all been reissued on CD in the past few years. An interesting choice considering this tune was never even released as a single by PBC. It was written by the band's original bassist Alan Brackett, who had joined the group after stints with the Righteous Brothers and Jan & Dean (talk about a big musical shift!). Brackett would go on to a lengthy career in commercial music (film and television); and as an interesting aside, he also produced Randy Meisner's first solo album in 1982. A much better PBC cover would have been "Then Came Love", a 1966 recording from the band. This was their first recording I believe, and has also been called out as possibly the first true symphonic prog song every recorded. Hunt that one down and see for yourself.

On the flip side of the record the band offers their take on Fifty Foot Hose's "If Not This Time", another obscure non-single that originally appeared on that band's only release, the 1969 weird electronic- meets-psych album 'Cauldron'. Here again the original outshines the remake. Fifty Foot Hose were known for their experimental approach to music-making, predating acts like Throbbing Gristle and other noise/industrial acts that would follow years later. Their music featured esoteric homemade instruments, rambling and sometimes atonal arrangements, and odd employment of amplification that Smell of Incense aren't quite able to live up to with their more conventional keyboards and synthesizers. Another interesting bit of trivia: Fifty Foot Hose essentially disbanded when most members of the group signed on for the San Francisco leg of the musical Hair, including their singer Nancy Blossom's lead role in that show. Peanut Butter Conspiracy's lead singer the late Sandi Robison also appeared in Hair, although I believe her tour was during the New York showings. Small world.

Finally the record, band and music all come back down to Earth with the closing and appropriately- titled "Coming Down", a Joe Byrd-penned tune that appeared on the United States of America's 1968 studio release. USA lead singer Dorothy Moskowitz also contributed to the song, and once again the original is the preferred version as far as I'm concerned. While I love Bumble B's throwback and enthusiastic vocals, Ms. Moskowitz (who never appeared in any version of Hair as far as I know) has a much more authentic-sounding timbre of the hazy hippie days, mostly because her voice was actually authentically recorded back during the hazy hippie days. USA's keyboards and psych guitar were also much superior to those of Smell of Incense, at least as far as this single is concerned.

While this is really an interesting little record from a psych music historical perspective, I have to say that in the final analysis it really isn't a progressive work as much as it is a minor tribute recording. Considering the thing has long been out-of-print and is highly unlikely to ever be reissued, I would say it belongs in the 'for collectors only' category, even for fans of the band. If you happen to run across a good copy then by all means buy it, for its conversational value if nothing else; but otherwise I'd more recommend that you hunt down respective copies of 'Is Spreading', 'Cauldron' and 'The United States of America' instead. You'll hear the real-deal as far as these songs are concerned, and you'll have the added pleasure of checking out the rest of those bands' music as well.


ClemofNazareth | 2/5 |


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