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High Tide - Sea Shanties CD (album) cover


High Tide


Heavy Prog

3.86 | 229 ratings

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3 stars High Tide were formed in 1969 as a vehicle for Tony Hill's psychedelic explorations. It is thus appropriate that his strong guitar playing is both the backbone and dominant voice on Sea Shanties, full of long passages of heavy riffing and impressive improvisational soloing overflowing with inventive ideas. By contrast, Simon House is a mere shadow of his later self. When he shines, his violin is as mellifluous as ever, but much of the time is spent attempting to emulate Hill's guitar instead of playing to his own strengths, especially on the first pair of tracks.

It is distortion, applied as a deliberate artistic ploy to guitar and violin, that initially grabs the listener's attention. Vast fistfuls of it! Which exacerbates a poor definition of bass and drums, though strangely enhancing some instrumental passages to create a more spacey/trippy feel unaided by keyboards. Another overriding initial impression is of weight - as in heavy, particularly on the first two tracks. These stand out as rough and raw precursors to metal or grunge.

Overall, the material here is an amalgam of songs, improvised soloing and heavy riffing, seemlessly combined in a satisfyingly organic manner. Unlike their second album, the musical elements flow naturally to form homogeneous compositions whose weakest link is the core songs. Generally, they are not the most memorable melodies and Hill's unintelligible vocals fail to carry them over the dominant instruments.

Futilist's Lament sets out their stall, loud and heavy with some lovely guitar work from Hill amidst swathes of distortion, but only an average song. Death Warmed Up is more of the same but without any vocals - just loud-'n'-proud riffing for nine minutes and some manic wah-wah guitar. Excellent interplay between House and Hill on this one.

Pushed But Not Forgotten finally brings some relief from the onslaught. Beginning as a quiet and delicate late '60s psychedelic lounge song for a minute or so before the inevitable distorted guitar bursts forth, it alternates soft and gentle vocal passages with louder aggressive instrumental sections. House begins to find his voice here, reaching a peak on Walking Down Their Outlook where his violin leads the way with sympathetic support from Hill. This is easily the best track on the album - despite a (short) drum solo - a spritely song with a tricksy tune that Hill doesn't quite nail.

Another change of tack for the final two tracks, introducing a slightly bluesy element to the mix [and, curiously, the guitar and violin swap channels for these two songs]. The uninspired Missing Out becomes boring by half distance, its cause not aided by Hill's disjointed improvising during the second half. Despite a nice little violin riff around the 4:30 mark, Nowhere is an unmemorable song, poorly sung and with an unsympathetic overpowering arrangement. Sadly, a weak ending to an otherwise good album.

Sea Shanties is an interesting document of an altogether simpler age when an overloaded amp, a wah-wah peddle and lots of imagination was all you needed. I cannot be sure, but I suspect it was recorded live-in-the-studio with overdubs limited to vocals. Clearly Hill's top-drawer guitar work is its main attraction, but overall there are too many weaknesses to give it a strong recommendation.

Joolz | 3/5 |


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