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Spirit - Spirit CD (album) cover

SPIRIT

Spirit

 

Proto-Prog

3.54 | 93 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars Spirit was the band that caused me to realize that you really have to listen to a band’s entire discography before passing judgment on any of their individual albums. Or at least do some research to learn about the band’s history. Otherwise there’s a possibility you can miss out on a great band as a result of first hearing them on a bad album.

For Spirit, that album was ‘Feedback’. I picked it up in the seventies figuring it was just another blues-influenced, slightly psychedelic American band (which it was). But that album wasn’t really very impressive, just standard fare with nothing really to distinguish it, so I didn’t go out of my way to seek out anything else by the band. Some years I heard ‘Farther Along’ and thought it was quite a bit more creative and inspired than ‘Feedback’, so I looked for some other stuff and eventually picked up their first three albums.

What a difference! This debut sounds a bit dated overall, but it is just full of grooving sounds of the late sixties and makes a great addition to the collection of anyone who’s into interesting guitar rhythms, lively keyboards, and brightly arranged psychedelic sounds.

Guitarist Randy California was something like sixteen or seventeen when this was recorded, having been pulled into the band from his previous gigs with some L.A. band called the Red Roosters, and a summer touring with Jimi Hendrix on the East Coast before he hit it big. California’s guitar work isn’t particularly complex, but he definitely shows a great deal of creative range for someone so young. His stepfather and the band’s drummer was Ed Cassidy, a name that pops up all over the place if you’ve ever spent any time researching band bios of the seventies and eighties. The guy is in his eighties now, and apparently still performs. Keyboardist John Locke would go on to a stint with Nazareth, and there is a bit of the same kind of almost commercial-sounding, sometimes jazzy keyboard sounds on this album, particularly on the first four tracks and the closing song “Elijah”. Singer/keyboardist Jay Ferguson bears a strong resemblance to a sober Jim Morrison. He and bassist Mark Andes would leave to form Jo Jo Gunne a few years later, a band I was somewhat familiar with because their drummer came from a small town in my native Montana and was a minor celebrity as a result. All of these guys have had lengthy although somewhat obscure careers in music.

The opening track “Fresh Garbage” is a kind of early conservation themed tune, and the guitars and piano immediately catch your attention for their decisiveness and jazzy groove. This would not have been out-of-place in the early eighties with bands like R.E.M. and Let’s Active on the airwaves, but California’s psychedelic riffs serve to date this one in the late sixties. Same goes for “Uncle Jack”, but this is pure bluesy psych with only Cassidy’s drumming seeming to lean in a jazz direction.

“Mechanical World” has the most Doors-sounding vibe on the album, kind of brooding with minor keyboard chords and that mushroom-haze guitar/vocal combination that just kind of screams ‘Apocalypse Now’. The lazy ending is a bit of a disappointment, but this is yet another side of the band that makes this album an engaging experience.

I’m not sure what “Taurus” is all about, but the opening strands sound like the buildup to a Mamas and the Papas tune, but this turns out to be just a short moody instrumental.

The sitar on “Girl in Your Eye” is pure late-sixties. This is another mushroom-haze tune, but the electric piano blends in nicely and California compliments the sitar well.

You have to wonder if the band recorded these sequentially, and perhaps did a bit too much partaking on the previous track, because the next two songs are a little uninspired and suspiciously mellow. “Straight Arrow” also has a bit of sitar, and some of the same guitar sounds as ‘Girl’, but here the vocals sound closer to Buffalo Springfield than to Morrison. “Topanga Windows” is very similar, but adds a decent blues guitar bit in the middle that reminds me a bit of just about everything Mike Pinera did between 1968 and 1975. Good stuff, if not very original.

California adds some vocals on “Gramophone Man”, and this is another track that is very dated sounding and not particularly noteworthy except that once again the band veers off into a jazz funk for a while before getting back into focus. I like the guitar here but otherwise this one is lost to history.

“Water Woman” and “The Great Canyon Fire In General” are two short filler pieces, but these can be forgiven in light of the closing tune that follows. “Elijah” brings together all the sounds of the album into a single lengthy work, starting with some repetitive guitar/ keyboard before wandering off into some jazz drums with bass and guitar noodling. This is a free-form exercise that makes me laugh because it reminds me of the jazz ‘retrospective’ scene in Spinal Tap. But it helps to remember this was recorded in 1968, so that combined with the heavy jazz backgrounds of Locke and Cassidy make it not only excusable, but actually a rather enjoyable piece of mood music. All told, a decent ending to an enjoyable forty minutes or so of music.

I guess the CD re-release has some ‘bonus’ material on it, but I’ll take the original vinyl with it’s little pops and slightly-muffled treble – these fit the mood that a nearly forty year-old album should have anyway.

So I’m glad I had the chance to discover the more interesting side of Spirit than some of their seventies albums offered. This band is a true American original, and this album is a great piece of musical history. Highly recommended for fans of progressive music in general, and particularly both jazz and psychedelic fans, as well as those who just want to hear some works that do not fit the cookie-cutter mold of most blues-influenced rock bands of the late sixties. Four stars.

Rest in peace, Randy California and John Locke.

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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