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AMBER

Prog Folk • United Kingdom


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Amber biography
This short-lived band was really just a duo, consisting of Keith ("Mac") MacLeod and Julian McAllister, a couple early members of the sixties Hertfordshire/St Albans-area folk and blues scene. While evidence of both British acid folk and American blues are present in their music, the real prominent sound comes from a rather heavy vibe of psychedelic sitar and Eastern hand drums. The story goes that MacLeod obtained the sitar from George Harrison via their mutual friend DONOVAN and MacLeod decided to record some tracks with another friend Jullian McAllister, which were produced by YARDBIRDS vocalist the late Keith Relf. The tracks would not surface until 2000 when Shagrat Records discovered the tapes and issued them in a limited vinyl release.

In addition to his association with DONOVAN, MacLeod had played with a number of well-known and regional acts of the day (ARGENT, Mick Softly's SOFT CLOUD, THE OTHER SIDE, EXPLODING MUSHROOMS, HURDY GURDY), and had crossed musical paths at one time or another with the likes of Boz Skaggs, Maddy Prior, the KINK's bassist Jim Rodford and the PENTANGLE's John Renbourn. His closest brush with fame came when DONOVAN offered (then rescinded) the future hit
"Hurdy Gurdy Man" to MacLeod, a song generally considered to be inspired by MacLeod's own story. But success eluded MacLeod himself, who left the music business shortly after the AMBER recordings for a career in carpentry. Rumors surfaced of an AMBER reunion around 2007, although to-date nothing new has been released.

>>Bio by ClemofNazareth (Bob Moore<<

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AMBER discography


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2.98 | 6 ratings
Pearls of Amber
1971

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AMBER Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Pearls of Amber by AMBER album cover Studio Album, 1971
2.98 | 6 ratings

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Pearls of Amber
Amber Prog Folk

Review by Matti
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Only one review before mine but it seems to say already everything. I was given this CD yesterday without knowing anything about AMBER in advance. "Originally recorded in 1971 but not officially released until 2000", says the album info. Funnily, as there are no running times but a "Discography" naming two titles with three tracks in both (dating 1971 and 1970, as a matter of fact), one could expect to hear an extended disc featuring two albums with long songs. Alas, only about 24 minutes of music here! But what can be done if this short-lived group didn't record more. A pity really, because the music is pleasing to a folk-rock listener.

Donovan is mentioned as a comparison. Why not. But happily these songs are not in the same irritating hippie-yippie Sunshine Superman mould as some of Donovan's best known songs. Also I like these vocals much more. As the songs are rather calm and hazy, Nick Drake came to my mind too for the atmosphere. Of course this stuff is more psychedelic but remains quite safely in the acoustically oriented folk troubadour music. The AMBER sound is distinctive because of the continuous use of sitar and tabla. Yet pure Raga-Rock this is not: Eastern influences are kept otherwise quite minimal.

So you really don't have to love either Raga-Rock or Psychedelia to enjoy this, if vintage folk is your thing. Sadly there's only five various songs of regular length ('Sea Shell Rock Me' has two versions), perhaps none strikingly jumping off as very surprising, but three solid stars feels like the right rating from me too. It makes me wonder why this music had to wait so long before release. I guess it's a lost little gem of Psych-Folk.

 Pearls of Amber by AMBER album cover Studio Album, 1971
2.98 | 6 ratings

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Pearls of Amber
Amber Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

3 stars Man, my eyes are burning from the pungent smoke emanating from this album even thirty-eight years after it was recorded. If you’re into heavy psyched-up sitar, grooving tabla, and vocals mildly reminiscent of Donovan (or maybe a coherent version of Spring’s Pat Moran), then this one is for you. Keith MacLeod, the original “Hurdy-Gurdy Man”, lays down some thick and herbal philosophy that recalls the finest days of post-Beatles George Harrison (from whom he borrowed the sitar played on this record), as well as faint resemblances to friends Donovan and the late Keith Relf (the Yardbirds). This stuff could have easily been worked into the riverboat scenes in Apocalypse Now.

Normally I don’t get into repetitive chanting of “red, blue, green and yellow” to the fingering thud of tabla and scorched-throat warbling; but this one has a certain charm to it. Possibly that’s because this is one of those recordings that sat in a vault somewhere for thirty years or so before Shagrat Records discovered it and released it on virgin vinyl. Gotta’ love that kind of respect for the classic age of psych music.

Not much to say about individual songs though, since they all sound about the same and all are prototypical Eastern-influenced psych of the highest order (pun intended). I will say it’s a bit disappointing the record only lasts about twenty-four minutes, but apparently that’s all MacLeod and bandmate Julian McAllister recorded back then. No outtakes, early recordings or anything like that; the boys simply borrowed Harrison’s sitar and jammed for a while, then walked away to other ventures. MacLeod ended up being a carpenter, and if I’m not mistaken McAllister did some regional gigs but never really hit big.

These are all short tunes, acoustic, and fairly simple and repetitive. The point seemed to be more about grooving the Eastern vibes than really making any kind of musical statement. On that point they succeeded. “Sing on the Sunlight” is the more interesting of the tracks here simply due to the crisp production quality and clarity of tempo. There are two versions of “Sea Shell Rock Me”, both quite trippy and not all that different from each other really. The closing “Earlie in the Morning” has a weirdly Appalachian feel to it, and pretty fair harmonized vocals. But that’s about it; like I said, nothing special but a decent representation of the times.

Two and a half stars really, rounded up to three only because of the late vinyl issue and tasteful artwork. Mildly recommended, but more for psych fans than folk ones.

peace

Thanks to ClemofNazareth for the artist addition.

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