Monday, December 19, 2011

#507: "If We Were Wise"

Can't believe I haven't reviewed Providence's classic 1972 album EVER SENSE THE DAWN in-depth in the 2+ years I've been here at Blogger. Know I reviewed it at my old dead website, & I've mentioned it in passing a coupla times. It's 1 of my all-time favorites.
So, in celebration of Simon Reynolds' RETROMANIA & his pop-music-devours-its-own-past thesis, Merry Christmas....

Providence's EVER SENSE THE DAWN is a sorta kinder, gentler Moody Blues album, released on the Moodies' Threshold label back in 1972. It's the only album by this classical&folk-based Boise, Idaho band -- who strangely enuf have their own Wikipedia page. SOMEBODY out there musta bought the album back in the day....
I'd heard OF the album & band, but I THINK all the music I'd ever heard from it prior 2 1977 was the last 30 seconds of one song, "Fantasy Fugue," played over Boise's KFXD-AM at the end of 1973. But the memory's hazy. I could B wrong about the time. I remember the DJ saying at the end of the track, "I love those people...."
Flash-forward to mid-1977. The 1st time I ever walked in2 the record store where I later worked 4 3 years, I asked the manager if they could order this album. He told me no, it was out of print -- but I could buy his copy ... for $2,000!
Flash-forward 6 more months: My highschool sweetheart gets a spot in the Boise State University orchestra -- where it turns out she's playing viola next 2 a former member of the band! & he tells her he doesn't know where she can find copies of the album either....
A friend of ours named Thom West has a copy of the album -- Mt. Hood on the cover, photographed thru what looks like a sailing ship's porthole. The 6 members of the band R on the back, photographed with their instruments in Boise's Julia Davis Park.
Thom lets me tape the album -- along with some Wings & Who & Wackers trax I don't have -- & the music is way diffrent, not Xactly rock&roll, kinda soft & folky, but with some great group vocals & cool guitar. There's even 1 track that sounds a little like the Moodies. Not bad, definitely something diffrent.
Then there's a rumor that a TINY hole-in-the-wall record store on the east edge of Boise's then-nearly-deserted downtown MIGHT have a coupla copies of the album 4 sale. I go there, & the store is smaller than the 8x40-foot trailer I later end up living in. But they've got lotsa vinyl all right, & after a bit of digging, I come up with halfadozen copies of the album -- at $2.19 each! I keep 1 & give the rest 2 my friends as Christmas presents. Thom gets a new copy, so does his girlfriend Melissa, my soon-2-B-X sweetie Allison, & my best friend Don. I don't remember where the other copy went.
Soon I'm playing the album constantly. Along with Gryphon, it's 1 of my 1st "Strange Music" discoveries. It suits my mood a lot -- laid back, not 2 intense, kinda folky & poetic, & with a little formal classical flavor provided by the group's violin-viola-cello trio.
Tho it's all pleasant enuf, 4 trax R immediate standouts, & I think all coulda bn radio hits. "Fantasy Fugue" is a catchy singalong travel-song that starts with autoharp(!) & builds until everybody in the studio is apparently singing along. "If We Were Wise" is a stark poem about human nature that starts with Bart Bishop's moody vocal accompanied by cello & develops in2 some great group-vocal choruses. Bassist Bob Barriatua's lyrics R the album's best. There's also a great "string break" in the middle section.
"Neptune's Door" is a spritely number about taking things 4 granted when wonders surround us -- it seems like a throwaway at 1st, but sneaks up on you. "The Stream" is another brief, dramatic number with simple lyrics & an Xcellent string arrangement.
"Mountain" is also very pleasant, & in its placement at the start of the record, seems like an Xcellent "settling in" track. There R also a couple of instrumental "sketches" featuring the string trio -- "Sketch Number Two" that leads in2 "The Stream" is especially good.
Only 1 track seems 2 miss what it aims 4 -- the closing "Behold: A Solar Sonnet" seems like an attempt 2 move in2 Moodies territory, with a little more drama, more electric guitar, & a touch of what sounds like a Mellotron. It actually succeeds pretty well until the disappointing early-Bee Gees-like ending.
The songwriting credits were pretty evenly shared. Tho Bishop dominates, Barriatua, guitarist Andy Guzie & the string trio all get multiple credits. The result is a light, airy record that never gets 2 heavy. But there's some obvious talent at work here.
Produced rather sparely by Moodies producer Tony Clarke, the album got a very brief review in ROLLING STONE. I don't know how well it sold -- apparently well enuf 4 Providence 2 get a shot at recording a 2nd album. In an on-line interview a coupla years back, Clarke said Providence recorded an entire 2nd album, scheduled 2 B called HEAVENLY HARMONIES. But he said the master tapes were stolen & never recovered.
Providence was then apparently left 2 beat themselves 2 death on the Pacific Northwest's "boogie" circuit. Their string section -- violinist Jim Cockey, cellist Tim Tompkins & his brother violist Tom Tompkins -- played on vacationing Moodies Justin Hayward & John Lodge's Xcellent 1975 album BLUE JAYS.
Not sure what happened after that, or how quickly. Barriatua went on 2 Bcome a doctor in Portland, Ore. Bishop apparently stayed in music. Not sure about the others.
All I know is I played the album constantly 4 the next few years, say '77 thru '82. If nothing else, it made great background music 4 R group's Xtremely informal get-2gethers. I still put it on now & then & play the high points -- "Fantasy Fugue" & "If We Were Wise" & "Neptune's Door" & "The Stream." I give "Behold" a listen now & then 2 -- I still think it gets across about 8 out of 10 times.
The last time I was back home in Idaho a coupla summers ago, I saw my old buddy Melissa 4 the 1st time in 30 years. She had a copy of this album propped-up on a shelf in her living room. I noticed it at the time, tho I don't clearly remember mentioning it. I think 4 both of us this album summed-up that whole '77-'78 period we went thru. I know it did 4 me.
You may have thot I didn't notice it. But believe me, M, I noticed....

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