OK, back in the day one of the neat things about tracking down Strange Music was finding good stuff by bands I'd never heard of. Basing buying decisions on cool album covers or neat instruments used by the musicians, etc. That was back in the day when I thought I was open-minded.
Now I have a handful of albums here by folks I've either never heard of or just barely heard-of, and we'll see how far I get and how well their music holds up. Maybe there's a REASON they remain obscure. Onward....
* Astralasia -- Afterlife, from THE SPACE BETWEEN (1996). OK, now this is some of that "electronica" rave stuff that the kids like so much. From England, with a spacey album-cover and a vaguely Middle-Eastern look. On Magic Eye Records. No musician's credits. swirling synthesizer, deep-voiced chanting by a male vocalist, FAST beat -- I could see doing the dishes or vacuuming to this. Imagine Gong updated to the new century and you wouldn't be far off. Not bad, but pretty speedy for first thing in the morning.
* Astralasia -- Sully's Trip, from THE SPACE BETWEEN. The drums take over -- very trebly-mixed drum kit with swirly high-pitched synth. How do they keep the beat so fast? Do people actually DANCE to this stuff? Nobody my age. Still reminded of Gong, only WAY faster. Suddenly a bit of fiddle. These folks drank WAY too many energy drinks. Still, not bad. Distant deep bass and airy wordless vocals. Interesting, and very different. But man it moves fast.... OK, Gong meets Can. Nice grooves, man....
* Astralasia -- Apple of Durga's Eyes, from THE SPACE BETWEEN. This slows things down at first, and adds female chanting. Sorta dreamy mood at first, then it picks up. Gets way faster. Nice bass and washy synths. Fast on their feet, these kids. It may not be MY thing, but it's catchy and it'll keep you moving. Whadda ya know, I'm listening to electronica and finding it ... not bad. I would never have listened to this on my own, if it weren't for the service I'm supposed to provide for y'all.... Keep that bubbly synth going and I'll become a fan....
* Astralasia -- Fantasize, from THE SPACE BETWEEN. More bouncy, swirly synth, then a heavy beat comes in, and Gong-style "space whisper" female vocals, turning into a chant. I wonder if these kids have ever heard Gong? Gong with a heavier beat and no sax, and here we are. ...Ok, this is kind of a synthesized space-whisper seduction piece. I think we might be done here.
* Banish Misfortune -- Ms. Mirelda's Beach, from THROUGH THE HOURGLASS (1985). Light progressive-folk, just as I thought from the cover, which looks like a gentle psychedelic leftover from the late-'60s. Light-fingered guitar from Rusty Sabella, Tim Weisberg-like flute from Kirk Johnson. The quartet's from Alaska. On Kicking Mule Records, a folk label from California. Nice, light, pleasant -- maybe I shoulda started out with this. Good early-morning music.
* Banish Misfortune -- Sweet Delights of Music, from THROUGH THE HOURGLASS. String section followed by overdubbed vocals by Lauren Pelon, who sounds like a more restrained Annie Haslam from Renaissance. OK, but the vocals are so tight I can't hear the words -- it just sounds like voices chiming wordlessly, even tho there are lyrics. String section gets an Amazing-Blondel-like medieval sound.
* Banish Misfortune -- Geordie, from THROUGH THE HOURGLASS. Traditional English ballad. Now Pelon sounds more like Sandy Denny from Fairport Convention. Lulling male vocals in background. Nice, tho not stunning. The usual tragic lyrics you'd expect. Next.
* Banish Misfortune -- Angle of Repose, from THROUGH THE HOURGLASS. More light finger-pickin' into very lite flute jazz. Onward.
* Edwards Hand -- US Flag, from STRANDED (1970) -- All I know about keyboard-player Rod Edwards and guitarist Roger Hand is that they back Gordon Giltrap on his rather nice '70s/'80s progressive-guitar albums. this opens with some strident rocking, brief vocal chanting and then an atomic explosion. And then the song starts.... Very gentle weedy vocals, not far from Simon and Garfunkel, CSNY, like that. The lyrics are BADLY dated (anti-establishment, Mr. Man, Uncle Sam, like that), but the duo vocals are delivered with absolutely no venom, very sweet. And they can play. Produced by George Martin! John Wetton on bass! James Litherland from Colosseum on guitar! On RCA Records! This musta been from back in the day when record companies put out anything they thought the kids might buy.... They DO sound like immigrants who don't want to be sent home -- which I guess makes this relevant to today....
* Edwards Hand -- Sheriff Myras Lincoln, from STRANDED. The lyrics get worse. way worse.. Next?
* Edwards Hand -- Revolution's Death Man! from STRANDED. Ugh. heavy guitar. This is wretched. A minute in and I'm done.
* Edwards Hand -- Winter, from STRANDED. Skipping the programmed revolutionary anti-Americanism on the rest of the album. This is brief and pretty. Nice, gentle. And they can play. And sing. Maybe they shoulda tried something more pastoral....
* Medicine Head -- It's Natural, from TWO MAN BAND (1976). Acoustic, folky, nice multi-tracked echoey vocals by John Fiddler. Guess these guys had a couple hits in England. Fiddler seems to do most of the work -- guitar, piano, drums, singing. Peter Hope-Evans seems to provide the stuff that makes them sound Different: echoey harmonica, Jew's harp, "mouth bow," etc. Nice, light, different.
* Medicine Head -- Wishin' and Wishin', from TWO MAN BAND. Very light and laid-back, as we used to say. Pleasant. More nice early-morning music. Maybe TOO laid-back....
* Medicine Head -- Give it Away, from TWO MAN BAND. Ok, this is very 1976 mellow-American -- even tho they're English. Lyrics are a little too predictable and don't add to the music. This could be the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Firefall, somebody like that.
* Trees -- The Garden of Jane Delawney, from the FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK collection. Fragile, delicate English folk from around 1970. I know almost nothing about them -- their two albums are pretty rare now. Bias Boshell, who later played keyboards with Barclay James Harvest and the Moody Blues, was in this band. Celia Humphris' vocals seem very fragile. Nice harpsichord, gentle guitar. The lyrics are gently disturbing.
* Al Stewart -- A Small Fruit Song, from FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK. Heard this before, but it's been a long time. Didn't remember what a pickin' and grinnin' show-off acoustic-guitar piece this was up until the six lines of brief lyrics at the end. A quick 2:20.
* Moondog -- Stomping Ground, from FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK. This long-gray-haired New York eccentric apparently wrote pop songs for orchestras. This opens with a Zen riddle, then it's into the orchestral score. Sounds like a Phil Spector studio session, but without the great vocals.
* Amory Kane -- The Inbetween Man, from FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK. ? Gentle acoustic guitar, portentious lyrics. OK, but... not distinctive.
* Black Widow -- Come to the Sabbat, from FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK. Drum beat, light flute, and a male chorus chanting. Then Ian Anderson comes in from Jethro Tull to work out on the flute. Briefly. then an orchestra. Then the chorus: "Come to the Sabbat -- Satan's there!" Like, he wants to MEET you. This is hilarious. I'm pretty sure The Dark One would disapprove of the light flute and the orchestra. Where's the ominous organ and doomy bass, man? Picks up speed as the chanting continues. Brief orgasmic shouts toward the end. SILLY. Harmless. But on the album it's followed by Argent's wonderful "Dance in the Smoke," so that's OK.
* Byrds -- Gunga Din, from FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK. Wow, this could be anybody. This is from the Byrds' country period, and it's no big deal. Is that Gram Parsons singing? The lyrics are lame. But it's over quick.
* Mike Batt and Friends -- Introduction (Journey of a Fool), from TAROT SUITE (1979). Mike Batt was an English record-producer. I think the kids' group The Wombles was his big success. Here he's doing an Alan Parsons, using the Tarot deck as his concept. Parsons tried the same thing a year later, but his songs were better (TURN OF A FRIENDLY CARD). Lotta friends helping out here -- Mel Collins on sax, Rory Gallagher and Chris Spedding on guitar, the London Symphony Orchestra, etc. OK, but not distinctive. Bit of a disco beat. orchestral mood music.
* Mike Batt -- Imbecile, from TAROT SUITE. Roger Chapman's shaky, gravelly vocals take over. Somehow he sounds better with the LSO behind him. Almost catchy.
* Mike Batt -- Plainsong, from TAROT SUITE. Beach-Boys-like vocal effects from Batt, with orchestra.
* Mike Batt -- Lady of the Dawn, from TAROT SUITE. Batt's dreamy vocals sound like Colin Blunstone, or Barclay James Harvest. Lulling, pleasant, airy, kinda dull. We're done here.
* Badger -- Wheel of Fortune, from ONE LIVE BADGER (1973). Tony Kaye (formerly of Yes) on keybs, Roy Dyke on drums, but guitarist Brian Parrish takes the spotlight. OK jam band, kinda thin on bass. Jon Anderson of Yes co-produced, Martin Rushent (Gentle Giant, Go-Go's) co-engineered. Nice wintry cover art by Roger Dean. Tony Kaye finally gets some room to show off on organ in the middle. But this is a long 7 minutes.
* New York Rock Ensemble -- Fields of Joy, from ROLL OVER (1970). Keybsman Michael Kamen ended up playing with Pink Floyd on THE WALL and after. Starts slow and quiet, little musical additions as it goes. This album got raves from places like ROLLING STONE back in the day -- they said something like "If there's gotta be art rock, let it be like this." Gets fairly ecstatic as it goes -- lotsa opera-like male vocals. A little self-conscious, maybe. Simpler than I expected, but not terrible.
* New York Rock Ensemble -- The King is Dead, from ROLL OVER. Even rockier. More kinda silly falsetto vocals. Maybe that's why I always get these guys confused with Pavlov's Dog. Pushy instrumentation, the keybs are the best thing here. Moves pretty well. Definitely not arty. The guitar gets better. Rocks. Not bad for 50 cents at Half-Price Books....
* Crack the Sky -- Nuclear Apathy, from SAFETY IN NUMBERS (1978). A song from their LIVE SKY album, "Lighten Up McGraw," is a freakin' classic. Which is why we're not going to play the studio version of it here. I think these guys were from Illinois. Some very nice show-offy guitar here. The lyrics are ... a little distant. I like the riffin' guitar phrases, but the tune keeps trying to turn into "Lighten Up McGraw" in my head. Some nice, subtle keyboards. But these guys want lots of drama and keep turning to the show-offy guitar to provide it. This multi-part suite doesn't quite work. the parts don't fit together with enough impact.
* Crack the Sky -- Lighten Up McGraw, from SAFETY IN NUMBERS. OK, I give up. This isn't bad, and I'm happy to finally be able to read the funny lyrics, but the live version beats this to death. it's just way more exciting. this is like a blueprint.