OK, I've put this off long enough. I have this HUGE pile of previously-unheard Strange Music in the house, which has been waiting for a YEAR to be listened to -- material for a book project that may never get finished. So I've decided to dip into it a few pieces at a time and see what happens. Maybe I can chop this pile down a bit.
At some point I'll live-blog my reactions to some of this stuff (when my energy level's up or the sun decides to come back out of the winter-western-Washington gloom) and see how far I can get through the pile before I can't take anymore. But for now, let's try this sampling....
* Happy the Man: Eye of the Storm, from 3RD/BETTER LATE.... (1983). Demo recorded in Feb '79, after Arista cut the Happys loose when their excellent second album CRAFTY HANDS failed to sell mega copies. Later covered by Camel on their half-decent '79 album I CAN SEE YOUR HOUSE FROM HERE. Camel's version has more impact. This original is in a lower key, though it's still pleasant -- though not haunting like Camel's version is. There's no real ending. One more flute solo/overdub would have set it off. A good production would have punched it up, too.
* Happy the Man: While Crome Yellow Shine, from 3RD. Pastoral keyboard driving music, watching as scenery passes by on the side of the road. Then guitar and keyboards pick it up. Their usual quick-changing, overlapping pastoral moods. Very pleasant, but needs some sax or flute to jazz it up and set it off.
* Omega: Hazug Lany, from OMEGA 5. From Hungary. Sung in Hungarian. Organ's not bad, though simple. Drums are rudimentary. Upbeat group-vocal chanting, kind of naively charming. This could have been a single -- I'm sure they're trying to chat-up some hot woman. Sort of a Hungarian version of Free's "All Right Now."
* Omega: A Madar, from OMEGA 5. Something's missing. Not enough beat? More bass? But the keyboards are a trip -- Benko Laszlo's pretty great on the Moog. But they need more energy. Naïve heavy rock, circa 1968. But the keyboards always help.
* Omega: En Elmegyek, from OMEGA 5. Uh oh, they're Slowing Things Down. Long, funereal organ opening. Low-key choir vocals. Going pastoral. Twangy guitar. Where'd the women back-up singers come from? There are no women in this band, or credited on the album cover. Enough.
* Alquin: Stranger, from NOBODY CAN WAIT FOREVER (1975). From Holland. Funky guitar. And they sing in English. Not terrible. The singer could be more forceful. OK "I know" choruses. Low-key instrumentals -- bass and keyboard solos, very modest. Low-register sax joins later, not bad. Builds slightly in intensity. Smooth sound overall. Produced by Rodger Bain (Black Sabbath, Rainbow, etc).
* Alquin: Mr. Widow, from NOBODY.... Surprisingly upbeat. The lyrics are silly. Maybe too light -- attempt at a single? Choruses are fairly catchy. The sax always helps.
* Alquin: New Guinea Sunrise, from NOBODY. Now they're gonna show-off on guitar. This needs to pick up fast. How about some sax and underwater keyboards? Beat picks up for a section called "Wake Me Up." Lyrics are still silly. Singer's annoying.
* Ray Thomas: High Above My Head, from FROM MIGHTY OAKS (1975). Moody Blues singer and flutist, who died a couple months back, shortly after it was announced that the Moodies finally made it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ray was always good for a solid song or two on Moodies albums. This is from his first solo album. Optimistic, big-band arrangement, lyrics are kinda silly. Middle break on Ray's harmonica, not bad. Production seems kinda bass-heavy. Could have been a single.
* Ray Thomas: From Mighty Oaks. Orchestral instrumental to lead off the album. Sounds like the start of a movie soundtrack. Lots of English hunting-horns. Not rock and roll. Pretty pretentious. Nothing here that would make you want to listen further.
* Greenslade: An English Western, from GREENSLADE (1973). Dave Greenslade was pretty nimble on the keys. This jumps around a lot. Can't find anything "Western" in it. Old-fashioned '70s organ sounds are pleasant. There actually seems to be a sort of repeating theme -- sort of a nautical, sea-going thing -- but not much of a tune.
* Greenslade: Melange. Jumpy old-English melody carried by sprightly keyboard and slightly-too-heavy guitar, heavy bass joins in later. Lower-key midsection with show-offy guitar and bass and wordless vocals. What's all the ominous atmosphere for? Then bubbly, aquatic keybs and bass -- jaunty tune -- then more atmosphere. Then back to the opening tune with heavily flanged guitar. Lots of noise, means nothing. A good tune would really have helped these guys. Lots of talent, but noodling around.
* Fairport Convention: She Moves Through the Fair, from THE ESSENTIAL/WHO KNOWS WHERE THE TIME GOES? An ominous ghost story, showcasing Sandy Denny's haunted voice. The best thing I've heard all day. I got addicted to Fairport around 1983, so why have I never heard this before?
* Fairport Convention: Ballad of Easy Rider, from ESSENTIAL. Sandy Denny singing the old Byrds classic. This version is downbeat and very different from the original. It's also about four times longer than the Byrds' version, which is not a good thing. Nice guitar work by Richard Thompson, of course.
...More of this stuff coming soon, along with reviews of 1,001 SONGS YOU MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE, the BEST AMERICAN SPORTS WRITING series, THOSE GUYS HAVE ALL THE FUN (an oral history of ESPN), David Hepworth's NEVER A DULL MOMENT (about rock and roll in 1971), and much more....