EMI 1973 / Angel Air 2017
There and back again: long-forgotten borderline adventure of former Yardbird and his intrepid cohorts.
“I just fancied singing my own songs and composing them on the piano”: that’s how, in Jim McCarty‘s words, this band came to be once the drummer had left RENAISSANCE in the middle of sessions for their second album. Moving to the front, he secured a solid ensemble to flesh out those compositions, with ex-RAW MATERIAL guitarist Dave Greene and MANFRED MANN CHAPTER THREE drummer Craig Collinge opening it all to improvisational possibilities, yet the enterprise proved to be short-lived. The band’s only LP may have sunk without a trace – to debut on CD here – only that trace was always there.
Jim’s former group would cover the title piece of “On The Frontier” a few months down the line, but there’s a charged urgency to the ivories-driven original to send ripples across the tracks and veer away before voices elevate the country-tinctured “Midnight Train” above the painstakingly textured surface of the record – best felt on “Sepia Sister” which, in its grand understatement, could shine on McCarty’s next venture, ILLUSION. In a SHOOT context, though, the momentum-gaining “Living Blind” unfolds as a demonstration of the band’s jazzy edge, from electric keyboard strokes to the shards of brass that are also sprinkled over Greene’s acid-kissed six strings to add a touch of psychedelic delight to “The Neon Life” whose previously unreleased live-on-radio version extended it to highlight the collective’s interplay and vocal harmonies.
Another bonus, “Storms As Sorrows” where wah-wah has a field day, didn’t make the cut, but if it did there would be a nice arc between this number and an almost orchestral “Ships And Sails” which is weaving acoustic lace around the same bobbing bass. Just as majestic, and helped by a new RENAISSANCE’s John Tout on piano, “Old Time Religion” paints patinated lines over a hymnal swell, but it’s “Mean Customer” that rhythmic wonders are housed in to shake off the cobwebs and welcome raga into the fold.
Slightly exotic, although not going all over the place, the album would struggle to find a listener, so after a handful of concerts, the players became disillusioned and soon went separate ways; their only collaboration remains an essential piece of British art-rock rock puzzle.