Columbia 1968 / Esoteric 2014
Post-Summer of Love cynical observations from a non-rock rock band.
There have been musical collectives named after continents, cities and countries, but this one was the first to zoom on a certain territory in order to smear social commentary all over it. The USA mastermind Joseph Byrd, a keyboard player and a friend of La Monte Young from his Stanford days and Yoko Ono’s co-runner in Fluxus, felt the need to tap into a pop idiom in order to get his message across, although on different terms to rockers who had much more arresting presence. Nevertheless, with kindred spirits in tow, including singer Dorothy Moskowitz yet having no place for a guitar, Byrd created a cult psychedelic classic which has outlived the record’s period references and parody spans. It takes some effort getting into it – not for nothing the refrain of “The American Metaphysical Circus” warns: “The cost of one admission is your mind” – and then, this hodge-podge of ideas begins to make sense and reveal its charm.
It starts with a collage wherein fair and march mix and match with a vertiginous sound effect, so there’s little surprise in the soft, bass-punctured and violin-embroidered, addition of “Cloud Song” to the proceedings, as what else its inspiration Vinnie the Pooh did if not get high only to get stung? Here, the sting comes with another show tune, “I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar,” a spin on “I Wouldn’t Leave My Wooden Hut For You,” and “Love Song For The Dead Ché” that has an almost orchestral backdrop. Yet the heavy charge and crazy modulations behind “Hard Coming Love” and the fuzz of “Coming Down” are as acid-kissed as it gets to be able to smother JEFFERSON AIRPLANE with their own surrealistic pillow, and if there’s a shadow of IRON BUTTERFLY in its melody, “The Garden Of Earthly Delights” outlines it with a hit-bold punch. And then all of this comes together in “The American Way Of Love”: think “A Day In The Life” without going into a dream or entering a sububrban-conscientious nightmare of Zappa-proportions and Brian Wilson sort of catchiness.
“How much it’s been?” asks a runout curve. A lot. Unfortunately, Byrd was banished from his own band to never be as convincing. The same concerns the new line-up whose smattering of tracks such as the memorable “Do You Follow Me” is among this reissue’s bonuses. These, with early versions, alternate cuts and outtakes, give more substance to the original ten tracks but somehow dilute the concentrated power of the states… of mind.