Songs from the West Coast Camelot: the entire 1966-1975 recordings of a group whose kingdom didn’t come.
It was a weird, if wonderful, 9-year period for this ensemble because they still consider themselves a band of brothers. Their creatively stimulating communal living resulted in fantastic live shows and two dozen tracks that made it onto tape but not vinyl – until now, that is, when there’s a 3LP edition alongside a 2CD-set – and the quartet disintegrated when a building they leased had to be vacated right at the start of the sessions for UP’s debut album. It could have been a solid piece of hard rock, as suggested by the seven cuts from April 1975, yet some of the songs had been brought to studio fruition after a long gestation: that’s what gives the group’s output a certain integrity, even with some songs credited to BLUE FEVER and TIMNE, the ensemble’s first incarnations.
So if “Kristina” has 1966 written all over its gloomy jangle, opener “You’re A Human Now” – penned during the Summer of Love but committed to tape in 1974 – is where the personal becomes universal and heavy riffs complement the voices’ twine. Emerging as one of the most underrated axemen ever, Bruce Marelich can also wax lyrical to create a dark mood for the “Devil’s Due” waltz, while Mike Beers’ drums deliver a dramatic solo on the funereal raga of “10 Miles To Freedom” that’s a nice reflection on the times, what with a certain player’s Vietnam experience. So although the “we shall overcome” mantra of “Side Of The Dawn” sounds too idealistic for 1969, “Luxury’s Draft” finds Mark Lightcap emoting mournfully to an anxious six-string strum, one turning into an exquisite lace for “Spanish Fly” to reveal the quartet’s art-rock leanings and speed up the pace.
Yet all this tentative anger is on the loose in the funky “See It My Way” whose vigor defies its demo quality and the band’s last missives that are as metal as anything BUDGIE or PURPLE could come up with: “Troubles” – extremely tight in its twin-guitar and organ knot – and “Man Of Means” with wah-wah vying for space with Martin Espinosa’s bass. Also laid down at the end of the ensemble’s tenure on earth, “Meanie Jeanie – Old Man” is an epic embracing all the strains of their style, from the innocence of vocal harmonies to the experience of belligerent dynamics and deep feelings. Sadly, 1968’s “They’ll Never Last” proved to be prophetic, but the band have been annually reuniting since 2004, so maybe it’s time for them to finally make that elusive album. Their back pages are a great discovery.