Mercury 1969 / Esoteric 2015
Second record by Quincy Jones’ Welsh collaborators who, separately, went on to greater things but could sway your socks off way before that.
One’s not obliged to know that this band’s alumni landed on such milestone albums as Rick Wakeman‘s “King Arthur,” GENTLE GIANT’s "Octopus" or MAN’s "All's Well" to feel the potential of their motherlode. The ensemble’s tentative greatness, manifested on their 1968 debut, wouldn’t be ultimately realized but, at the time, it was enough for Quincy Jones to use the team fromWales, on producer Lou Reizner’s advice, as a vehicle for his score to the “Toy Grabbers” movie, released in 1970 under a different title. The music they laid down didn’t make it to the screen, though, and the only vestige of that is “Merry Go Round,” the cinematically gothic opener of EOB’s last LP under that name (their third, and last, platter emerged credited to BIG SLEEP) and “Ardath” is as strong a work as it gets.
Its softly flowing title track written by drummer John Weathers, the record seems to have a concept underpinning, yet for all the unifying gloom there’s no common thread to these tracks where originals give a new context to a selection of covers. As a result, Graham Bond’s “Spanish Blues” has singer Gary Pickford-Hopkins’ dark-honey character all over it, while Django Reinhardt’s “Souvenirs” is a showcase for Ray Williams’ guitar and a logical follow-up to the heavy-but-easy “The Light We See” with collective interplay reigning supreme. Their art-rock sweep might have gone awry on the bonus “Apache” – the classic’s arrangement devoid of twang and too sophisticated for its own good – but the faux-orchestral dimension of “Door (The Child That Is Born On The Sabbath Day)” could have been artificial if it didn’t come ahead of its time, the piece’s vocal gymnastics prefacing those of QUEEN.
The insistent blues “After The War” deflates that scope despite the swell of Phil Ryan’s organ, but the lullaby of “Chances” is a fitting finale for the belligerence of its predecessors. If the fields in the album’s title are Elysian ones, the record’s aftertaste -obscure but lasting – is dipped in eternity.