RPC 1979 / Out-Sider 2016
Out of The Black Forest shadow to shine, American art-rock rarity is ripe for rediscovery.
Michigan can hardly be associated with prog, and prog is rarely synonymic with cheap production, yet the sole album of this Saginaw quartet was an exception to all rules. Recorded on a 4-track machine and pressed in a run of 200 copies, the band’s debut disappeared without a trace to soon resurface as a bootleg LP which confused collectors with regards to the original issue date. Not 1974 as many presumed, but 1978, the year that the recently retired GI Ben MacArthur and his sister’s boyfriend, a 17-year-old Bill Heffelfinger, decided their songs, written for the most part by the former and arranged by the latter, would make a concept and formed a group to present it to the public – a pitifully small percentage of those who could find it palatable.
Properly reissued now, the album is a crisp potpourri of latter-day psychedelia with a folk tincture to it, “Light Up” setting a serene tone to it in the mix of transparent strum, heavy riffs and mellifluous lines, before the stereo-testing overture unfolds into the tremulous “Laughing Like A Lark” – rendered transcendentally orchestral by Heffelfinger’s organ and MacArthur’s guitar and gripped by Scott Stockford’s bass, an anchor for this free bird of a tune. The voice isn’t needed to weave a darker hue into “The Black Forest” – the group’s hard rocking masterpiece, high on electric flamenco flame – yet Ben’s high, clear vocals come as a perfect vehicle for the cosmic-minded pieces like “Of Only Then” where piano splashes create an earthly counterbalance to the flight. So arresting in the six-string soar of “Push On,” the instrumental swell is distilled to majestic ivories for “Prelude No.1 In C Major” and fleshed out again to deliver a delicious spaced-out coda to it all.
There was a follow-up to this glorious platter, but it didn’t elevate the ensemble to prog Olympus. Hopefully, there’s a place for them in prog pantheon now.