Polydor 1973 / Esoteric 2014
Welsh quintet in the state of welcoming and waiting lay out an inviting order of things.
It was a brief span of magic when, signed to George Martin’s AIR Productions, this quintet had come up with their debut – recorded over a single weekend – before the band changed into a more commercial cloth. Artfully combining seriousness and humor, whose contrasting mix is reflected in a variety of approaches and arrangements, it pulls the listener’s attention from the first bar, once the guitars of Dai Shell and Ralph Evans unweave the folk-informed heavy yarn under “Electric Chair” into a boogie. It would jar further down discography lane but is both adventurous and infectious here, as is “Across The Sea Of Stars,” a delicate ballad with a tidal wave of voices and a six-string roll.
But there’s a different sort of excitement on offer, too. “Beans & Things” charges the drift even more with its sharp funk which adds sweet harmonies to Terry Bennett’s deliberately hoarse vocals and gets high on Congo Jones’ samba-styled percussion, while “Busted County” is a hilarious slab of easygoing country rock and one of the rare songs from that time to explicitly mention marijuana and have a tuneful ball about it. Yet if “The Way Of Me” waltzes elegantly into blues and then to a chorale, “School Days” finds its dancing feet in another Celtic song and adorns it in riffs and a twin-axe twirl and bridges a gap between WISHBONE ASH and URIAH HEEP. It all comes together in “The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg” which stitches a bluegrass roll of the title track to the unhurried mellowness of “Meanwhile Back In Merthyr” whose soaring polyphony and soft drama finishes the record in SASSAFRAS’ homeland on a spiritual note.
The same can’t be said of a soulful MOR, brass and all, single “Oh My (Don’t It Make You Want To Cry)” tagged onto this reissue as a bonus track together with its B-side “Kansas City Wine” whose joking’ rockin’ paves the way for 1975’s “Wheelin’ ‘N’ Dealin'” that has none of its predecessor’s mojo. Four decades plus on since its emergence, “Expecting Company” still is special.