Sl-Sn

 

Slack Alice (UK): Slack Alice (Philips 6308 214, 1974)
Rock
Sandra Barry (principal vocals)
Fronted by veteran vocalist Sandra Barry, Slack Alice was a barroom rock band in the manner of the Faces, and most of the LP’s tracks recall Punchin’ Judy or Vinegar Joe. However, it does have some progressive and space-rock tendencies in parts, and peaks on the beautiful (and totally out of character) sympho-prog cut ‘Gravelstone Cottage’, which is a dead ringer for the French band Sandrose. Barry and bassist Mick Howard later formed the glam-rock band Darling. GRADE: C+.
See also Darling

Slapp Happy (UK/USA/West Germany): Sort Of (Polydor 2310 204, with insert, West Germany, 1972)
Pop/Rock
Dagmar Krause (joint lead vocals, piano, percussion)
Formed by two experimental musicians plus a former vocalist with the City Preachers, this multinational band offered quirky satirical pop with a certain Velvet Underground influence (notably on ‘Blue Flower’, which strongly resembles a Nico-fronted song from their first album). With Faust providing the musical backing, the feel is simultaneously quite raw and rather polished, with catchy material ranging from the dreamy to the uptempo. GRADE: C+.
Slapp Happy (UK/USA/West Germany): Slapp Happy Or Slapp Happy (Recommended RR 5, 1980, recorded 1973)
Pop/Rock
Dagmar Krause (lead vocals)
Sources differ as to whether this album (originally intended to be entitled Casablanca Moon) was destined to be the band’s second release on Polydor or their first on Virgin. Either way, whichever label they were signed to at the time rejected the tapes and the entire set was re-recorded with radically different arrangements and issued as Slapp Happy the following year. Like their debut, this is in a garage pop style with Faust providing the backing, though the material has a much more whimsical, nostalgic feel reflecting their desire to create a more commercial album. Whilst there are some great songs here, their full potential would not be realised until they were re-recorded. As a footnote, CD reissues contain several bonus tracks, including a remarkably faithful pastiche of third album Velvet Underground on 'Karen'.

GRADE: C+.
Slapp Happy (UK/USA/West Germany): Slapp Happy (Virgin V2014, with booklet, 1974)
Pop/Rock/Avant-Garde
Dagmar Krause (principal vocals)
The band was apparently mortified at having to re-record the album, but whoever demanded they did so did them a huge favour, transforming what would have been merely a good LP into an all-time counterculture classic. With its over-the-top arrangements, peculiar melodic progressions, irresistible hooks and Dagmar Krause’s arch singing, the finished product is like a stoned cabaret performance from the Weimar Republic. Its detractors could call it camp or kitsch, but the songs have enormous depth and some highly literate and poetic lyrics, and no two tracks are particularly similar in terms of either melody or arrangement (always a good thing, in my book). The added trumpet, for instance, transforms ‘Dawn’ into a timeless masterpiece, whilst the Indian percussion makes the gorgeous ‘The Drum’ stick in the mind for days. For one album at least, Slapp Happy were the most brilliant, inventive, wigged-out pop songwriters in the world.

GRADE: A.
Slapp Happy & Henry Cow (UK/USA/West Germany): Desperate Straights (Virgin V2024, 1975)
Jazz/Rock/Progressive/Avant-Garde
Dagmar Krause (principal vocals, piano), Lindsay Cooper (oboe, bassoon)
Merging the off-kilter pop sensibilities of Slapp Happy with the free jazz leanings of Henry Cow wasn’t an obvious move, but Desperate Straights works well enough on its own terms (though it’s nowhere near as good as its predecessor). Almost like a dark yang to Slapp Happy’s yin, the feel of the music here is grave and foreboding rather than bright and playful, although it’s equally whimsical. This was the point at which Bertolt Brecht’s influence began to cast a long shadow over the careers of Dagmar Krause and her collaborators; whilst some may find her singing a little arch, this was a hugely influential album that inspired a whole raft of RIO bands. In any case, the best cut is probably the least typical: a brief psychedelic rock reinterpretation of part of Händel’s 'Messiah'. Whilst this was essentially a Slapp Happy album with Henry Cow providing the musical backing, its follow-up In Praise Of Learning (credited solely to Henry Cow) essentially saw the Cow fronted by Krause, with the other Slapp Happy members reduced to bit-part status; Slapp Happy would not record another album together for well over twenty years. GRADE: B–.
Slapp Happy (UK/USA/Germany): Ça Va (V2 VVR 1001 662, CD, UK, 1997)
Pop
Dagmar Krause (principal vocals, piano)
Slapp Happy’s unexpected comeback album sounds nothing like their seventies work, let alone their collaborations with Henry Cow. Without any avant-garde edges, this is atmospheric pop with a wistful, mournful atmosphere and arrangements dominated by keyboards and programmed percussion. For what it is, it’s very well done, with some typically clever lyrics, and it makes a refreshing change to hear Dagmar Krause singing conventional songs for the first time in a quarter of a century. That said, only ‘Moon Lovers’ is truly outstanding; in fact it’s downright superb, making one wish that Krause had composed more often. GRADE: C+.
Slapp Happy (UK/USA/Germany): Live In Japan – May, 2000 (Sound Factory SMC-021, CD, with booklet and obi, Japan, 2000)
Pop
Dagmar Krause
Mixing seventies and Ça Va material, this obscure release showcases Slapp Happy performing without backing musicians. The stripped-down, unplugged format works surprisingly well, with Krause seeming to relish the chance to demonstrate the gentler side of her broad vocal range. GRADE: C+.
See also Art Bears,  Canaille, City Preachers, Lindsay Cooper, Henry Cow, ID Company, Dagmar Krause, News From Babel, Officer!, Stormy Six, Mike Westbrook

Slapran (Sweden): Slapran (Psychotron PR 1003, UK, 2016)
Psychedelic
Maja Hjelm (lead vocals)
This is jamming psychedelic rock in the classic early seventies Scandinavian mould – relaxed and laconic, yet also fiery and intense when necessary. Most of the album is instrumental, with Maja Hjelm fronting two of the cuts; unsurprisingly, it peaks on the excellent side-long number. GRADE: B–.

Sleepy People (UK): Blunt Nails In A Sharp Wall (Soporific Foundation, cassette, 1992)
Progressive
Rachel Theresa Hope (occasional vocals, flute), Liz Wardby (keyboards)
The most obvious influence here is the Cardiacs, and this offers a similar blend of progressive rock, new wave and borderline psychedelic pop. However, Sleepy People are slightly more rooted in seventies prog, and this is simultaneously mellow yet complex, with Andrew Wood’s warbling vocals (recalling Roger Chapman and to a lesser extent Roger Wootton) adding further distinction to the fine and inventive music. GRADE: B–.
Sleepy People (UK): Paint A Ceiling On The Sky (Soporific Foundation, cassette, 1995)
Progressive
Rachel Theresa Hope, Liz Wardby
This collection of live recordings has somewhat variable sound quality (especially on the opening ‘Soporific Life’), but once again there is some excellent music here. Defining their slightly odd style is difficult: the Cardiacs are clearly an inspiration, but there’s also a healthy dash of early seventies Genesis and a lot of other elements at play. GRADE: B–.
Sleepy People (UK): Typhoid And Swans (Edgy 105 CD, CD, 1997)
Progressive
Anna Tanglewood (keyboards), Rachel Theresa Hope (flute, backing vocals)
Their second and final studio album reprises all six songs from Paint A Ceiling On The Sky as well as one from Blunt Nails In A Sharp Wall. It’s naturally better recorded than their two cassettes, and a bit more robust and rocking too, but otherwise very much business-as-usual. With a distinctive style – dreamy yet angular, trippy yet catchy – they were a fine progressive band. Singer Andrew Wood and bassist Richard Green went on to the more commercially successful (and equally interesting) Ultrasound, whilst most of the members reconvened in 2001 as Blue Apple Boy. GRADE: B–.
See also Blue Apple Boy

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (USA): Grand Opening And Closing (Seeland 523, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2001)
Avant-Garde/Progressive/Metal
Carla Kihlstedt (occasional vocals, guitar, organ, percussion, violin, autoharp)
Complete with wonderful Dadaist sleevenotes, this is an impressive and highly original set of avant-garde progressive metal. Unlike most bands in the genre, they sound like an avant-prog outfit with metal influences rather than the other way round, and the RIO movement (and Henry Cow in particular) exudes a strong influence here. Much of ‘Ablutions’ is a dead ringer for the Art Bears, whilst elsewhere there are strong industrial undertones and notable ethnic elements, with some sections being played on homemade instruments. As far from easy listening as you can imagine, this is a genuinely startling and unsettling modern prog album. GRADE: B.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (USA): Live (Sickroom SRR014, CD, with digipak, 2002)
Avant-Garde
Carla Kihlstedt
With all avant-gardists, there’s a fine line between brilliance and sheer self-indulgence, and this odd set mostly crosses it. Mixing jamming, monologues, attempts at comedy and stabs at different styles from folk to throat singing, this is an unfocused jumble of ideas that occasionally catches the ear but mostly sounds like a bunch of musos fucking around endlessly for their own entertainment. GRADE: C.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (USA): Of Natural History (Web Of Mimicry WOM019, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2004)
Avant-Garde/Progressive/Metal
Carla Kihlstedt (joint lead vocals, guitar, organ, percussion, violin, autoharp)
Amazingly, their second studio album is easily the equal of its predecessor, and in many ways a step forward: they’re still in the same musical area, but this time round they sound less like Henry Cow or any of their avant-metal contemporaries. This is remarkably odd and atmospheric music, ranging from crunchy riffing to mournful slow passages, with disconcerting sound effects linking the pieces, and shifts of mood and tempo occurring when least expected. Quite simply, this is truly progressive music in every sense of the term. GRADE: B.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (USA): In Glorious Times (The End TE082, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2007)
Avant-Garde/Progressive/Metal
Carla Kihlstedt (joint lead vocals, guitar, violin, harmonica, nyckelharpa)
Perversely, their third album is both their most Henry Cow-like and their most metallic, with a powerful, relentless sound. Picking a favourite from their studio sets is virtually impossible, as they’re all outstanding; taken collectively, they make a pretty unassailable case for Sleepytime Gorilla Museum being the best band from the first decade of the twenty-first century. GRADE: B.
See also Book Of Knots, Cosa Brava, Charming Hostess, Carla Kihlstedt, Minamo, Tin Hat Trio

Sleipnir (France): Vikings (Sleipnir 1, 1986)
Folk/Rock
Anita Thierry (joint lead vocals, dulcimer, psaltery)
Stepping forward from the most tranquil and beautiful end of Malicorne, Sleipnir modernise their rustic folk sound with slightly symphonic keyboards and drum machines (as indeed did Malicorne towards the end of their career). The combination of folk music and programmed drums usually makes me run for the hills, but this is a remarkably effective synthesis of the ancient and modern, with some nice proggy edges, bolstered by a brace of excellent original compositions. GRADE: B–.
Sleipnir (France): Vikings De Saint Clair À Mortemer (Assor BD CD 9/99, CD, 1999)
Folk/Rock/Progressive
Anita Thierry (joint lead vocals, dulcimer, psaltery), Camille Lemaire Bouchez (joint lead vocals)
The band’s belated second album – recorded with the same line-up plus the addition of a female narrator – is in some ways a reimagining of their first. Eight of the ten songs from their first reappear here, accompanied by 22 new numbers, to create an album of remarkable length and scope. Overall, this is a slight step down: to my ears, the album’s length and the frequent narrations work against it, and the drum machine is more annoying this time around (not to mention some saxophone here and there). But taken on its own terms, this is ambitious and impressive stuff, and there’s plenty to enjoy. GRADE: B–.

Grace Slick (USA): Manhole (Grunt BFL1-0347, with booklet, 1974)
Rock/Progressive
Grace Slick (principal vocals, guitar, piano)
Slick’s first ‘solo’ album is anything but: David Freiberg and Paul Kantner co-produce, occasionally co-write and play a variety of instruments. Indeed, she doesn’t appear at all on ‘It’s Only Music’, which she also didn’t write. So could this partly be a collection of unwanted outtakes from Baron Von Tollbooth…? The quality suggests it. The fifteen-minute title track breaks no new ground as a composition, but the execution is superb, with a stunning orchestral arrangement, and the equally impressive ‘Epic (#38)’ goes one step further by adding a troupe of Scottish pipers. The rest, however, is filler, making this the first less-than-excellent album of Slick’s career (and, as it turned out, the first of many). GRADE: C+.
Grace Slick (USA): Dreams (RCA AFL1-3544, with inner, 1980)
Rock
Grace Slick (lead vocals)
A remarkable return to form, Dreams showed just what Slick could achieve without the albatross of Jefferson Starship around her neck. Admittedly the four tracks by outside writers are more impressive than the five self-penned cuts (although ‘Let It Go’ is a stunning tour de force), but a high standard is maintained throughout. With lush orchestrations on almost every song, the mood is very different to the parent band and some superbly atmospheric textures are created (the title cut and ‘El Diablo’), although Slick rocks out in no uncertain terms when required (‘Angel Of Night’ and the all-time classic ‘Face To The Wind’). GRADE: B.
Grace Slick (USA): Welcome To The Wrecking Ball (RCA AQL1-3581, with insert, 1981)
Rock/Metal
Grace Slick (principal vocals)
From the sublime to the faintly ridiculous: Slick goes bonehead hard rock, and for the most part pretty well too. The title track (one of surprisingly few cuts she bothered to co-write) is stunning, and ‘Try A Little Love’ and ‘Sea Of Love’ are extremely enjoyable, but much of the rest could have come from Pat Benatar et al. GRADE: C+.

Grace Slick & others (USA): Kent State – Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (RCA ABL1-3928, 1981)
Folk/Jazz/Rock
Grace Slick (joint lead vocals)
This film soundtrack features four songs (two sung by Grace Slick and one apiece by Richie Havens and John Sebastian) followed by five instrumentals by composer Ken Lauber and his orchestra. The two Slick numbers are the country/rocker ‘Dance Around The Sun’ (which she co-wrote) and the ballad ‘They All Look The Same’, whilst the lively ‘Don’t Hide Your Light’, sung by John Sebastian, is probably the best of the songs. The instrumentals are uniformly pleasant too, completing an enjoyable set. GRADE: C+.
Grace Slick (USA): Software (RCA APL1-4791, with inner, 1984)
Pop
Grace Slick (lead vocals)
This quintessentially eighties album has dated worse than a mullet and ra ra skirt – not that I understand why Slick wanted to make a synthesised, faintly funky electropop album in the first place. Some of the songs have good lyrics, but collaborator Peter Wolf’s emptily catchy hooklines and skeletal arrangements do her no favours. Significantly, the final track ‘Bikini Atoll’ was the only number she wrote alone – and it’s brilliant, with a hauntingly beautiful melody undercut by a growing sense of menace. GRADE: E+.
See also Great Society, Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, Paul Kantner

Slovenska Gruda (Yugoslavia): Pesmi (RTL LD 0856, 1985?)
Folk
Darja Svajger (joint lead vocals, guitar)
This very rare acoustic folk album is never less than good, and sometimes outstanding, with several tracks being quite hauntingly beautiful. Here and there, they incorporate influences from madrigals to create an unusual and eerie sound; overall this is a fine example of its genre and worth hearing. GRADE: C+.

Slug (France): Namekuji (Signature SIG 11073, with digipak, 2012)
Rock
Himiko Paganotti (lead vocals)
Despite the presence of Himiko and Bernard Paganotti and Emmanuel Borghi, this isn’t zeuhl. It’s quite hard to describe what it actually is – there are elements of alternative rock and mellow jazz/rock here, a few borderline trip-hop touches and a slight pop sensibility, but it doesn’t really fall into any of those categories. It certainly isn’t prog either, being entirely song-based, with a rather dreamy and impressionistic mood, but it is all rather interesting. GRADE: C+.

See also Magma

Sly & The Family Stone (USA): A Whole New Thing (Epic BN 26324, 1967)
Pop/Soul/Psychedelic
Cynthia Robinson (trumpet)
The album is aptly titled, since Sly & The Family Stone were indeed a unique and highly original band for 1967. This wasn’t just due to their revolutionary blend of soul, funk and rock, but also for their multi-racial and mixed-gender line-up (with female musicians on trombone, and, from the second album onwards, keyboards too). The mood here is upbeat and jolly, with energetic performances and a strong pop sensibility, but darkness is never far below the surface: the disc opens with a doomy, minor-key rendition of ‘Frère Jacques’ by the horn section, before the band launches into ‘Underdog’, which clearly expounds the frustrations of being black in late-sixties America.

GRADE: C+.
Sly & The Family Stone (USA): Dance To The Music (Epic BN 26371, 1968)
Pop/Soul/Psychedelic
Rose Stone (occasional vocals, keyboards), Cynthia Robinson (trumpet)
Their second album gave them their first hit single, with the irresistibly catchy title track. It’s also a big step forward from their debut, with a much more confident sound, stronger West Coast and psychedelic elements, and greater willingness to experiment (as on ‘Dance To The Medley’, which reworks elements of the title cut over a twelve-minute semi-improvisation). It’s no exaggeration to say that this LP helped to change the face of black music for a generation. GRADE: C+.
Sly & The Family Stone (USA): Life (Epic BN 26937, 1968)
Pop/Soul/Psychedelic
Rose Stone (occasional vocals, piano), Cynthia Robinson (trumpet)
Sandwiched between two of the band’s best-loved albums, this poor-selling release is the forgotten LP in the early Family Stone catalogue. That’s a pity, as it’s easily their finest to date, with a succession of brilliantly memorable tunes and an easy consistency and swagger missing from the first two albums. GRADE: B–.
Sly & The Family Stone (USA): Stand! (Epic 26456, 1969)
Pop/Funk/Psychedelic
Rose Stone (occasional vocals, keyboards), Cynthia Robinson (trumpet)
Bolstered by their triumphal appearance at Woodstock, this was the band’s first really big-selling album – and it’s also easily their best. Taking the same basic approach as Life, it offers six superb songs and two fantastic acid-funk jams in ‘Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey’ and ‘Sex Machine’. Put simply, this is an all-time classic of both black music and psychedelic music. GRADE: B.
Sly & The Family Stone (USA): There’s A Riot Goin’ On (Epic KE 300986, 1971)
Funk
Rose Stone (occasional vocals, keyboards), Cynthia Robinson (trumpet)
Like the first Velvet Underground LP, There’s A Riot Goin’ On is so firmly ensconced in ‘Top 100 Albums Of All Time’ lists and so heavily embedded in the public consciousness as a classic that it’s almost impossible to evaluate it objectively more than forty years on. Notwithstanding, I don’t particularly like it. The backstory is fascinating – Stone’s new ‘black power’ gangster friends terrorising his white band members and driving them away; Stone’s own cocaine-fuelled eccentricity alienating his black band members, meaning he had to record most of the instruments himself; the master tape being worn almost transparent as Stone promised groupies they could sing backing vocals on the album, then erased their contributions as soon as he’d slept with them. But the music – minimalist, enervated, soulless funk – doesn’t make for a very exciting listen, even though contemporary critics may be right that it summarised the mood of black America at the time. GRADE: C+.
Sly & The Family Stone (USA): Fresh (Epic KE 32134, 1973)
Pop/Funk
Rose Stone (occasional vocals, piano), Cynthia Robinson (trumpet)
The band’s sixth album takes the languid, minimalist funk grooves of its predecessor and welds them to a greater pop sensibility. With some first-rate tunes thrown into the mix, the result is a fine LP. Highpoints include the bouncy single ‘If You Want Me To Stay’ and the irresistibly uplifting ‘If It Were Left Up To Me’, but the LP is probably best remembered for the band’s one and only cover version: a soulful but soporific take on ‘Que Sera, Sera’, sleepily crooned by Rose Stone. GRADE: C+.
Sly & The Family Stone (USA): Small Talk (Epic PE 32930, with booklet, 1974)
Pop/Funk
Rose Stone (occasional vocals, keyboards), Venetta Stone (occasional vocals, keyboards), Cynthia Robinson (trumpet)
This album is generally considered the beginning of the end for the band, but whilst it didn’t repeat the commercial success of their last few releases it’s a solid enough follow-up to Fresh. In fact, most of the tracks sound like Fresh outtakes, offering the same kind of languid but catchy funk, though the strings add an unwelcome MOR edge whenever they appear. GRADE: C+.
Sly & The Family Stone (USA): Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I’m Back (Epic EPC 81641, 1976)
Pop/Soul
Bianca Thornton (occasional vocals, clavinet), Dawn Weber (percussion, backing vocals), Virginia Ayers (percussion, backing vocals), Cynthia Robinson (trumpet), Vicki Blackwell (violin)
Belying the title, the Family Stone had never really been away (although Stone’s previous album High On You was credited as a solo set) and judging by the poor sales nobody had missed them anyway. Musically it’s a mixture of their sixties and seventies styles, offering catchy but very inconsequential funky pop/soul. It has a certain nostalgic quality today, but back in 1976, when black music was dominated by disco, this must have sounded like a relic from the dark ages. GRADE: C+.
Sly & The Family Stone (USA): Back On The Right Track (Warner Brothers BSK 3303, with inner, 1979)
Pop/Funk
Cynthia Robinson (trumpet), Rose Stone (backing vocals)
Heard Ya Missed Me… unsurprisingly failed to return the Family Stone to the mainstream, and likewise the dreadful remix album Ten Years Too Soon (Epic EPC 83640), which attempted to create disco versions of their hits, sank without trace. This didn’t do the trick either, offering less than 27 minutes of pleasant, tuneful, old-fashioned and inconsequential funk. GRADE: C+.
Sly & The Family Stone (USA): Ain’t But The One Way (Warner Brothers 1-23700, 1982)
Pop/Funk
Rose Stone, Cynthia Robinson
Stone’s last gasp (allegedly assembled from bits and pieces from various sessions, as he was too damaged to produce anything cohesive) is an enjoyable disc and a slight improvement on its predecessor. That said, the cover of ‘You Really Got Me’ is quite bizarre, and Stone stood no chance of gaining any attention with the disc during an era of genuinely innovative black music. GRADE: C+.
Sly & The Family Stone (USA): The Woodstock Experience (Epic/Legacy 88697 48241 2, double CD, with minisleeves, inners, poster and slipcase, 2009, recorded 1969)
Pop/Funk/Psychedelic
Rose Stone, Cynthia Robinson
Part of the Woodstock Experience series, this luxuriously packaged set couples the band’s best studio album Stand! with their triumphal Woodstock set. With excellent sound quality and good performances, it’s a fine overview of their most popular releases and an important archive release. GRADE: B.

Sly & The Family Stone (USA): Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert October 9th 1973 (RoxVox RVCD2113, CD, 2017, recorded 1973)
Funk
Rose Stone, Cynthia Robinson
This retrospective live set, which has excellent sound quality, captures the Family Stone in jamming, über-funky mode, stretching out on just six long tunes. The opening ‘I’m The One’ appears to be exclusive to this set, but it’s actually the album’s weakest moment, with the remaining numbers – essentially a condensed greatest hits – being quite remarkable. GRADE: B.
Sly & The Family Stone (USA): Higher! (Epic/Legacy 8869736652MC1, quadruple Blu-Spec CD2, with book sleeve, book, booklet and obi, Japan, 2013, recorded 1967-75)
Pop/Funk/Psychedelic
This excellent boxed set mainly concentrates on mono mixes of early material, taken from singles and mono LPs. However, there are also quite a few unreleased tracks, as well as familiar cuts from the stereo albums. The American issue as standard CDs (with the same catalogue number, and with identical packaging aside from the Japanese lyric booklet) came with a fifth disc of unreleased material if purchased through Amazon; this featured its own minisleeve. GRADE: B–.
See also Rose Stone

Smell Of Incense (Norway): All Mimsy Were The Borogoves (Colours COSCD 018, CD, with digipak and booklet, 1994)
Psychedelic/Progressive
SigneLine Lundstrøm (joint lead vocals, viola)
This superb debut fuses its influences wonderfully, ranging from delicate sitar-laden acid-folk to a tripped-out twelve-minute improvisation based around ‘Interstellar Overdrive’. Elsewhere the group cover the Incredible String Band and set Edmund Spenser, AA Milne and Peter Hamill’s words to music, always staying on the right side of the dividing line between seventies-inspired and retro and between beatific and kitsch. GRADE: B.
Smell Of Incense (Norway): The Gates Of Deeper Slumber (September Gurls SGCD 15, CD, with digipak, Germany, 1997)
Psychedelic/Progressive
SigneLine Lundstrøm (principal vocals, violin, viola)
Rather more ambitious than their debut, this opens with a 25-minute suite entitled ‘A Floral Treasury’. Eschewing the English influences of the first album, this is a vast cosmic opus drawing on early seventies Krautrock, with songs and instrumentals stitched together by huge walls of Mellotron and trippy effects. Two shorter songs hint back towards All Mimsy Were The Borogoves, before the album climaxes with another long suite, ‘From The Third Hemisphere’. Whilst this is a more mature record, it doesn’t have the same naïve charm as its predecessor, nor so many memorable tunes and riffs, so overall it’s a slight step down. GRADE: B–.
Smell Of Incense (Norway): Of Ullages And Dottles (September Gurls SGCD 34, with digipak, 2007)
Psychedelic/Progressive
SigneLine Lundstrøm (principal vocals, violin, viola)
This is the logical follow-up to All Mimsy Were The Borogoves that The Gates Of Deeper Slumber wasn’t, featuring musical settings of poems by William Blake, Henry Longfellow, Cicely Mary Barker and June Campbell-Cramer among others. Whilst pleasant, this is a little scrappy and disjointed, but it does improve as it goes on, with the last couple of cuts (‘Well In It’ and ‘Of Gypsies, Palms and Pirates’, both running for ten minutes) being quite sublime. GRADE: B–.
Smell Of Incense (Norway): A Curious Miscellany (September Gurls SGCD 36, CD, with digipak and booklet, Germany, 2010, recorded 1992-2005)
Psychedelic
SigneLine Lundstrøm (joint lead vocals, violin, viola)
This interesting compilation gathers together the band’s non-album singles and B-sides, demos, contributions to compilations and alternate mixes of album tracks. Along the way, there are several cover versions, including reasonably faithful interpretations of United States Of America’s ‘Coming Down’ and Fifty Foot Hose’s ‘If Not This Time’. The result is a superb psychedelic album and a wonderful companion piece to their other LPs. GRADE: B.
See also Bumble B

Smith (USA): A Group Called Smith (Dunhill 50056, 1969)
Rock
Gayle McCormick (joint lead vocals)
‘Let’s Get Together’ is among the most covered songs of the late sixties, but the version that opens this album is unique, underpinned by an unexpectedly funky riff overlaid by Gayle McCormick’s soulful singing. It’s an appropriate start for an excellent R&B album, which has a few harder-edged moments recalling Sly & The Family Stone or even Ike & Tina Turner (most notably the fuzz-driven version of ‘I Just Wanna Make Love To You’). There are no original compositions, but this does not detract significantly. GRADE: C+.
Smith (USA): Minus-Plus (Dunhill DS-50081, 1970)
Rock
Gayle McCormick (joint lead vocals)
Unsurprisingly, their second and final album is in the same vein as their first: good-natured, inconsequential soulful rock and R&B with McCormick in fine voice. I like it, but beware of occasional nonsensical dealer descriptions: this is not ‘heavy psych’, or indeed ‘psych’ of any description. GRADE: C+.
See also Gayle McCormick

Kathy Smith (USA): Some Songs I’ve Saved (Stormy Forest SFS 6003, 1970)
Singer/Songwriter
Kathy Smith (lead vocals, guitar)
Good job she saved them, too – this is a thoroughly enjoyable singer/songwriter affair that easily beats many more celebrated and commercially successful albums in the genre. The lengthy, almost progressive ‘End Of World’ and the sitar and tabla-driven ‘If I Could Touch You’ are obvious highpoints, but everything is highly competent, with gentle, spacious folk-and jazz-tinged arrangements and well-judged orchestration. GRADE: C+.
Kathy Smith (USA): 2 (Stormy Forest SFS 6009, 1971)
Singer/Songwriter
Kathy Smith (lead vocals)
Smith’s equally strong second and final album mixes haunting, mildly psychedelic acoustic ballads with gently funky hippie rock. The end result occasionally resembles a more mystical Joni Mitchell, but she also has her own distinctive style, which alone makes her unusual among early seventies singer/songwriters. The highpoint is probably the extended ‘Travel In A Circle’, with its trippy flute-led coda.

GRADE: C+.

Kendra Smith (USA): Five Ways Of Disappearing (4AD CAD 5006 CD, CD, UK, 1995)
Psychedelic
Kendra Smith (lead vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion)
Smith’s solo album starts quite oddly: ‘Aurelia’ begins in an almost electropop style before becoming rather trippy gothic music. Most of the rest is in the Velvet Underground-like vein of her earlier bands, however, and this is pleasant and accomplished throughout. GRADE: C+.
See also Dream Syndicate, Guild Of Temporal Adventurers, Opal, Rainy Day

Peter Smith & The Johnsons (UK): Faith, Folk And Nativity (Pilgrim JLP 168, 1970)
Folk
Judi Johnson (joint lead vocals)
A striking psychedelic cover hides a staid but rather beautiful Christian folk LP with a delicate and haunting atmosphere. Fans of flute will love it, as most tracks feature it prominently. GRADE: C+.

Dawn Smithson (USA): Safer Here (Kranky KRANK089, CD, with gatefold minisleeve, 2005)
Folk
Dawn Smithson (lead vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, accordion)
Playing virtually all the instruments herself, the Jessamine member offers a very different sound on her solo debut. Whilst occasionally hinting towards post-rock, this is lo-fi folk with a dark, mournful feel. It’s all atmospheric enough, sounding rather like an unplugged Mazzy Star on the closing ‘Crossroads’, but nothing else really sticks in the mind. GRADE: C+.
Dawn Smithson (USA): Earth Machine (Mind Expansion ME-2030, CD, 2008)
Folk/Psychedelic
Dawn Smithson (lead vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, accordion)
In a similar vein to her first solo album but a lot more psychedelic, this contains a few really excellent tracks making effective use of sparse electric instrumentation. GRADE: C+.
See also Jessamine

Smoke (USA): Everything (MPS 21 21291-2, West Germany, 1973)
Jazz/Rock
Shirley Puckett (occasional vocals), Lani Wilson (occasional vocals)
This enjoyable jazz/rock album was released only in Germany, but the band was American and it was taped at Wally Heider’s in San Francisco. It’s quite wide-ranging, from the tranquil opener ‘Shelda’ through the disorientating avant-garde ‘Lobotomy’ (an appropriately titled number for sure!) to passages that could have originated from Soft Machine or one of a number of Vertigo signings. The sleevenotes refer to an earlier, self-titled album, apparently recorded solely with acoustic instruments. GRADE: C+.

Smoke Fairies (UK): Strange The Things (Concentrated People CP002CD, CD, 2006)
Singer/Songwriter
Katherine Blamire, Jessica Davies
The strangest thing about Strange The Things is that whilst copies have sold for several hundred pounds – an astonishing sum for a CD, let alone one from this century – the disc has never been released, ostensibly because Blamire and Davies dislike their juvenilia. They have no reason to: these delicate, haunting bluesy folk songs, complemented by effective and varied acoustic settings, are simply lovely, recapturing a late sixties or early seventies vibe with aplomb. GRADE: B–.
Smoke Fairies (UK): Smoke Fairies (Music For Heroes, double CDR plus CD, with badge and box, 2009)
Singer/Songwriter
Katherine Blamire (joint lead vocals, guitar), Jessica Davies (joint lead vocals, guitar)
Limited to 500 copies and also know as the Tour Box, this collection brings together three CD singles adding up to an album’s worth (some 38+ minutes) of music. Like their debut, it offers beautiful and haunting dark folk with a subtle gothic edge and some faint psychedelic tinges (though this isn’t acid-folk in any conventional sense of the term). GRADE: B–.
Smoke Fairies (UK): Through Low Light And Trees (V2 SF001CDX, CD, with gatefold minisleeve and inner, 2010)
Singer/Songwriter
Katherine Blamire (joint lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, percussion), Jessica Davies (joint lead vocals, organ, concertina, percussion)
This is considerably more electric and decidedly more psychedelic – albeit still quite subtly – than their earlier work. As usual, the songs here are ethereal, haunting, mysterious, delicate and beguiling. GRADE: B–.

Smoke Fairies (UK): Blood Speaks (V2 Music SF007CD, CD, with gatefold minisleeve and booklet, 2012)
Singer/Songwriter
Katherine Blamire (joint lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, percussion), Jessica Davies (joint lead vocals, guitar, percussion)
This doesn’t really represent any kind of artistic development for the duo, but then it doesn’t really matter. Their dark, haunting songs, again given elegant electric settings, are timeless – this is an album that could have been cut at any time from the very late sixties until today. Their writing and playing is also good enough that this will stand the test of time and probably still sound retro yet contemporary fifty years from now. GRADE: B–.
Smoke Fairies (UK): Smoke Fairies (Full Time Hobby FTH187CD, double CD, with minisleeve, inner and booklet, 2014)
Singer/Songwriter
Katherine Blamire (joint lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, percussion, loops), Jessica Davies (joint lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, percussion, loops)
Whether this is the best Smoke Fairies album to date is debatable and quite difficult to decide. Almost everything they’ve recorded has offered the winning combination of haunting melodies, delicate (but not dainty) arrangements and a subtle early seventies vibe, so I’ve never rated them lower than a B–. On the other hand, though I adore their melodies they haven’t yet penned any songs that I’d rate as standalone classics – the kind of numbers I’d want to play over and over again, as a separate experience from their parent albums – so they haven’t advanced into the B-and-beyond category. A bonus disc featuring instrumental versions of five songs completes the deal.

GRADE: B–.
Smoke Fairies (UK): Wild Winter (Full Time Hobby FTH223CD, with minisleeve and inner, 2014)
Singer/Songwriter/Psychedelic
Katherine Blamire (joint lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, glockenspiel), Jessica Davies (joint lead vocals, guitar, keyboards)
Whilst the music is excellent, the best thing about Wild Winter is its sheer perversity. You’d expect the Smoke Fairies’ winter-themed album to focus on the atmospheric and ethereal end of their oeuvre, but this is the most rocking thing they’ve ever done – more retro psych than their usual spacy folk/blues moves. As such, it’s the perfect antidote to just about every other Christmas album you’ve ever heard.

GRADE: B–.

Smoke Fairies Featuring Rasputina (UK): Live At St Pancras Old Church 24/10/13 (Year Seven YR7004LP, with inner, 2015)
Singer/Songwriter
Katherine Blamire (joint lead vocals, guitar), Jessica Davies (joint lead vocals, guitar)
I’m not convinced that Smoke Fairies’ atmospheric music – performed here with backing from a string quartet – works quite as well on stage as in the studio, but there’s surprisingly little in it. It certainly helps that the guitars are electric rather than acoustic, adding a slightly steely, psychedelic edge to the proceedings as the decision to go electric did to Nico’s Chelsea Girl, which this somewhat resembles in mood and texture. GRADE: B–.
Smoke Fairies (UK): Darkness Brings The Wonders Home (Year Seven YR7010CDX, CD, with book sleeve, 2020)
Singer/Songwriter/Psychedelic
Katherine Blamire, Jessica Davies
Could any Smoke Fairies album have a more appropriate title? Yet, like Winter, the title serves to confound as this is robust and rocking rather than atmosphere and delicate, almost like a yang to Live At St Pancras Old Church’s yin. 

Smokey & His Sister (USA): Smokey And His Sister (Warner Brothers/Seven Arts WS 1763, 1968)
Pop/Folk
Viki Mimms
Whilst charming, this orchestrated folk/pop LP has a rather listless feel and a few mediocre songs, so they certainly weren’t going to provide any serious competition for the Mamas & The Papas et al. On the plus side, it does have its moments, with ‘Imagination (Strange As It May Be)’ being a minor classic, featuring some wonderful singing from Viki Mimms (who has a much better voice than her brother, but gets a far smaller share of the vocal leads). GRADE: C.
Smokey & His Sister (USA): Smokey And His Sister (Sundazed SC 6248, CD, 2007, recorded 1966-1967)
Pop/Folk
Viki Mimms
This archive release features early recordings by the duo, apparently intended for an aborted album on Columbia that would have preceded their Warner Brothers release. Whilst in the same style as their other LP, this has much better songs, making for a far more enjoyable listen. GRADE: C+.

Smokey Circles (UK/Israel): Smokey Circles Album (Carnaby CNLS 6006, UK, 1970)
Pop
The label name says it all: this is hip easy listening orchestrated pop, and the album has sold for big money in the past. I’ve actually seen this described as ‘psychedelic’, which is ridiculous: it’s basically standard early seventies MOR, though it does have a certain toytown trippiness in parts. GRADE: C–.

Gilli Smyth (UK): Mother (Charly CRL5007, 1978)
Avant-Garde
Gilli Smyth (principal vocals)
Since Smyth was neither an instrumentalist nor, strictly speaking, a singer with Gong, her solo debut could have gone in almost any direction. In fact, it’s firmly avant-garde, although gentle and melodic at the same time, with the backing ranging from folk to psychedelia (including several Gong performances from the early seventies) overlaid with found voices, effects and Smyth’s ‘space whisper’ and spoken words. The closing cut is a somewhat spaced-out children’s story, setting the direction for her next project Mother Gong. GRADE: C+.
Gilli Smyth (UK): Live In USA 79 (Ottersongs 0271 890759, cassette, 1979)
Jazz/Rock/Progressive
Gilli Smyth (principal vocals)
This obscure cassette mixes material from Gong, Mother, Fairy Tales and the forthcoming Robot Woman and takes in performances from a number of different shows. With sometimes varying sound quality, it’s a bit disjointed and inconsistent, but some of the numbers are undeniably excellent. GRADE: C+.

Gilli Smyth & Tom The Poet (UK/Australia): Living On The Brink (Street Poetry 4896972, cassette, UK, 1985)

Pop/Rock/Psychedelic
Gilli Smyth (joint lead vocals)
Despite the label name (and the name of Smyth’s new Australian collaborator), this isn’t really an album of poetry. Instead, it offers spoken word pieces with light, spacy backing composed by Harry Williamson, representing a gentler, more pop-oriented sidestep from Mother Gong. The result is a pleasant, varied and unassuming set. GRADE: C+.

Daevid Allen & Gilli Smyth (Australia/UK): Deya Daze 1976-1979 (GAS 001, cassette, 1990, recorded 1976-1979)
Folk/Rock/Psychedelic
Gilli Smyth (occasional vocals)
Mostly recorded during a rehearsal for the 1977 Gong reunion gig issued as Gong Est Mort – Vive Gong, this features a variety of rather whimsical improvisations. Folkier and gentler than Gong proper, it showcases most of Allen’s usual eccentrities and is a pleasant and mildly diverting listen. The cassette is also known with alternate artwork, with credits it on the cover to ‘Daevid Allen & Friends’, on the spine simply to ‘Daevid Allen’ and on the label to ‘Gilli Smyth & Daevid Allen’. Most of the tape was reissued as the CDR Studio Rehearsal Tapes 1977, credited to ‘Daevid Allen & Euterpe’, though this featured some different edits and a revised running order. GRADE: C+.

Daevid Allen, Harry Williamson & Gilli Smyth (UK): Stroking The Tail Of The Bird (AMP AMP CD 011, CD, 1990)
New Age/Psychedelic
Gilli Smyth (lead vocals)
Taking a step forward from the most ambient end of Gong, this unusual album mixes synthesiser, space whisper and glissando guitar on the 26-minute ‘Stroking The Tail Of A Bird’ followed by the ten-minute guitr showcase ‘Moonpeople Gliss’. All these pieces were recorded in 1987, around the same time as The Owl And The Tree, but the album concludes with a previously unreleased 1976 Daevid Allen piece in the same vein, ‘Deep Sea’. Altogether, it’s a tranquil and refreshing listening experience, indicating that both Allen and Smyth were exploring some interesting musical avenues in the late eighties. GRADE: C+.
Gilli Smyth (UK): Every Witches Way (Voiceprint VP139CD, CD, 1993)
Jazz/Rock/Avant-Garde
Gilli Smyth (lead vocals)
Smyth’s second solo album proper has both an odd artist credit (‘Gilli Smyth of Mother Gong’) and title (which should presumably be Every Witch’s Way). The disc represents a more avant-garde sidestep from Mother Gong, with Smyth reciting her poetry over partly improvised free jazz backing, with a mixture of studio and live recordings. The results are pretty good, if sometimes a bit arch, and the best track of all is actually a near-instrumental (‘Beltaine’). GRADE: C+.

Gilli Smyth (UK): It’s All A Dream (Gliss CD 006, CD, 2001)
Dance/Psychedelic
Gilli Smyth (principal vocals)
Whilst Smyth’s project Goddess Trance had taken her deeply into the realms of psychedelic dance music, this takes things to the next level – it’s equal parts acid-jazz and trip-hop. Programmed percussion, scratching and samples all abound, with very little in the way of conventional rock despite the dependable presence of Daevid Allen, and virtually all the backing is provided by her son Orlando. If that makes it sound unappealing, it’s actually surprisingly good, providing a very different backdrop for Smyth’s poetry and ‘space whisper’ – just don’t expect it to equal seventies Gong or indeed the best of Mother Gong. GRADE: C+.

Gong Matrices & Gilli Smyth (USA/UK): Parade (Voiceprint VP353CD, CD, UK, 2005)
Psychedelic
Gilli Smyth (lead vocals)
This isn’t really a Gong album, nor a Mother Gong album: it sees Smyth collaborating with an American jam band. Their spacy, sinuous backing complements her ‘space whisper’ perfectly, resulting in an excellent album, though as with Fairy Tales there are times I wish we could have less poetry and more instrumental sections. GRADE: B–.

Daevid Allen, Gilli Smyth & Orlando Allen (UK/Australia): I Am Your Egg (Voiceprint VP376CD, CD, UK, 2005)
Folk/Rock/Psychedelic
Gilli Smyth (joint lead vocals)
This unassuming little set by the Allen family covers a fair range of territory: mostly spacy soundscapes with a mild trip-hop edge interspersed with folkier songs, but there are also world music elements and even a foray into punk. It’s all of a high standard and thoroughly enjoyable, but whether it really hangs together as an album is more debatable. GRADE: C+.
Gilli Smyth & Daevid Allen (UK/Australia): Short Tales And Tall (Voiceprint VP368CD, CD, with digipak and booklet, UK, 2006)
Spoken Word
Gilli Smyth (joint lead vocals)
Rather like Mother Gong’s Fairy Tales, this consists of surreal spoken word stories and poetry set to musical backing. However, this time round, the backing – purloined from various Gong albums and related projects – is pretty sparse, so whilst it’s fun trying to identify the clips this is for the most part a spoken word album and hence is likely to have limited appeal. Worse, there is distortion and various artefacts on many of the tracks: I’m unclear whether this is in the recordings themselves or whether I have a defective copy. GRADE: C.

Gilli Smyth (UK): Paradise (Flamedog FD007, CD, with digipak, Australia, 2012)

Psychedelic

Gilli Smyth (principal vocals)

Smyth’s final album, recorded while she was approaching the age of 80, is a continuous suite of spacy music that runs the gamut from near-dance beats to ethnic sounds to a few moments of light rapping. If that makes the album sound unfocused or even opportunistic, think again – this is a wonderfully trippy suite that reaffirms Smyth’s mastery of all forms of psychedelic music and provides a fitting end to her career. GRADE: B–.

Daevid Allen & Gilli Smyth With The Soft Machine Family (UK/Australia): Live At The Roundhouse 1971 (Gonzo Multimedia HST115CD, CD, 2012, recorded 1971)
Psychedelic
Gilli Smyth (joint lead vocals)
Backed by Hugh Hopper on bass, Robert Wyatt on drums, Elton Dean on saxophone and Gerry Fields on violin, plus lots of tape loops, Allen and Smyth delivered a set of experimental poetry as part of a Soft Machine event. According to Allen’s liner notes, their set divided opinion: ‘some think it’s a fresh adventure, some simply think it’s a load of bollocks’. This set may similarly divide opinion: it sounds like the most rambling moments of early seventies live Gong, and some of it is indeed fresh and adventurous; other moments come perilously close to crossing the line into bollocks. GRADE: B–.
See also Acid Mothers Gong, Orlando Allen, Glo, Goddess Trance, Gong, Mother Gong, Planet Gong

SNC (Italy): Assalto Alle Nuvole (Mellow MMP 152, CD, 1993, recorded 1977)
Progressive/Psychedelic
Lady Mantide (joint lead vocals, piano, percussion)
Led by Ciro Perrino of Celeste, SNC offer long, trippy improvisations on their sole album, recorded live in November 1977. Drenched in trippy synthesisers, their material is rather formless and sometimes rather meandering, though there are plenty of interesting moments. The band subsequently evolved into St Tropez and then Compagnia Digitale, both of whom also had archive releases on Mellow.

GRADE: C+.
See also Celeste, Compagnia Digitale, St Tropez

Snow (USA): Snow (Epic BN 26435, 1969)
Psychedelic/Pop
For the most part, this is good and lively psychedelic pop, peaking on ‘Engelbert’ with its piercing fuzz guitar and unexpected shifts of mood and tempo. However, the first cut on side two ‘Song Of The Sirens’ is something else, being a superb piece of hard guitar-led psych. The minimalist white and grey cover is interesting too, standing in stark contrast to the lurid designs typical of the period. GRADE: C+.

Snow Geese (USA): Feathers In The Wind (Old Hat OHLP 1, with insert, 1977)
Country/Folk/Rock
Barbara Anne Taylor (joint lead vocals)
This obscure private pressing is a rather good country/rock album with solid material and mixed acoustic and electric arrangements. The lack of pedal steel guitar and strings is a huge plus, and this is enjoyable almost throughout, with the best moments probably being the bluesy ‘Cedrich Allrunner – Blackhawk’, the almost psychedelic ‘I’m An Eagle’ and the hard rocking title track. The disc was recorded by a husband-and-wife (I assume) duo, with the husband writing all the songs and the producer playing all the instruments, and was released with two completely different cover designs. GRADE: C+.

Snowdonia (Spain): Snowdonia (Discos Melocoton DM CD 003, CD, 1994)
Rock/Psychedelic/Progressive
María José Millon (principal vocals, guitar)
This Spanish band’s debut album has an unusual style: the instrumentation reflects progressive rock, but the short, catchy and wistful songs mix influences from the late sixties West Coast and the eighties Paisley Underground. Add in hesitant, amateurish vocals (with María José Millon occasionally sounding like a nervous, childlike Renate Knaup-Krötenschwanz) and the end results could appeal to garage fans too. Ultimately, this isn’t the most significant album in the world, but the songs are excellent and the mood is both charming and winsome, resulting in a great record. GRADE: B–.
Snowdonia (Spain): Pallas (Mellow MMP 358, CD, Italy, 1999)
Rock/Progressive/Psychedelic
María José Millon (principal vocals, guitar)
Their second and final LP, recorded shortly after their first but unreleased until 1999, is recognisably the work of the same band but ups the prog quotient considerably, with several instrumentals. This is the more mature of their two albums and technically the superior, but I simply don’t find it nearly as charming. GRADE: C+.