[Unknown artist] (UK): [Unknown title] (Oak, 10" acetate, 1966?)
This is the most mysterious album on this website: a 10" Oak acetate with nothing whatever written on the label except a pencil cross. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that it dates from the mid-sixties, as it’s rather good beat with an excellent mono recording. Five of the seven songs feature male vocals (with a nice line in Roy Orbison-style falsetto) and the other two a female singer with a more aggressive approach. The latter two numbers are the only cuts to feature horns, suggesting that this compiles demos recorded by different line-ups of the same band over an extended period (or possibly the work of two, or maybe even more, different bands). None of the songs is immediately recognisable, suggesting that all the material was original. GRADE: C+.
[Unknown artist] (USA): [Unknown title] (Audiodisc, 10” acetate, 1966?)
This odd acetate – with no information written on the labels – features five short cuts: four beat/surf-style instrumentals and one song with a female vocalist (‘Unchain My Heart’). Oddly, each cut (except for the last number on each side) appears to end in a silent locked groove. Overall, this is an intriguing little curio, with some nice twangy guitar work. GRADE: C+.
[Unknown artist] (UK): [Unknown title] (IBC Studios, acetate, 1976?)
This acetate gives no hint of an artist or title credit, merely noting that Chappell & Co were the publishers. As such, it may well be a publisher’s demo, though some of the songs appear to be cover versions. In any case, track titles include ‘Ordinary Fool’, ‘You’re A Part Of Me’, ‘Raining In My Beer’ and ‘Wouldn’t Treat A Dog Like That’ and ‘Why Don’t We Live Together?’, if that helps anybody identify it. Musically, it’s pleasant, slightly MOR seventies pop, similar to Blue Mink, with a few rural and soulful edges, and perhaps with a slightly later sensibility. GRADE: C+.
1 (USA): 1 (Grunt FTR-1009, 1972)
Sarah Oppenheim (joint lead vocals, autoharp), Laurie Paul (joint lead vocals, tamboura)
Issued on Jefferson Airplane’s vanity label, this is an excellent late example of San Franciscan communal counterculture music. The album mixes gentle folk/rock with some Eastern ragas and jamming progressive rock, and is well-structured and competently performed throughout. This is rather surprising, given the legion of bizarre tales surrounding the band’s permanently stoned leader Reality D Blipcrotch; apparently he wanted a marijuana leaf to appear spontaneously while the record was playing, and for the disc to self-destruct at the end of side two, so people would have to buy it again. When the test pressing displayed neither of these attributes, he was allegedly so enraged that he hurled it across the room. The backing choir includes the Airplane’s original female singer Signe Anderson, while several band members had connections with other outfits: Sarah Oppenheim also sang for Ofoedian Den (who released one of the rarest US private pressings), Roger Crissinger was ex-Pearls Before Swine and, most surprisingly, drummer Mark Baker went on to join the industrial metal band Ministry. GRADE: B–.
See also Ofoedian Den
II Generation (USA): Head Cleaner (Rebel SLP 1533, 1974)
Martha Hearon (joint lead vocals, guitar), Wendy Thatcher (joint lead vocals, guitar)
The delightful opener ‘Train’ sounds like a fusion of Homestead & Wolfe and It’s A Beautiful Day, but the remainder tends towards loungier country/rock more akin to Sub Zero Band. The end result is a very pleasant LP, although anyone disliking banjo should steer well clear as it’s used prominently on most cuts. GRADE: C+.
11:59 (UK): This Our Sacrifice Of Praise (Dovetail DOVE 4, 1974)
Ross Harding (joint lead vocals, tambourine)
Although the standard of songwriting is a touch variable, this album includes some lovely progressive folk tracks, with good use of fuzz guitar and Mellotron here and there. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most sought-after albums on the otherwise undistinguished Christian label Dovetail. GRADE: C+.
See Yesterday, Today, Forever
1994: (USA): 1994: (A&M SP-4709, with inner, 1978)
Karen Lawrence (principal vocals)
A solid album of hard rock with some AOR leanings; not very original or distinctive, but well composed, arranged and performed. Aside from 1994: (who really did have a colon at the end of their name), Karen Lawrence recorded with Jeff Beck, the LA Jets and Blue By Nature, plus as a soloist. However, her greatest claim to fame was writing the smash hit theme tune to the fim 'Eyes Of Laura Mars', performed by Barbra Streisand. GRADE: C+.
1994: (USA): Please Stand By… (A&M SP 4769, 1979)
Karen Lawrence (lead vocals, piano, tubular bells)
Whilst still rooted in hard rock, side one in particular is a bit lighter then their debut, betraying stronger influences from pop and new wave. Although it contains some catchy material, peaking on the excellent ‘Stop This Heartache’, the disc is somethimes fairly mediocre.
1st National Nothing (USA): If You Sit Real Still And Hold My Hand, You Will Hear Absolutely Nothing (Columbia C 300006, 1970)
Pat Ast (joint lead vocals), Nancy Ferragallo (joint lead vocals), June Gable (joint lead vocals), Linda Kent (joint lead vocals), Margaret Lacy (joint lead vocals), Holly Near (joint lead vocals)
The front cover shows the band dressed as everything from American patriots to Indian fakirs and cardinals, and the rear describes them as ‘a mock-theater commune made up of musicians, actors, dancers, singers, designers, writers, composers and friends’. However, anyone expecting an American equivalent of Principal Edwards Magic Theatre is in for a surprise: side one is straight psychedelic pop and rock, of a decent standard; side two has more of a stage musical feel, and is inessential apart from a couple of delicate and slightly eerie ballads. Holly Near later went on to become a prolific folk singer. GRADE: C.
See also Holly Near
3 Mice (USA/France): Send Me A Postcard (Les Disques Rayés 008, CD, with digipak and booklet, Switzerland, 2012)
Elaine Di Falco (lead vocals, piano, accordion, percussion, drum programmes)
From the instrumentation, I expected this to be free jazz improvisation, but the music is actually very carefully crafted, hinting towards the gypsy-influenced jazz sound of Tin Hat, but with a bit more of a rock edge (which lifts it enormously). With very varied arrangements, including cuatro, clarinet, ukelele, kalimba, jew’s harp and zither, the short pieces are mainly instrumental, very varied and extremely playful. As that description suggests, this isn’t the most substantial album, but it is charming, engaging and constantly interesting.
See also Caveman Shoestore, Combat Astronomy, Empty Days, Ligeia Mare, Luciano Margorani & Elaine Di Falco, Thinking Plague,
Dave Willey & Friends
3 Valley Folk (UK): 3 Valley Folk (Westwood WSR003, 1971)
Rosemarie Evans (joint lead vocals, guitar), Anne Wild (joint lead vocals, banjo)
As the title suggests, this trio was Welsh, but it’s not at all apparent from the music, which is typical early seventies folk club fare. On the plus side, some of the material is fairly obscure, but the performances (three-part harmonies, acoustic guitars, electric bass and banjo) are indistinguishable from countless other small label albums from the era.. GRADE: C.
3’s A Crowd (Canada): Christopher’s Movie Matinée (RCA Victor D / DS-50030, 1967)
Donna Warner (joint lead vocals, percussion)
Recorded in the States, this Canadian band’s sole album was co-produced by Cass Elliott, but doesn’t sound very close to the Mamas & The Papas, despite occupying similar musical territory. Odd song titles like ‘Gnostic Serenade’ and ‘View From Pompous Head’ sound as though they should belong on a progressive rock LP, but the music is fairly straightforward harmony folk/pop, with lush orchestrations from the ubiquitous Jimmie Haskell. Several band members went on to lengthy musical careers, including Trevor Veitch, who wrote, played on or produced international hits for Donna Summer, Laura Branigan and Toni Basil. GRADE: C.
5th Avenue Buses (USA): Trip To Gotham City (Movietone (S) 71029, 1967)
Goofball bubblegum pop fun with a ‘Batman’ theme. About half the album is instrumental, and the whole thing runs for only about twenty minutes. It’s now quite a rare LP. GRADE: C+.
400 Voices Of Stoke Park (UK): Orange Calypso (No label, 10", 1971?)
With its beautiful hand-painted sleeve and individually stamped labels, this school project album really looks the part. Musically, it’s less interesting, consisting of massed primary school children performing to acoustic guitar, piano and percussion backing; the results resemble the Albany Folk, except that this is well recorded. GRADE: C–.
60,000,000 Buffalo (USA): Nevada Jukebox (Atco SD 33-384, with insert, 1972)
Judy Roderick (joint lead vocals, guitar)
This obscure blues/rock band offers a very different take on the genre to most, with obvious roots in country blues. That said, their sound is slick and polished, and they’re not averse to including hard rock elements (as on the rather impressive ‘Cocaine Shuffle’). It’s a solid album all through, with mostly original material, but there’s nothing truly outstanding on offer. GRADE: C+.
808 Ridge (USA): 808 Ridge ’71 (CH 00195, 1971)
Betty Morrison, Denise Pearson, Harriet Gutmacher, Margie Jula, Maureen Toomey
This document of a live college concert mostly offers straight acoustic folk with simple guitar accompaniment from a variety of soloists and duos (Kevin & Gregory, Betty Morrison, John Kram, Carl Sandhill and harmony group Company, featuring Harriet Gutmacher, Margie Jula and Maureen Toomey). However, Vue (including Denise Pearson) are electric folk/rock and their version of Neil Young’s ‘Down By The River’ has an appealing lo-fi psychedelic ambience, whilst Skin & Bones offer two excellent acid-folk cuts (‘John Barleycorn’ and the self-penned ‘OD’); these are by far the best things on the disc. As a footnote, an earlier 808 Ridge album exists from 1969, but I believe this has overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, male vocals. GRADE: C+.
9.30 Fly (UK): 9.30 Fly (Ember NR 5062, 1972)
Barbara Wainwright (occasional vocals, keyboards)
Listening to this again, I was reminded of Spirogyra: not a connection I’d ever made before. The musical resemblance is slight, though both bands operated in the hinterland between folk/rock and progressive; the similarity is in the juxtaposition of a male singer with an odd, fractured voice and a mellifluous female vocalist. Michael Wainwright’s singing is every bit as idiosyncratic as Martin Cockerham’s, and is a major reason many collectors loathe this LP. I disagree: this would certainly have worked better had Michael taken fewer lead vocals and Barbara more, but its combination of progressive rock, folk/rock and singer/songwriter elements works well, with an effective blend of electric and acoustic instrumentation and plenty of unexpected twists and turns. GRADE: B–.
9dlinger & Die Gerinfügig Beschäfigten (Austria): Reflexion (Extraplatte EX 693-2, CD, 2007)
Beatrix Neundlinger (joint lead vocals, flute)
This light, breezy blend of folk and jazz is pretty whimsical and at times too lightweight for my tastes, but there’s no doubting the inventive musicianship or arrangements here. At times, this could be viewed as a semi-acoustic sidestep from Slapp Happy, but Slapp Happy at their best managed unforgettable tunes whereas these are merely listenable. GRADE: C+.
See also Milestones, Schmetterlinge, Zelinzki