Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 1969-09-18

1969-09-18

The Bonzo Dog Band: Urban Spaceman (Imperial, 1969) Over a year ago these people, who then called themselves Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, released their first album, Gorilla. It was weird and annoying and I sold it. Since then they have put in a guest appearance in Magical Mystery Tour and hit small with the title song of this LP. They are still weird and annoying but I'm beginning to believe--sort of an English equivalent of the Mothers, eccentric rather than freaky, without Zappa's musical ambition or (hence) his pretensions and much superior to the other English-eccentric groups (the Deviants, the Scaffold). Not good rock, God knows. But good something. B

Bread: Bread (Elektra, 1969) For years it has been my fond belief that a great rock band could be concocted of studio musicians. Professionals, you dig? Trained to communicate, with no hangups or pretensions. I was wrong because this is that group. It is super competent and super vapid, harmonizing tastefully on one well-executed "love song" after another. With a good beat, of course. If Crosby, etc. are the Limeliters of rock--and they are--then these guys are the Lettermen. C-

The Brothers and Sisters: Dylan's Gospel (Ode, 1969) I am no expert on gospel music, but I have noticed two basic types: small group, which is like rock and roll, and chorale, which is like Hugo Winterhalter. Despite some nice instrumentation, this is in the second category. The unimaginative selection of songs is sung with a lot of soul, natch'ly, but with no discernible conviction. C-

Larry Coryell: Lady Coryell (Vanguard Apostolic, 1969) Larry Coryell is the greatest thing to happen to the guitar since stretched gut. The permanent evidence of this has been sparse, however--a bad record with the Free Spirits, timid ones with Gary Burton, a somewhat over-avant performance on the Jazz Composer's Orchestra set, and an inspired chorus here or there with jazz-rock leaders like Steve Marcus and Don Sebeskey. This is far more satisfying but still crabbed and uneven. It includes some wonderfully funny wah-wah work alongside apparent homages to Wes Montgomery, near-parody singing alongside a couple of tracks (one composed by Coryell and featuring Elvin Jones, one composed by Junior Walker) that approach the soaring pyrotechnics Coryell can produce when he is good live. Recommended. B+

Fusion: Fusion (Atco, 1969) Intelligent incorporation of pure blues into a hard-rock framework, beautifully played and arranged, with a forgivable touch of pseudo-spade in the singing. Reminiscent of Steppenwolf, but more flexible (two vocalists). Worth a chance. B+

Harpers Bizarre: Harpers Bizarre (Warner Bros., 1969) If I liked soft stuff, I would rate this record very high, because (with production help from Lenny Waronker, a goodun) HB is about the best of the soft groups, good-humored and well-conceived. For your parents' anniversary. C+

Isaac Hayes: Hot Buttered Soul (Enterprise, 1969) This album is a smash, and it may be so overstated that it has its own validity--a baroque, luscious production job over the non-singing of one half of Sam & Dave's production-songwriting team. C

The Hollies: Words and Music by Bob Dylan (Epic, 1969) Graham Nash left the Hollies in principled opposition to this record. I fail to understand his fuss, unless he was worried about writing royalties. A good selection of Dylan songs done in a totally unexceptionable style. Anyone who likes the group will like this record. B-

J.B. Hutto & the Hawks: Hawk Squat! (Delmark, 1968) Hutto is not an original guitarist, but he is incisive enough, and his singing is harsh and authoritative. Captures a lot of the spirit of Chicago blues, and it really moves. A-

It's a Beautiful Day: It's a Beautiful Day (Columbia, 1969) This is on the charts. Get it off. D

Lee Michaels: Lee Michaels (A&M, 1969) Michaels, a talented singer-organist from California, has been trying for years and is beginning to develop a name on sheer persistence. His previous two albums have been somewhat over produced, but solid, even though he has never proved he can do it all by himself, which is his ambition. This one was cut, as the ads tell us, in seven hours. That may be okay for the Beatles but doesn't make it here. Drummer Bartholomew Smith-Frost stretches things out with two drum breaks ad Michaels' organ is often inflated. The final track, "Heighty Ho," now released in a half-length version as a single, is marvelously catchy and ebullient, but doesn't justify the rest. C

The Moody Blues: On the Threshold of a Dream (Deram, 1969) Rod McKuen out of Ray Conniff with assists by Hugo Montenegro and Bob Crewe. Ugh. D-

The New York Rock & Roll Ensemble: Faithful Friends (Epic, 1969) In case anyone is still wondering, this is one of the most useless groups in memory. They ought to be forced to play "A Whiter Shade of Pale" at a book party on Central Park South until they choke on their own hair, and Leonard Bernstein should be forced to embalm them. D

Nilsson: Harry (RCA Victor, 1969) Nilsson is an acquired taste which I have just acquired. In integrity of conception and skill of execution, this is an A album, but I can't completely forgive the whimsy at the heart of it. B+

The Purple Gang: The Purple Gang Strikes (Sire, 1968) For anyone who is into good-timey jug-band rock. Like most such groups, this one is literate, charming, and a trifle coy. Unlike most such groups, it is English. B-

Spooky Tooth: Spooky Two (A&M, 1969) At its best ("Waitin' for the Wind," "That Was Only Yesterday") this group is not significantly poorer than Blind Faith. At its worst ("Lost In My Dream," "I've Got Enough Heartaches") it is painfully overwrought. C+

Steppenwolf: Early Steppenwolf (Dunhill, 1969) Despite the presence of some good and previously unreleased songs, this is an indulgence. It includes the 19-minute version of "The Pusher," which must have been a mind-blower in 1966 but ain't no more. John Kay and the Sparrow (Columbia CS 9758) features essentially the same personnel and is better. My copy was scratchy, by the way. C

Johnnie Taylor: Rare Stamps (Stax, 1969) I'm not normally a big Taylor fan, but this is a semi-greatest hits record that eliminates a lot of dross. B

Joe Tex: Buying a Book (Atlantic, 1969) Tex has been surviving on his rep for too long. This contains no surprises, except that the humor and the bedroom philosophy are getting very tiresome. C-

Leslie West: Mountain (Windfall, 1969) With Felix Pappalardi singing and playing bass regularly this could be New York's third supergroup. (The Rascals and the Spoonful got there first.) The visual possibilities alone--with West, the enormous ex-Vagrant guitarist, set against the hyperactive Pappalardi, are fantastic. West plays good guitar and is a good roarer, and Pappalardi is not only first-rate on several instruments but has a wonderful singing voice, sweet and mellow. Unfortunately, he hadn't decided to join the group when this was recorded, and so participates only as bassist and producer. West alone can't quite carry it. More like early Cream than Blind Faith. B

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