Monday, October 27, 2008

RAM - Where? (In Conclusion) (1972)
"Ram were a relatively unique thing: an early 70’s US progressive band that created material which compared favorably to that of their British and European brethren. Definitely obscure, the information on the band is sketchy to say the least, other than their being a quintet* from New York who released this, their only album, in 1972 and then promptly disappeared.

The sleeve depicts a brain scan photograph forming the shape of a ram's head and horns, surrounded by a field of stars. Yeah, that's right, cosmic stuff in its implications, and pretty descriptive of the band's sonic palette.

It's difficult to describe Ram without drawing comparisons with some other bands. In the process, you, the reader might be tempted to write them off as being derivative, which would be quite unfair. I have seen them compared to Felt and Freedom's Children, but since I have yet to hear those bands, I'd describe them as a psychedelic cocktail made up of a base of Spirit with a large infusion of Nektar and just a dash of groin-grinding Guess Who, served up by your bartender, a certain Mr. J. Hendrix. Yes, this was most definitely an American band, but one that retained an edginess on vinyl that sometimes was lost by their overproduced peers.

Ram had that in-your-face boisterousness of American rock going for them, as demonstrated by the tight and aggressive album opener, “The Want in You”. But they also had a spacier and gentler vibe. Indeed, part of the beauty of this album is in their ability to switch from head-banging intensity to a gossamer-thin flute-driven sweetness, on the fly. The same band that could produce the Hendrix-tinged (and one hopes ironic) band-of-horny-gents-on-the-road song, “The Mother’s Day Song” (“Momma told me tomorrow's Mother's Day/So if you wanna be a Momma come up to my room and play”, lol), also deftly created a quite beautiful flute-led instrumental and a bona-fide sidelong prog epic, taking the listener through a multitude of emotions in 20 minutes of psych-heaven. Here the band recalls the best of early Nektar while maintaining it's own identity.

Ram were inventive. Creative use is made of the bass as lead instrument on both album sides, while ripping guitar passages can bring the music to the edge of chaos prior to the flute pulling us back from the brink of an adrenalin overdose, and into more airy territory. Strategic use is made of the much-maligned vocoder on side two's “Aza”, as well as some unusual mixing that sometimes place the keyboards and wind instruments prominently above the guitar and rhythm section to great mind-expanding effect. The mantra-like opening section of this song is quite sublime, and the only gripe that I have about the piece is that it seems to run out of steam towards the end, almost as if they didn't know quite how to end it.

I’m not about to go out and declare this to be a lost classic, but it is a very enjoyable listen that should satisfy the cravings of the psych-space brigade for some time to come. Audiophiles beware, though. It would appear that the original master tapes have been lost since this sounds to have been taken from a mint vinyl copy. The quality is quite good, but there is some surface noise that might bother some listeners. It's a small price to pay for some great music.

* Curiously, the album mentions Ron Terry in the songwriting credits, but omits to mention him as a member of the band in the personnel list. Since there is definite evidence of keyboards other than piano throughout the album, I am assuming that this was a mistake and that Terry was the band's keyboard player. The imagination tends to run wild with this kind of information. What was Terry's reaction to being left off the personnel list? Did the resulting squabbles and fistfights lead to the band's ultimate demise? The truth, of course, is probably far less dramatic." (Progressive Ears Album Reviews) Note: This is a review of the release on Akarma - there is no personnel list in the skimpy Lizard Records artwork.

Track List:
1. The Want In You 4:23
2. Stoned Silence 5:29
3. Odyssey 3:43
4. The Mothers Day Song 6:19
5. Aza 20:57
a) Spiral Paths
b) Bound
c) Peril And Fearer
d) Where? (In Conclusion)

John DeMartino: alto sax, tenor sax, soprano, acoustic and electric flute, clarinet
Ralph DeMartino: guitar, vocal
Michael Rodriguez: bass guitar, vocal
Steeler: drums
Ron Terry: keyboards?
Special thanks to:
Dennis Carbone: piano, tambourine, vocal


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Ten Wheel Drive - The Best Of ('69-'71)
"Ten Wheel Drive was a highly influential rock/jazz group not afraid to push the envelope while exploring various musical styles. Though musicians came and went, including the original lead vocalist, by the time the fourth album was released, the records have stood the test of time, influencing the successful Bette Midler breakthrough film The Rose, inspiring women with the drive and ambition to front their own group in a once male-dominated industry, getting sold on auction sites like Ebay to be discovered by new generations of music lovers. The original lead vocalist and founding member, Genya Ravan, spoke with AMG concerning how she formed the band: "I went to see Billy Fields, he was going to manage me. He had a friend in New Jersey that befriended two guys that were writers and they were looking for someone to sing their songs. Billy asked me if I wanted to hear them, I said 'OK' since I was always looking for material, so I met with Mike Zager and Aram Schefrin at a dinky little piano studio in Times Square. They played "Polar Bear Rug" and "I Am a Want Ad" and got me interested even though I thought they sounded more like show tunes, I was also an actress, so I liked it. At this time, I had an R&B band and they came to hear me in some sleazy bar and they liked what they heard and saw. They did not have a band nor musicians in mind, I knew some good jazz players, so (we) got the musicians and started to audition and rehearse."

When asked how the idea took shape, Ravan replied: "When I heard Blood, Sweat & Tears -- (the) first record with Al Kooper ( Child Is Father to the Man), my fave. I said, oh I want a horn band. It was 1969, we started to rehearse at the Bitter End, Sid Bernstein joined in the management with Billy Fields. It was a very exciting time, we played the Atlanta Pop Fest. Every great band that lived played that gig, that gig is what broke our band (and) we were an instant success." On the material, Ravan said she "seldom wrote with Ten Wheel Drive...Aram was a brilliant lyricist, Mike and Aram were easy to work with, so I wrote some, it made me feel good, because the ones I wrote turned out to be the most soulful, like "Pulse," "Tightrope." I came into my writing more during the Urban Desire and ...and I Mean It! recordings." Those were the albums that came out on 20th Century Records at the end of the '80s, apart from Ten Wheel Drive.

The group signed with Polydor when Sid Bernstein brought Jerry Schoenbaum to the band's rehearsal and to one of their gigs at the Bitter End. The vocalist noted: "Jerry flipped. Signed us immediately." There were artistic consequences to having phenoms like bassist Bill Takas and drummer Leon Rix moving on to LaBelle and Buzzy Linhart, Rix recording with Bette Midler as well. Over the span of four albums, guitarist Aram Schefrin and keyboard player Mike Zager (no relation to Zager & Evans of "In the Year 2525" fame, though because of the point in time, there was some confusion in rock circles) worked with more than a dozen and a half different players. When Ravan was asked about this, she replied: "It turned out to be good for us, fresh blood, it was creative, I love changes like that. I did not like the canning of musicians, but I was the one that had to do it. New blood is always exciting, You know how laid-back jazzers can be, they get excited for the first five minutes." The band played Carnegie Hall on Ravan's birthday and she cites the Central Park gig for WNEW when the Nightbird disc jockey Allison Steele hosted it, as well as the Atlanta Pop Festival as just two of the highlights of their brief but important career. Steele would later co-write the liner notes to Bill Levenson's 1995 16-track compilation on Polygram, The Best of Ten Wheel Drive With Genya Ravan. With all the excitement the band generated live, there was, unfortunately, no full concert performance on video or record. "One of the last gigs we did was a show at Carnegie Hall with a symphony," Ravan said. "Mike and Aram were geniuses. This was their forte -- they wrote this rock opera of "Little Big Horn" and it was brilliant, Polydor did not want to record it, I swear 'til this day, had it been recorded, Ten Wheel Drive would have gone down in history, it was one of the reasons I was disillusioned into leaving the label, it made me want to quit the business." There were no unreleased gems recorded and left in the vaults, Ravan stating that everything happened all too fast. And then she left the group she founded: "Things started to get complicated. The music was not the main thing anymore, it was too expensive to have that many people involved. We had accountants, lawyers, roadies, and of course the group, we could not tour Europe because it was to expensive to get there and stay there. I just felt like there would be no future for me with the band anymore, also some personal stuff went down, that made it awkward. It just felt like it had hit the end for me." Ravan recorded a solo album in 1972 for Columbia Records with Schefrin and Zager co-producing. They enlisted the Rascals vocalist Annie Sutton to sing on the self-titled 1974 Capitol release that featured Hall & Oates on backing vocals, but it wasn't the same. The band created essential music and has a revered place in rock history. Schefrin practices law in Rhode Island, having produced other records after the final breakup of Ten Wheel Drive; Zager does soundtrack work; and Ravan continues to record." (

"A collection of most of their best songs from the 3 albums that TEN WHEEL DRIVE Featuring GENYA RAVAN released between 1969 - 1971. These songs sound so clear & fresh on CD. The voice of Genya Ravan fronting a jazz/rock band with a heavy dose of r&b and blues influences is amazing to hear now all these many years later.

TIGHTROPE is just power at it's zenith, with Genya's high octane vocals & the bands fusion of rock with horns. Wait until you hear the end of this song! That's POWERFUL music. MORNING MUCH BETTER is a short blast of energy that was a Top 100 hit in 1970. Labelle covered it soon after on their 1971 debut album. SHOOTIN' THE BREEZE is a beatiful song & gentle performance by Genya that should have been a single, and a big hit. One of their best, understated songs. Likewise, I HAD HIM DOWN is another softer song that features a winsome sound that showed another side of this band. There's no shortage of great music & powerful performances on this CD! HOW LONG BEFORE I'M GONE has so many influences & changes in it, it's a non-stop tour-de-force. True, PULSE from their 2nd album should have been on it, but other than that no complaints.

This band should have been as big as the other ' horn' bands of the late 60's/early 70's , like Blood Sweat & Tears or Chicago. The sound is rich, powerful, riveting. Genya Ravan would record many more albums as a solo artist, and cover a lot of ground on her later works. Here, hear her roar at the height of her vocal powers backed by an astounding band of musicians. Timeless music, great vocalist." (gassygoon,

Track List:
1. Tightrope
2. Lapidary
3. Eye of the Needle
4. Candy Man Blues
5. Ain't Gonna Happen
6. House in Central Park
7. Morning Much Better
8. Brief Replies
9. Come Live With Me
10. Stay With Me
11. How Long Before I'm Gone
12. Last of the Line
13. Night I Got Out of Jail
14. Shootin' the Breeze
15. Love Me
16. I Had Him Down

Vocals, Harmonica, Tambourine: Genya Ravan
Guitar, Vocals, Banjo, Percussion: Aram Schefrin
Organ, Piano, Clarinet: Mike Zager
Bass: Bill Takas, Bob Piazza, Blake Hines
Drums, Percussion: Leon Rix, Allen Herman, David Williams
Cello: Leon Rix
Flute: Jay Silva, Louie Hoff, Dave Liebman
Trumpet: Jay Silva, Richard Meisterman, Peter Hyde, Steve Satten, John Gatchell, John Eckert, Dean Pratt, Danny Stiles, "Others"
Saxophone: Louie Hoff, Dave Liebman
Trombone: Dennis Parisi, Bill Watrous, Tom Malone
Flugelhorn: Jay Silva, Peter Hyde, Richard Meisterman, Steve Satten, John Gatchell, John Eckert
Woodwinds: Alan Gauvin


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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Noir - We Had To Let You Have It (1971)
"We Had To Let You Have It" is the only recorded output from Britain's first all-black rock band, a band which broke up before the album was released. There is virtually no information about this group - that's about all the 'liner notes' tell us, that not much is known about Noir. I did find a page about Barry Ford, the drummer/vocalist, which tells us that Noir in their short career had gigs opening up for the Rolling Stones and Cream, and for a time were Alexis Korner's backing band. This page also tells us that the record was never completed but the label decided to release it anyway, hence the album title. This I don't get because all the songs definitely sound finished, and the running time is long for those days, a little over 48 minutes.

Although these guys backed up Alexis Korner, the music on this CD isn't 'bluesy' at all. The music is understated and low-key, on a track or two the obvious comparison is the Chambers Brothers I think, maybe it's my imagination! The tracks are sometimes funky, sometimes smoky and inspirited, sometimes a tribal percussive thing pops up, all the cuts have a deep soulful feeling and the guitar playing is above reproach. Their version of "Indian Rope Man" is awesome, though the best track I think is "The System", which creeps over into jazzy territory.

All in all this is a very sweet little album which deserves better that the obscurity it has had for thirty-something years.

Track List:
1. Rain
2. Hard Labour
3. Begger Man
4. In Memory of Lady X
5. How Long
6. The System
7. Indian Rope Man
8. Ju Ju Man

Tony Cole - Keyboards
Barry Ford - Drums, Vocals
Gordon Hunte - Guitars, Vocals
Roy Williams - Bass


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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Peter Frohmader - Musik Aus Dem Schattenreich (1978)
"What would you expect from a band called "Nekropolis"? With a very eloquent cover art describing the final ending and the disappearance of humanity throw creepy bones of dead bodies, you can imagine that the sound is everything dark, resonant, cavernous, haunting and ghostly. This infernal electronic manifest is a musical intrusion throw pain and agony, scary but so sublime in term of intensity and expression...the two first compositions are written for (very gloomy) double bass lines, menacing electronic effects and drum attacks. This marvellous, creepy and moody album by Peter Frohmader is one of the strangest things I've heard in popular music. Surely his most experimental if we remember the much more conventional "ambient" efforts of his last productions. "Unendliche Qual" is a hyper cavernous track, always with massive doom bass lines, agonised "almost heaven choir" ambient sounds and hammering drum parts. A proof that we can make a pretty dark and ass kicking album only with tremendous atmospheres. My favourite tracks on this one are the almost jazzy macabre "Mitternachtsmesse II" and the floating, repetitive and spacey like "Mitternachtsmesse I". A supreme and unique contribution, featuring discreet weird kraut experimentations." (Philippe,
Starting off with the same idea another reviewer of this album used to express the strangest and most influential feelings this music has installed for any one bestowing to listen to it, I'll say that, indeed, a cover so horrific and unpleasant plus an entire concrete set of cryptic and sharp names for each composition (though certainly, in both cases, this is not the most creepy "view" in musical concept ever), in such a linguine and freely expressed way, lead to the music of this classic debut by Peter Frohmader to be of that particular novelty nuance, one impregnated very deep, sardonic and dementia, alluding much of the heartless and "dunkelheit" operatic music impressions. The best such artists usually express it as a meaning of life (and of death), plus an expression of authentic blossom and powerful industry. It is a habit of eloquent diversity and stunning receptiveness, true, if you comprise well the flawless orientation of a music that burns and shrivels you inside, nonconformist and nondeterministic.

As powerful, indecisive and macabre as this experiment will sound, it also reflects, however, not a flagellation of music and emotions, but a deep trance of systematic experimentalism and over-mechanized techniques, having in mind a blow of proportions, by which music to stun, some kind of visual transmissions (like lugubrous sounds leading to cryptic images, or so) to be achieved, plus a good rhythm of artistic provocation to be fulfilled, since the entire composition leaves little time for sensibility. In conclusion, you could do an entire monologue and fearful description towards Music Aus Dem Schattenreich, calling it the music of totems, the emblem of devilish concepts and the radical substance of inconsequential dark and formidable punching character - but the album is also a very good and connecting study of electronic devices and sound-fractions, space-fears and reverted environmentalism, under envious qualities of rock, electronic tension, sound and ambient, noise and acid culture, dark and deep breaks of flairs - a very impressive study as well.

Peter Frohmader cuts off from his projects of cold counter-fashion composition, cubism rock, unshapely jazz or rock vibrations (though the 70s full work could be a collector's avid pleasure as much as collecting the sessions of Nekropolis and collaborating compositions, within the official register, turns out to be) and comprises a sum of art, weird ethic and stabilized avant-torrential influences within mechanics and comforts of electronic, synthetic and psych-epileptic improvisations. The strength of the Nekropolis projects is equal to the strength of collaborations with big artists like Pinhas or Artemiev and to the strength of Frohmader playing solo. So is the balance between him being an electronist, a sound-machinist, an avant-garde sketcher or a personality of diffuse rock. Such a debut like Music Aus Dem Schattenreich becomes suggestive to a lot of Frohmader's visions and introverted terrific dreams of music, sharing only a unique strong message of its own, mostly condensed between music and the liable impression.

With a low-extended instrumentality, but a perfect eclectic precision, Frohmader makes out of this album a heart beating (expected to have said flesh-ripping?) caliber and a paradox of minimal music sounding so massive. The Nekropolis project, associated a lot with this kind of impact art, seeks out the same kind of illusion, under different, more powerful or more forgotten essential musical gestures. Outside the atmosphere of Nekropolis and of Frohmader's sting art, you can't find a conclusive association with the grandest and most known contemporary styles of electronic. It is even a thought of beatitude that, in the beginning of the 80s, when pressure made a lot of electronic art collapse or become the expression of harmony, Peter Frohmader comes, heartless as it is, with a music of fear, complex language and powerful exploration. In a weaker eulogy, these early experiments, this one included, fully reflect a personal and conceptual force of expression and clatter, within a chosen dark, deep, frantic and exhausting modality.

Music Aus Dem Schattenreich is an hour long impressive album, with lots of suggestive strange and hollow sound-movements. Going just one more time back to the cover and the concept of "hecatomb music", the music might be a suggestion for some visual art or some cuts of music, though nothing is specific - many Nekropolis experiments, including Nekropolis 2, are actually "soundtrack" compositions. Inside its shell, the album becomes an electronic furnace of instrumentality and arranged technique, with a spiritual aggression that mostly chills you down hard enough as to experience this powerful and incisive music. Frohmader, through 12 pieces, tries combinations of noises and sounds (no mechanical particular achievement), new ambiances and sorrow/minor harmonies, a background or a frontal experiment of electronic tonalities, plus some spacey, rhythm-rocked, shock-sequential or synth-minimalistic pasts of effective and well-sustained calibers. The general (and critical) style is, therefore, cold electronic music, spontaneous rock or avant-garde, wall-sound environmentalism and cosmic-fracture.

Four stars, it's Frohmader's classic and a, literally, work of treacherous emotions. (Ricochet,

1. Hölle Im Angesicht
2. Fegefeuer
3. Unendliche Qual
4. Krypta
5. Mitternachtsmesse II
6. Inquanok
7. Ghul
8. Pagan
Bonus tracks:
9. Mitternachtsmesse I
11.Krypta II
12.Bass - Präludium

Peter Frohmader - e-bass, e-double bass, e-guitar & electronics


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