The Lineup Card (1967-1969)
Skip Spence (guitar, vocals) until 1968 also of the Jefferson Airplane
Jerry Miller (guitar, vocals)
Peter Lewis (guitar, vocals)
Don Stevenson (drums)
Bob Mosley (bass) until 1969
Sort of a sideline when it comes to San Francisco hippie rock, this is the kind of band of beautiful losers and all-out fucking mixed-nut-bags that too-hip-for-words contrarian music snobs love. Overhyped and critically raped at the time, yet highly influential to a couple of big name folks (Robert Plant, f'r one), this was a band who never took off commercially due to a series of stupefying fuck-ups and bizarre twists of fate that finally ended in driving the band to give it all the fuck up and settle for periodic commercially unviable reunions for the next thirty years. This is a band ripe for rediscovery, for sure. Though talent-wise they were at the top of their ilk for a time, their sound and their songs never got diluted by having old raggedy-ass performances shown sixty zillion times on Ed Sullivan reruns or Monterrey Pop bonus discs, and never played on the radio by anybody. I can guarantee you that if you've never consciously sought out hearing a Moby Grape album, you've almost assuredly never heard a single one of their songs, and as such that cool-ass feeling of 'discovering' this band all over again is there for the taking. Still, the Grape never did come close to the level of the 'American Rolling Stones' that they were hyped to be, and often made music that was simply crap. In listening nowadays, some of the time you'll be wracking your brain wondering why this band wasn't bigger than jarred marmalade, and sometimes you'll be shaking your head in disbelief. The Grape is not the missing link, folks. I'll say that right here.
At first, the Grape was a pretty normal, clearly talented Bay area country-acid-rock band. Though their debut album was released in the mushroomhead days of 1967, when most folks were attempting to recreate Sergeant Pepper all the goddamn time, Moby Grape kept their songs (as opposed to their long-ass 'jams', as heard on Grape Jam) catchy, short, and with an impressive amount of genre content. The Grape could harmonize like a folk band, swing like a soul outfit, and wig it out on their fuzzed out little San Fran guitars like a miniature Blue Cheer. One of the frequent criticisms of Bay Area psychedelic bands is that too many of them lacked true instrumental virtuosity (Big Brother), a strong, convincing command of different genres (Grateful Dead), or clarity of vision and purpose (Jefferson Airplane) (Not that I agree with any of those assessments, really, except for Big Brother, who couldn't play a C major scale properly if the Devil was holding a rusty icepick to Janis's throat). The Grape was much more refined than many of their brethren, the product of their backgrounds in well-seasoned surf and bar bands rather than the usual sort of folkie coffee-shop graduates who'd never played an amplified instrument before. Founder Skip Spence had played drums for the Airplane during the Jefferson Airplane Takes Off period, and many of the members were veteran stage performers. They sounded professional (on record, anyway), and had several viable songwriters to split up the workload. From the evidence of their debut record, all signs seemed to point towards considerable success for the band in the world outside of the local acid rock scene, but it just didn't work out that way. As things tended to do for Bay Area bands at this time, it all went bad as a result of a burbling stew of idiotic management, childish acts of pointless rebellion, and sheer overtaxation of the nervous system through overapplication of chemistry. Instead of playing their cards right, Moby Grape up and slung them at the dealer and tried to make off with an armful of stolen chips. Their downfall was swift, shocking, and, when all was said and done, no one wanted to touch this band with a ten-foot pole. Talk about karma - this band went from Next Big Thing to Smoking Crater in the Earth in about 18 months' time.
The story of the Grape's early career plays out like Mr. Magoo trying to escape from the middle of a football field full of rakes. The trouble began early with ominous, if silly, developments - the cover of the debut had to be retouched after it was found that Don Stevenson was showing his middle finger to the world. Even worse, Columbia Records kicked off the release with an absolutely tasteless media blitz which included Moby Grape wine, comparisons with the Rolling Stones, and the release of five (5!) singles simultaneously. For a 'counterculture' band like this one, this sure felt like old-style sleazy salesmanship, turquoise polyester pants and brown plaid sportsjacket and all, and the critics took their opportunity to slam the band and their album mercilessly for it. Things just got uglier from here - there were allegations of underage sex (probably true, considering the climate of the times, which was 'horny'), a nasty legal fight with their now former manager, and stunning amounts of disarray and stoned fumbling onstage and in the studio. As an added little extra 32nd flavor to all this mess, they had Skip Spence slide down the escalator into a certifiable (no, really, I'm not kidding) level of instant insanity. The story goes that during the recording sessions for Wow in New York, he brought a fire axe into either the studio or the hotel with the intent of murdering Don Stevenson, because his girlfriend, a purported witch, had told him to. Lawdy! I mean, flipping the bird on an album cover is pretty childish, I agree, but chopping the man into little pieces like so much chicken fried steak is a smidgeon on the rash side, doncha think? In the end, Skippy the Pinhead spent some time in jail for his troubles, then was sent to Bellevue Hospital for six months of macaroni art and paper slippers to think things over. He then attempted a solo career, resulting in one of the more unique releases in the modern canon.
Spence's post-debut work, like his frequent calling partner Syd Barrett, is hard to classify in terms of 'good' and 'bad'. The question always comes up whether this stuff is weird because Skip was a hippie who sprayed acid on his tongue like you'd mist your house fern, or because he was halfway beyond the looking glass and this was normal for his world? One of my theories of the hippie movement, besides simply being an excuse for a bunch of rich East Coast brats to get some free pussy, is that, due to the fact that being a 'freak' was now encouraged, lots of legitimately insane people got elevated to places of influence, where in another time they'd be eating leftover onion peels in a Frigidaire box down on MLK with their dead raccoon and their collection of saved urine. But in the 60's, folks like Abby Hoffman and Jim Jones and G. Gordon Liddy (heh just seeingif you're paying attention. Liddy's not insane. He's simply a well-trained Gila monster that's learned to walk on his hind legs and shoot guns) were actually paid attention to. Now, different forms of madness are very commonplace, and some would say preferable, in rock music. Hell, you have to be a narcissist just to get up in front of people and have the sack to say something as profound as 'A whomp bomp a loo-bomp a whomp! Bomp! Bomp!' Plus, almost every musician I've ever heard of has some sort of developmental arrested development - most of these fools can't change a lightbulb, much less lead normal lives when left by themselves. Still, notable cases abound - What are Phil Spector and Jerry Lee Lewis if not sociopaths? Janis? Depressive. Jim Morrison? Ted Nugent? Repressed necrophiliac. Robert Smith? Perfectly fucking normal, Jack.
But real, true, buttons-on-my-shirt-are-little-cameras-tracking-my-movements, taking-legal-advice-from-the-neighbor's-dog insanity (as opposed to the far more common 'I did so much coke I began to bleed from my eyebrows' type of self-induced psychoses) is pretty doggone rare when you get down to it. In all honesty, I can only truly place Syd Barrett, Skip Spence, and, for a time, Brian Wilson as true raving lunatics. All of these guys can blame their accelerated downfall to the injestion of far too many lysergic acids during the late 60's, but let's face it - most of these clowns were halfway down the rabbit hole when we first met them. Only Brian has seemingly recovered, as well. Spence and Barrett were lost to obscurity as soon as their brand of raving lunatic music was no longer commercially viable to the public.
Anyway, with Skip separated from the band for understandable reasons, Moby Grape lost its mojo and limped through two more records in 1969 before dissolving into the mist. Bob Mosley left the band in 1969 to join probably the only outfit even more unhip than the Grape, the United States Marine Corps. With this action, even more bizarre in certain aspects than even Skip's freak out, whatever small film of street cred that had survived all of the bumbling and fumbling of the previous year was wiped clean forever. Not that there was much hope left. With a band this unremarkable, it was hard for anyone to get too excited, anyway. If 1967 Grape was refreshingly conventional, 1969 Grape was hamstrung. All of their sense of danger and weirdness had left with Spence (one listen to his 1970 solo album should prove where it all ended up), and they'd become just another slick West Coast band. They never did recover from the strange goings-on of 1967 and 1968, and split after their fourth album. They did, however, reform probably six dozen times between 1972 and 1998, often releasing albums with inspirational titles like Moby Grape '84 that positively guarantee a high quality jamboree of a bullshit-free no-synthesizers good time. I haven't reviewed any of these outside the first (the 1971 album 20 Granite Creek) because there's, like, five copies of each still in existence and I'm not a relative of a bandmember.
Anyway, outside of Def Leppard I'm hard-pressed to come up with a band more ill-fated than the Grape (you know, if Spence hadn't been stopped when he did, the Grape might've had its very own amputation case, too). Still, there's some material here that's definitely worth checking out for fans of the Sickly Sixties, plus a bunch of crap that doesn't ever figure into people's nostalgic daydreams, too. You know that old adage about not remembering the Sixties if you lived through it? Sometimes that's true because you were too busy having a great drunken time of it, and sometimes it's true because you've blocked it out or slept through it. The Grape's catalogue is something like that.
- Columbia 1967
Quite a solid debut, with a 35 minute running time (even less if you remove the slightly entertaining but hardly necessary snippets of studio chat, most notable for the revelation that the producer thinks the introduction of 'Fall on You' is 'shit') which always seems like 10 minutes, max. Part of the reason for this is healthy track times with average about 2:30, with the longest bringing in the rear at a brisk 4 minutes. For all the talk of destroying convention and fostering fresh creative juices from newly discovered glands at the base of the spine, in 1967 many of the American record companies still held their 'beat' groups pretty close to the vest. Part of this came as a result of contracts that stipulated that royalties be paid per song rather than per minute (which the Dead famously skirted by splitting the 8+ minute 'Other One Suite' on Anthem of the Sun into six or eight miniature, mostly identical 'songs'). The other reason was that the record company wanted the freedom to release any old thing they wanted to as a 45 rpm single. And Columbia released. And released. And released. In the end there were five A/B singles using album tracks from Moby Grape up for sale simultaneously. And not a damn one of them sold a lick. Great job, ya slimeball former used-car salesmen! It's alright, though the same kind of idiots at Columbia went on to the inglorious triumph of fucking up Bob Dylan's catalogue in the early 70's.
Anyway, by the time you begin to warm up to it, the album's already halfway over. Then you realize just exactly how impressive it is that each of the songs you've heard so far is not just entirely unique, but would sound just as fantastic at twice the length. They run the track from the Nuggets-worthy speedy crunch rock of 'Hey Grandma' (think of Big Star locked in the garage) through the short Stax/Volt soul of 'Mr. Blues'. A song as driving and natural as 'Fall On You' make the overcooked comparisons to the Rolling Stones sound less preposterous (though maybe the Yardbirds might've been a closer target). This is a band that could rock as well as anybody - two (or in this case, three) tight guitars and a snappy rhythm section is really all you need to reach escape velocity, after all. The truly amazing, however, only begins with '8:05', an acoustic pop song of absolutely stunning beauty, with vocal harmonies every bit as gorgeous as those of the Byrds or hell, even the Mamas and the Papas. This is the band's true secret weapon, and one they'd fail to develop much beyond the dizzying, airy layers that mark most of the tracks on this classic.
Things continue on similarly from here. The 'big hit' (all the way to Number 88, baby! Right between that Association B-side and a recording of Lady Bird Johnson reading her recipe for Karo nut pie that week.) was Spence's 'Omaha', which is probably one of the more 'psychedelic' numbers on the record, what with the various buzzy swirlies and the prototypical strangled-sounding San Fran stinging lead guitar. The 20-second 'freakout' ending part is about as stereotypically acid rock as this album got (which ain't all that much, to all you Deadheads out there expecting another 'Born Cross-Eyed'), and sounds tacked on and unnecessary to me. Quite unlike the touching snippet of the acoustic 'Naked If I Want To', containing the immortal line 'Can I buy an amplifier on time? I ain't got no money now, but I will pay you before I die' one of the most honest expressions of the trials, tribulations, and dreams of the hippie musician, I say. There's really no duffer tracks on the album from here on out - 'Ain't No Use' is authentic sounding straight country, 'Lazy Me' a very Airplane-ish blues wail, and the lengthy closing 'Indifference' striking up quite a spark with the trades between the massed vocals and the lead guitar stings. The fun times are nearly endless here, and the only real reasons I can come up with for not awarding it an A+ are that it's too short and the lyrics are all kinda that usual blues-derived 'Lemme love you sweet mama' kind of banality, though they aren't so bad as to drive you to distraction despite one transgression of the Capn's Holy Writ Of Songwriting #452.1.2 - 'Thou shalt not rhymeth 'change' with 'rearrange' when you have the perfectly good 'strange' there right in front of your very nose'. Otherwise, cream and sugar, sweeties. Those big voices and big guitars playing all those wildly different styles stand up to large amounts of repeated listenings. Even better, with all their talent, the band never comes across as too cutesy or smart for it's own good - they keep a jolly, professional tone on all these songs, requesting politely that you take them seriously, too. It's not asking much, I tell you that.
Capn's Final Word: Clean, varied, and dripping with natural talent - they do things here that they'd never have the guts to do this well again.
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Wow/Grape Jam - Columbia 1969
A sixty-minute double record, ostensibly one 'real' record containing 10 new studio tracks (Wow) and one live jam record (Grape Jam), yet released together ala Cream's Wheels of Fire, except Wheels wasn't this great in the studio or this worthless live. Of course, this one was completed right after the whole Skip Spence Jack Torrance impression (except without the old black dude getting unceremoniously whacked no less than 2 seconds after arriving at the Overlook Hotel after driving, like, 30 hours straight or something. I tell ya, that's a long way to ask a Brother to go just to get a massive chest wound before he can even take off his boots. He coulda stayed in Miami and gotten one of those for free. Maybe Danny should have just gotten on the ShinerPhone and told ol' Mr. Halloran just to go walking downtown wearing all of his gold jewelry on a Friday night and saved the poor sap some gas money), so one can understand if it's a bit less of a pleasure cruise than Moby Grape was. The main fault I see straight off is that, for whatever reason (trying to figure out why Moby Grape failed commercially, too many drugs and too much studio time, reusing old tape that hadn't been completely erased) they've gunked up a lot of perfectly good tracks with vestigal orchestras and silly little clumps of noise and feedback that at this advanced date of Thursday afternoon, sound mighty useless covering up all that nice guitar and vocal work these guys were so good at. In contrast to their debut, when everything sounded handmade by the Grapes themselves - organic, natural, and very tight, on Wow, that feeling, along with the group chemistry, is pretty much tossed out the car window underneath the wheels of the tractor trailer in the next lane. They've gone from Sun Studios to Harem Scarem in one step, and though quite a bit of the material is actually quite strong, the music suffers as a result of all this extracurricular activity. Personally, I'd like to hear all of the guitars clamouring together at the heart of 'Can't Be So Bad', but instead it's been perverted with a bunch of tempo changes and overschooled horns into a sort of proto Blood, Sweat and Tears track, with somebody doing a rather terrifying David Clayton-Thomas impression on lead vocals.
Then there's that one messy-butt Skip Spence doo wop/metal (I can't think of a better description, sorry. If you have a better one, write it down on a piece of paper, fold it carefully at right angles no less than five times, and shove it strai...) song that advocates killing the Judds. Now, this I can certainly understand. Now, Naomi's not so bad, with her Dorothy in the Emerald City look and all that, even though she's Hep A positive and you only get that way from injesting someone's poopy. Now, I'm not claiming Naomi Judd's a scat fetishist, but the last time someone said 'glass bottom boat' in her presence, her eyes lit up and she had to sit down for a minute. Still, she's better than that drunkard dyke Wynona, who looks like she's smuggling a giant box turtle in her forehead, and that overhyped no-talent soccer-mom-lookalike Ashley who inexplicably turns on the Wal Mart Automotive Department crowd because she looks like that divorcee who runs the cash register down at the local feed store all gussied-up. Now, I'm not actually saying I'd put a bullet in each of their skulls or anything, but anyone who's made as many despicable movies as Ashley or has done more to set back the lesbian liberation movement as Wynona has no choice but to inspire murder in the heart.
Oh it's 'judge', you say? Well, you might very well be right, but I'll keep my little fantasy right here in my breast pocket next to my heart, if you don't mind.
I suppose the question that needs to be answered here, besides the one about why just about all the ballads here suck like Tony Montoya at a contest snorting contest, is whether you mind your nice melodies and Hippie Boogie covered in a layer of hornsnot and stringsmegma. The one track that seems immune to all the stupidity is Skip Spence's masterpiece 'Motorcycle Irene', which shifts in seconds between a folkie ballad to a barrelhouse boogie while relating the story of ol' Irene and the inglorious smear she makes on the highway after her inevitable meeting with an oncoming vehicle (captured nicely in a very authentic sounding sound clip, by the way).
Okay, so the ballads here are terrible. Absolute AM radio schlock trash like the interminable 'Three Four' is MGM orchestra-smothered shit turds from the asshole of Nectar, absolutely not fit to come from the mouth of Grapes. This band's always had a certain tint of dramatism, but trying to out-glop Glen Campbell is a fool's game best left to fools. Like Mac Davis or some other asshole like that. Gimme more redneck sendups like the fun 'Funky Tunk' (featuring Alvin the Chipmunk with his little rodent nuts in a vice on lead vocals) or the trippy, waterlogged 'Rose Colored Eyes', featuring the best vocals on the record, by the way....an expansive chant that's both soft and threatening at the same time. Melodically, we've taken a few steps down, but as long as the Grape shapes up and stops trying to be BS&T, this is still pretty listenable stuff. Yeah, the time spent in the studio must've started to eat away at their souls (and judgment), but some of that essential, intoxicating Grape-ness is still to be found on about half of these tracks.
Then comes the live jam section (after the inexplicable 47-second snippet of a live 'Naked If I Want To', which replaces the studio cut 'Just Like Gene Autry' included on the original issue), which I suppose one could charitably view as a freebee mini-LP tacked onto a fairly decent studio record, or uncharitably view as ballast...documentary proof that live Grape was no great shakes when set next to such Bay Area betters as the Dead, Airplane, Santana, or what-have-you. The opening blues ballad 'Never' is better known to most of you as 'Since I've Been Loving You' off ol' Led Zeppelin III, ripped off near-wholesale by Robert 'Pickpocket' Plant and Jimmy 'Put' Page '/Plant on there and let the motherfuckers try to sue'. I mean, the Zep version is better (or, I should say, has more gripping guitar noodling than the murfled jazz meanderings here, and a nice shot of those classic Zeppelin dynamics), but it's been absolutely ripped completely from this version. The truth, as I learn more and more about it, is that Led Zeppelin didn't contribute more than half a dozen wholly original songs to their first two or three albums. They stole from everybody (Coming to mind in the first ten seconds alone - Lightning Hopkins, The Small Faces, The Jeff Beck Group, Moby Grape, Memphis Minnie...plus of course all that leftover Yardbirds material Page commandeered for his new band), and stuck that odious Page/Plant songwriting credit on it. Nowadays, of course, the average Jim Bob Buddrinker doesn't know his Moby Grape from a half-eaten chimichanga, but he knows Zep II rawks, man. Rawks yr fagit ass. And thus Zeppelin continues to earn gazillions of dollars in royalties while former members of bands like Moby Grape have to scrape by however they can.
Oh, anyway...the jams, right. The jams are listenable, but wander like drowsy octagenarians with an inner ear infection. Reportedly, the Grape were one of the most disorganized and sloppy groups of the time while onstage, playing 'without a net' ala the Dead - long jams connecting songs with no firm setlist to use as a roadmap - except no one could ever decide what to play next, so they just floundered there until something struck up. I can tell this is pretty much how 'Black Currant Jam' started out...check out the multiple-car-trainwreck that threatens to drag the whole fucking group into the orchestra pit in a great big heaving mass during the first couple of minutes. They soon recover, however, but drag into a sort of 12-bar disaster area with little regard for any lousy tension and release. Just drag that fucker out and play as many jazzy runs as you can yank out of your murky subconscious. Plus, for long stretches, no one seems particularly interested in taking a lead at all. Didn't this band have three guitar players at one time? So why do we seem to have Third Chair Charlie as our only remaining string man? Where's the stinging blues leads? What's with all the aimless comping? Believe me, with a decent lead man, this wouldn't have been a bad jam, but all we've got is do-it-yourself Guitar Karaoke for way too much of these jams. The blues 'Marmalade' is better in that there is a lead improvisatory instrument to pin your attention on, and the drumming is actually pretty interesting for this kind of standard 12-bar business, but I've heard so much blues done so much better than this it's difficult to feign interest for this long. I have to admit it - by the time this record limps to an end, I'm more than ready for it to be over with.
Capn's Final Word: A bit too little good sense in the studio, and not enough confidence live makes this a mediocre experience, though not without some moments.
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'69 - Columbia 1969
Comfortably, unremarkably normal. The four-piece Booby Rape, sans-Spence, was now exclusively a professional country-rock band playing professional country-rock bland. The good news is that they're more or less back in the pocket in terms of their arrangements and ensemble playing - they've ditched the big-budget trickery of Wow and returned to a homey guitar/bass/piano/drums/vocal harmonies setup that does nothing but good justice to their rootsy new material. They've also lost that disgusting cheeseball vocal tendency on their ballads, and good riddance, too. At it's best (the positively marvelous mid-tempo 'I Am Willing', the most affecting track in the Grape catalog), the newfangled lineup makes miniature miracles - heartfelt ballads based on pure, prime ingredients - smart, soulful vocals over a strong rhythmic presence augmented by a tasteful slide guitar. Far from revolutionary or even as original as Moby Grape was (not very), but perfectly great tunes written by hardworking, talented lads who'd had their moment at the big time and had blown it like Satchmo's flugelhorn. The watchword here is pleasant, though at times they strive for real beauty - the massed acoustic overdubs and dreamy intertwined vocals on 'A Beautiful Day Today' actually makes one think it might be a beautiful day, after all. Far more than that cumshot U2 song does, for sure. That one just makes me think of all the money that doggam group makes on its massive world tours. But forgive me, I suppose I'm just in an anti-corporate rock mood today, especially against those bands that somehow get an excuse pass for their money-grubbing ways.
Because Moby Grape, folks, ain't one of them kinds of bands, at least not in this 1969 configuration. They're radio-ready, sure, but they exude this sort of small-fry smell about them, as if they know they've been burned and just want to eke out their little existence on countrfied ballads and challenge-free fuzz rockers like 'Hoochie' and the goddamn dumbass 'Trucking Man'. Yup, Wow blew it on the ballads, '69 chomps it on the rockers - except for the Spence contribution, of course, but that's so radically different from everything else associated with this thing it may well have been on another record. Still, the blase attitude towards rocking isn't surprising - the country bug bit the Bay Area bands bigtime in late 1968, when everyone realised they didn't need to do a dropperful of acid and play so fast and loud their brains crystallized into little dense globes every night. Yup, sometimes you could just smoke a nice blunt and chill out, and dig on the fact that the Byrds might've had it right all along. They even come right out and admit they've taken it down a notch right there on 'Captain Nemo' when they say 'we can't stay that way anymore'. And the best moments of Moby Grape '69 are just exactly that - chill outs, little minor gems that don't say a whole hellerva lot, but say it with grace and enough good taste to make this album a warm spot on the cold carpet.
The one time the muscles tense in any sort of threatening manner is on the Skip Spence leftover 'Seeing', a shockingly good acid blowout with soft-to-screaming dynamics similar to those of 'Motorcycle Irene' and lyrics that seem to describe the increasing frequency of someone else sticking their grubbing fingers into his consciousness, punctuated by the screamed refrain 'SAVE ME! SAVE ME! SAVE ME!'. The rocking parts abandon all sense of good manners, the quiet sections have a sense of genuine pleading, and it's all but impossible not to attribute much of this song to Spence's irreparable slide into the Dollyland of his existence. After an album of chilling out and making only the tiniest of waves, hearing this chills the blood like a liquid nitrogen bath.
Capn's Final Word: The final stroke of greatness, even if it's a hack sort of greatness. 'Seeing' and 'Willing' must be experienced to be believed.
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Truly Fine Citizen
- Columbia 1969
The problem with laid back is that it's one of the main steps towards fast asleep. I suppose someone could've listened to '69 and heard the unmistakable signs of trouble - languid tempos, awful rockers, a few by-the-numbers chord sequences - but the fact remains that that particular album had life. It had some strength beneath its easygoing exterior, and retained a very strong sense that this was a Moby Grape Record, exactly as they'd intended it to be. Truly Fine Citizen was, and sounds like, a contractual obligation rushed out so the remaining Grapes (now thinned to three with the departure of bassist Bob Mosley for the Hardest Job He'd Ever Love) could go back to their full-time jobs wondering how in tarnation they'd bungled up the release of Moby Grape so badly. Talk about limping to the finish, Kentucky Fried Citizen shows a band destined for the glue factory (or the cheapskate reunion circuit of State Fairs and motorcycle meets, anyway), taking none of the authentic feel of their Nashville recording environment, they prefer to play the same sonambulent country-rocker over and over again. Lemme describe it to you, since I've already had 11 or more times to get it right. 120 bpm set to a metronomic tippity-tap style country drumbeat that never changes, never shifts, and never fills. There's a weird sense that the Grape (or what remains of the Grape, which perhaps should now be referred to as the Pits) are emulating what they think country music should sound like - laid back, easy-rolling, and with plenty of pleading oversinging. Well, lemme tell you, rock guys sure like to overemphasize the hick elements of the C&W style, but they miss the essential ingredient that makes the drink punch you in the pelvis - the best country music is every bit as subversive as its longhaired brethren, but it just wraps it up in the garments of the straight, rural American. You think Johnny Cash, if he'd been born in the late 40's rather than the late 20's, wouldn't have been a part of the hippie community? Sure as shit he would. Hell, Hank Williams was as doomy and decadent as anything the British could cough up in the early 70's - but the fact that he had a hitch in his voice and wore sequined Nudie suits made him fodder for ignorant hippies to ape on their 'groundbreaking' albums.
Listen, I'm not damning every single country rock record or artist that slid down the pole between 1968 and 1975. I think there's more than a few who 'got it', and made country-tinged albums that cleverly used rock 'n' roll vocabulary and instrumental diction in the service of making country music, or vice versa. Hell, you know I don't feel that way, considering all the Dead I hold so close to my chest. What bothers me is the tendency for these hippie guys, once they became fat, strung out, and lazy, to fall into this snoozy, boozy half-rootsy style of a musical holding pattern. Considering how wonderfully the first and (at least somewhat) third Grape albums used folk and country stylings, to hear them fall into something as incompetent as the slopfest 'Open Up Your Heart' is sadder than the third reel of Friday the 13th, Part XIII: Jason Gets Aggressively Malignant Prostate Cancer (which, admittedly, was much worse than Friday the 13th, Part XII: Hot Streets) or as pointlessly fillerish as the jazz rice pasta that is 'Love Song, Part Two' (yes, in case you missed it, there's two parts, neither of which want anything to do with one another. So much for love, eh?) The result is this - Moby Grape's final 'real' album (as opposed to a reunion one, and even that is debatable if you feel that three Grapes does not a Moby make) is absolute hackwork. Listenable, maybe, but a shoddy product by folks who knew they had a contract to fulfill and only a $3.75 budget to work off of. Do yourself a favor and get Will the Circle Be Unbroken by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and have a little edumacation about what these clowns were shamelessly emulating.
Capn's Final Word: A lazy contractual obligation, and sounds every bit of it.
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Creek - Columbia 1971
Just because I hate so damn much to let loose ends dangle all around like pantyhose on a shower curtain rod, I'll just let you know that this album, the first of the Grape's several no-budget reunion records, is a complete waste of time. The majority of it is filled up by what sound quite honestly like Truly Fine Citizen outtakes, meaning, in other words, zonked-out C-W crimes against humanity (the 'That's Alright Mama'-aping 'Roundhouse Blues' and 'Horse Out In The Rain' being the two worst of the lot), of course, but since there's a Skip Spence song on it, some of you hardcores will probably think about sinking a bunch of money into finding a copy. Forget it. The Skippy's 'Chinese Song' is a five-and-a-half-minute repetition of what sounds like 8 bars of incidental music from a lost episode of Kung Fu played on koto and violin while a bunch of swooshy cymbals are crashed faux-dramatically in the background. It's by far the best song on the record.
Capn's Final Word: 'taint worth it. Organize your sock drawer instead.
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firstname.lastname@example.org Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: I agree that most albums since the first are not that great, but this has at least 3 really good songs on it (Horse out in the Rain, Going Back to Tulsa, Apocalypse) that are as good as anything they or anybody else ever did. They are all Peter Lewis songs, and maybe they should be reviewed separately from the rest of the record, which I agree is crap.
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