I reckon that in any record collection there’s always a place for albums that are a bit quirky. So here are a couple that fit the description but are nevertheless delightfully melodic and beautifully arranged. So ok we are not talking out and out rock albums here. These are just well crafted songs with unusual arrangements and clever use of a range of instruments and voices. Both have a touch of rock and pop and you’ll find that some tracks are a tad jazzy or folky, and there’s even a fragment of baroque or Middle Eastern sound.
So here we are then enough of the build up……
Chrysalis – Definition (MGM 1968)
This New York sextet released just this one album with all tracks written by John ‘Spider’ Barbour. The first track ‘What Will Become Of The Morning’ opens proceedings with some pleasant harpsichord and flute before the gorgeous vocals of Nancy Nairn take over. As with every track on this superb album it’s complex and interesting and sets the scene well for what’s to come. Barbour and Nairn share vocals throughout the album and both work well. Father’s Getting Old has the Middle Eastern influence but surprises us with a tasty electric guitar break and there’s a slab of fuzz on Piece Of The Sun. Strings and woodwind are subtle and effective and there are no weak tracks with so much going on utilising a fascinating range of styles. Great lyrics enhance each track often with a dash of humour especially on the decidedly strange yet excellent closer Dr Root’s Garden. This is a terrific album – unusual but utterly compelling.
A CD reissue exists on RevOla with a number of bonus tracks. And these are good too unlike so many reissues where the additions do more harm than good.
Split Level – Divided We Stand (Dot 1968) – sometimes referred to as a self titled album.
There are a number of parallels with the above album here they were from New York and there’s five of them with a great female vocalist and they employ similar styles and sound pretty good for that. It’s probably not quite such a strong album and there’s even less of a rock feel but a few tracks (You Can’t Go, Right Track, Equipment and Can’t Complain) suggest they were quite capable of heading in that direction when the mood took them. Their strength is in the amazing harmony vocal department with strong choral composition techniques and like Chrysalis they have a superb female vocalist in Liz Seneff. Hanging Out opens the album and is more or less a pop song but the arrangement takes it just beyond that bland description. Speculator could easily be Chrysalis with a distinctly similar feel but begins with the first line of Agnus Dei sung as if by a church choir and ends with the sound of a tickertape machine in comparison with a machine gun. (This was the days of Vietnam of course). Beautifully crafted arrangements abound throughout with tracks such as Children Are Bored On Sunday and the decidedly odd but nevertheless effective Looking At The Rose Through World Coloured Glasses. Thoughtful lyrics, use of a wide range of instruments again including subtle use of brass and strings all help to craft a delightful album. Even the acapella hymn like track works perfectly. It’s the one entitled Hymn!
This is not so well known as the Chrysalis album but is certainly worthy of a mention in the same breath. I do not believe it has been reissued.
I hope some of you are tempted to try and find these two albums – they are well worth it.
About the Author
Mike Warth – Retired teacher and Education Officer, old rocker, lover of prog, psych and folk – the latter for which I sometimes take some stick. (Why?) Currently having a ball working in The Sound Machine, Reading – independent Record Store par excellence and now working with Vernon Joynson on an update to Dreams, Fantasies And Nightmares.