CAMERA OBSCURA #2
Wilderness Road, Hughes/Thrall, & John BrahenyThis time around, one of the selections is still pretty easy to locate (Hughes/Thrall), and two aren't but still findable (Wilderness Road's only two releases; the first will be the most difficult to run down), but forget trying to lay hold of the John Braheny disc. eBay, Amazon, CD Baby, no source I checked has this LP, though YouTube offers up some songs off it. No critic I've communicated with over the past 30 years is knowledgeable of the item either. Braheny later wrote books about the music biz but never put out another release of music. Too bad, 'cause his sole album's a gem.
By Mark S. Tucker
WILDERNESS ROAD same (1972) / Sold For the Prevention of Disease Only (1973)
Wilderness Road debuted as what seemed to be yet another in the flood of country-rock ensembles of the era. No sooner did the first cut on Wilderness Road click in than "Hey! Cool! Another Poco!" crossed the listener's mind. Ah, but wait for another three or four bars, and an electric guitar drops in from out of nowhere, presenting evidence that what we had was another Sod, Madura both also sadly unknown - or other more boisterous outfit on our hands. Nate Herman (gtrs, mando, dobro, organ, vox) was the writing force behind this highly interesting group, the best comparative to whom might be The Band with a good deal more rock 'n roll and a helluva pungeant comedic sense. Herman possessed a decided interest in Jesus music - a weakness I also, despite being atheist, cherish a deep love for but the transition in his exposition upon the genre from one LP to the next is intriguing and hilarious.
"Revivial" is a medley of Herman's VERY genuine-sounding compositions, music one would not be surprised to hear as standards in a backwoods, hickory, tent meeting... but there's also a distinctly subtle note or three of satire and mockery present. That element would come roaring out in their next LP but here the potpourri was notable for great harmony vocals and a rootsy rock-y authenticity brought into the 20th century, to my mind at least somewhat pre-figurative of Micky Gee, Mason Profitt, and other groups and individuals (though WR's albums didn't emerge until the noted dates, it was founded in '68). Perhaps the most interesting, and least known, factor was the fact that the boys allied in order to raise money for the Chicago Seven. Their facetious ways, however, were clearly seen in the staging of tongue-in-cheek events in the era, such as the Passover-Easter Spectacular, The Last Brunch, and Spinoza's Torah Center.
Sold For the Prevention of Disease Only completely reversed the Appalachian-ite cover art of the debut. The first slab showed a Feinenger-esque canvas of long-haired, moustachio'ed, bearded Nashville hippies flanking a storefront, but now we saw a hilarious version of the collective as a Kiss/Cooper/Heep ensemble lined up in front of a balding grinning pharmacist looking like the boss-guy in Dilbert (loooong before Scott Adams' genius ever made the funnies) and selling 'em condoms. Flip the cover over and you had a '50's NYC version of same. The country element was still present in the music but with a lot more rock and a dollop of psychedelia in songs no longer much concerned with Americana, much more with cutting commentary and a dominant insertion of comedy rock that would do The Firesign Theatre, Conception Corporation and even Zappa proud.
The inside gatefold depicted the lads as Ricky & The Rockets, making model airplanes while snorting the glue. Ricky & Co. would mometarily appear in the vinyl as well, within a potpoturri medley reprising the paradigm of the 1st LP: "The Gospel," featuring the eminent Rev. E.J. Korvette and his Korvette Khristian Krusade (KKK). "What Key Does the Good Lord Sing In" cut through the preceding three rockin' tracks like a brainbursting PKD mindswitch to a completely aschismed scenario, to my mind one of the most incisively hilarious such outbursts in all rock history. The four sections went on for 7:42, ending in "Heavily Into Jesus," a piece to rival "Plastic Jesus" (Cool Hand Luke) and "Suicide is Painless" (from the M*A*S*H movie).
That was side 2, side 1 also carried three intro tunes cleaving firmly to the first release's themata and tone, but "The Authentic British Blues" turned on its heel and bounced the blues idiom the rock-blues genre, that is upside-down. I'll not describe the shenanigans but only say that every bar and measure parodies everything we've heard since the British Invasion took Chicago blues to new heights, ending in the trademark hoary clichι "Now wait a minute!" as an expostulation that immediately turns into a clock ticking off the seconds for, yep!, a full minute, the band banished to Purgatory.
Wilderness Road dissolved, and the members never went on to anything notable that I'm aware of, but Sold For the Prevention of Disease Only is one of the coolest slabs in my entire 50,000 piece collection, a licorice pizza badly in need of rediscovery for ongoing generations.
HUGHES/THRALL same (1982)
The eponyms in this killer one-off were of course Pat Thrall (Pat Travers, Automatic Man, Stomu Yamash'ta, etc.) and Glenn Hughes (Trapeze, Deep Purple, solo, etc.). How the hell it managed to not catch on like wildfire among rockers is a profound mystery these decades later, but one must suppose the usual record label PR bullshit was responsible. I mean, Jesus, when you have the best and most talented screamer rock ever produced (Glenn Hughes and, um, sorry 'bout dat, Ian Gillan, David Byron, and Robert Plant, but it's true) not to mention the most soulful white singer urped up by the rock plantation (again: Hughes) well accompanied by the cat who made Travers look better than he was/is (Thrall earlier sounding like Jimi Hendrix at a disco in Automatic Man), everything resulting in a burningly hi-energy ten-spot of songs... and then it goes nofuckingwhere? Well what in the name of all that's unholy was happening???
I've played my original purchase so many times that I had to replace it with another copy (and have a third in side-storage; mama didn't raise no fool), and the only contemporary I can think of coming close to the magnitude of pure melodic adrenalin in so hard-hitting a format would be The Headpins ... with my fave tied-for-second-with-Janis female screamer, Darby Mills (Janita Haan of Babe Ruth cops the top honors, btw). Backed by a keyboardist and three drummers (not all at once!), Thrall ripped out the chords and leads while Hughes manned the bass and all vocal chores, reprising his Medusa and Coast to Coast days with Trapeze, the two gentz in superb form.
Speaking of the lattermost, I caught Trapeze twice back in the day: first on a three-card with The Moody Blues and Spirit (circa Dr. Sardonicus) and then at the Whiskey the next day... with Rhino and Pinera from Iron Butterfly sitting in. Sweet Jesus, what a two-fer!... and I was good and ripped for both. Hughes was indomitable on both occasions, and Trapeze damn near stole the show at the Forum. The guy also had one of the three most leoninely bitchin' male heads of hair ever, along with Rod Argent and Ken Hensley. My own tresses falling well past my shoulders, I nonetheless felt bald next to those monsters. Waitaminnit! Is this Hairdresser's Monthly or Perfect Sound Forever? Oh yeah, the latter. Back to the music.
Not a cut on this album is less than glowing, whether burner or ballad ("Where Did the Time Go?" f'rinstance, is pure Coast Trapeze from beginning to end). All accolades to the late Mel Galley, a master of the stripped-down solo and stuttery chordplay, but Pat Thrall made an excellent backup for Hughes. And, yo, tell me Deep Purple didn't fuck up royal when designating second-rater David Coverdale over Glenn (and I'm STILL pissed about it). What on Earth was Jon Lord thinking? Well, too late to ask him now, dammit!
JOHN BRAHENY Some Kind of Change (1968)
This VERY obscure one-off on the equally obscure Pete Records label, which appears to be a Christer imprint (though this isn't a Christian rock record at all), what with the logo with Pete's 'T' as a crucifix and all, was an album I wasn't aware even existed until about a decade ago, locating a copy at Record Surplus - up in the West L.A./Santa Monica interface in the dollar bin. Fairly scratchy, the cover a little worn, it was nonetheless a great find, a collection of 10 songs by a folk singer with quite a psychedelic sensibility and a really broad concept approach to music-smithing (he afterwards wrote a book or three on music, all of which appear to be pretty popular). The 8:55 jam "Silver Cord" is the highlight of the vinyl but all selections are really interesting.
"Tour Line Ladies" is a way cool musical porridge featuring a tour bus carny baker's dialogue as the vehicle wends its way along the Sunset Strip, replete with the MC-asshole's rips on hippies, which must've amused the hell out of Braheny as he recorded it. "Some Kind of Change," its follow-on, is a loopy, swirly, free-floating psych-folk paean on the need for cultural shift. 1968, as readers will remember, was pretty much the height of the protest movement within the '60's and '70's. The '68 Democratic Convention kinda lit the years-long simmering fire, Democrats even back then not much differentiated from Republicans, with Kent State marking one of several peaks of the Establishment counter-revolution's definitive statements. Thankfully, we're seeing a resurgence in Black Lives Matter, the re-rising of anarchy, LGBTQ demands, the revelations of extreme corruption in so-called Left functions like the now-pathetic corporate Pacifica radio chain and in bizarre characters like Amy Goodman, etc..
Due to that, the interim presence of creatives like Davendra r, and sundy events and personalities, I think the X, Y, Blank, Millennial, and successor generations will find MUCH to love in this disc. It's still way beyond its time and even proghedz will locate connections to Amon Duul II, Red Krayola, Donovan Leitch's wilder side, Gary Lucas, Can, Grateful Dead's spacey stuff, and a panoply of crazed composer-players. For a record almost half a century old, it's nearly shocking how forward thinking Some Kind of Change is. Braheny sings and plays guitar, violin, echolette, and oscillator through all the mindbendery and psychedelicized commonplaces, with some studio notables in tow (Rick Cunha [co-producer], Don Waldrop, etc.). Play it once, and I guarantee it'll return to your turntable many times.
Also see Camera Obscura 1
Camera Obscura 3
Camera Obscura 4
Camera Obscura 5
Camera Obscura 6
Camera Obscura 7
Camera Obscura 8
Camera Obscura 9
Camera Obscura 10
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