great group, a very fine album (their first, released January '68), a
great-sounding original mix (featured here for the first time since the
original album on Ode), a superb mastering work by Steve Hoffman that sounds
perfectly balanced, very musical, and definitely "crankable". Need I
I bet a few more words won't hurt.
featured, but never highly celebrated, among "those who count" in the
history of rock music, Spirit in their original line-up recorded four albums of
very high quality in a style that, while always personal and easy to recognize,
was quite "elastic", featuring a whole series of instrumental and
compositional colours that really made the group "one of a kind".
if we talk about "sonics" their music was not always presented under
the best light. So, at last!, the recent re-release plan by Audio Fidelity
should give Spirit a chance to be appreciated by an audience that, having paid
no attention in the past, have not become jaded, either.
fine melodic dimension, chords that are never banal, a group sound that's full
but "light" (the drummer and the pianist being "jazzers"
definitely having a part in this), a fine singer and a very varied, quite
expressive, vocal group dimension, an original-sounding guitarist who - by the
time he played on the group's first album, at the age of 17 - created
melodically-complex, timbrally "outrageous", solos. Let's not forget
that - while having his first taste of success with Roxy Music - Phil Manzanera
mentioned Randy California as one of the most stimulating guitar players he
listened to in his younger days.
Randy California was young, drummer Ed Cassidy was already "the oldest man
in rock". Shaved head, dressed in black - a real character - he had a
sizable résumé as a jazz player. The sound on this Audio Fidelity SACD features
his well-tuned drums and his fine cymbals in full Technicolor, showing his
creativity when contributing to the songs' various sub-sections.
on electric piano - sounds like a Wurlitzer to me - and not much else, John
Locke brings a jazz vocabulary and a fine sense of economy to the group. Not
having an (Hammond) organ makes the group's sound rich but not
"crowded". (Listening to their first three albums side-by-side with
their fourth makes for a very interesting comparison, given the fact of having
a different producer, and - perhaps - different goals.)
difficult to appreciate in the old vinyl editions, Mark Andes bass work (he
also sings) "in digital" reveals itself to be versatile and of very
a vocal timbre that some would not define as "rock" proper, always a
solid composer, Jay Ferguson is maybe the piece of the puzzle that's easier to
take for granted, but one does so at one's own peril: with another voice taking
his place, things would change for the worse. And while it's true that all
arrangements, and those "icing on the cake" licks that stick in one's
mind, are a group creation, the first album and a large part of those that followed
have many of his songs as their foundation.
clearly remember - in the post-Woodstock time, which for Spirit means by the
time of their third album - the long list of artists and groups that Clive
Davis, the President of Columbia Records, saw as potential million sellers in
order to increase the "rock" fortunes of his record company: Chicago,
Santana, Janis Joplin, Blood, Sweat & Tears... Listening to those artists
side-by-side with Spirit will clearly show why Spirit did not make it. (By the
way, does anybody remember the Flock, Chambers Brothers, and the Fifth Avenue
to be faithful to the spirit of those times, I intended to smoke a couple of
joints, and really dig this new edition of Spirit's first album of same name.
In the end I decided that to compare the different editions of this album I own
would suffice. (Those in a hurry can skip this boring part. See you at the end,
where I'll discuss the individual songs.)
I already wrote above, this is the first time the album's original mix sees the
light after the release of the first vinyl edition on Ode. In recent times I've
seen the Ode album on sale at a few "record fairs", no copy having a
written price! And I really doubt such an old album can be found in "mint"
preferred copy is part of a "twofer" (Spirit + Clear) released in
1973 on Epic which I bought quite cheap, still sealed, in a record shop about
forty years ago. (There's a "scary-looking" girl on the cover, I've
recently seen quite a few counterfeit copies around.) Very noisy vinyl (the
bass solo on Elijah no more than a hypothesis, just like the one played by Rick
Grech on Do What You Like, on the Blind Faith album), but given a bit more
power the sound becomes more lively, and I'm not ashamed to say that for all
those years this has been my go-to copy. I see now that this mix is quite
poorer than the original, especially when it comes to the orchestral work on
Taurus and those complex, multi-layered background vocals on Straight Arrow,
Topanga Windows, Gramophone Man, and Water Woman.
I bought a CBS UK Embassy copy from '79 (it had double the volume and excellent
vinyl, but also a poor-sounding mix and very poor timbres, the drums sounding
like an anvil and a hammer) and the first CD edition I heard of, the one mixed
and mastered by Vic Anesini for Sony in '96, which came with added bonus
tracks. I regarded the mixing and mastering as being "not too bad",
and the lack of vinyl by-products was obviously a bonus. But while it
definitely was no ear-bleeder, it was the kind of CD that I can only listen to
at a very low volume, and that in the end I never listen to. (I have to say
that on my most recent CD player it sounds much better than on its predecessor
- that much progress was made when it comes to converters is definitely true -
but those "minus" features in the sound are still there.)
order to avoid things become too complicated, for this review I didn't listen
to my mono copy released by Soundazed in 2005.
album credits. Produced by: Lou Adler. Engineered by: Eirik Wangberg, Armin
Steiner, Mike Leitz. Strings and brass arranged by: Marty Paich.
version I review here is a SACD hybrid, featuring both a hi-rez stereo layer
and the normal CD stereo layer, the latter being the one I listened to.
Garbage is the famous, dynamic-sounding opening track. A melody that sounds
like it's being sung with a middle-eastern flavour. Fine solo on electric
Jack has a "rock" riff and quite "Beatles-sounding" vocals.
Fine drum timbre, guitar solo on two channels, sounding much less
"shrill" than in past, also clear-sounding background vocals.
World starts with hi-hat and brass. In many ways this is the most ambitious
track here, quite dramatic, with an epic-sounding orchestra, always changing,
and a great guitar solo on two channels. Great-sounding snare drum.
was recently mentioned in a lawsuit as being an "inspiration" for the
world-famous Led Zeppelin track Stairway To Heaven. In a way, Taurus always
reminded me of Michelle by The Beatles, in the same way that a section of the
song Ladies Of The Road by King Crimson on their album Islands does. An
instrumental track which makes great use of the orchestra and a fine
performance on the acoustic guitar, this is the only song penned by Randy
California on this album.
In Your Eye features an arrangement that reminds me a lot of Sirtaki and of the
(at the time) famous music from the movie Zorba the Greek. Moving at a lazy
pace, with an electric guitar sounding like a sitar, it features a very fine
"square wave" guitar solo, with fine counterpoint by Wurlitzer and
Arrow is a happy-sounding, "light" track. It has a
"jazzy"-sounding section, with "swing" bass and excellent
guitar, a section that repeats at the end, with a longer guitar solo and
excellent counterpoint on the electric piano.
Windows opens side two with a "dreaming" mood,
"psychedelic" guitar, strings, and vocals. "Double time",
"jazzy" guitar solo, and fine counterpoint from the electric piano. I
have to confess my preferred portion of the album ended here, but the new
mastering - which makes the acoustic piano and the vocal parts more clearly
perceivable - made me appreciate the songs on (former) side two a lot more.
Man was penned by the group. Quite varied, with fine guitar and vocals. Funny
thing, the vocal timbre of the section starting with the words "Gramophone
eyes" has always reminded me of Pink Floyd (but the chronology is
inverted). Double time, "swing", guitar solo playing chords. Fine
ending, with vocals more upfront.
Woman has a "folk" melody, with acoustic guitar, overdubbed vocals,
Great Canyon Fire In General sounds like "psychedelic rock".
Overdubbed guitars, grand piano.
penned by Locke, is a "freedom" moment. A simple jazz composition, it
features four solos that - quite surprisingly for the times: remember the
"average amount of technique of the average rock musician - don't outstay
original album ended here. I have to confess I don't particularly love having
"bonus tracks" added to an album, but here the fact of having the
four (at the time) unreleased tracks mixed and mastered by Anesini for the '96
edition appear is maybe intended to avoid that people asked to pay
"more" have the feeling of receiving "less". It has to be
said that these four tracks were also remastered by Hoffman.
penned by California, starts with arpeggiated guitar and bass, then a
"rock" theme, later performed on a Hammond organ, a rare apparition
for the group (funny thing, it sounds like Mark Stein of the Vanilla Fudge had
paid a visit to the group at the recording studio). Strange, here there are a
few seconds more after the drums fade out, compared to the Anesini version from
Spirit by Locke has the piano, an excellent snare drum, a melody the group will
return to on Clear, a "jazzy" guitar playing chords. a bass solo that
reminded me a bit of Jack Casady, a drum solo with great use of snare and
I Had A Woman sounds confused and too messy, but in a pleasant way, with vibes,
and a guitar part that its author, Randy California, will return to in the
(alternate take) is not as good as the version that appears on the album, but
it's interesting to listen to.
© Beppe Colli 2017
CloudsandClocks.net | July 17, 2017