Monday, February 17, 2014

Gospel Oak - Gospel Oak (1970 uk / us, fine rural blues rock)



Gospel Oak was a surprise to me, both in bibliographical terms and for the music. This was another album I picked up at a yard sale with no prior knowledge of the product. I literally bought it for the album cover which showed what I thought were a bunch of English hippy guys poised in a beatific rural setting (the oak tree picture on the cover was stunning). I literally had visions of early 1970s UK progressive moves.  Besides, Kapp had some interesting late 1960s and early-1970s acts on its roster (no, I'm not thinking about Cher). Anyhow it turned out that virtually every one of my preconceived notions was wrong. 

Matthew Kelly was a Californian who'd previously attracted attention playing blues harmonica and touring with the likes of Mel Brown, John Lee Hooker, and T-Bone Walker. The man clearly had some chops to be supporting names like that. Kelly soon found himself caught-up in San Francisco's burgeoning rock scene. He added electric guitar to his repertoire and started playing with Chris Herold and Dave Torbert. In 1969 the three of them were hired to play in the band Horses which was fronted by sometimes actor and lead singer Don Johnson (yeap, the Miami Vice guy). Horses recorded one self-titled album before collapsing.  

I found a brief online interview where Kelly actually talked about the experience: "I'm a bit embarrassed about. We actually made a record. We were backing up this Hollywood singer, a guy who was sort of a Jim Morrison type. We got flown down to Hollywood and lived there for three or four months while we were making this very commercial record, of which Jump for Joy (A Kingfish tune) was on the record with this guy Don Johnson was singing. Fortunately this record is very difficult to get. So for anybody that wants to run right out and buy it, I think they will have a very difficult time. It is just as well for it is a bit embarrassing." 

Perhaps out of personal shame Kelly's next move found him headed for the UK.  At the same time drummer Kerry Gaines, keyboardist Cliff Hall, pedal steel guitarist Gordon Huntley, lead guitarist Bob Le Gate, and singer/bassist John Rapp found themselves in England.  Originally from Indiana, they somehow managed to attract the attention of Beatles publicist Tony Barrow. Barrow signed on as manager and used his connections to get the band a record deal with Kapp. The label then decided to ship the group to London where they hooked up with fellow expatriot Kelly.  The expanded lineup was the teamed with producers Mike Leander and Roger Watson for their self titled debut LP.  

Musically "Gospel Oak" was all over the genre map.  With Rapp and Le Gate responsible for most of the material, tracks like 'Recollections of Jessica' and 'Big Fat White Man' were decent country-rock complete with nice melodies and catchy group harmonies. Showcasing Kelly's harmonica and Le Gate's lead guitar 'Brown Haired Girl', 'Common Expressions' and the instrumental 'South Bleach' offered up a harder edged blues sound, while 'Go Talk To Rachel' and 'O.K. Sam' found the group taking a stab at a more conventional and accessable rock attack.

Propelled by some nifty Le Gate guitar, best of the lot was the album-closer 'St. Anne's Pretension'.  The album was never less than enjoyable, but by the same token it lacked anything to distinguish it from the competition.  The album's certainly likeable which makes it too bad if didn't sport one or two slightly stronger compositions.  With those ingredients these guys could have been major players.  Kapp also tapped the album for a single in the form of 'O.K. Sam' b/w 'Go Talk To Rachel' (Kapp catalog number 2115).
Tracks
1. Brown Haired Girl (John Rapp) - 3:34
2. Common Expressions (John Rapp) - 3:17
3. Recollections Of Jessica (Tim Hovey, Bob Le Gate) - 3:05
4. Big Fat White Man (Tim Hovey, Bob Le Gate) - 2:35
5. South Bleach (Instrumental) (Bob Le Gate, Kerry Gaines, Matthew Kelly) - 2:36
6. Why We Came (Kerry Gaines, John Rapp) - 2:57
7. Go Talk To Rachel (John Rapp) - 4:07
8. O.K. Sam (Tim Hovey, Bob Le Gate) - 3:25
9. St. Anne's Pretension (Kerry Gaines, John Rapp) - 4:39

Gospel Oak
*Kerry Gaines - Drums, Percussion
*Matthew Kelly - Harmonica, Guitar
*Bob Le Gate - Lead Guitar, Vocals
*John Rapp - Vocals, Bass, Rhythm Guitar
With
*Cliff Hall - Keyboards
*Gordon Huntley - Pedal Steel Guitar

Related Act
1969  Horses - Horses

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Mojo Men - There Goes My Mind (1967-68 us, splendid folk sunny psych, Sundazed release)



There Goes My Mind is essentially the album the Mojo Men would have liked Warner Brothers to put out in 1968, but which Warners, for whatever reason, declined to do. Although the liner notes make clear that the intention was for the band to eventually record the material with Warners with full orchestration, these 16 1967-1968 recordings -- all original songs, and all but two previously unreleased -- actually sound almost as fully produced as the typical late-'60s finished product. All but two of the tracks come from a June 30, 1968, session, and to be honest most of these aren't quite as good as the sweet early harmony-laden pop-folk-psych buzz the Mojo Men conjured on their best slightly earlier recordings, shortly after drummer-singer Jan Errico had joined. 

Some good early San Francisco rock-type bittersweet melodies, yearning melancholy lyrics, and accomplished male-female harmonies on songs like "I Wish Today Were Yesterday," "Unaware of Me," and the haunting harpsichord-laden "Watch You Walk Away," though occasionally the tunes lean toward a slightly bubblegummy sunshine pop vibe. Yet it's one of the 1967 demos, "Today" (no relation to the Jefferson Airplane classic of the same name), that emerges as the standout, qualifying as a lost near-classic of San Francisco rock with its enchanting never-neverland lyrics, startling tempo changes, and beguiling wistful melody. And the other 1967 demo, the jazzy and similarly reflective "But Now and Then," isn't too far behind. 
by Richie Unterberger
Tracks
1. When You're Down - 2:37
2. Sure of Your Love (Jim Alaimo, Jan Errico) - 2:59
3. Everyday Love - 4:04
4. I Wish Today Were Yesterday - 2:48
5. Take Me Away (Jim Alaimo, Jan Errico) - 1:36
6. Unaware of Me (Jim Alaimo, Jan Errico) - 2:56
7. Candy (Jim Alaimo, Jan Errico, Paul Curcio, Don Metchick) - 2:50
8. Ashamed of Me (Jim Alaimo, Jan Errico) - 3:15
9. It's Okay (Jim Alaimo, Jan Errico) - 2:28
10.Watch You Walk Away - 3:08
11.There Goes My Mind (Jim Alaimo, Jan Errico, Paul Curcio, Don Metchick) - 2:48
12.Today (Mono Demo Version) - 2:09
13.But Now and Then (Mono Demo Version) - 2:16
14.Summer Flowers (Mono Demo Version) - 2:29
15.Not for Me (Mono Demo Version) - 1:44
16.Take Me Away (Mono Demo Version) (Jim Alaimo, Jan Errico) - 1:29
All songs by Jim Alaimo, Jan Errico, Paul Curcio except where noted

The Mojo Men
*Jim Alaimo - Bass, Vocals
*Jan Errico - Vocals, Drums
*Paul Curcio - Guitar, Vocals
*Don Metchick - Keyboards

1965-66  The Mojo Men - Whys Ain't Supposed To Be (Sundazed release)

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