Wednesday, 22 February 2017

"Rebirth" by BLONDE ON BLONDE (2017 Esoteric Recordings 'Expanded Edition' CD Reissue - Ben Wiseman Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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You wouldn't expect South Wales (Newport to be exact) to be a hotbed of Sixties and Seventies Prog - but BLONDE ON BLONDE and their four album catalogue would beg to differ. Their Pye Records debut LP "Contrasts" (NSPL 18288) hit the streets in 1969 - their career ending in acrimony, poor sales and an unreleased 1974 last album on Ember that even got to Test Pressing stages.

This superb 2017 CD reissue pair from England's Esoteric Recordings (part of Cherry Red) concentrates on their second and third platters - "Rebirth" from 1970 and it's follow-up "Reflections On A Life" in 1971 - both on Pye's budget label of the time - Ember Records. Each is an 'Expanded Edition' newly remastered from original Ember tapes. Here are the newborn details...

UK released 27 January 2017 (February 2017 in the USA) - "Rebirth" by BLONDE ON BLONDE on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2572 (Barcode 5013929467248) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Reissue and Remaster with Three Bonus Tracks (Two Previously Unreleased) and plays out as follows (56:26 minutes):

1. Castles In The Sky
2. Broken Hours
3. Heart Without A Home
4. Time Is Passing
5. Circles
6. November [Side 2]
7. Colour Questions
8. You'll Never Know Me/Release
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 2nd studio album "Rebirth" (credited as "Re-birth" on the label) - released May 1970 in the UK on Ember Records NR 5049 (no US issue). Produced by the band - it failed to chart in the UK.

9. Circles (Single Version) - Non-Album Track, B-side to "Castles In The Sky", a UK 7" single released 24 April 1970 on Ember EMB S 279
10. Castles In The Sky (Alternate Version - Previously Unreleased)
11. Time Is Passing (Alternate Version - Previously Unreleased)


The 20-page booklet is a pleasingly thorough affair with new liner notes from noted writer MALCOLM DOME. He interviews founder members David Thomas and Gareth Johnson for the release who give witty and honest appraisals of what was good (got to support huge bands of the day - The Who, Genesis, Deep Purple, Wishbone Ash and Graham Bond - even opening ahead of a decimated Fleetwood Mac) - and the bad (record company disinterest - a Melody Maker review that killed momentum - songs foisted on them they detested like "Castles In The Sky". You also get the lovely Esa Besalel gatefold artwork (Edward St. Maur took the photos) fully reproduced including the wildly-excited liner notes from British Rock DJ Tommy Vance (ex BBC) and the USA's equivalent John Mendelsohn (contributed to Rolling Stone and Coast Magazine) - both extolling the album's nose-down Psych-Rock approach and delivery (no pretentious 200-piece Orchestra here pal). There are photos of the "Castles In The Sky" UK 7" single in its rare Ember Records label bag (a Demo version) and the even harder-to-find picture sleeve of it that came with certain copies is repro'd on Page 14 along with other black and whites. There's even a Tour poster from 24 and 25 August 1969 that features BOB alongside such notables as Fairport Convention, The Incredible String Band, Blossom Toes, Family, Traffic and The Bonzo Dog Doodah Band (what a line-up).

BEN WISEMAN – an Audio Engineer who has done loads of superlative work with Esoteric, Universal and many other labels over the years – has taken the Ember tapes and made a damn good fist of the distinctly lo-fi recordings. The shimmering cymbals lead-in – guitars and then voices – “Broken Hours” sounds damn good and with that Psych guitar kicking in – you can so hear why collectors rate their three albums so much. A quality job done on what must have been a difficult transfer...

The "Castles In The Sky" pop single written by Eve King (John King's wife) and Paul Smith (who had penned songs for Simon Dupree And The Big Sound before they later became Gentle Giant) is given short shift by band guitarist Gareth Johnson in the liner notes where he describes it as a 'terrible song' foisted on them by BBC Producer John King and not in keeping with the band's vision. Far better is the rollicking almost Hawkwind drone of "Heart Without A Home" where Johnson gets to wig out on his axes. Vocalist David Thomas gets all 'son leaving home - wanting to be free' on the very Moody Blues "Time Is Passing" - quite possibly another single on an album that doesn't have many. Side 1 ends in a Psych collector's dream - the 'silent world keeps turning around' of "Circles" where huge drums crash and a crudely recorded fuzzed-up guitar tries to get heard (dig that wild solo). I have to say I prefer the album mix of the song to the 45 version - more punch.

There's a rather naive sound to Side 2's opener "November" - Thomas' vocals all echoed for effect - the guitar ever so slightly crude in that homemade way that makes these kind of albums a thrill for collectors who like it unpolished - all feel and passion. The 12-minute racially right-on "Colour Questions" is the album's centrepiece - a sophisticated guitar rumble and rant that feels like "Coming Your Way" from Fleetwood Mac's "Then Play On" album from the year previous. Guitarist Johnson really gets to let rip on various devices - and you can 'feel' his enjoyment. It chops and changes into acoustic/vocal passages and back into wild Prog electric - a monster that would do heavy Van Der Graaf Generator fans a solid. The near 8-minute ballad "You'll Never Know Me/Release" is probably the most sophisticated song on the album - an impressive array of chunky piano chords and clever combo vocals.

"Rebirth" is very much of its time and those expecting Hard Rock or Van Morrison type musings should probably dabble elsewhere. But if you like your Psych with a bit of homemade British Prog thrown in - then this muscular-sounding CD reissue is the baby out the bathwater for you...

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