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Reviews

Happy the Man — Happy the Man
(One Way OW34546, 1977/1999, CD)

Happy the Man — Crafty Hands
(One Way OW34547, 1978/1999, CD)

by Mike McLatchey, Published 1999-11-01

Happy the Man Cover artCrafty Hands Cover art

Readers of Exposé will be more than familiar with this seminal American quintet, as we have given them lavish coverage in these pages. Having been available only intermittently on expensive Japanese editions, it’s about time that we see these domestically. Not only do we get inexpensive American editions, but we also get the Kit Watkins remastering job (as seen previously on Death’s Crown) to add better clarity to the mix. Both of these albums display some of the best, most elaborate and sophisticated symphonic rock ever produced, played by technical geniuses. One of the many reasons is that Kit Watkins was perhaps the most impressive Minimoog player to ever record. While the studio albums don’t quite show the incredibly high levels Kit would reach on the instrument live, they give much more than a hint — witness the fade-out and finale solo on “Carousel” from their debut. It’s true that Happy the Man were influenced by the usual English pioneers, but by this time, beyond music displayed on the posthumous “Beginnings,” the band had created a signature and original statement, one that sounded like no other. The complexity of the music is perhaps the most interesting aspect — Happy the Man incorporated odd timings, counterpoint, polyphony, and polyrhythms, but did so without sacrificing accessibility. The band’s talents are readily apparent in the nimble dexterity of “Stumpy Meets Firecracker in Stencil Forest” and “Knee-Bitten Nymphs in Limbo,” but each and every title is a burst of magic in its own right. In its entirety, one of the best debuts of all time and an essential item.

Crafty Hands seems more polished, yet overall slightly less impressive, due to the more sedate second half. Tracks like the wonderful opener “Service with a Smile” and the brilliant “Steaming Pipes” build on the style they portrayed on the debut, but side 2, starting with “Wind up Doll Day Wind,” has a more refined and lyrical sound that is perhaps less exciting than the first album overall, yet still holding to compositional excellence. Any self-respecting Exposé readers will have these on pre-order, at least in spirit.


Filed under: New releases, Issue 18, 1999 releases, 1977 recordings, 1978 recordings

Related artist(s): Stan Whitaker, Frank Wyatt, Happy the Man, Kit Watkins

 

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