Spirit — Son of Spirit / Farther Along
(BGO CD644, 1976/2004, CD)
Spirit — Future Games / Spirit of 84
(BGO CD657, 1984/2005, 2CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2006-05-01
After Spirit’s first four classic albums, the band entered a period of fluctuating personnel, style, and success. The double-LP Spirit of ‘76 had marked the revitalization of the band around guitarist Randy California and drummer Ed Cassidy, and indulged the experimental side of the group. Finding themselves the object of some chart action after years of disappointment, the two quickly followed up with Son of Spirit, hanging onto bassist Barry Keene from the previous record. It is a much tamer affair, sticking to the band’s more song-oriented side, and maintaining a relatively pastoral mood. There are some beautiful acoustic guitar moments, and plenty of great, if somewhat restrained, lead parts on electric. California, as the sole singer, uses his modest vocal talents to good effect on the soft material. The previous album had introduced a trend of cover tunes, and the Beatles’ “Yesterday” is added here.
The next year, original members John Locke (keyboards) and Mark Andes (bass) came back into the fold temporarily for Farther Along, leaving only singer Jay Ferguson missing from the band’s classic lineup. For the most part, this album continues in the relatively non-experimental vein of its predecessor, though it should be noted that a non-experimental Spirit album is still fairly out-there compared to most bands. Aside from an embarrassing disco beat on one track, the material here stands up well through the years; a couple of the tunes rank with the band’s best.
The reunion of players didn’t last beyond the 1976 tour, leaving California alone to carry on the name. After a pair of relatively tame albums, Spirit took a left turn with what is perhaps their most experimental recording, Future Games. Each side of the LP flowed continuously, mixing songs with bits of sound borrowed from TV shows, most prominently the original Star Trek. While it certainly strays into “difficult listening,” this record is full of interesting moments. The sound of California’s multi-tracked guitars on these mid-70s albums reminds me of Peter Hammill’s solo studio work, the way chords are built up out of overdubbed single notes.
After some touring with various personnel for the next couple years, California retired the Spirit name. In December of 1982, however, the original quintet, complete with Ferguson, regrouped for some live-in-the-studio sessions, mainly to record new versions of their classic older tunes, though a few new songs were tossed in. It’s hard to fathom now why anyone thought this was a good idea, but the result was The Thirteenth Dream (released as Spirit of 84 in the US for no good reason). “Mechanical World,” “I Got a Line on You,” and “Fresh Garbage” are not well served by the translation from their original eccentric incarnations to slick 80s hard rock anthems. California’s lead guitar is stellar as always, but the whole thing just seems like a futile exercise in recapturing something that was so much part of its own time that it can’t really exist in another era. While it’s wonderful to see the later albums in this long-lived band’s history once again on the shelves, listeners looking for an entrée into the strange world of Spirit should start with their first four releases before moving into this territory.
John Abercrombie RIP – Another of the greats of jazz guitar has left us. John Abercrombie plied his way through a beautiful series of albums on the ECM label as well as bringing his talent to bear on albums by many of jazz's greatest artists. From his early work in the group Dreams to Gateway and outstanding work with Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, Kenny Wheeler, and many more to his own trios and quartets, he brought a unique instrumental voice to the world. » Read more
First ProgStock Festival Set for October – October 2017 will see the inaugural edition of a festival called ProgStock in Rahway, New Jersey at the Union County Performing Arts Center. With a definite slant towards neo-progressive music, the event is sure to please many fans with the inclusion of such artists as Echolyn, Glass Hammer, and Aisles. The festival will take place October 13-15. » Read more
Clive Brooks RIP – Word reaches us today of another sad passing in the music world. Drummer Clive Brooks, best known as a member of such Canterbury bands as Egg, Uriel / Arzachel, and Groundhogs, has died at the age of 67. Details are sketchy at this point. The news was reported on Nick Mason's Facebook page — Brooks was Mason's drum tech. » Read more
Col. Bruce Hampton RIP – The phrase "He died doing what he loved" is almost a cliche, but in the case of Col. Bruce Hampton, it couldn't be more true. Hampton, who was born Gustav Berglund III, collapsed on stage at his own 70th birthday celebration and later passed away. The event took place at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. » Read more
The Muffin Men - Baker's Dozen & Live @ The Cavern – The Muffin Men are a UK based act that is heavily versed in the fine art of being a Frank Zappa tribute band that features old Mothers vocalist Jimmy Carl Black. Baker's Dozen serves as a... (2005) » Read more