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Spirit — Sunrise & Salvation - The Mercury Era Anthology
(Esoteric Recordings ECLEC82776, 1985/2021, 8CD)

by Peter Thelen, Published 2021-12-17

Sunrise & Salvation   -  The Mercury Era Anthology Cover art

After the breakup of the original five-piece Spirit in 1971 following Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, Mark Andes and Jay Ferguson went off to start JoJo Gunne, and in due time Randy California left to form his new band Kaptain Kopter and the Fabulous Twirlybirds; Ed Cassidy and John Locke recruited new members to continue on as Spirit, eventually releasing Feedback in 1972. When California brought the tapes for the second Kaptain Kopter album, Potatoland, to Epic in 1973, they were rejected as being too weird and commercially unviable, after which he retired from music for a period of time and went home to Hawaii. Through Cassidy’s efforts, California eventually returned to lead Spirit again, first as a touring band, and then later with a hard-won deal from Mercury records in ‘ 75. The recordings at hand, an eight-disc set, begin in 1974 and follow the band through 1977, ending with recordings from late 1982, that produced the album Spirit of 84 (in the USA) or The Thirteenth Dream (in the UK) as well as live sets that followed into ‘85.

Subtitled The Mercury Era Anthology, these eight discs contain newly remastered versions of all of the LPs released by Mercury, as well as studio out-takes, demos, and some of the surviving live tracks from the tours surrounding those albums. The music on four of those albums — Son of Spirit (1975), Farther Along (1976), Future Games – A Magical Kajauna Dream (1977), and Spirit of 84 (recorded in late 1982, but released in 1984) — have all been previously reviewed in these pages, just know that in their remastered versions here, with studio bonus tracks, they sound far superior to those earlier releases. The album that we haven’t reviewed this far is the sprawling 1975 double LP Spirit of ‘76, an album meant to announce to the world that Spirit was back, as well as something of a celebration of the US Bicentennial, albeit a year early. Recorded by the trio of Ed Cassidy, Randy California, and bassist Barry Keene, it was recorded in Tampa following a show there originally to be headlined by Alvin Lee, who ultimately cancelled; the promoters let Spirit headline the show, the proceeds allowing them to book the studio time. The album begins with a cover of  “America the Beautiful” fused with Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changing,” and closes with a laid back version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” The four album sides in between are a mix of California and Cassidy’s originals which offer a variety of styles combining folk, rock, jazz, country, and fierce psychedelia, some inspired by the work of his former late bandmate Jimi Hendrix, plus some selected cover tunes from the Rolling Stones songbook (“Happy” and “Walking the Dog”), Dylan (the aforementioned, plus “Like a Rolling Stone”), and the Hendrix favorite “Hey Joe.” Other standouts include the rockers “Victim of Society,” “Veruska” (the latter a song that dates from Spirit’s earliest 1967 demos), the country rocker “Joker on the Run,” the jazzy numbers “Feeling in Time,” “When?” and “Guide Me,” the three-part “Tampa Jam,” and interspersed strange bits of hyper-psychedelic dialog from Jack Bond (guest Bert Schoenberg). It’s a strange album in many ways, but when you put all the pieces of Spirit of 76 together it magically works!

The alternates, demos, out-takes, and live cuts tend to be grouped together with the albums chronologically. Interestingly, the alternate takes and live cuts for Son of Spirit date mostly from 1974, showing that most of the writing for that album pre-dates Spirit of 76. Throughout the set there are tracks from numerous live shows including sets from the Agora in Cleveland from November ‘74 and June ‘75 (the latter a partial set), and the entirety of disc seven is a full show from Austin, Texas in June 1975. Every disc here is packed to the limit with bonus material. Perhaps the most interesting is disc eight, where we find a complete early demo version of Future Games. Disc five features the entire Thirteenth Dream ‘reunion’ album, with several excellent studio tracks that were left off, including a new version of “Elijah,” plus several live tracks from a 1986 show in Detroit. This box set is admittedly an item intended for the hardcore Spirit fan, but It does include five important albums from that period, and connects a lot of the missing dots with the live and studio out-takes, and a 44 page booklet with a comprehensive essay by Spirit archivist Mick Skidmore.

Filed under: Archives, 2021 releases, 1985 recordings

Related artist(s): Spirit, Randy California

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