Ultimate Spinach — Behold and See
(Iris IMG-154, 1968/2006, CD)
Ultimate Spinach — Ultimate Spinach
(Iris IMG-153, 1968/2006, CD)
Ultimate Spinach — Ultimate Spinach (AKA III)
(Big Beat CDWIKD 165, 1969/1996, CD)
by Peter Thelen, Published 1997-02-01
Long before the British domination of all things progressive, progress was being made in the post-San Francisco underground scene in many US cities, among them Boston. The fact that producer Alan Lorber tried to capitalize on this scene, taking three bands in particular — Ultimate Spinach, Orpheus, and The Beacon Street Union — into his 'Bosstown' marketing scheme and cutting a big deal with MGM Records (which generated a lot of media attention but ultimately flopped) doesn't change the fact that some of these bands had a lot of interesting music to offer.
Ultimate Spinach began in mid '67 as the brainchild of bandleader / keyboardist Ian Bruce-Douglas, who wrote all of the band's material on both their first and second album, as well as bringing in odd instrumentation like recorders, sitar, vibes, and theremin. The first album is a mixture of styles, from the typically anti-war rock of "Dove in Hawk's Clothing," the naive social commentary of "Plastic Raincoats / Hung up Minds," to more adventurous and unconventional tunes like the instrumental "Sacrifice of the Moon," four short vignettes combining folk, classical and baroque elements, "Pamela," the multi-part Satie influenced "Baroque #1," and the lengthy "Ballad of the Hip Death Goddess," with eerie vocals by singer / second guitarist Barbara Hudson. Their hippy-trippy flower-power lyrics, laughable by today's standards, were clearly a product of the times, as evidenced by the opening lines of "Your Head Is Reeling": "Collapsed laughter running falling tripping across the minefields of your thoughts dissolved wondering who am I why should I be alone?" and other such sophomoric profundity.
Fortunately, by the time of the second album, the writing had evolved to a new level, gaining a better focus, fusing elements of jazz and psychedelic rock into the instrumental style they had already developed. The material is split between a couple short song oriented pieces featuring guest vocalist Carol Lee-Britt, and several longer more instrumentally oriented tracks. Two of these, "Suite: Genesis of Beauty" and "Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse" are lengthy multi-part suites that stretch the confines of the pop / rock idiom. "Mind Flowers" is pure electric psychedelia with multi-distorted guitars swirling with effects, while the raga-influenced "Fragmentary March of Green" is pointed social commentary of materialism, wealth and success. And while the vocal section of "Jazz Thing" is rather pedestrian, the arrangements driven by vibraphone and electric piano, as well as an expanded instrumental section with solos for recorder, are nothing short of innovative. Call it proto-prog, proto-goth, or whatever you will, fact is that it bears many similarities to what would later be called prog. For some unknown reason, one track "Visions of Your Reality," which was on the original LP, was dropped from the CD reissue (not a great loss, though), and all the tracks were reordered.
Mysteriously, Ian Bruce-Douglas disbanded the group before the second album was even released, leaving a three-album contract unfulfilled; so it was up to producer Lorber to re-assemble musicians to do a third Ultimate Spinach record. Only Barbara Hudson and drummer Russ Levine remained from the second album, while ex-Chamaeleon Church members Ted Myers and Tony Scheuren were brought in as chief writer / vocalist / guitarist and keyboardist respectively. Russ' brother Mike Levine became the bassist, and guitarist Jeff Baxter was enlisted (who would later go on to greater success with Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers). With a new leader, the band's focus changed from longer instrumentally oriented pieces to a shorter song format. Indeed, the lyrics and songwriting are probably superior to either of the earlier albums, but it's also a lot less explorative and progressive. In addition, the inclusion of a cover of "Just Like Romeo and Juliet," Baxter's absolutely banal rocker "Daisy," and a group blues jam titled "Eddie's Rush" do little for the overall cohesiveness of the album. The Myers / Scheuren penned tracks, if taken on their own, constitute an excellent body of work, with "Happiness, Child" and "Strange Life Tragicomedy" being especially worthy of note. Again, one track on the original LP, the country flavored "Sincere," which had some nice pedal-steel work by 'Jeff the Skunk' was left off of the CD release. Stupid.
In short, these can be recommended conditionally upon the understanding that this is indeed music of an earlier era. Given that caveat, Behold & See is probably the one that would be of greatest interest to prog fans.
Related artist(s): Ultimate Spinach
Legendary Co-Founder of The 13th Floor Elevators Passes Away at Age 71 – Sadly, Roky Erickson passed away on May 31, 2019. Known as the father of psychedelic music and co-founder of the ground breaking 13th Floor Elevators, Roky had a profound influence on music from the 60s to today. Plagued by his own personal demons, Roky had a difficult life and is now free of these burdens. » Read more
Help MoonJune Bring Great Music to Life – Like many music lovers around the world, we’ve been thrilled and amazed to hear the recordings that have been released by MoonJune from sessions at La Casa Murada in Spain. Such label stalwarts as Mark Wingfield, Markus Reuter, Asaf Sirkis, Tony Levin, Dusan Jevtovic, Vasil Hadzimanov, and many more have gathered in various combinations at the studio to produce some of the most creative music in recent years. Now, label head Leonardo Pavkovic is offering a compilation, La Casa Murada - MoonJune Sessions, Volume One, as a fundraiser for upcoming sessions. » Read more
The Pineapple Thief to Tour North America – November and December of 2019 will see The Pineapple Thief bringing their music to Canada, Mexico, and the US, and famed drummer Gavin Harrison will be on board. The band has been touring extensively in Europe, but North America will be new territory for them. » Read more
Scott Walker RIP – Noel Scott Engel, better known as Scott Walker, was one of the most intriguing and enigmatic musical figures in the second half of the 20th Century. His strange career started with The Walker Brothers, an American pop group that featured no one named Walker and no brothers. After moving to England in 1965, they had a series of hit singles. Scott's solo work started with Scott in 1967. Starting in the 80s, his work took an increasingly avant-garde turn. » Read more
Freedom to Spend Unearths June Chikuma's Archives – Jun (June) Chikuma is well known for her video game and anime soundtracks, but she also released an album of experimental electronic music back in 1986 called Divertimento where she indulged the kind of spontaneity that wouldn't work in a soundtrack. RVNG Int'l label Freedom to Spend is bringing this overlooked item to broader attention with a deluxe reissue. » Read more