Sunday, April 17, 2011

Green - Green (1969)

It had to happen sooner or later. All of the 60s psych albums that were completely dismissed and ignored for about thirty years are finally being re-evaluated.

 Most sucked then and suck now, but for a variety of reasons a few lost albums, most of which are much more interesting than the old standbys, are beginning to get their due. It wasn’t until the early 90s that all of the psych albums on the Mainstream label became hot commodities. Psych fans always scoffed at pop albums (at least the ones with no Curt Boettcher involvement), but finally a bunch of straightforward but good pop-psych albums are becoming desirable. And while it may seem that there’s an unlimited supply of obscure private press albums out there, sometimes it’s easier to take a look at a few major label albums that you passed by because they were too “easy.” 

The self-titled album by Green is a perfect example of a recent rediscovery. One can only guess why nobody noticed such a terrific record. Was it because it was so difficult to categorize? Was it because their more well-known second album was so bad that nobody bothered to go back and listen to the first? Was it because so many dealers and collectors are indiscriminate horn-haters and didn’t dare listen to it after seeing the credits on the back cover? While I’m asking, why is it that every album with a cover shot of the artist in and around a big tree (i.e. Karen Beth’s JOYS OF LIFE) is destined to be underrated?

Let’s start with the horns. There’s no Tower of Power/Cold Blood-style bombast here, no jazzy showing off, no soulful flourishes. There isn’t even anything resembling the effective use of horns on classic psych albums like Love’s FOREVER CHANGES or The Common People’s OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE. Instead, Green uses french horns, phased trumpets and sliding trombones to create a wall of sound. They don’t dominate; they color and shape the songs. They’re used more like keyboards than as lead instruments. If you don’t read the liner notes (which credit four band members with horns and two with reeds) or pay close attention, you might not even notice that there are horns at all. The band has a hard rock type of energy, but the flowing horns and soft, reassuring lead vocals (dead ringer for Kensington Market, another horribly underrated band) give the album a consistency and gentleness of tone that lulls the listener into a false state of security. Aha! Maybe nobody listened enough times for this album to reveal itself, and that’s why it just floated by them! The melodies are there; the hooks are there, but they’re subtle, and these songs don’t attract our attention through guitar solos, brash sound effects, or bluesy vocal intensity. They do, however, use creative and clever arrangements that sneak up on you. 

The album’s defining moment is the chorus of “At The Time.” The instruments stop, a line is sung unaccompanied, then the instruments return, flanged beyond recognition, and with no low end. At first you’ll wonder if your woofer went out, then you’ll marvel at the genius of the arrangement. Other subtle moments of sonic bliss occur throughout the album. On “To Be,” the french horn shifts from speaker to speaker, then is double tracked behind the guitar solo, creating a beautiful, haunting cacophony of sound. “Where Have I Been” starts with some Eastern-flavored fuzz guitar, develops several excellent hooks, and alternates guitar-based breaks with horn-led accompaniment. Each verse is arranged differently, and until you’ve listened several times you won’t notice the brilliant shift from horns, to guitars, to flute. The song “Green” (obviously they used their imagination for the arrangements, not the song titles) starts with an unexpected blast of feedback, then moves to a complex mix of spastic percussion, heavy metal guitar and marching-band horns. The horns and guitars both play melodies that you swear you remember from your youth but can’t exactly place. Until they hit a few trills, the horns sound uncannily like a synthesizer, and the song ends with a fuzz bass/maraca war. Yes, these songs are jam-packed with ideas. Just listen to the great percussion arrangements to see how much is going on here! 

Green are equally adept at ballads, such as the mildly jazzy “Sunrise #7,” which has some nifty, subtle time signature changes, and “Footprints In The Snow,” which features harpsichord and flamenco guitar. If you haven’t already guessed, these guys are multi-talented musicians, yet they never show off or lose focus. GREEN is a short album, with eleven songs barely cracking half an hour, and the songs are so concise that you’ll wish they were longer. What a refreshing concept from an era of self-indulgence!

After a while there’s a bit of melodic similarity, and both album sides peter out a little bit as they go along. Still, even the lesser songs have something to offer, such as the great melodic bass playing on “Just Try”. This album stands up as a noble experiment gone right. It’s inventive, moody, confident and distinctive. Green are from Texas, but, trust me, don’t sound like any other Texas band you’ve heard. They were as out of place among their musical contemporaries as they were their non-musical peers. Now, can anyone tell me what “RCMPB” stands for??

1. Green - To Be (2:51)
2. Green - Where Have I Been (3:12)
3. Green - Sunrise #7 (3:37)
4. Green - Just Try (2:13)
5. Green - Sparkle (2:24)
6. Green - 06 - Green
7. Green - 07 - Footprints In The Snow
8. Green - 08 - At The Time
9. Green - 09 - RCMPB
10. Green - 10 - Don't
11. Green - 11 - Have You Ever
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