Saturday, May 21, 2011

Genesis - In The Beginning (1968)

This West Coast quintet didn't survive long, which was probably just as well for a certain identically named British band that did -- but they deserved a better fate than the obscurity to which they've been consigned. Lead guitarist Jack Ttanna, who had previously played with the Sons of Adam, shared vocal chores with Sue Richman, and they could easily have given Grace Slick and Paul Kantner a run for their money, especially in the harmony department -- throw future Steppenwolf member Kent Henry's angular lead guitar into the mix, and the result was a leaner rival to Jefferson Airplane, who also showed off some good in-house songwriting and the smarts to know what to do with it. 

The rest of the band was filled out by Fred "Foxey" Rivera on bass, and Bob "Crusher" Metke on drums. They were good enough to be signed to Mercury Records, where their one album, In the Beginning, demonstrated a range that encompassed lyrical folk-rock and baroque pop ("Gloomy Sunday"), pounding West Coast psychedelia ("Angeline," "Ten Second Song"), shimmering, ethereal acoustic mood pieces ("Girl Who Never Was"), and one killer long-form guitar-based jam ("World Without You"). Based on the evidence, they should have been an iconic psychedelic band, and at least rated support-act status nationally to lesser, more commercial outfits. Part of the problem may have been their sheer range -- given the limited thinking of the record companies at the time, it's entirely possibly that Mercury never knew what to do with them. And Rivera's being drafted in 1968 didn't help, leading to a lineup change, with Jimmy Chappell replacing him. In any case, the failure of the album and a pair of singles precipitated their breakup in late 1968, just in time to free up the name for use by a budding British band. Their album kicked around cut-out bins for years after, enticing and annoying fans of the U.K. group -- but in 2007 In the Beginning got its first release on CD, and gave Ttanna, Richman, and company their first official worldwide exposure in 40 years.

This 1967 album kicked around cutout bins well into the 1970s, enticing, confusing, and ultimately frustrating fans of the better-known British band of the same name. It deserved a lot better than that curio status -- the fact is, it's a lost psychedelic-era treasure, and an unusual one as well, coming from an L.A.-based band that generated a version of the "San Francisco sound" perfectly and naturally, maybe better than some of the originals. Much of In the Beginning could pass for the work of the Jefferson Airplane in their heyday, singer/rhythm guitarist Jack Ttanna and vocalist Sue Richman harmonizing beautifully but with a hard, gritty sound when they needed it. Based on the evidence here, Bob "Crusher" Metke and Fred "Foxey" Rivera might not have been Spencer Dryden and Jack Casady, but their playing was solid enough. At other times, the album is a throwback to the softer folk-rock sounds of 1966-1967, yet Kent Henry's angular lead guitar manages to intersect -- at different moments -- with the kind of work one more expected out of Quicksilver Messenger Service or the late-'60s jam-friendly incarnation of the Byrds. There are lots of highlights here, including "Angeline" (a failed single), a beautifully subtle electric cover of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," the hauntingly lyrical "Gloomy Sunday" (a Sue Richman tour de force), and the spaced-out ballad "Ten Second Song." But for all of that, the album saves its best for last, the Jack Ttanna-authored "World Without You," which starts out (and finishes) like a Spanky & Our Gang pop-folk number but soars into orbit for much of its length on Henry's guitar, in one of the most successful in-studio psychedelic jams ever to make it onto vinyl. Mercury Records had a real jewel with this album, yet they could never find a single to give the band a wedge onto AM radio playlists -- 40 years after its release, it's still worth tracking down.
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