L7 • Smell the Magic [LP, CD]

These days I feel like I could start every review here on NuDisc.net with something like “Jeez! It was 30 years ago… boy, do I feel old!” And it was, indeed, three decades ago that L7’s Smell the Magic was unleashed upon the rock world. But unlike much of what we cover here, this one isn’t a record that I ever owned (neither on vinyl nor CD) or got into heavily so I can’t talk about it like it’s figured that greatly in my life. This is one I thought might be worth checking out again to see if my tastes had changed. Have they? Have I? Let’s see.

L7’s second big release – though it was initially a 6-song EP on vinyl – the record was also their second for Sub Pop, who had already put out a singles club 7″ of “Shove” b/w “Packin’ a Rod” (both on this release). At the time I didn’t pay much attention to their records because L7 was more rawk than I typically went. Sure, I was into punk of the British variety (and some US stuff like X and Ramones), but this branch of it was more sludgy, dare-I-say grungy (before the term was coined and overused) than I got into. Basically, slower rhythms and screamy vocals kinda turned me off. Over the years my intake of music has broadened on all fronts, though, and so, just like I have developed quite a taste for jazz and dub, I have also taken to some harder indie rock. What’s great about doing this is that Smell the Magic is practically like a new release to me. I’m not listening to it and remembering who I was seeing at the time, where I worked, or what drama I may have been going through. So I’m hearing the band’s smart ass, humorous stuff like “Fast and Frightening” and “(Right On) Thru” and digging the words, maybe because I’m not getting stuck on the basic, simple arrangements. OR: Maybe it’s just because, after years of therapy (!), I don’t automatically freak out when it sounds like someone’s yelling at me!

For the 30th Anniversary version, initial 12″ copies – or as Sub Pop calls them, Loser Editions – of Smell the Magic are on clear-with-orange/blue/grey-swirl vinyl (and Amoeba Music and Easy Street Records have a clear blue version) and CD, “remastered [doesn’t say by whom] for maximum impact.” As stated earlier, I don’t have an original copy so I can’t vouch for that claim!

L7’s energy is great, the recordings are what you’d expect for a raw indie release, and Smell the Magic is a nine song, thirty minute blast of good hard rock. Or sludge punk. I don’t know, what would you call it? Regardless, it’s a great way to bust thru the bull shit and enjoy something simpler and primal-er. How does that sound? – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Sub Pop SP 1379, 2020)

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Robyn Hitchcock • The Man Downstairs: Demos & Rarities [CD, DD]

ROBYN HITCHCOCK ought to pay me for reviewing as much of his music as I do. (Seriously: look at all this!) I guess you could say I’m a fan. And that’s why The Man Downstairs: Demos & Rarities warrants both my possession and dissection. Limited to 1000 copies on CD only, this ten song release is sort of a companion to 2014’s The Man Upstairs. The idea then was to record half Hitchcock originals and half cover songs, “a kind of Judy Collins 1965-era album.” Well, I’m not a fan of that folksinger’s, but since it’s always interesting to hear how Robyn hears some of his favorite songs, the concept is a good one. And in this current age of DIY, a good idea. (You can get it on CD or as a digital download on Robyn’s Bandcamp page.)

These, being demos, aren’t as ornate as the ones Upstairs, but that doesn’t matter much. Hitchcock plays mostly guitar, with few overdubs (most being backing or doubling vocals) in a cozy atmosphere. Naturally I’m really into his version of “Arnold Layne,” one of the great early Pink Floyd tunes penned by the “mad genius” Syd Barrett and practically purpose-built for Robyn Hitchcock. I’m not as fond of the Nick Drake tune “River Man” (though I now know where ’90s UK band The Lilac Time got their name) or Dylan’s “Born in Time,” but I like the Townes Van Zandt tune, “The Tower Song.” Of Robyn’s own tunes, a few of them really strike a chord at this moment in time: “All Love and No Peace,” “Recalling the Truth” and especially “The Threat of Freedom.” I’m glad they saved this stuff!

The Man Upstairs was a good record, with stellar versions of The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You” and The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship,” and so this serving of the demos that led to that Joe Boyd-produced outing makes a great companion piece. The Man Downstairs may not make it into your collection, physically (if it’s sold out by the time you read this), but you’ll still be able to conjure his presence via download. Downstairs download. I like it. – Marsh Gooch

3.5/5 (Tiny Ghost [no cat. #], 2020)

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John Prine • The Atlantic Albums [4LP Box Set]

Coronavirus deaths are definitely a drag, for sure. The April 2020 passing of folk singer/legend JOHN PRINE was a big bummer, whether – like me – you’re relatively new to his stuff or a longtime fan. The Atlantic Albums, a 4 LP box set of his first recordings, came at a great time (though clearly already in the works before he became sick from the virus) for me, as I had only a copy of his debut album (John Prine) on vinyl and was really starting to crave more.

I’m not particularly well-versed on Prine’s history, having first given him a try only a year or so ago when my partner gifted me a copy of a best-of CD, Prime Prine. I had heard of him, of course. But I hadn’t paid him no never mind until – I’ll admit it – I felt obligated to give him a go. So I’ll let you research things on your own, if you’re of a mind to, with a hint to start with maybe his Wikipedia page, his official website, or just go YouTube some videos (a couple are included below). Rolling Stone aptly called him “the Mark Twain of songwriting,” and singers like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and even Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters have trumpeted the man’s way with words. Dylan said in 2009, “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs.” I was first tickled by some of his song titles, such as “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” “Sour Grapes,” “Yes I Guess They Oughta Name a Drink After You,” and so on. I’m naturally drawn to humor and that’s what I heard first in Prine’s songs. Then comes the poignancy and his ability to illuminate issues with a keen eye and a wisdom that was beyond his years: “Hello In There” is one of his best loved tunes, about old folks and how we kinda look right past ’em without considering that “old people just grow lonesome, waiting for someone to say ‘Hello in there… hello.’” Whether you’re a fan of folk music or not – and Prine’s is adorned with instruments beyond guitar and mandolin or dulcimer – his lyrics’ll get ya. And this is coming from a guy who doesn’t usually home in on the words right outta the gate.

The Atlantic Albums is a pretty basic box set, with four albums in a sturdy slipcase with a pair of funky black ’n’ white photos of John back in the day. You get 1971’s self-titled debut, ’72’s Diamonds in the Rough, ’73’s Sweet Revenge, and his last album for the label, Common Sense (1975). They’re reissued in old-style covers with the original artwork, complete with lyrics inserts. The 180-gram pressings sound incredible with no notable surface noise, and benefit from mastering and lacquers cut by Kevin Gray (whom I’ve praised before; see this review and this one). This Record Store Day release is limited to 2,000 copies and prices right now (a week after RSD) are pretty high, but that price might go down some. (There’s also a 7CD box on the horizon that includes these four albums and the next three he did for Asylum Records.) This set is a great way to get those original albums on vinyl, as the first issues can fetch pretty good money online (especially if you’re after those lyric sheets), but if this box is priced too high you can probably expect that very soon these albums will be made available separately. Of course, if you haven’t yet jumped into John’s pond, where better to start? This is pure Prine right here. – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (Rhino/Atlantic 603497848294, 2020)

 

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Paul Collins with Chuck Nolan • I Don’t Fit In [Book]

Not exactly the kind of book that makes most people’s summer reading lists, PAUL COLLINSI Don’t Fit In: My Wild Ride Through the Punk & Power Pop Trenches with The Nerves & The Beat (co-written with Chuck Nolan) is, indeed, a wild ride through the rollercoaster rock ’n’ roll scene of the late ’70s/early ’80s. Not only is it that, it’s a pretty quick and exciting read that’s full of the kind of anecdotes that make you wonder why anyone, ever, wanted to get into the music business in the first place.

Paul Collins first met some fame – albeit on a small scale – as the drummer for The Nerves, a San Francisco-then-L.A. band that also featured Peter Case (later of The Plimsouls) and Jack Lee, the guy who wrote one of Blondie’s greatest songs (“Hanging on the Telephone”). That band didn’t so much implode as it just came to a slow, indeterminate stop. Collins ’n’ Case switched to guitars and tried a new version of the band, called The Breakaways, that didn’t go anywhere, and then each went his own separate way. Collins kept writing songs (The Nerves had already recorded his “Working Too Hard”) and quickly assembled The Beat, who were almost instantly signed to Columbia/CBS Records, given a big name producer (Bruce Botnick, who had worked with The Doors and Love), and started what they hoped would be a swift ascension into the ranks of the great rock bands. Well, you already know that didn’t happen, right? DESPITE a killer debut album, which included power pop classics like “Rock ’N’ Roll Girl,” the book’s title track, “Don’t Wait Up for Me,” – hell, just about every song on The Beat is a winner. But sometimes a great record can’t survive things like: record company politics, promotions mixups, band name issues (you remember The English Beat? Well, they’re called The Beat outside the USA), band member squabbles, lovelife issues, etc. etc.

Without giving too much of the book away – ’cause there are some real juicy stories in here, good, bad, ugly – one thing is true: Paul Collins is a fighter. He hasn’t always been right, hasn’t always been wrong, but boy, could he write a great song! I Don’t Fit In tells his story very well and is the best rock memoir I’ve read in a long time. It’s first printing of 500 copies has already sold out but it’s available in its second printing from HoZac Books and you can order it directly from them. Power pop fans will want to snap it up, pronto. If you wait too long and they’re gone, to recall one of Paul’s great songs, you won’t be happy. – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (HoZac Books HZB-009, 2020; available from their website)

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Pretenders • Live! At The Paradise Theater, Boston, 1980 [LP]

Once released as an LP sent to radio stations only as a promotional item to help sell the band’s debut album, Live! At The Paradise Theater, Boston, 1980 is PRETENDERS at their livest best. The show was recorded on March 23 of that year just a few months after Pretenders was released to critical acclaim. Already the band was touring the USA, and within a year or so they’d released a stop-gap EP and then their second full length, the imaginitively-titled Pretenders II. To say things seemed to be happening for them is an understatement – and yet that momentum came to a pretty swift halt soon after. The stories have been told elsewhere of how guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon went down the well-traveled drug death road that so many rockers have, so let’s just say there’s no telling what the band would have done had the original lineup stayed intact. Not that the Pretenders didn’t end up achieving a pretty solid career…

Anyway, for Record Store Day 2020 (Drop 1), Sire/Warner Bros. has issued that for-broadcast-only concert on a real cool clear/red vinyl LP that comes in a clear PVC cover*. The 11-song set list is made up primarily of tracks from the band’s first album, so you’ll hear “Precious,” “Kid,” “Mystery Achievement” and “Tattooed Love Boys,” for instance, and early versions of “Talk of the Town” and “Cuban Slide.” Recording-wise, Live! At The Paradise Theater is of a quality I’d call “better than soundboard,” as in it’s lacking some shimmer in the high end and could stand a little more bottom, but otherwise much better than if you’d taped it from the radio back in the day. Of course, big time (real?) Pretenders fans would have looked for a copy of the original promo release, but those are fairly rare and not exactly on the cheap side. So now RSD comes to the rescue – or to the delight of those who had no idea this item ever existed at all. I don’t tend to listen to live albums all that regularly, but this one I’ll put on more frequently than, say, this RSD’s live Bowie release (the 1974 tour recording, reviewed here). If you’ve been trying to hunt down that original release, it is time for you to stop all of your sobbing and grab one of these.

3.5/5 (Sire RCV1 114, 2020)   * Do yourself a favor and keep the record itself in a regular paper or audiophile sleeve; over time records get baked into PVC sleeves and become unplayable.

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David Bowie • I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74) [2LP, CD]

DAVID BOWIE’s camp has been regularly issuing and reissuing some of the man’s concerts for Record Store Day and other events so you gotta wonder how close to the bottom of the barrel they’re getting. Will one bad apple spoil the rest of ’em? I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74) might just be one of those (possibly) offending apples.

These “legendary,” “mythical” concerts were what basically amounts to Bowie rejigging his band mid-tour – originally dubbed the Diamond Dogs Tour – with additional performers, and changing the arrangements to reflect, I guess, what he was hearing in his head. He dialed up the soul and dialed back the rock – and that is either gonna be a real plus for you (like, if you’re a big fan of Young Americans, recorded soon after) or a let down (like if you prefer David’s rockier, Ziggy-er side). For me, firmly in the latter category, it’s not as great as I had hoped it’d be. I much prefer Cracked Actor (Live in Los Angeles ’74) (issued for RSD 2017, see my review here) for its crunchy arrangements. Here we have near-cheesy keyboards (sorry, Mike Garson, ’cause I generally like your playing) and an at-times caterwauling sax (courtesy of David Sanborn) that sounds pretty dated (think of the theme song for Saturday Night Live). Ugh. On the other hand, I do like the covers medley of “Foot Stompin’/I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” with its “Fame”-style guitar stabs. But that sax. You’re killin’ me, Sanborn!

I’m Only Dancing also suffers from a hoarse-voiced Bowie and the recording’s mediocre sound quality. It sounds better than your typical bootleg of the era, for sure, so this is probably an improvement in that regard. Design-wise, this package is miles better than its mid ’70s counterpart, with graphics adapted from the tour program that was available at the shows. The 2LP and 2CD sets are both Record Store Day exclusives so they’re going to go fast. Whether you want to make the trip to your local vinyl emporium is up to you – though you should go and support your local regardless of your interest in this year’s Bowie release. You’ll be able to either pick up a copy of this or something else that’ll float your boat. Let’s not forget, no matter what any of us critics say about any particular DB product, it’s still gonna be better than your average album. It’s Bowie! – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Parlophone DBRSDLP 2020, 2020)

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The Kinks • The Kink Kronikles [2LP]

The Kink Kronikles is one of my favorite kompilations of any of those in my kollection. In 1972 THE KINKS had recently moved on from their original US record label, Reprise, to the hopefully greener pastures of RCA Records, so the wise guys in their former A&R department decided to put together a kollect… okay, I’m gonna stop with the “’k’ in place of ‘c’ thing” now… collection of a bunch of great singles and pair them with tracks – primarily B-sides – that they hadn’t yet released on album on this bounteous 2LP set, which has just been re-released for Record Store Day 2020.

One of the smarter things the label ever did was to draft rock critic and Kinks fan John Mendelsohn to not only compile the tracks, but annotate the package. What he put together, selection-wise, is an exemplary survey of what made the band so great. And his liner notes, which take up the entire inside of the gatefold cover, are an illustration of the fine art of putting someone on a pedestal and trying to knock them off of it at the same time. Mendelsohn’s twisted love of The Kinks is no secret (he later even penned a book about them), and neither was his sarcastic yet spot-on writing about rock music. They don’t make ’em like him anymore.

Remaining in Reprise’s catalog for many years, The Kink Kronikles was a valued 2LP set for the group’s hardcore US fans despite it being compiled and released without any input from the band. This, certainly, had been par for the course at Reprise. Just like The Beatles, The Stones and The Who – and pretty much all of the British bands – The Kinks had had their albums sliced ’n’ diced at will by the powers-that-had-been because those bozos presumably thought they knew better what would fly in the good ol’ US of A than their counterparts in the UK. And by that, I mean, you know, “We’ll cut a few songs from this 14-track album, take the tracks from some of the singles – hell! – even include a coupla tracks that were on the last album and bang! We got another way to make money off of these funny sounding English guys who probably won’t be around next year anyway.” The thing is, this compilation had so many sought after songs on it – lots of rare B-sides and songs lopped off their UK LPs – that the album became a pretty good seller, quite likely even cannibalizing sales of RCA’s current releases of new Kinks material (’71’s Muswell Hillbillies and ’72’s Everybody’s in Show-Biz).

I don’t have an original copy of The Kink Kronikles to compare this new Record Store Day version to, but it sounds pretty phenomenal, cats. Besides that, the collection itself is a great mix of familiar and obscure tracks. Sure, you get “Victoria,” “Days,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “Lola” and “Sunny Afternoon,” but you also get once-super-hard to find goodies like “She’s Got Everything,” “Big Black Smoke,” “Mr. Pleasant,” “Berkeley Mews” and the then-unreleased “Did You See His Name?” There are 28 tracks here and they’re all worthwhile. Yes, today in 2020 they’ve pretty much all been added to the appropriate reissues of the band’s original albums, so if you’ve got the multi-CD sets of Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur or whatever, you have a good number of what’s here. But that’s no reason to pass on this limited edition, red vinyl reissue that’ll probably be deleted before you can say “Kinks reunion” for the umpteenth time. – Marsh Gooch

4.5/5 (Sanctuary BMGCAT436DLP, 2020)

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John Lennon/Yoko Ono • “Instant Karma!”/“Who Has Seen the Wind?” [7″]

Another Record Store Day 7″, JOHN LENNON’s “Instant Karma!” b/w YOKO ONO’s “Who Has Seen the Wind?” is not exactly a reissue of the original 1971 single. This time it’s a pairing of 2020* remixes of the songs, in line with the 2019 remix of Lennon’s Imagine album (also recorded in ’71). Apparently held over from that release – after all, RSD was supposed to be in April – as a reminder about the availability of the aforementioned remix LP (these tracks aren’t on it or any of the box set versions), this 45 is housed in a similar “picture” sleeve and dons near-identical Apple labels and the original UK catalog number. (The lengthy, modern UPC barcode and catalog number are, of course, unique to this release and thankfully printed only on the outside hype sticker.) This “ultimate mix” of “Instant Karma!” isn’t that different from the original, though it does seem to make the individual instruments stand out on their own a little better, with Klaus Voormann’s bass and Alan White’s drums a bit tighter. Back then, Lennon, Ono and co-producer Phil Spector went for a much denser, Wall of Sound-esque mix than what we’d consider good today. Still, if you’re not intimately familiar with the original you really have to squint to hear the difference between the ’71 and ’20 mixes.

As for Ono’s “Who Has Seen the Wind?,” I am honestly not familiar enough with it to hear the differences between the original and today’s remix to weigh in. Sorry, Yoko! I’d certainly heard the song before (I have an original pressing of the single), but was never as interested in repeat listenings of it as I was of the A-side, which is not only a stone cold classic but was also a worldwide hit and has appeared on numerous Lennon compilation albums over the last fifty years. But I can tell you this: these 2020 remixes are for the hardcore fan (as you’d basically expect) and not the casual listener. This trend of remixing classics is getting a bit tedious, really. I mean, especially in the case of something like “Karma,” which suffered a bit from a crummy mix, why not really go for it and do something radically different? Or at least noticeably different?! – Marsh Gooch

2.5/5 (Apple/Calderstone APPLES 1003/602508778711, 2020)
* Chances are these remixes were actually done in 2019 during the same sessions as the
Imagine remixes.

NOTE: The above video is, of course, of the original 1971 mix.

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The Soft Boys • I Wanna Destroy You (40th Anniversary Double 45) [2×7″]

Forty years ago hardly anyone knew who THE SOFT BOYS were. These days there are plenty of people, highly schooled on obscure rock bands, who know that the band was a late ’70s British “punk” group fronted by Robyn Hitchcock, who later went on in the ’80s to front a group called The Egyptians and then out on his own to continued relative success as a relatively eccentric singer/ songwriter. I Wanna Destroy You is a 40th Anniversary double 45 package of The Soft Boys’ two 1980 singles, whose A-sides – “I Wanna Destroy You” and “Kingdom of Love” – were two of the best tracks on their Underwater Moonlight album, and whose B-sides weren’t part of that album. Now you can get a real handy 2×7″ set that replicates those two singles as one of this year’s Record Store Day releases.*

“I Wanna Destroy You,” of late, has become a bit of a political song thanks to it being used as a theme for those wanting to sack certain US presidents (including our current leader, He Who Shall Not Be Named, But It Rhymes With DUMP). This hard-rockin’, Byrds-meets-punk tune still thrills me, some 35+ years after I first heard it. B-side “I’m an Old Pervert (Disco)” is a slightly different take or recording of a tune that appeared as just “Old Pervert” on the aforementioned LP. Not a bad song but definitely a flip side. Meanwhile, Near The Soft Boys was a 3-track 7″ EP that contained not only the A-side/LP track “Kingdom of Love,” but a strange little ditty called (natch!) “Strange,” and a real hot cover of a never-officially-released Pink Floyd tune, penned by the strange Syd Barrett, called “Vegetable Man.” What made this cover tune so great were these two factors: 1) Only the most hardcore of Floyd fans knew about it, as it had only been available on pretty bad sounding bootlegs, and 2) The Soft Boys’ version really fleshed out the song with a complete arrangement including harmonies and the lot. When I first got a hold of this single (a battered copy, I might add), I assumed it was a Soft Boys tune, despite the writer credit inside – I was still a novice Pink Floydian at that point. This version is so good, it’s a wonder that Syd’s band never finished it and put it out as a single. Well, I mean, the chances of a song called “Vegetable Man” becoming a hit might have been slim and none, then and now, but you get what I’m saying.

Anyway, this I Wanna Destroy You double-7″ is available at independent record stores this Saturday, 8/29/2020, and after that, wherever you can find a copy in-store or online. Though the five songs are now readily available on CD, this is a nice package that also includes a digital download card in case you wanna add them to your iTunes library – which you will, unless you’re some kinda vegetable man… or woman. – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (YepRoc YEP2693, 2020)

* Record Store Day 2020 has been split into three dates, the first being 8/29/2020 with the next two to follow in September and October, thanks to this year’s coronavirus pandemic.

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Roy Wood & Wizzard • Main Street [CD]

As far as eccentric British musicians go, there may be none as gone as ROY WOOD. You wanna talk about a guy with a vision? How about a guy with all kindsa visions? He was a founding member of the great Birmingham ’60s beat band, The Move, co-founder of Electric Light Orchestra with Jeff Lynne, and the prime mover of WIZZARD. That “group” – which sometimes seemed like Wood playing all the instruments himself – was responsible for a number of UK hits in the ’70s, though sadly only their “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” is the only single of theirs that ever came close to charting here in the States. By the time Wood got to recording what came to be known as Main Street, the man was (in his own words) “trying to grow up… [it was] probably a last minute attempt to retain some sort of sanity.” Well, I guess you could call it that – if you’re Roy Wood!

What we have here is a reissue of an album that went unreleased upon its completion in 1976. A lone single (“Indiana Rainbow”) was issued in the UK as “from the forthcoming album, Wizzo” that was unable to gain any chart attention and so the album went unissued until 1999. This time, Esoteric Recordings has added a bonus track and tweaked the artwork (though they didn’t improve on Edsel’s design from ’99). This is a weird album. It’s full of a lot of the dense power pop arrangements that Wood is known for, but then, on top of that, there’s all of this jazzy stuff thrown in. Sometimes it’s fusion courtesy of his lead guitar, sometimes it’s pseudo swing and even some faintly calypso-sounding instrumentation. It’s got subtle nods to even the gnarliest Move stuff (“Brontosaurus” and “Curly,” particularly), as well as other supremely rockin’ bits (like the bonus track, “Human Cannonball”) that’ll draw you in, and even some progressive rock for variety. I mean, if ever there was an album that benefited and/or suffered from including everything but the kitchen sink, this is it.

I honestly don’t know what to think of Main Street… Is it an album that’ll grow on me and become a regular part of my rotation? I don’t expect it to – it’s just too out there. But – and this is a big but – if you’re a Roy Wood fan and you missed this one the first time it came out, you will obviously be drawn to this, practically the (il)logical conclusion to where Roy was heading with Wizzard all along. After it’s all said and done, you may just utter (like I did more than once), “Well, that is a weird album.” – Marsh Gooch

2.5/5 (Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2730, 2020)

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