Hands - s/t. 1977-1978; 1980 USA (archival)


Hands is the album that pretty much started it all for Shroom. I'll never forget when I first heard this CD. I fell off my chair, perhaps literally. The fact that Hands were from Farmers Branch*, TX was surreal for me. Your humble author grew up and went to school all of about 2 minutes from the suburb, in NW Dallas. Anyone who is from the area, will remember the landscape well - with KZEW and KDFW 102 (pre-Q102) leading the way in FM radio. The years of 1977-1981 is where I cut my teeth on rock music - loyally listening to Randy Davis on weeknights, calling (bugging?) him many nights, and this incredible man taking my calls, and sometimes saying "hold on dude - let me put on a longer song and we'll talk". I mean, seriously, I was a 15 year old heavy metal punk with a thirst for knowledge and this radio professional would give ME the time? Wow. And he told me where I could find rare records and the like. That folks, is inspiring - even as I reflect over 30 years later. No rose colored glasses either - straight fact.

And so with my Sanyo all-in-one stereo, I would religiously pop in the cassette, and record KZEW's album of the night- which included everything from mainstreamers like Rush and Pink Floyd to local Dallas area AOR's such as Airborne (heard of them, have you?). Endless radio ads summoned you to wet T-shirt night at some local Dallas dive rock club (Ritz Theater, The Electric Ballroom, The Paladium, Agora Ballroom) with enticing band names, all long forgotten. But for certain, Hands was not among them. Can we go back to 1978? I want a do over.

Anyway, let's talk Hands for a brief moment. Yes, Gentle Giant, Genesis, ELP and every other mainstream progressive rock band will instantly come to mind. While never forgetting the longneck Pearl or Lone Star hard rock beer moments either. Guitar, violin, flute, keyboards, bass, drums...I mean really? In Farmers Branch? FB's Finest must've pulled them over a dozen times for going 36 in a 35 on Webb Chapel (locals will get it).

A strikingly great piece of Americana progressive rock, that had NO CHANCE at major label attention. By 1980 The Police, Asia, The Buggles, Loverboy, and Journey ruled the airwaves. That's what the labels wanted to hear. Complex progressive rock was out. The New Wave and what we then called "corporate rock" were in. MTV was here to stay (I know, I'm so old I remember when MTV played music videos).

* So why does the name Farmers Branch mean anything to you? Perhaps you'll recall one of the earliest white rappers claiming he went to some "tough school in the projects". That was Vanilla Ice. And he went to Farmers Branch / Carrollton R.L. Turner High School (didn't even graduate). No street cred in that I'm afraid. Fraud.

**And while on the personal topic, my good friend Dave, who was then starting a band called Storm at Sunrise - asked me my opinion on a guitarist he should choose - someone who could play both hard rock and progressive. I thought of Ernie Myers of Hands immediately - plus he was local to the area. Dave contacted him, and the rest is history.

Personal collection
CD: 1996 Shroom

National Health - Missing Pieces. 1975-1976 England (archival)

East Side Digital of Minneapolis are most famous for reissuing all 3 National Health studio albums in one glorious 2 CD package - as far back as 1990. It's worth the price of admission alone for the absolutely hilarious liner notes from main protagonist Dave Stewart. So when ESD announced they had unearthed a pile of unreleased gems, prior to their first album, with Mont Campbell (Egg), Steve Hillage and Bill Bruford amongst the usual Canterbury suspects - along with more hysterical liner notes - well... we all couldn't get our wallets out fast enough.

Perhaps most amazing is that most of this CD is on par with their brilliant first two albums (and I'll proudly go on record here - I'm a huge Canterbury fan - and I think National Health are the best band of the entire scene - especially Queues and Cures). Some folks even say it's their best album period. While I won't go that far, I will say this is one of the most essential archival albums ever released.

Personal collection
CD: 1996 ESD (USA)

Ramses - La Leyla + Eternity Rise. 1976;1978 Germany



The Sky label was founded by a former Brain label executive, and originally the label was patterned after the successful cult institution, before pretty much dedicating to electronic music by 1979.

Ramses, along with Shaa Khan, were probably their most overtly progressive rock unit. Eloy seems to be the most obvious influence, with a strong English lyrical content, analog keyboards (mellotron, organ, synthesizers), loud acid guitar, fat bass, heady concepts and extended track lengths. The decidedly slower pace was very much in vogue in Germany during this era (Novalis, Minotaurus, Albatros, Indigo, and dozens of others) clearly demonstrating a love for classic Pink Floyd in their commercial prime.

Eternity Rise is a very slight drop off from the debut. There are a couple of more overt attempts at commercial success here, and that's really the only misstep. Otherwise, the sound is pretty much the same as the debut.

Ramses were a solid, though not a spectacular, German symphonic progressive rock group.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 Sky

Both albums on one CD. Pros: From the original label (masters) and both albums in their entirety. Cons: No extras, liner notes, new photos, no nuthin'.

Luciano Basso - Voci. 1976 Italy


1976 is pretty much the last hurrah for this kind of "big" symphonic progressive rock coming from Italy. Madrugada, Corte dei Miracoli, Celeste, PFM and Banco DMS all threw in their lot for one last try - before either folding or succumbing to more trendy fusion or pop styles.

Basso's debut is a very fine example of this sound. Eschewing the heightened frenzy of the classic early 70's sound, Basso takes on a more mature and measured disposition, and the album is very pleasant. The keyboards are all the classic vintage 70's toys (Mellotron, Hammond, electric piano) along with quite a bit of expertly played acoustic piano parts. A strong violin/cello presence adds a unique dimension, while guitar and a sprightly rhythm section round out the sound. Hard to go wrong with this one for progressive rock fans. And while it doesn't extend much beyond the genre's norm, for something perhaps truly extraordinary, it nonetheless fulfills the daily bread portion of one's progressive musical diet.

Personal collection
LP: 1976 Ariston
CD: 1994 Vinyl Magic

Grupo N.H.U. - s/t. 1978 Spain


In 2001, I wrote the following for Gnosis: 1978 was Spain's boom year in terms of progressive rock music, and Grupo N.H.U. met the challenge head on. One of the finest from the Spanish progressive scene, Grupo N.H.U. contains everything that made the Spanish scene so special. Strong compositions marked by many changes. Fat keyboards, loud acid guitar, and a complex, exciting rhythm section make up the centerpiece of the group. An excellent vocalist and a strong fusion edge a la Mahavishu Orchestra rounds out one of the true bona-fide classics of the Spanish scene. An absolute must hear.

Gosh, do I have anything to add? Perhaps a bit more psychedelic space rock oriented than I implied above. You know, it's not really a typical Spanish release, in the sense that it lacks indigenous qualities - qualities which were still in abundance in late 1970's Spain. Final smokin' fusion track reminds me of primo Crucis (Argentina). N.H.U. stands for Noche Hermosa Una (A Beautiful Night).

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Novola Zafiro
CD: 2000 RCA / Zafiro / BMG

Spektakel - s/t. 1974 Germany (archival)


I still remember when Ken first put this CD out - myself and my running pack all bought it immediately and unconditionally. I can only imagine his initial enthusiasm at discovering such buried treasure as this. It had to be transcendental. A few years earlier, he had released the full canon of SFF's works (Schicke, Führs & Fröhling) - already a monumental achievement, especially for an American label. But now this? Sounding like demo versions of Cathedral's famed Stained Glass Stories or the also-to-be-discovered-later Deju Vu - Between the Leaves album from Norway, Spektakel is the mellotron soaked fantasy of every progressive rock collector's dreams. Is it a little loose in places? Well, sure. It wasn't ready for prime-time. But when you consider how strong the material is despite the lack of original editing, holy cow - this is about as good as it gets. An absolute must own archival release.

Personal collection
CD: 1996 Laser's Edge (USA)

Epidaurus - Earthly Paradise. 1977 Germany

If there's ever an album that is misunderstood, it's this one. Naysayers are a fact of life in the progressive rock world, and boy do they line up to skewer this baby. They hyperventilate in their glee to scream "overrated!", "overhyped!", "over-everything-I-hate-about-progressive-rock-collectors-even-though-I-am-one!". Favorite target of course is vocalist Christiane Wand. She sings soprano, which sounds a bit disorienting at first, but actually adds a certain amateur charm. Her total impact? About 4 minutes of the disc - all on Side 1. Yep - that's about it. 4 minutes. And her wordless voice is quite enticing, further adding to her value. You'd think by reading many reviews she was all over this thing like Diamanda Galas.

So even if her rather strange voice is not according to your taste, there is close to 30 minutes (it's a short album anyway) of high quality instrumental dual keyboard-driven progressive rock. The album is loaded to the gills with mellotron, Moog, organ, flute, Taurus pedals, active rhythms, the works (no guitars though). It has a very fat sound that I find highly appealing. In fact in some ways, Side 2 could work well as an excellent example of Berlin School sequencer based electronic rock (think Schulze's Moondawn, Wolfgang Bock's Cycles, or You's Electric Day) - especially the track 'Mitternachtstraum'.

Don't let the wet-blanket crowd get you down. This one is truly a gem.

Personal collection
CD: 1991 Penner
LP: 2010 Garden of Delights

This is release number #1 for the famed Garden of Delights label (then known as Penner), and is considerably weaker from an archival perspective (sound is great!) than later reissues. There's a very brief bio, all in German, and one fuzzy photo - and that's it! They were to improve dramatically as a label from here though. I bought the CD shortly after it was released and was the first time I'd ever even heard of the band! I've also owned the Resurrection LP reissue which is definitely a high quality job, but ultimately decided to sell it as the overall package isn't that much of interest. No regrets. Years later I did pick up the Garden of Delights LP version, and this time they've expanded the biography greatly. Worth owning both I think. Original LPs are quite rare and expensive.

Tangle Edge - Improvised Drop Outs. 1983 Norway



Tangle Edge - Improvised Drop Outs. 1983 Mushroom (cassette)

Cassette reissue: 1990 Auricle (UK)

CD reissue: 2010 private  (2 CD)

LP reissue: 2010 private (3 LP)

Improvised Drop Outs is well named, as that's exactly what it is. Basically these are relatively short song skeletons, with free form psychedelic improvisations thrown on top. If you're familiar with Tangle Edge at all, the style is instantly recognizable even at this early stage. It can all be a bit much. As the AC joked on the CDRWL: "seems like nine and a half hours", but it does have a trance like effect if you leave it in the background. It's incidental film and TV music for an opium den. For my ears, this is way more preferable than the modern noise makers such as Acid Mother's Temple.

The CD is titled Dropouts and is self-released by the band. It's a 2 CD set in a small flip pack. It's lacking any extras, like bonus tracks, liner notes or photos, but it's still nice to have this on CD - and much better than those old cassettes!

Ibliss - Supernova. 1972 Germany


Ibliss are a superb ethnic jazz rock band with psychedelic flute, percussion and guitar. Music can best be described as moody / atmospheric mixed with heavy jamming. A bit like classic Embryo, as found on Rocksession, but more loose and free.

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Garden of Delights

Way back in the 1980s, I found a brand new copy of this LP in a record store for about $5. I couldn't wait to bring it home with a cover like that! But I didn't like it. I wasn't quite ready then for what we now call "Kraut Fusion". And I traded it to a dealer friend shortly thereafter (he gave me a fair price for the era). I regret it now, but I was still new to record collecting. But the good news is that we finally received a wonderful CD reissue from Garden of Delights. And so I now own this copy and maybe one day I'll splurge for another original LP. The CD features great sound, liner notes and photos. No bonus tracks for this one though (which is rare for GoD). Which means, of course, there aren't any extra tracks to be found I'm sure.

Axe – Live & Studio. 1970 England (archival)


Axe were a bit more psychedelic influenced than most UK bands from this era, though they do remind me somewhat of the Julian's Treatment album. The female siren squeal vocals recall Circus 2000, and in fact, Axe's recording here seems like the missing album between the two Circus 2000 gems. Some really splendid guitar (with acoustic accompaniment) can be found here.

Kissing Spell found all sorts of oddities like this in the early 1990s. Mostly in the hard rock and folk genres, but with an occasional foray into progressive rock. Their booklets were light on details, but still better than nothing.

Personal collection
CD: 1991 Kissing Spell

Acqua Fragile – s/t. 1973 Italy


Given that Acqua Fragile sing in English, their sound is more typical of the UK progressive rock movement (elements of Genesis, Yes, and Gentle Giant are obvious). Despite that, I still find both Acqua Fragile albums appealing - and Lanzetti has a unique voice that served PFM well for many years afterward. So perhaps not a good representative of what we have come to know as classic Italian prog, but taken on its own accord, it holds up well, similar to Cherry Five in that way.

Personal Collection
LP: 1973 Numero Uno
CD: 2004 BMG (Japan)

The original LP comes in a cool four sectioned poster cover as does the Japanese LP reissue from 1980.

Sunbirds - s/t. 1971 Germany

Sunbirds are perhaps the ultimate soundtrack for your next autobahn excursion. We're talking open top BMW convertible, hot megababe sitting next to you, hairspray, loads of mascara and thigh high white go-go boots - with 4 inch heels. Oh really, you have no idea what I'm talking about? Go over to your cable TV and find some independent channel that has some feature at 3:00 in the morning with a name like Weird Ass Euro Theater. Catch a flick like The Girl on a Motorcycle and you're there.... BABY! Must be a European production, even a soft core flick will suffice. Put on the Sunbirds, kick back, relax and drift into your inner vertigo. Extra points if you have shag carpet and wood paneled walls....

Musically the Sunbirds' albums can best be qualified as "flute groovers". That is to say, they are seasoned in the jazz idiom, but also wanted to venture into the psychedelic sounds of the day. Chris Hinze, Lloyd McNeill, and Bjorn J:Son Lindh did this too. But the Sunbirds also had that Krautrock thing going on, and you know they were hip to Wolfgang Dauner, Association P.C. and the whole gang at MPS Records. Plenty of wild fuzz guitar and electric piano. Especially on the first album, the Sunbirds could have easily fit on the Brain label, and may have had they come around a year or two later. File next to your T. Yokota and the Beat Generation record. Of course you have that...

Personal collection
LP: 1971 BASF
CD: 2011 Garden of Delights

Grovjobb - Under Solen Lyser Solen. 2001 Sweden

After first hearing Vättarnas Fest, I wrote an enthusiastic review for both their albums at the time, and couldn't wait to hear a 3rd ...