Friday, February 4, 2011

The Charlatans - The Charlatans

The Charlatans
The Charlatans
Philips PHS 600-309

My post on "Live Yardbirds" got me reminiscing about my days in Berkeley and I started thinking about the one that got away.  I was in Rasputin's Records when I saw the Charlatans' one and only album.  It was about 15 bucks or something like that, nothing by today's prices but a lot for me and I didn't have it.  Nor did I have a credit card back then.  I was drawn to it because its cover was by Globe Propaganda which was responsible for two of my favorite album covers - the debut album by It's A Beautiful Day and "Happy Trails" by Quicksilver Messenger Service (I later learned that Globe was run by George Hunter, founding member of the Charlatans.)  I didn't know much about the Charlatans at the time but I knew I wanted this record, but alas when I finally got the money together and went back to get it, it was gone.  I searched for years and never saw another one.  Then the internet came along and eventually I found a copy that was not outrageously expensive and bought it.  I paid more than $15 of course, but it was worth it to stop regretting not getting it all those years ago.  My copy is far from perfect.  The cover has a little ring wear and there is some discoloration in the upper corner where I removed some tape, but the record itself is in pretty good shape.  The record is often dismissed because it only has 2 of the 5 original members (Mike Wilhelm and Richard Olsen,) but I like it quite a bit, more actually than most of the original Charlatans recordings collected on the CD "The Amazing Charlatans."  My favorite track is the radical re-working of "The Blues Ain't Nothin'" which was kind of a country blues boogie when the original band did it, but here it is all funky and rocked up and sounds a bit like the Electric Flag.  They also transform their signature song "Alabama Bound."  Unlike the more sedate and pretty versions offered on "The Amazing Charlatans," the version here is heavy and features a jam at the end that is about as close as they ever came to the stereotypical San Francisco sound.  I'm not sure which version I prefer, they all have their virtues.  The new guy, Darrell De Vore contributes two of my favorite songs on the record: "Easy When I'm Dead" which would fit in nicely on the first album by Quicksilver Messenger Service and "Time To Get Straight" which sounds surprisingly like early Jethro Tull (that's meant to be a compliment.)  The original Charlatans did a lot of old-timey stuff, particularly when Kama Sutra was grooming them to be San Francisco's answer to the Lovin' Spoonful, which I don't really care for.  This record is fortunately mostly free from that aside from "When I Go Sailin' By."  I expected bad things from their cover of "Wabash Cannonball" but it actually rocks out quite nicely in a Flamin' Groovies type manner.  "High Coin" is pure folk rock, it sounds like it was recorded in 1966.  In fact very little of this record really sounds like 1969 which to me is a good thing, I prefer the music of 1966 to 1969.  I guess the Charlatans were always a little out of step with the San Francisco scene even though they practically invented it.  Listening to this record I can't help but recall the scene in the movie "Fillmore" where Bill Graham throws Mike Wilhelm out of his office when he tries to get him to let his new band play at the Fillmore's closing week.  I imagine they would have gotten a pretty similar reaction if they tried to play this stuff at the Fillmore in 1969.  I still really like this record though and recommend it to anyone who prefers "Monterey Pop" to "Woodstock."

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