Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Magic Lantern - Haymarket Square
Gear Fab GFC 417
This record has a big rep (and an even bigger price if you can find an original copy) in psych record collecting circles, but it seems to me that is just because it is rare. This is no lost classic, it is more of an interesting artifact. It was originally released on Chapparal Records in 1968 and reissued by Gear Fab in 2001 in a very handsome gatefold package with informative liner notes. It is the sole recording by Haymarket Square and was originally created as a soundtrack for a light show/happening/art performance called the Baron and Bailey Light Circus at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art in June 1968. This is basically about an album side worth of material stretched out over two album sides through mediocre soloing and lots of repetition. That sort of thing might work at the light show/happening but it doesn't work for me spinning the record at home. Just because the music is trippy doesn't mean you should have to be tripping to enjoy it. "Amapola" is a really nice song, but it clocks in at nearly 11 minutes even though it is essentially a four minute song. There are a couple of verses and some lengthy choruses and then it fades out only to resume with about 2 or 3 minutes of soloing and stuff and then they repeat the song in its entirety, same exact words, for another 4 minutes. It is a good song, but it is not that good a song. Their cover of "The Train Kept-A-Rollin" is also unnecessarily elongated. It basically copies the Yardbirds' version, the guitarist, Marc Swenson, even imitates Jeff Beck's solos. They stretch out the song by playing the verses over and over. It begins with a few passes through the verses without any singing at all, when I first heard it I thought it was going to be an instrumental. I love this song and they do a decent job on it but seven minutes of it is too much. If I wanted a bloated self-indulgent version of this song, I'd put on Aerosmith. According to the liner notes the group was heavily influenced by Jefferson Airplane, but I don't hear it that much. Lead singer Gloria Lambert's song "Elevator" seems the most influenced by the San Francisco sound and I like it the best of all the songs on the album even though the tune is not nearly as memorable as "Amapola." Nice vocals, hypnotic drumming and some interesting instrumental passages, it has many of the features I like best about the San Francisco groups. If the whole album were as good as this, I would be happy but unfortunately there are some stinkers as well. "Funeral" is a 9 minute dirge that feels almost as long as "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." I tune out way before it is finally over. "Ahimsa" is easily the worst song on the record, an eight minute long instrumental dominated by John Kowalski's overlong, boring drum solo (is there any other kind?) bookended by some tedious guitar solos. It is exactly the kind of self-absorbed noodling that gave acid rock a bad name. You spin this record a few times and it will have you reaching for your Stooges records for some relief. If I paid $2,000 for an original pressing of this, I'd be pretty pissed, but I didn't pay anything (it was a gift) so I'm glad to have it. I'm a huge acid rock fan, but I don't play it much. I like Lambert's voice and I like the overall sound of the record, but ultimately it is just too derivative and too dull to generate much enthusiasm in me. Recommended for It's A Beautiful Day fans who hate violins.