Friday, January 25, 2013

Ellis Island - The Paupers

Ellis Island
The Paupers
Verve Forecast  FTS-3051

The second and final album by the Canadian band, the Paupers.   I first learned of the Paupers as a teen in Lillian Roxon's "Rock Encyclopedia" which suggested that they were a major group that somehow never really made it.  I was intrigued by her description and when miraculously their debut album turned up in my crappy hometown's sole used record store I pounced on it.  The liner notes of that record, "Magic People," described how they stole the show from the Jefferson Airplane when they opened for them in New York in 1967.  I gave the album a spin expecting to be blown away and was decidedly underwhelmed.  It was a decent record but nothing special.  I dismissed them as a product of music industry hype and forgot about them for a few decades.  Then a couple of years ago I was browsing on Amazon and I was surprised to see a CD comp of the band selling for a highly inflated price.  This made me wonder if I had misjudged the band and I decided to track down a copy of their second album which wasn't all that hard to find.  I've listened to it a few times and I'm still underwhelmed.  I don't think it is as good overall as the first album, although a couple of the tracks I think are among the band's best work.  In fact the opening cut, the 8 minute long "South Down Road" is my favorite Paupers track.  Bassist Brad Campbell and drummer Skip Prokop lay down a hypnotic rhythm track on top of which Chuck Beal fires off stinging guitar lines while rhythm guitarist/keyboardist, Adam Mitchell or guest keyboardist, Al Kooper, plays psychedelic organ lines with orchestral overdubs offering some extra oomph.  It is a noisy, hard rocking psych extravaganza reminiscent of bands like Fever Tree only better.  Great stuff.  Unfortunately the rest of side one sounds nothing like this.  The gentle, piano driven "Cairo Hotel" sounds like a different band entirely, namely the Bee Gees.  Lead singer Mitchell had howled his way through "South Down Road" but now he is sweetly crooning the words.  The song is heavily orchestrated which adds to its sappiness.  "Can't Go On" opens up with a sizzling guitar solo but then goes pop the rest of the way.  "Another Man's Hair on My Razor" is a country-style song played for laughs.  Side two opens with "Numbers" which is a return to hard rock.  It is almost as good as "South Down Road" with the band going to work on top of a steady driving riff.  Lots of great guitar noise on this one.  A song like this helps me believe the hype about their live act.  It really cooks.  Once again they shift gears entirely for the soft rock love song "Oh That She Might."  Prokop takes the vocal on this one and shows he can be just as sappy as Mitchell.  "Yes I Know" is another slow one, but at least it is loud with its fuzz guitar and big majestic organ lines reminiscent of Vanilla Fudge.  Mitchell's growling, passionate vocal makes the song one of the more memorable ones on the album.  "Ask Her Again" is the oddest song on the album.  Mitchell's vocal is slightly distorted and Prokop plays koto on it which makes it sound Japanese although it is basically just another sappy, orchestrated soft rock song.  The album ends with "Julliana" which is a pseudo 50s rock and roll type song.  I'm all for eclecticism but this is a bit much.  Even though the album is entirely self-penned (mostly by Mitchell) it has little consistency or flow with all these shifts in tone and style.  I'm drawn to the three psychedelic rock songs "South Down Road," "Numbers" and "Yes I Know."  It is not just that I like that genre of music, it seems to me that they play to the band's strengths.  I find their soft rock unconvincing and their lyrics are too bland to make the songs interesting.  The one thing that most impresses me about the Paupers' two albums, is that even though they sound like a lot of different bands at various times, there really aren't many rock albums from the 1960s that resemble these two albums.  The Paupers' versatility and shifting directions make for a unique listening experience.  The band's instrumental prowess is beyond question, but unfortunately it wasn't matched by their songwriting abilities.  If they had featured a first rate songwriter, they might have lived up to all the hype.  Recommended to people think it would be cool if Steppenwolf jammed with the Grassroots. 

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