Friday, August 8, 2014

Music Emporium - Music Emporium

Music Emporium
Music Emporium
Sundazed LP 5078

This is a reissue of Music Emporium's sole album originally released on Sentinel Records in 1969.  I adore Sundazed Music, they are one of my favorite record labels.  I generally prefer to buy original pressings but I have no qualms about buying Sundazed's reissues, they are always high quality.  Anyway there is no chance I'm ever getting an original of this album.  Only 300 copies were ever issued and they cost a small fortune if you are able to even find one.  Judging from their name, album cover and the pictures of the band I figured them for sunshine pop, but this album could not be farther from that.  It is a complex mixture of psychedelic, hard rock and folk-rock with generally dark and poetic lyrics.  It proves you can't judge an album by its cover.  The band shows they are not a typical pop band with the opening track, "Nam Myo Renge Kyo" which is based on a Buddhist chant.  The chant actually goes "nam myoho renge kyo" which is what they sing in the song as well.  This is my favorite cut on the album.  The song features quasi-mystical lyrics that contribute to its hallucinatory feel.  It is a hard rocking song driven by Casey Cosby on organ and the guitar riffs of Dave Padwin who has an excellent solo.  Dora Wahl's frenzied drumming gives the song a lot of force as well.  It was written by Cosby and Thom Wade who had been in an earlier group with Cosby prior to the formation of Music Emporium.  Cosby and Wade also wrote "Velvet Sunsets" which is a quieter song dominated by Cosby's liturgical organ work.  The liner notes mention that the band was influenced by Iron Butterfly and the Doors and I think that is most evident in the prominence of Cosby's organ in their sound.  The song is sung as a duet with Cosby and the band's bassist and second keyboard player, Carolyn Lee.  The enigmatic romantic lyrics have a mildly psychedelic flavor to them.  Cosby's "Prelude" is a return to the supercharged sound of "Nam Myo Renge Kyo" highlighted by Wahl's hyper-active drumming, I even enjoy her brief solo.  Cosby also wrote "Catatonic Variations" which is a somnolent dirge with a religious flavor.  The philosopical lyrics are full of weariness and gloom.  "Times Like This" is the most conventional song on the album.  It is a mix of garage and country-rock that reminds me of Mike Nesmith's work with the Monkees.  The lyrics express an aspiration for a middle-class ordinary existence that is in sharp contrast to the rest of the album.  It is the only non-original composition on the record.  It was written by Milt Bulian who had been in a band at Cal State Long Beach with Lee and Wahl.  Cosby and Wade's "Gentle Thursday" is delicately sung by Lee.  It is a slow, melancholy ballad that borders on soft rock and is notable for Cosby's evocative organ work.  Side two kicks off with Cosby and Wade's "Winds Have Changed" which is melodic folk-rock that sounds a bit like early Jefferson Airplane.  Like many of the songs on the album this song uses nature imagery to reflect on life and love.  Cosby's "Cage" is the heaviest song on the album driven by a big guitar and bass riff and Wahl's thunderous drumming.  Padwin composed "Sun Never Shines" which continues in a heavy vein with Padwin growling out the vocal in a gritty, get-down style.  Wahl and Lee lay down a pounding rhythm for Padwin and Cosby to build their searing solos upon.  It is my other favorite track on the album.  Cosby's "Day of Wrath" is overtly religious at the beginning before segueing into a psychedelic mystical jam and then returning to the religious theme at the end.  Sundazed has added instrumental versions of "Nam Myo Renge Kyo" and "Gentle Thursday" as bonus tracks to end each side.  Even by bonus track standards these are pretty minor, but I don't mind their inclusion.  I greatly admire this record.  I like that the band can rock out hard and heavy but also play with grace and sensitivity.  The eclecticism of the music is very appealing to me as is its intelligence.  All four band members could really play and I'm especially impressed by Wahl's powerful drumming.  The lyrics are a bit pretentious perhaps, but I like their trippiness and consistency.  This is one of the better albums of the late 1960s and it deserved a better fate.  Kudos to Sundazed for rescuing it from obscurity.  Recommended to fans of Haymarket Square and the United States of America (the 1960s band not the country.)

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