Sunday, November 9, 2014

Isle of View - Jimmie Spheeris


Isle of View
Jimmie Spheeris
Columbia  C 30988
1971

I picked this up at a flea market a few years ago for a couple of bucks.  I'd never heard of Spheeris, I was attracted to the album by its striking cover design (my photo does not capture its vibrancy.)  I flipped it over and saw the hippie dude on the back and thought that maybe the record was psych-folk and decided to buy it.  When I gave it a spin and heard the sensitive singer-songwriter music it contained I was disappointed.  That was more a reflection on my false expectations than the quality of the music.  After a few spins the record grew on me and I came to like it.  This was Spheeris' debut album.  He released four albums prior to his premature demise in a traffic accident in 1984.  He was only 34.  None of his albums achieved much commercial success, his biggest claim to fame is that he was the brother of the film director Penelope Spheeris.  That may be unfair but it is understandable.  His music is introspective and subdued compared to his more successful singer-songwriter peers.  It lacks the exuberance of Cat Stevens and Elton John, the pop smarts of Paul Simon and Carole King, the passion of Laura Nyro and Tim Buckley or the poetic intensity of Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell.  As befits an album which has a title that sounds the same as "I love you" most of Spheeris' songs are romantic love songs with abundant poetic imagery.  This includes "The Nest," "For Roach," "Seeds of Spring," "I am the Mercury," "Let It Flow," "Come Back" and "Esmaria."  My favorites are "The Nest" which benefits from a dramatic musical setting and the atmospheric "I am the Mercury" which features an exhilarating conclusion with Spheeris' vocal soaring into falsetto territory.  Both songs are boosted by tasteful string arrangements by David Campbell.  "Esmaria" is an odd song, most of it is slow and sappy but in the middle it comes to life with a brief country rock rave-up before lapsing back into somnolence.  The other love songs are pleasant, but I don't find them memorable or stimulating.  "Monte Luna" is more abstract and overtly poetic.  It celebrates nature which seems to have been a significant theme for Spheeris.  Even his love songs are permeated with poetic images drawn from the natural world.  It is the prettiest song on the album and another one of my favorites.  "Long Way Down" is the only non-original on the album.  It was written by Lee Calvin Nicoli who plays bass, flute and guitar on the album.  Nicoli's lyrical approach is a lot more direct than Spheeris' style and the song is more dynamic with tempo shifts and a more pronounced beat than most of the other songs on the record, it even has a riff at times.  I wish there were more tunes like it on the album.  "Seven Virgins" is Spheeris' one attempt at a rocker and it is the oldest song on the album featuring a 1969 copyright.  It is a straight ahead hippie boogie type song with relatively hedonistic lyrics for Spheeris.  I don't think it is particularly good and it stands out like a sore thumb among the sensitive love songs on the record, but it is what the record needs more of.  It is vulgar, propulsive and features some stinging guitar licks all of which are more important to me more than nature metaphors and tender romantic crooning.  That is not to say that I don't like this record.  Even though I don't have much of an affinity with this type of music, when I'm in the right mood I enjoy listening to it and I respect its intelligence.  You could do a lot worse with singer-songwriters in the early 1970s.  Recommended to fans of Eric Andersen and Jesse Colin Young.

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