Sunday, March 24, 2019

Do You Believe in Magic - The Lovin' Spoonful

Do You Believe in Magic
The Lovin' Spoonful
Kama Sutra  KLP 8050

This is a vintage mono pressing of the debut album by The Lovin' Spoonful that I bought used while I was in high school.  I was a big fan of the band back then, they were probably one of my ten favorite groups at the time even though they had broken up many years before.  They are no longer one of my favorites but I'm still fond of them.  This is arguably the weakest of the three albums produced by the original line up but it is still very worthwhile.  It is loaded with covers of old blues songs which makes it a bit grittier than their other albums.  My favorite of the covers is "My Gal" which I'm otherwise totally unfamiliar with.  It has humorous lyrics and a pounding beat with plenty of guitar noise from Zal Yanovksy.  It is among the hardest rocking songs in the Spoonful catalog.  I also like the jug band style "Fishin' Blues" which dates back to the 1910s.  It defines the good time music sound that the Spoonful were famous for.  The rollicking "Blues in the Bottle" was originally recorded in the 1920s and the band's performance has a country feel to it.  The vocal is winningly sloppy and Yanovsky delivers a solid guitar solo.  The more relaxed "Sportin' Life" is undermined by a pedestrian vocal that fails to convey the despair of the lyrics although I dig John Sebastian's harmonica solo.  "Wild About My Lovin'" has a similarly laid back sound bolstered by some stimulating guitar licks from Yanovksy.  There is also a blues instrumental credited to Sebastian called "Night Owl Blues" presumably in honor of the band's residency at the club, the Night Owl Cafe.  They may claim copyright on it but it is basically a standard slow blues driven by Sebastian's wailing harmonica with Zanovsky chipping in with a smoldering guitar solo at the end that fades out too quickly for my taste.  There are a few non-blues covers as well.  "You Baby" was written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Phil Spector and was originally released by The Ronettes in 1964.  The Spoonful's cover sticks pretty close to the original's arrangement and it sounds very out of character for the band.  Minus the Spector wall of sound and Veronica Bennett's passionate vocal, the song is a pale shadow of the original and it does not fit in with the rest of the album.  The band fares better with their folk-rock version of Fred Neil's "Other Side of This Life" which is far more suitable to their sound.  There is also the band's terrific workout on "On the Road Again" which is credited to Sebastian but it is essentially a rocked up cover of the song of the same name that the Memphis Jug Band recorded in 1928.  The Spoonful version is very engaging and reminds me of the early Grateful Dead who also performed the song.  It adds credence to the story that the Dead supposedly were inspired to give up folk music and take up rock when they heard the Spoonful.  The true strength of the album lies in John Sebastian's three songwriting contributions.  His exuberant paean to the wonders of music, "Do You Believe in Magic," thrilled me when I first heard it on oldies radio as a young teen and it remains one of my favorite Spoonful songs.  The song boasts an irresistible drive and jangly folk-rock guitar which is always a winning combination for me.  "Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind" is an exploration of adolescent romantic indecision with a catchy melody and a humorous vocal.  "Younger Girl" is another memorable song.  Sebastian's vocal effectively captures the yearning of the lyrics and the bass, guitar and autoharp give the song a dense string sound I find very appealing.  These three songs are essential.  You could get them on just about any Lovin' Spoonful comp of course, but if you are more than a casual fan of the band you should seek out this album.  It consistently demonstrates the band's instrumental prowess, particularly Yanovksy's underrated guitar skills, and it is eclectic and entertaining as well.  I would place it among the best American rock albums of 1965.  Recommended to fans of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and the early Grateful Dead.