Even while the 70 FROM ’70 finalists were still being mentally debated by your correspondent, lists were being compiled and assessments made for the following year. This year, in fact. The one in which we are currently deep into March and sniffing the yellow-brown air of autumnal decline. Where is the spring in Vinyl Connection’s step? The rising sap of excitement at attempting to survey much (though not all) of a magnificent year in rock? Fuck knows. But better late than never, as the cliche runs.
Change of tactics this year. We’re only featuring albums already residing in the VC collection. And rather than the countdown approach, we’ll use the time-honoured calendar method, despite this rather emphasising the late start.
JANUARY 1971 ALBUM RELEASES
All albums three stars—🔆🔆🔆—or better. The ones above 3 are rated individually.
Recorded, as the cover suggests, in the UK’s swinging capital, this grooving, dancing affair is a joy from start to finish. Horns appear in several tracks, though the overall sound is not huge. Kuti’s electric piano is much in evidence and that is a very good thing. 🔆🔆🔆🔅 [3 ½ stars]
The debut album from Tony Duhig and Jon Field bears little resemblance to July, the psychedelic outfit they’d recently departed. Yet the rich instrumentation, great guitar work, and wide tonal palette make this more than a curiosity. It marks the beginning of a fascinating and varied musical journey for the British innovators.
Moving from an African musician in London, via a UK duo, to the United States. The collaboration between Canned Heat and blues legend John Lee Hooker is a fabulous document, one that was covered at Vinyl Connection here. 🔆🔆🔆🔆 [4 stars]
On Second Movement, the second meeting between Les McCann (el. piano) and Eddie Harris (Tenor sax) we have a solid soul-funk offering (with a pedestrian ballad or two thrown in); if you played it after Fela’s London Scene, it would make a very enjoyable set. [Ed: we’ve just noted that Second Movement was recorded in January 1971 but released in May. The researcher has been sacked.]
First classic of the year. Janis Joplin’s final album is her most consistent. The arrangements are cleaner, leaving more space for her amazing voice. Throw in a couple of perennial hits and a glimpse of tragedy and you have the singer’s pièce de résistance. [Some sources list the release date as February]. 🔆🔆🔆🔆🔆 [5 stars]
Next, a truly under-rated album: the second release from folk-rock outfit Trees. Whether you are new to British folk-rock or already on board via heavyweights like Fairport or Steeleye Span, On The Shore would make a fine addition to your collection. Inventive, individual, yet steeped in its folk heritage, this is an LP that truly ranks as an unsung classic. 🔆🔆🔆🔆 [4 stars]
To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Leslie West and Felix Pappalardi’s heavy outfit. It doesn’t quite live up to its cover art. Anyone up for correcting my misperceptions?
While we’re in the ‘OK’ category, this LP by Australian legend Billy Thorpe and his heavy blues band (featuring guitar legend Lobby Loyde) is highly collectible but not very exciting. Each side is a long blues-based jam with a shorter song tacked on. There is some magnificent early 70s music from the land Downunder, but this isn’t a major contender.
Over to Germany.
How about the Eulenspygel cover? Tasty, huh? It was their first album (under that name), and features big vocals and a kind of European heavy jazz-prog. Not a favourite from krautrock-land, though the instrumental sections are meaty and beaty.
Popol Vuh, on the other hand, are delicate, thoughtful and inventive. This is not the original cover, but a CD re-issue from 1983 including previously unreleased material from a different time. There is much wonderful music in the Popol Vuh catalogue; instrumental pieces extending and looping in Reich-influenced ways that can be either relaxing or stimulating (depending on the volume and your mood). 🔆🔆🔆🔅 [3 ½ stars]
This early Cluster LP is an example of sparse, metallic electronic music. Imagine the romantic lyricism of Jean-Michel Jarre than run in the opposite direction a long way. One for the minimalists.
The self-titled album by Kind Crimson alumni McDonald and Giles has grown on me so imperceptibly that what I once discarded—selling the vinyl for a song—is now an early 70s prog favourite. The problem was probably my desire for the robust Crimson approach. This is an all-together more lyrical, pastoral affair. Although it often sounds ‘of its time’ and a tad self-indulgent, the record inherited a wardrobe of sixties baroque and is dusted with the patina of creative innocence. Charming, still. 🔆🔆🔆🔆 [4 stars]
I’ve often wondered whether the sheer magnitude of Chicago’s early output diminished the regard in which individual albums were held. Chicago III, a torn and frayed US flag decorating its type-free gatefold cover, was the third double LP in two years, yet if you sit down and listen there is no flagging of creativity nor energy. While not ‘essential’ like the 1969 debut, III is a very sold example of progressive brass-driven pop-rock. 🔆🔆🔆🔅 [3 ½ stars]
Alice Coltrane’s 1971 album (her fifth in three years) is superb. Joined by Pharoah Sanders and Charlie Haden (amongst others), John Coltrane’s widow has invited and absorbed her partner’s exploratory spirit and let it flow into her own transfigurative vision. The fusion of harp, oud, Eastern percussion and Sanders’ soprano sax is truly uplifting, filling Journey In Satchidananda with light and space. An LP that rewards repeated listens. 🔆🔆🔆🔆🔆 [5 stars]
Featuring the voice and outstanding guitar playing of Tim Gaze (Tamam Shud, Ariel), Kahvas Jute formed in Sydney in mid-1970 and released one LP in January the following year: the inventive and thoroughly entertaining Wide Open. An album that deserves its own post, I’ll whet your appetite by mentioning how bass player Bob Daisley went on to work with Gary Moore, Uriah Heep, Rainbow and Ossy Osbourne (amongst others). This is one of those hidden gems from the Great Southern Land. 🔆🔆🔆🔆 [4 stars]
Fans of latter period Little Feat—their polished, jazz-inflected rock sometimes seeming like a KFC-eating Steely Dan—will be amazed by the raw energy and edgy excitement on their debut. With a major contribution from Ry Cooder, Lowell George’s band (because that’s what it was, then) deliver a brief but highly enjoyable record full of great songs, singing, playing. 🔆🔆🔆🔆 [4 stars]
As this post is already something of an epic, I’ll not say much about the Comus album for now. Except this. First Utterance virtually invented Wyrd Folk and is one of the scariest records in the VC collection. ☠️☠️☠️☠️