Esoteric [Release date: 22.05.20]
The 20-year journey from the band’s 1970 career-defining ‘The Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus’ to pulling back the flaps of ‘Tent Of Miracles’ had been a wayward one for this acclaimed late ‘60s West Coast psych rock act.
Now grounded from the youthful, former five-piece with ample budget for horn and string sections and hours of studio experimentation, this Spirit-a-trio taped ‘Tent’ at new bassist Mike Nile’s studio after an abortive attempt to place the project with former label boss Clive Davies.
It plays a pretty straight run as rock goes, yet the band’s legacy largely resides in Randy California’s expressive guitar work and vocals along with the steady, unfussy drumming of his stepfather Ed Cassidy and both are present and correct here.
Former jazzer by now in his mid-50s, Cass sets the pace with a characteristically steady beat while California and Nile work the material to fill the room. The latter’s contributions stand out: the title track nods to the band’s former glories and ‘Ship Of Fools’ is well-rounded. His production work if of its time – the sound a little brittle – is tight and professional.
Bad luck then that the label packaged the set so indifferently and trickled the album out, particularly given the band was working it to the live sector. A previously-unreleased concert taped at The Melkweg in Amsterdam from the same year fills a bonus disc in this re-mastered reissue, which also brings in 9 bonus tracks of out-takes and demos from the album sessions.
The concert sound is echoplex heavy – a further bid to ‘fill the room’ – and there are a few faltering moments, but California’s snaking and expressive guitar always comes through and his and Nile’s close-harmonising on the then-new album songs along with ‘60s crowd-pleasers including ‘I Got A Line On You’, ‘Animal Zoo’ and Nature’s Way’ will bring a smile to the faces of fans.
For anyone not in the know, Sony’s 5CD box of the groundwork releases is a logical step-one into the world of Randy and Cass. Otherwise, with its bonus material, well-informed notes and complementary new cover art, 2020′s ‘Tent of Miracles’ is a comprehensive period document of a band that still had some spirit. ***
Review by Peter Muir
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