Album review: SPIRIT – Son Of America (3CD reissue/remaster)

SPIRIT - Son Of America

Cherry Red Records [Release date 26.03.21]

Californian band, Spirit, blossomed in the fertile fields of psychedelic rock. A year after forming in 1967, the year of “The Summer Of Love”, they released their self titled debut, on Ode Records (now part of Sony Music).

Its febrile mix of rock, jazz and psychedelia struck a chord with many. It was a commercial success, taking up a 6 month residency on the USA’s Billboard album charts. They went on to release more than a dozen best selling studio albums through the 70s and 80s.

50+ years after that debut, the UK’s Cherry Red Records have added this Spirit 3 CD package to their fast expanding catalogue of carefully curated and keenly remastered reissues.
Originally released in 2005 as a 2 CD set of demos, outtakes, unreleased tracks and instrumentals, it has now been supplemented by a third CD – a previously unreleased live performance on a Californian radio station – recorded in the early nineties. All 3 cds have been newly remastered.

And so this set’s 60 tracks provide glimpses of a time and a place, and colourfully illustrate the the imagination and adventure that was prevalent in popular music as it moved out of the sixties into the seventies and eighties.

It’s an immersive experience. Vocalist, Jay Ferguson, guitarist Randy California, Bassist Mark Andes and keyboard player, John Locke were the perfect blend of musicians and innovators.

The title track is the primer. ‘Son Of America’ is the story of the Vietnam War as seen through the eyes of a young man, just drafted. Instrumentals, skillfully assembled from musical fragments, like ‘In The Dark’, are interlaced with the words of politicians, in this case John F Kennedy.

There’s plenty of fully formed songs too, like the short but electrifying ‘Storm In The Night’, and the Country Rocking ‘Gopal’, which takes inspiration from eastern religions and music – this was how western sixties’ youth challenged the dominant cultures and norms of the time.

There’s also a rock version of Dylan’s ‘Times They Are A Changin’, but it doesn’t quite work.

All that said, Disc 3 is the prize here.

Captured live by KPFK Rock Radio in LA, the band cooly perform a sometimes slightly ramshackle set, thanks to station’s amusingly primitive live sound system.

But the music sounds great: A fabulous live version of ‘Nature’s Way’ – an environmental protest song written by California, which never made it into the charts, but became a seventies’ rock anthem.

A funkier-than-the-album version of Mr Skin, and some of the best individualist pop and rock of the times: from the one that started it all, ‘Fresh Garbage’ – exotic, but otherwise impossible to decribe rock, up there with the best from The Doors and Zappa, (in his more accessible moments).

To the catchy pop immediacy of ‘Animal Zoo’ and ’1984′, to the sweaty, swaggering ‘I Got A Line You’, the first hit from their second album ,which saw them move off in a harder rocking direction. Clearly, a durable, consistently inventive rock band.

Of the remastering across the 3 discs, this one is the most striking. Something of cliché perhaps, but you really feel you’re in the studio with these guys, enjoying it all first hand.

Where are they now?

Randy California died from drowning in 1996. RIP.  John Locke died of cancer in 2006. RIP.  Jay Ferguson is writing soundtracks for popular TV series like NCIS.

Mark Andes has reformed country rock band Firefall, which he started up in the eighties with Michael (The Byrds) Clarke and Rick (Flying Burrito Brothers) Roberts.

The material that accompanies this compilation is better than having a bunch of bonus tracks. Written by the band’s archivist, Mick Skidmore, it’s almost as much of an entertainment as the music. What he doesn’t know about the band isn’t worth knowing. ****

Review by Brian McGowan


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