Monday, 11 July 2022

MIND DE-CODER 103


MIND DE-CODER 103

To listen to the show just scroll to the bottom of the page

“Folk music is the map of singing”

                                               Alan Lomax

 

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS     1. ADAGIO (LOVELY ON THE WATER)

The sublime Lovely On The Water from Vaughan William's pastoral composition SIX STUDIES IN ENGLISH FOLK SONG, written in 1926, and performed here by the Nash Ensemble, one of England's finest chamber music groups, in 2001. Vaughan Williams wrote that his aim in setting the songs was for them to be “treated with love.” ‘Nuff said.

 

THE A.LORDS     FREOHYLL


 This gossamer opening track from The A.Lords self-titled debut album, which saw release in 2011, comes from a session recorded over two nights in a dusty old Dorsetshire barn during harvest festival in which microphones were placed in trees outside and under the floorboards to give an authentic rustic air to the songs. Lovely.

 
ARROWWOOD     GOBLIN MARKET

 

Spooky goings-on of a psychedelically eldritch nature from Chelsea Robb, who releases beautiful albums of atmospheric pagan charm under the name Arrowwood. Goblin Market is taken from a her third album BEAUTIFUL GRAVE, released 2013. Robb only uses acoustic instruments to complement her vocals – the reed organ, flute, various string instruments and even a hurdy gurdy add rich layers to her hauntingly alluring songs. It’s really quite lovely.

 

ORDER OF THE 12     EYE OF A LENS


 Recorded under the castle in Lewes, East Sussex, LORE OF THE LAND is the debut release from the Order Of The 12, a band put together by Richard Norris, the ‘electronic musician’s electronic musician’, and one half of Mind De-Coder favourite Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve, following his introduction to the acid folk genre during the last lockdown. The music looks to the South Downs and the Sussex folk tradition for inspiration, with echoes of psych folk acts like Trees or Mellow Candle to the fore, although there’s just a touch of your Joker’s Daughter, or Goldfrapp’s own take on pastoral electronica to be found on the haunting Eye Of A Lens, but this an album of lysergic wyrd-folk that is every bit the equal of its influences.

 

BELBURY POLY    THE GREEN GRASS GROWS


 Jim Jupp’s Belbury Poly operate at the more proggy end of the hauntological spectrum – that is to say, less of the disembodied voices and more of the tunes (albeit tunes that sound like they could have been found on an old BBC 2 recording of an early morning Open University science show from 1974). On is 2012 release, THE BELBURY TALES, he’s even got some guest players to play drums, guitar and bass, no less – so it was with some delight I found this track, The Green Grass Grows, with its ever so spooky, off-kilter child sing-a-long, which makes it sound like the soundtrack to a primary school production of cult 1970’s horror film The Wicker Man.

 

MELLOW CANDLE     SHEEP SEASON


 Acid folk doesn't get any more atmospheric or beautiful than this, but the record buying public disagreed and after releasing just one album in 1972, the very fine SWADDLING SONGS, the group split up. These days, of course, it's considered as something of the holy grail of folk rock albums and you can't buy the album for love nor money. That's what a spiraling two way soaring vocal harmony is supposed to sound like, just in case you wondered.

 

THE EIGHTEENTH DAY OF MAY     THE HIGHEST TREE


 I love this track. It's probably my favourite on this evening's show - it never makes me feel less than joyful, and possibly up for a bit of dancing if someone was able to produce a fiddle from behind a convenient hay stack. The Eighteenth Day of May only made one album, THE EIGHTEENTH DAY OF MAY, released in 2007. It sounds like they grew up listening to their parent's early Fairport Convention albums, but try as I might I can't think of anything wrong with that. Don’t be fooled by the song’s jauntiness, by the way - bleak murder, heartbreak and forlorn loss (proper subjects for a folk song) await a cursory listen to the lyrics.

 

THE MEMORY BAND     VOICES


 The Memory Band are, in fact, less of a band and more of a collective, a varied cast of collaborators drawn to the band’s one constant: singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer Stephen Cracknell. Their music is at home to landscape folk and psychedelic jazz, as well as exploring some of folk’s more hauntological hinterlands - Voices, taken from last year’s release, COLOURS, is like stumbling across a secret radio signal that broadcasts arcane messages that exist somewhere between history, memory and the imagination.

 

TUNNG     SOUP 

This is just one of those pieces of music that I love unconditionally. The chiming electro-acoustic refrain from the first half of the track is a thing of rare beauty that the band fail to spoil by yelling SOUP! all over it. This is taken from Tunng’s third album, released in 2007, called GOOD ARROWS, on which they lose much of the awkward (but fairly entertaining) electronica, and become, instead, a delightful, experimental, pastoral pop group whose influences include Icelandic prog rock, choral music and film sountracks.

 

TRADER HORNE     MORNING WAY


 Trader Horne - purportedly named after John peel’s nickname for his nanny - were, like Mellow Candle, one of those magical, short-lived bands that existed as the 60’s crept their way into the 70’s in the hope that no one would notice. It featured the voice of Judy Dybble, who was in the original Fairport Convention but was replaced with Sandy Denny when it was felt that her voice wasn't up to the direction that The Fairport's were pushing in, and guitarist Jackie McAuley, previously with Them, who found himself at a loose end after the curmudgeonly Van Morrison went solo and the band’s final two psychedelically-tinged albums failed to find an audience interested enough to buy them. They only made the one album, the very fey MORNING WAY, which was released in 1970. It was never promoted because Dybble left the band before the record was released, and yet...some bands exist only ever to make one album or one song that makes sense of their existence, even if they only exist for five minutes, and in this case, the wistfully lysergic Morning Way does the job quite nicely.

 

SHELAGH MCDONALD      STARGAZER

 

Shelagh McDonald's story has a touch of the mythic about it. Following the release of her second album, STARGAZER, in 1971, Shelagh McDonald, all set to be the next Sandy Denny, mysteriously disappears for 34 years, only to resurface in 2005 after reading a Scottish Daily Mail story about her musical legacy and unsolved disappearance. It seems her very first acid trip was a life-changing nightmare that lasted for over a month leaving her a scared, paranoid, fragile and mostly broken, emotional wreck - she retreated to Scotland where she slowly mended herself, only to discover she could no longer sing. She married a local bookseller and began a nomadic existence, often living in tents in the Scottish Highlands, never to record again. If that's not the stuff of legend then I don't know what is. In fact, In 2013 she made a low-key return to public performances and released a new album, PARNASSUS REVISITED, that was distributed at gigs - I understand that there might even be a new album on the way - so the legend continues.

 

THE ADVISORY CIRCLE     AND THE CUKOO COMES

            ARIANNE CHURCHMAN     MIDSUMMER LEY LINE HOTLINE



 Hauntological wyrdness from The Advisory Circle (they’re there to help us make the right decisions), the pseudonym by which producer and composer Cate Brooks (no deadnaming, and purely for reference purposes: formerly Jon Brooks) explores the music and sounds from a misremembered 70’s Britain that never happened. The ever so slightly sinister And The Cukoo Comes is taken from her 2005 release, the vaguely unnerving MIND HOW YOU GO.

 Whilst that was going on I was inspired to also play the evocatively titled Midsummer Ley Line Hotline by Arianne Churchman, artist and folk enthusiast from East Anglia whose work investigates British folk traditions, celebrations and customs using the forms of performance, film, sound and sculpture to explore the themes of a common folk consciousness. A perfect fit, then, for the folks at Calendar Customs whose series of tape cassette releases similarly explore this world of symbolism and ritual and whose artistic reinterpretations are no stranger to this show. Midsummer Ley Line Hotline can be found on the release FOLKLORE TAPES CALENDAR CUSTOMS VOL. IV: CROWN OF LIGHT (MIDSUMMER AND FOLKLORE), released in 2016, the fourth instalment in a series that focuses on pre-Christian traditions and observances associated with midsummer, often marking key points in the agricultural year when planting began or harvesting was completed. Clearly, I’m fascinated with this stuff. You can find out more about Folklore Tapes here.

 

ESPERS     DEAD QUEEN

 

This is one of the most exquisitely beautiful songs I've ever heard. Words fail me whenever I hear it so I'll just say that it sounds like a medieval castle revealing itself through the early morning mist, and can found on the album ESPERS 2, released in 2006. This was, in fact, the band's third album, and continues their love of spooky, acoustic folk peppered with flute, cello and even weirder sounds held together with vocalist Meg Baird's voice, which is baroque and amazing. I love this song - it always leaves me feeling spellbound for absolute moments whenever I hear it.

 

LINDA PERHACS    CHIMACUM RAIN

 

Which leads us to the ethereal loveliness of Linda Perhacs with the almost unbearbly lovely, Chimacum Rain, taken from the exquisitely otherworldly album PARALLELOGRAMS, released in 1970 - an album that shimmers with an eerie beauty.

 

MAGNET     GENTLY JOHNNY


 Magnet was a band put together for the purpose of recording songs composed by New York songwriter Paul Giovanni for the soundtrack to the cult film The Wicker Man. Quite why the producers chose a native of New York for the gig I don’t know, but it was an inspired choice - his haunting music provides the perfect accompaniment for this dark fairytale. The soundtrack itself has it’s own mythology, and the sublime Gently Johnny, adapted from a poem by Robert Burns, wasn’t even included in the version of the film that was released in the cinemas in 1973, but was restored to the soundtrack in 2002, using cues from the tape held by the film’s associate music director, Gary Carpenter, mixed with recordings from the semi-legendary Trunk Records release (more of which later).

 

SPIROGYRA     OLD BOOT WINE


 Haunting and eerie, Old Boot Wine provides a hypnotic soundtrack to a vivid dream. The whimsically English Spirogyra were a band which produced patchouli-scented flower folk combined with a bit a bit jarring social commentary, and featured Barbara Gaskin on vocals (she later went on to record It's My Party with a pre-Eurythmics Dave Stewart in 1981, trivia fans). This track is taken from the band’s final album, the luscious BELLS, BOOTS AND SHAMBLES, released in 1973. By all accounts it sold poorly, the world having possibly moved on from flowery psychedelic folk by then, but is, of course, these days considered a lost classic of the acid-folk scene.

 At this point I include the distinguished actor Michael Hordern reading a few paragraphs from the numinous ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ - pretty much the touchstone and lodestar of all English psychedelia - Chapter 7 in Kenneth Grahame’s Edwardian classic The Wind In The Willows. There are many audio adaptions of this much-loved paean to life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, and winter firesides, but this is the best.


 SPROATLY SMITH     SPRING STRATHSPEY


 Sproatly Smith bring a lysergic ambiance to the esquisitely lovely Spring Strathspey, a pagan celebration of the sabbat, the changing of the seasons and the abandonment of the senses, originally recorded by the Celtic bard Gwydion Pendderwen on his album SONGS OF THE OLD RELIGION which he released in 1972. Sproatly Smith bathe the track in shimmering synths whilst the fragile vocals float and dance as if spellbound. Taken from their 2010 release PIXIELED, you might think that this is the sound of wood-nymphs singing.

 

WOODY GREEN     THE WOODS



Inhabiting a realm somewhere between Donovan and Mark Fry, Ireland's Woody Green's eponymous album, released earlier this month, has psych-folk writ large all over it. The Woods, all acoustic guitar and birdsong, lasts a mere 42 seconds, but is nevertheless quite lovely for all that.

 

MAGNET     CORN RIGS

 

Paul Giovanni was tasked with creating a sound which hinted at England's pre-Christian roots to accompany the pagan imagery of The Wicker Man. Once again turning to a poem by Robert Burns for inspiration, Corn Rigs deftly combines animist imagery with heathen sex magic, and, let's face it, besotted love. By far one of the loveliest songs ever recorded, and available on THE WICKER MAN soundtrack.

 

BROADCAST AND THE FOCUS GROUP     INTRO - MAGNETIC TALES

 

Lasting no more than 38 seconds, Intro - Magnetic Tales provides a taste of the sonic palette laid out before you in the collaborative feast that is BROADCAST AND THE FOCUS GROUP INVESTIGATE WITCH CULTS OF THE RADIO AGE, released in 2009. On it, Broadcast’s off-kilter, other-worldly pastoralism (which reached its apotheosis on their MOTHER IS THE MILKY NIGHT, which I've dipped into throughout the show) is filtered through The Focus Group's Julian House's own brand of temporal displacement to produce something that’s both spectral and disorientating.

 

ANNE BRIGGS     BLACKWATERSIDE


 An absolutely gorgeous interpretation of the folk ballad Down By Blackwaterside; a tale of lost love and broken promises, recorded by the brilliant and enigmatic Anne Briggs in 1971 for her album ANNE BRIGGS, though it can also be found on either of her compilation albums CLASSIC ANNE BRIGGS and A COLLECTION. Anne's singing is hypnotic, and despite the sadness of the lyric itself - a suitor breaks his promise of marriage - this remains one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. Bert Jansch, her lover at the time, provides the guitar accompaniment based upon an earlier instrumental version that Briggs taught to him herself, having learnt it from that great collector of British folk A.L. Lloyd, and appeared on his 1965 album JACK ORION, which, and everyone knows this, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it, Jimmy Page ripped off for Led Zep’s Black Mountainside.

 

THE PENTANGLE     ONCE I HAD A SWEETHEART


 I’ve no doubt that Jacqui McShee could sing the wording on the back of a cornflakes box and still make make my heart a-quiver, but this take on the traditional folk-melody Once I Had A Sweetheart (possibly some 300 years old) is simply sublime - John Renbourne’s sitar solo is scintillating, and Jacquie McShee’s vocals just soar, despite the song’s melancholy. Taken from The Pentangle’s 1969 release BASKET OF LIGHT, this is the band at their pinnacle, blending traditional folk with jazz and eastern elements to pioneering effect.

 

THE MEMORY BAND     WHERE THE RIVER MEETS THE SEA


 The second track from The Memory Band on this evening’s show, included because this particular track - all brass, strings and vocal samples which build anthemically and sweep images across the mental vision before fading to birdsong and running water - fits the nature of the show too perfectly to ignore. Where The River Meets The Sea is the closing track on their 2013 release ON THE CHALK (OUR NAVIGATION OF THE LINE OF THE DOWNS), a psycho-geographical exploration of The Harrow Way, the western section of an ancient walkway, which is explored in sound, speech and song.

 

TICKAWINDA     ROSEMARY LANE


 This is a particularly ravishing cover of the folk traditional Rosemary Lane by late 70’s folk band Tickawinda, house band for the Rose and Crown folk club and winners of the North West heats of the 'Search for The Stars of the '80's' competition held at the Poynton Folk Centre in a performance described as 'Tickawonderful' in the Manchester Evening News. Sounds unpromising, I know, but their only album, ROSEMARY LANE, released in 1979, despite being neither psychedelic or progressive, is packed full of wonderful tunes, mostly covers by the likes of Pentangle and Steely Dan, that are simply outstanding in their delivery; absolutely gorgeous. The album was limited to 300 copies and for years was considered the holy grail of folk collections. The nice thing is, when it finally got a CD release in 2001 and people got to hear it for the first time, instead of hear about it, nobody was disappointed.

 

WOODY GREEN     MAGIC CHAIR


Formerly the bassist in Brighton’s jazz-psych outfit Wax Machine, Woody Green creates a unique acid-folk ambiance on his eponymous debut, produced by Kikagaku Moyo’s Go Kurusawa. Magic Chair occupies a space between dream and reality, but the whole album is a trip.

 

MAGNET     WILLOW’S SONG



More mellifluous loveliness from Paul Giovanni and Magnet - This is the version of Willow’s Song taken from the semi-legendary Trunk Records issue of the WICKER MAN SOUNDTRACK released in 1998. Until then there had been no official release of the music from this most cult-ish of films, the original tapes thought lost, but a four year search by Jonny Trunk produced a copy of the original music and effects tape which was duly released and that’s why you can hear strange noises in the background - which are essentially Britt Ekland’s body double slapping her arse in a come-hither sort of fashion. Sung by Rachel Vearney, about whom nothing appears to be known, this is perhaps my favourite version of Willow’s Song, its alluring sweetness often leaving me dumbstruck, although over the years I’ve collected over 20 other versions of what remains one of the most gorgeous and sensual songs ever committed to vinyl, or in this case, celluloid. This is a different version from the one which appears on the official soundtrack which accompanied the 2013 director’s cut of the film - that version featured vocals by Leslie Mackie who had a small part in the film as a slightly unhinged schoolgirl called Daisy - this version, however, is the first version I ever heard and holds a special place in my heart.

 

VASHTI BUNYAN     WINTER IS BLUE (ACETATE DEMO)


The first time I heard this fragile recording I fell in love with it, and I haven’t fell out of love with it yet. This was the demo for  for what was to be her first single for Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label in 1966. Winter Is Blue, with faux-psychedelic orchestration, was never released as a single but can be found on various compilations of the period (it even turns up on Peter Whitehead's 1967 swinging London documentary Tonite Let's All Make love In London) but despite added flutes and whistles it isn't a patch on this, the original, gossamer version of the song in which Vashti laments the loss of love and the passing of the seasons in what is effectively the most beautiful and evocative song I've ever heard (Willow's Song notwithstanding). Stopped me dead in my tracks first time I ever heard it and it continues to do so even now. You can find both versions of the song on the compilation of Vashti's singles and demos, SOME THINGS JUST STICK IN YOUR MIND, released in 2007.

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Monday, 23 May 2022

MIND DE-CODER 102


MIND DE-CODER 102
To listen to the show just scroll to the bottom of the page

We don’t wear sequins because we think we’re great. We wear them because we think sequins are great.
 Gram Parsons


STURGILL SIMPSON     TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN


On which Sturgill Simpson - a man whose name doomed him to become a Country and Western singer  - wonders aloud if the Bible and a handful of 'shrooms will lead you to the same religious epiphany and, in doing so, also manages to invoke Buddha, mythology, cosmology, lizard aliens, LSD, physics and similar cosmic themes in his quest for enlightenment. In truth,
Turtles All The Way Down isn't the most psychedelic track on his exceptional 2014 release METAMODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY MUSIC (the title is a nod to Ray Charles' own pioneering 1962 album MODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY AND WESTERN MUSIC) but it provides the best intro with which to start a show that seeks explore the tenuous links between psychedelia and Country music. By the end of the song, Sturgill concludes that “marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, DMT - they all changed the way I see, but love is the only thing that saved my life," to which one can only respond: “Amen to that, brother” (and, perhaps, “don’t bogart that joint”).


THE FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS     DEVIL IN DISGUISE


Gram Parsons had long departed the Burritos to pursue his solo career (fired by his own band for being a dilettante) by the time band came to record the live album LAST OF THE RED HOT BURRITOS in 1971, alongside "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow and Bernie Leadon, leaving Chris Hillman as the only member of the original line-up - nevertheless, this iteration of the group deliver a blistering delivery of Devil In Disguise, with guest fiddler Byron Berline providing some jaw-dropping psychedelic dissonance to the performance. Originally titled Christine’s Tune, the song opened the Burrito’s debut album, THE GILDED PALACE OF SIN,  and was written about Hollywood groupie Christine Frka, member of the GTOs and cover star of Frank Zappa’s HOT RATS album, with whom Hillman and/or Parsons seem to have had some serious issues (she probably broke their poor little hearts). Following her death of an overdose in 1972 at age 22, the song was rechristened Devil in Disguise as Hillman regretted the bitter misogyny of the lyrics. With this in mind, I struggled with whether to include the track in the show at all, but in the end, was won over by the sheer sonic dynamism on display in this joyous performance.


MICHAEL NESMITH AND THE FIRST NATIONAL BAND     HOLLYWOOD


It was The Monkees’ Michael Nesmith who actually married psychedelia to Country, delivering a hallucinatory vibe to that Nashville twang. His first solo album as an ex-Monkee, MAGNETIC SOUTH, was delivered under the name of the First National Band in 1970 and combined a cosmic mix of Bakersfield swing, Appalachian yodeling, R & B soulfulness, and even lounge music with Nesbitt’s Country sensibilities. This was Gram Parsons’ Cosmic Americana writ large across a panoramic landscape, and although he never quite received the critical acclaim of the Burritos, or the financial rewards afforded The Eagles, Mike Nesmith was delivering cosmic country-rock long before it became the next big thing. The trippy Hollywood, rejected by The Monkees for inclusion of THE MONKEES PRESENT, pulses and shimmers beneath a lysergic haze, redolent of a time of altered states and new ideas.


THE BYRDS     OLD JOHN ROBERTSON


I’ve never been a great fan of The Byrds’ SWEETHEART OF THE RODEO; in striving for C & W authenticity The Byrds lost their essential Byrds-ness. SWEETHEART OF THE RODEO could have been made by anybody, but Old John Robertson, taken from the magnificent NOTORIOUS BYRD BROTHERS, released in 1968, could only have ever been made by The Byrds. Had they followed their own singular vision and created an album at home to this track and Wasn’t Born To Follow (which also appeared on the soundtrack to EASY RIDER), augmenting their country vision with an experimental cascade of exotic phasing and that sort of thing, they might have created the greatest Country album of all time - instead, by adopting a C & W verisimilitude they lost what fans they had and failed to gain any new ones amongst the Country community (who pretty much hated them and their long-haired ways). This track had already been released some six months before as the B-side of their Lady Friend single, but that was a substantially different mix from the version that graced the album, which makes liberal use of producer Gary Usher’s love of flanging and phasing. Old John Robertson was a song that looked forward to THE SWEETHEART OF THE RODEO, but here the group’s immersion in psychedelic experimentation is very much to the fore - halfway through, a marching band seems to pass through the studio and nobody seems to take very much notice. Except for those rednecks in Nashville.


SCOTT 4     START UP


A mere trifle, but nonetheless interesting for all that, especially when it appears to head out to the stratosphere. Start Up is the opening track from the album RECORDED IN STATE LP by London’s electronic cowpunks Scott 4, released in 1998 and pretty much lays out their stall as purveyors of hip-hop beats, punk rock riffs and a sweet country twang. They never really made it big, but Beck was clearly listening.


THE MONKEES     LISTEN TO THE BAND


Listen To The Band was the only single released by The Monkees which featured Michael Nesmith on lead vocals, and already he was showing his predilection for psychedelically-tinged Country with a pop sensibility. That being said there’s an insanely wild psychedelic version played by the band for their 1968 TV special ‘33 ⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee’ which descends into a freeform freakout featuring Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and The Trinity, and Buddy Miles which has to be heard (and, indeed, seen) to be believed. By the time the track was recorded as a single, Pete Tork had left the band and The Monkees were now operating as a three-piece. The song was later included on their album THE MONKEES PRESENT, released in 1969, although in 1970, Nesmith would re-record the song with The First National Band for their second album, LOOSE SALUTE, so this was clearly a song he was fond of. Me too - I have often thought that that long held cadenza on the electric guitar, with the accompaniment of the organ before Nesmith comes back with the "Listen to the Band!" is a thing of quiet wonder.


CHRIS GANTRY     AWAY AWAY


Recorded at Johnny Cash's house, Away Away is the track which opens the brain-melting odyssey which is AT THE HOUSE OF CASH, a peyote-inspired trip that literally starts off in outer space, with Gantry singing about flying saucers amid otherworldly electronic sounds. Years ahead of its time, this is an album that defies easy categorisation, but which might be labeled acid-country/folk, if such a genre actually existed. Recorded in 1973 it took the rest of the world some 45 years to catch up with the sounds Chris Gantry, one of Country’s true outsiders, was hearing in his head, but the album is now available from Bandcamp (you can find it here). God knows, none of the Nashville-based labels at the time would touch it.


SARAH LOUISE     FLOATING RHODODENDRON


Beautiful and evocative, Floating Rhododendron puts one in mind of what The Cocteau Twins might have sounded like had Robin Guthrie been born in the Appalachian Mountains and not Scotland, say, although as fans of the genre are aware, traditional Appalachian music has its roots in the music of Scotland, so what started off as a whimsical observation actually has some veracity. Floating Rhododendron begins as a languid waltz, but is quickly swept up in a flurry of graceful finger-picking which mimics flower petals floating on water, creating a sense of stillness one can retreat to. Taken from the unpromisingly titled VDSQ SOLO ACOUSTIC Vol. 12, released in 2016 on Vin Du Select Qualitite, a label which seems to deal exclusively with instrumental guitar releases, Sarah Louise has created a moment of breathtaking beauty simply through plucking at the strings of an acoustic guitar. One could reside there.


SHIVA’S HEADBAND     SONG FOR PEACE


Not so much countryfied as countryfried, Shiva’s Headband brought a psychedelic twang to the burgeoning Texas music scene before decamping from Austin to San Francisco to promote their debut album TAKE ME TO THE MOUNTAINS, released in 1969. In many ways, they were exactly the band I was looking for, combining psychedelia with some good ol’ homespun Country, with just a little bluegrass thrown in for style. They never garnered the critical trajectory of their peers, The 13th Floor Elevators, but Shiva’s Headband were the real deal and managed to keep their singular vision alive well into the eighties. In 1999, long-time bandleader and violinist Spencer Perskin was voted "Austin's Old hippie” at Eeyore's Birthday Party, an annual Austin rite of spring. The band still performs in Austin, using the name Shiva's Headband Experience.


FUTUREBIRDS     TEAMWORK RUNS THE GAME


The Futurebirds evoke the entire Western landscape in 37 seconds. Taken from their 2020 release TEAMWORK.


ENNIO MORRICONE     WATCH CHIMES


The man who defined the spaghetti western - as well as European genre flicks, Hollywood blockbusters, and things of that nature; he was, after all, a working musician with over 500 scores to his name. With that in mind, it’s still worth stating that the score to A FEW DOLLARS MORE - all Jew’s harp, amplified harmonica, mariachi trumpets, cor anglais, watch chimes, Bach references, and ocarinas -  released in 1965, is nothing less than a masterpiece - evocative, resonant, and hauntingly psychedelic.


MARTY ROBBINS     EL PASO (PLANET L’S ‘KISSING FELEENA GOODBYE’ MIX)


There ought to be a special place reserved in hell for Planet L for his egregious assault on what is, at the end of the day, the most marvelous of all Western ballads, Marty Robbins’ El Paso, originally recorded for the seminal album GUNFIGHTER BALLADS AND TRAIL SONGS, released in 1959. I first came across this tragic tale of doomed love when I was about five years old and I think that right there and then I saw it as nothing less than a fucking manifesto - a code by which to live and, if necessary, die for, all for the price of one dying kiss. Released as a single it became Robbins’ best-known song, a triumph of unrequited love - Planet L, it must be said, makes it epic. Curious fact - El Paso was produced by Don Law, the man who produced the only known recordings of blues giant Robert Johnson in the 1930s.
 

GENE CLARK     ECHOES


Ex-Byrd Gene Clark’s career never took flight the way you might have reasonably expected given his soaring talent (you see what I did there?), although whether this was due to his reluctance to become a rock ‘n’ roll star (oh, stop), or his terrible phobias and his heavy substance abuse, is anyone’s guess - the man was a musical genius weighted down by his own fears. Echoes is taken from his first post-Byrds solo album, GENE CLARK WITH THE GOSDIN BROTHERS, released in 1967, featuring, as the name might suggest, the folk/country vocal duo the Gosdin Brothers on backing vocals, as well as former bandmates Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke, future Byrd Clarence White, and Glenn Campbell amongst other Wrecking Crew session musicians. It featured some of Clark’s best songs, combining a unique mixture of country rock, pop, and the baroque psychedelia of Echoes, and with all this talent on board, it should have been a hit. Sadly, it sank without a trace owing to the fact it was released at the exact same time as the Byrds’ YOUNGER THAN YESTERDAY, and CBS’s promotional energies went into the new Byrds LP, as did the attention of the fans, which pretty much set the course for Clark’s subsequent career. These days, of course, it’s a highly regarded gem.


STURGILL SIMPSON     IT AIN’T ALL FLOWERS


This is the full-on psychedelic assault that closes Simpson’s METAMODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY MUSIC, the track which confounds traditional Country listeners, but delights the ears of those who enjoy the new pathways it opens up - this is acid-drenched psychedelic Country: phased, wah-wah'ed, and reverbed guitars, crunchy snares, haunting mellotron, spacy slide lines, and instrumental backmasking that wind into the stratosphere abide here. I don’t know why all Country acts don’t do this sort of thing. In truth, I wonder why everyone doesn’t do this sort of thing.


PETER GRUDZIEN     RETURN OF THE UNICORN


Peter Grudzien, one of Country music’s true outsiders (he has a chapter in Irwin Chusid’s ‘Songs in the Key of Z’, for a start), may have released Country’s first psychedelic concept album back in 1974 - it may even be Country’s first openly gay album to boot -  but, and I can’t stress this enough, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’d ever want to listen to it twice. THE UNICORN was almost entirely written, played, and produced by Grudzien who, throughout his lifetime, suffered from drugs, mental illness, being institutionalized, and the social stigma of homosexuality. The album features bluegrass mountain music, and a kind of Americana from the twilight zone, mixed with tape effects, musique concrète, fuzz guitar, imagery and themes from religion, death, sex, and other timely concerns with surreal lyrics which unabashedly address his homosexuality. It is by no means an easy listen - Return Of The Unicorn, whilst undoubtedly psychedelic, will offer you some indication of the music you will find within its grooves, which might best be expressed as intense, claustrophobic, and challenging. Grudzien had 500 copies pressed and tried, unsuccessfully, to sell them in bookstores but the world wasn’t ready for eccentric gay hill-billy music then; however, there has been much subsequent interest in his work, culminating in a documentary, also called ‘The Unicorn’, released in 2018, which is well worth checking out.


THE ALIENS     HEY, LEANNE


Hey, Leanne, of course, is a play on words, one which it took me years to get, but which accounts for just one reason why The Aliens are one of my favourite bands. This track is taken from THE ALIENOID STARMONICA EP, released in 2006 by the ex-Beta Band-ers, and is a wonky psychedelic affair that enjoys a lo-fi, otherworldy, transcendental quality which, for all the world, sounds like an alien abduction put to tape.


JOHN R. BUTLER     HAND OF THE ALMIGHTY (excerpt)


Just the opening verse from the John R. Butler classic Hand Of The Almighty, also known as God will Fuck You Up, from his 2003 release SURPRISE! It may be satire, but in these post-ironic days, who can tell?


SUSS     DRIFT


New York band SUSS evoke a nocturnal trip through an empty desert on Drift, taken from their 2021 release PROMISE. This is cosmic Americana, a psychic road trip through a cosmic pastoral landscape, alive with cicadas and tumbling bushweed.


MICHAEL NESMITH AND THE SECOND NATIONAL BAND     YOU ARE MY ONE


The stoned, tranquil You Are My One is a plaintive mantra that floats away into the cosmos on the back of some trippy pedal steel guitar. It’s an expansive listen, taken from the album TANTAMOUNT TO TREASON VOL 1 (there was no Vol. 2) which gives a pretty good idea where Nesmith’s (or Papa Nes, as he appears to have been called at this time) head was at in 1972 (the end of the sixties, if truth be told). Apart from the opening track, which could almost be heavy metal, the whole album is at home to a gentle, slightly hallucinogenic reverie, best enjoyed on the steps of a classic silver Airstream parked up in Joshua Tree national park as the sun sets and the sky turns pink, orange and red. On the back cover of the LP, Nesmith helpfully provides a recipe for his Papa Nes Home Brew.


CROSBY, STILLS AND NASH     GUINNEVERE


David Crosby’s Guinnevere enjoys a serene sylvan charm that is beatific in its loveliness. Strictly speaking, it isn’t Country at all and owes more to an acoustic folk vibe, but along with the Byrds' SWEETHEART OF THE RODEO and The Band's MUSIC FROM BIG PINK released the previous year, CROSBY, STILLS AND NASH, released in in 1969, looked backward to a simpler time, rooted, at least somewhere, on the Cosmic Americana spectrum. The point is, the sublime Guinnevere is probably Crosby’s best song and I just wanted to include it in the mix. Country? Folk? Psychedelia? These are just labels and you shouldn’t get hung up on labels (he said, dissembling, in public, of all places).


NEW RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE     GARDEN OF EDEN


The New Riders Of The Purple Sage initially started off as an offshoot of the Grateful Dead, allowing three members of that band (Garcia, Lesh and Hart) to indulge their tastes for country music beyond the albums WORKINGMAN’S DEAD and AMERICAN BEAUTY. By the time they came to record their debut album in 1971 only Garcia remained, and the group took on a psychedelic edge that owed more to the Flying Burrito Brothers than anything The Grateful Dead were doing at the time. The eponymous debut album features some of the most spaced-out country-rock of the period, the mescaline-soaked musical arrangements providing a tie-dyed, patchouli oil-scented Bakersfield-style twang for the hippie themes of sex, drugs, and in the case of Garden Of Eden, nascent environmental concerns.


PINK FLOYD     CRUMBLING LAND


I think it was David Gilmour who referred to Crumbling Land as Pink Floyd’s strange little Country and Western track. They had composed it for Michelangelo Antonioni’s cult 1970 movie ‘Zabriskie Point’. Gilmour went on to note that the track could have been done better by any number of American bands which, given that The grateful Dead also provided a number of tracks for the soundtrack, would have made sense, but Antonioni went with the Pink Floyd. And there you have it.


HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS     IF YOU WANT TO BE A BIRD


If You Want To Be A Bird is taken from the album THE MORAY EELS EAT THE HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS, released in 1969, but you will most likely recognize it from the soundtrack to EASY RIDER (it accompanies the scene where a young Jack Nicholson, proudly wearing his high school football helmet, sets off on the highway with his new motorcycling hippie pals Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, a celebratory moment in a film which doesn’t end particularly well for any of its protagonists.) The parent album is generally considered an album that’s so far out it ain’t coming back again - an acid-fried mix of jugband, country, blues, ragtime, folk, and hard rock segued into a continuous mix that more than reflects the madness of the times. The Holy Modal Rounders, incidentally are generally regarded as the first band to use the term psychedelic in popular music (although one hesitates to use the word ‘popular’ in reference to the band) on their debut album, released in 1964, thus pipping The Blues Magoos with their 1966 album PSYCHEDELIC LOLLIPOP to the post, as, indeed, they do with The 13th Floor Elevators who, of course, used the term for their debut album THE PSYCHEDELIC SOUNDS OF THE 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS, also in 1966 (fact fans!)


MICHAEL NESMITH AND THE FIRST NATIONAL BAND     TUMBLING TUMBLEWEED


Tumbling Tumbleweeds is probably the most famous country and western song ever - the original, recorded by Sons Of The Pioneers in 1934, was selected for entry to the archives of the National Recording Registry, and it’s been covered by everybody from Gene Autrey (whose own 1935 recording was chosen by Members of the Western Writers of America as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time) to The Meat Puppets. Michael Nesmith has a go at the reins on his third and final album with the National Band, NEVADA FIGHTER, released in 1971, and produces a typically trippy interpretation on an album that concludes his American Trilogy. It turns out that it is he who best marries psychedelia with Country, and what a cosmic little trip it was.


PAUL QUINN AND EDWYN COLLINS      PALE BLUE EYES (WESTERN)


Erstwhile harbingers of The Sound of Young Scotland, Bourgie Bourgie’s Paul Quinn and Orange Juice’s Edwyn Collins take a welcome country turn in their cover of the Velvet Underground’s Pale Blue Eyes, recorded in 1984 for the soundtrack to the movie 'Punk Rock Hotel', a film that was, in fact, never made. Ever so slightly discordant, it still sends a shiver down my spine.
 

GO HOME PRODUCTIONS     LSD FOREVER


Go Home Production’s Mark Vidler takes the novelty country tune and cautionary tale LSD, released in 1968 by country and western crooner Wendell Austin, and does right by it on his 2003 remix LSD Forever, available here 
under the clunky but valid collection title GO HOME PRODUCTIONS GHP COMPLETE 02 2003/02 which is where mashups appear to be kept these days, if they’re not stored away at the back of a hard drive somewhere.