psychedelic album by Joseph "Joe" Byrd. It was recorded after his departure from the band The United States of America, and featured some of the earliest recorded work in rock music utilizing extensive use of synthesizers and vocoder, along with an extended group of West Coast studio musicians Byrd named "The Field Hippies".
As a "conductor" and organ/electronic synthesizer player, Byrd is very much the leader of this circus. With a couple drummers, a half-dozen horn players (including a young Tom Scott),
three female vocalists, and a half-dozen or so other musicians popping
up over the course of the album, there are a lot more people involved in
this project than there were in the (relatively) stable lineup of the United States of America. Despite the ambition of this LP, it ultimately serves to illustrate just how Byrd benefited from the unique synergy provided by the other members of the U.S.A.
There are all kinds of adventurous electronics and eclectic ideas
bouncing back and forth, but the songwriting is simply not as strong as
that of Byrd's previous group. The best songs are the ones which most strongly recall the U.S.A.
in their spacy melodicism ("Moonsong: Pelog") and driving psychedelic
pulse ("You Can't Ever Come Down"). Unfortunately, the female singers on
these tracks are no match for The U.S.A.'s Dorothy Moscowitz, although they seem to be aspiring to the same dreamy, icy quality. Byrd
himself is quite a mediocre singer, as his attempts at taking the lead
on straightforward rock material prove. Otherwise, there are some bad
takeoffs on gospel and old-time music, haphazard primitive early
synthesizer, and dated social commentary/satire. As ambitious in its
scope as Byrd's first rock project, this album is not nearly as successful.
After his first album with a band called "United States of America," Joe
Byrd released this, his masterpiece, in 1969. Even without the aid of
mind-expanding drugs it is obvious that metaphysics is central to the
overall theme of this great concept album.
The first section, "The
Sub-Sylvian Litanies," is an attempt to turn reality inside-out.
Literally meaning "beneath the forest," its three odes get right to the
core of our very existence. It employs themes built upon the fourth
degree of the octal scale, a Greek mode called phrygian.
section, "Four Songs for a Departing President," are a slap in the face
to former president Lyndon Johnson. It is a condemnation of both his
"Great Society" movement and his perpetuation of the Vietnam War.
"Gospel Music" is a tribute to Byrd's brother, Ruddell, who was
imprisoned at Leavinworth for evading the draft.
Finally, the third
section deals with aging under the sub-heading "The Southwestern
Geriatrics Arts & Crafts Festival." Often morose and overly
nostalgic, it nevertheless presents a clear view of the way our elders
are shuffled off to nursing homes to await death.
The song writing
and arrangements are superb, the use of synthesizers is tasteful and
the theme is awesome. You have to get out of the box to receive the
full experience this album has to offer.
This album did a great deal to change my brain when I was in high school
in the early '70s. Concurrent with ingesting a multitude of substances
that shall remain unmentioned, this album saw many, many spins on my and
my friends' turntables. It was always a significant experience. There
is literally EVERYTHING on this record. Vaudeville, jazz, electronic,
psychedelic powerhouses, acid rock, spoken word, and much more. Joe Byrd
was an unrecognized genius who put out two incredible,
ahead-of-their-time records (The United States of America being the
other). Sometimes our minds were expanded. Other times our minds were
blown. But our minds always received an EXPERIENCE listening to this
fine, unique, well-produced and well-composed music. There is nothing
else like it. Nothing!
I originally owned this album as a
vinyl record when I was in high school. I bought it for the wrong
reason - purportedly the first part of the recording is like an LSD
trip. This album kindled my lifelong interest in "new" music. I
literally wore the pressing out, I liked it so well.
pioneering use of a quality synthesizer arraignment superimposed on
lyrical vocals. The composer, Mr. Byrd, obviously wrote and
orchestrated each piece as though it were a symphonic work. This album
is not for people who hate experimental music. John Coltrane's Africa
Brass, or Ornette Coleman Shape of Jazz to Come are similar artistic
endevors in the jazz vein.
The Sub-Sylvian Litanies
"Kalyani" – 3:52
"You Can't Ever Come Down" – 3:02
"Moonsong: Pelog" – 3:47
American Bedmusic - Four Dreams For A Departing President
"Patriot's Lullabye" – 2:49
"Nightmare Train" – 3:20
"Invisible Man" – 3:33
"Mister 4th of July" – 1:48
Gospel Music For Abraham Ruddell Byrd III
"Gospel Music" – 4:29
The Southwestern Geriatrics Arts and Crafts Festival
"The Sing-Along Song" – 4:05
"The Elephant at the Door" – 5:13
"Leisure World" – 2:36
"The Sing-Along Song (Reprise)" – 0:48
Pot - Piano, Conductor, Harpsichord
Ed Sheftel - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Christie Thompson - Vocals
Ernest "Ernie" Anderson - Voices
Fred Selden - Clarinet, Saxophones, Flute
Ted Greene - Guitar
Joseph Hunter Byrd - Organ, Producer, Vocals, Keyboards, Conductor, Synthesizer
Larry Kass - Tabla
Michael Whitney - Guitar (Classical)
Chuck Bennett - Bass Trombone
Victoria Bond - Vocals
Bob Breault - Engineer
Ray Cappocchi - Tuba, Tenor Trombone
Dana Chalberg - Flute, Piccolo
John Clauder - Percussion, Drums
Susan de Lange - Vocals, Electronic Voices
Meyer Hirsch - Flute, Saxophones
Don Kerian - Trumpet, Cornet
Gregg Kovner - Drums, Percussion
Tom Scott - Clarinet, Saxophones, Flute
Harvey Newmark - Bass (uncredited on album)
Harihar Rao - Percussion (uncredited on album)