Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Song(s) of the Day # 1,060 Marvin Gardens

One of the most interesting elements of writing this blog is the moments, (and there are more than I ever imagine are going to take place), when you chance upon the bands who disappeared between the cracks into the forgotten margins of music history. The supporting cast who only feature as mere footnotes, (if that), of different scenes, while the main players wandered off to record deals, hit records and small or larger roles in music history

Such is the case with Marvin Gardens, participants in the second wave of the Haight-Ashbury movement who began to play the scene in 1968 after the Airplane, Dead, Grape, Fish and Messenger Service had already sealed major label record deals and were beginning to tour beyond the immediate vicinity of San Francisco and looking to the festival circuit.

What's most gratifying about this band is just how great they sound. Captured in a recently released archive album called 1968 featuring demos and live recordings, they're a breeze. With a sheer pop sensibility, a garage immediacy that many of their contemporaries lacked, and maintaining a strong link with their folk roots which too many of those bands didn't fully appreciate and smothered the basic traces of in psychedelic fuzz. The ace up Marvin Gardens' sleeve was lead singer Carol Duke who occupied some kind of imaginary space between Judy Henske, Grace Slick and Janis Joplin. Wisecracking and joyous, she leads her band through a set of covers of traditionals with no little assurance.

' Duke was a natural, with a large repertoire of material, including songs by Buffy Saint Marie, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Lead Belly, Hoagy Carmichael and an eclectic and seemingly-endless range of pre-war blues, country and folk numbers. The band jumped right on and into these tunes – often without ever hearing the originals – and intuitively crafted sonically adventurous and emotionally compelling versions that completely stand on their own. You can hear that vital creative spark on both the studio tracks and the marvelously vivid live material herein.'

Stripped of the self-indulgence and druggy narcissism that date so much of the music from that time and place, coming up to fifty years on, 1968 is a wonderful and much recommended document of a time when the dream was fresh and real and it must have really seemed as if the counterculture and all the dreams of a better way of living it represented really did seem to be barreling across an open prairie to the promised land.

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