Last year I spent a lot of the time rediscovering and collecting music by the legendary Californian Band Spirit who had been very successful in their early days notching up a string of classic albums such as ‘Spirit’, ‘The Family That Plays Together’, ‘Clear’ and ‘Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus’. Their initial run of success on the Epic label preceded the inevitable split and loss of two of the founders who left to form Jo Jo Gunne. The remaining members soldiered on on the Mercury label releasing several more fine albums before a low period and the resumption of activities in 1979 with a live album, there then followed a period of Randy California solo releases.
Spirit sadly are no more as Randy California was drowned in a riptide in Hawaii while successfully saving his then 9-year-old son. Since that time, a series of releases of archival material has been released by various labels but now much of this has been acquired by Esoteric who, in conjunction with Mick Skidmore, are re-releasing these albums in newly remastered versions, often with extra material.
Now some may see this is as dreadful or shocking but I personally find these reissues worthy and of note, which bring us to this latest instalment – Spirit’s ‘Son of America’ in a 3CD set with a bonus live disc of a three-piece set recorded live at KPFK on 4th April 1993.
In my opinion, this reissue is worth it for this last disc alone which contains 16 hitherto unreleased pieces recorded live in the studio on an 8 track recorder and now transferred to a shiny new compact disc and it also includes a solo Randy California/John Locke live take of Animal Zoo from 1989.
The main album, ‘Son of America’, was originally issued in 2005 and has long been out of print so to have it in a remastered format is very fine indeed. The album has 25 songs on CD1 and 19 Songs on CD2, which makes this a value set of some sublime Spirit songs and instrumentals. Most of this is in the form of home recordings, mainly by Randy California on guitar and vocals, Ed Cassidy on drums and percussion and Scott Monahan on keyboards, with occasional appearances from Mark Andes, Steve “Liberty” Loria, John Locke, Matt Andes, Rachel Andes, Bruce Gary and Janet Wolfe.
Some of these songs have surfaced on earlier albums or are live Spirit staples like The Times They Are a Changing. Most of the songs come in around the three-minute mark but still shine with their creativity clearly apparent and, rather than do a deep review, I have chosen a few highlights that will hopefully show you why this is worthy of your listening.
The opening track Space Jam is exactly that, a loose sounding jam with some spacy guitar lines and a gentle melody. It is all very ambient sounding but certainly impressive as is the next track, Prophecy, which is a mid-tempo rocker with some lively guitar, prominent bass lines and a good strong vocal from Randy. Everything chugs along nicely with a slinky guitar line and a solo thereafter on which Randy gets to wail a bit towards the end of the song.
Thomas Q and Jennifer is also a good song with its piano backing and great ensemble playing which, along with a good use of dynamics, brings this song to life with these excellent performances. Much of this music is acoustic, embellished with keyboards and bass and this approach works very well as the songs are given chance to breathe and are not overproduced at, all a clear case of less is more.
The Times They Are A Changing is a shorter, spiritualised version of the Dylan classic, sung with feeling and much in the spirit of the original. It features Randy on acoustic guitar and harmonica along with some sympathetic keyboards and drums in tow. This is a fairly chilled and mellow take but with some great double tracked guitars on it that bring it to life. Also worthy of note is an excellent reading of Lennon and McCartney’s Let It Be that is beautifully rendered with a very appealing vocal from Randy and an unidentified male vocalist.
However, I guess for most that it will be the third Disc – ‘Spirit Live at KPFK in 1993’ that will be the big draw as it really is a unique record of a very obscure radio show and one that features great in-between-song chat and some dynamic performances of some old classic Spirit songs and material.
Son of America, the title track, was penned for Vietnam veterans and is a protest song of sorts detailing how a son goes off to fight a war to defend America’s freedom. This has a fine guitar solo in support of the song as he talks of losing his friend last night. It is quite a sad and moving song, especially when you consider how America has treated those same veterans so badly over the years.
All in all, a worthy collection for completists and fans alike.
Released 26th March 2021
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