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Monday, September 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 69.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Vinyl Cave: A Lovely Sight by Pisces

For as long as record collectors of all genres have been digging for forgotten material, those few who go the next step and begin reissuing material commercially have maintained a sort of cottage industry mining the many, many ignored side roads of music history. Tracking down forgotten musicians and unearthing older material that went unissued at the time is an even bigger step than, say, dubbing some favorite 45s and making an unauthorized Pebbles-style compilation. There's been some truly great "lost albums" from the '60s and '70s that have resurfaced during the CD era, many of which have also been issued on vinyl along the way -- natch, since it's generally serious music lovers and collectors who are hunting down these leads in the first place.

One such group of archivists currently operating is the Numero Group, which in 2003 began issuing high-quality compilations of late '60s-early '70s soul music, licensing music from individualistic (and legendary) small independent labels which has been largely unavailable since its original release. Since then they've expanded into other musical genres and media forms, including DVDs and books. A perusal of the label's catalog is sure to instantly endanger the finances of record collectors who haven't run across their amazing reissues previously. My first dive into the label's heavy waters, though, comes from one of the "other" areas unearthed by the label: An album made up of nearly lost tracks by some studio rats from Rockford, Ill., called Pisces.

A Lovely Sight is a time capsule directly from the trippy side of Sixties rock. The album's excellent liner notes detail the backstory behind the music very well, but to quickly sum up: guitarist Jim Krein had caught the band bug while at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, eventually hooking up with Paul DiVenti after returning to Rockford a short time after college. The pair played in bar bands in the Chicagoland area, and even placed a single with Chess as Seeds of Reason. The single apparently didn't make it past the promo stage, and DiVenti and Krein eventually left the bar gigs mostly behind to open their own studio space and get serious about recording.

First called A Lovely Sight, that moniker became the studio name and the recording project was rebranded Pisces. Some of their work did find release at 45 rpm on Rockford's obscure Vincent label, known better among collectors for some high-dollar soul singles, which, coincidentally, is how Numero found out about Pisces. The whole project mostly ground to a halt when their studio space burned down at the dawn of the 1970s.

The LP compiles some of the previously issued singles sides, six tracks that did (barely) make it onto vinyl as part of an acetate for a proposed album, and a few other songs. It's mostly dark sounding material and often pretty spacey -- particularly a quartet of tracks recorded with singer Linda Bruner, who brings sort of a Cher-fronting-H.P. Lovecraft vibe to the affair. Droney organ, backwards tape loops and reverbed-out guitar or drum parts abound, making this album a treasure trove for fans of the first psychedelic era's music.

It would be interesting to know exactly when some of these songs were recorded, information which is peppered throughout the liner notes in some cases but not specified track-by-track, at least with the vinyl version. The Bruner tracks, for example, are probably from 1969, but like most of the sounds here are more like something happening on the coasts a couple years earlier. Thankfully, Pisces hadn't moved on to the extended jams or blues-based workouts taking over much of the rest of '60s rock or, perhaps they were, and Numero has moved the focus away from those efforts.

Either way, A Lovely Sight is the best archival release of this nature I've heard in many moons. Often albums of this sort only have one or two songs of interest, but this one is solid all the way through. While Krein & DiVenti weren't necessarily great songwriters they had more than enough interesting ideas for ways to give their music something extra, whether it be by hook or by inventive production trick. Next, I can't wait to start delving into some of Numero's soul compilations. Twinight 4-LP box set, here I come! (Numero, 2009)

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