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Tuesday, November 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 22.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Vinyl Cave: Dollar bin diving with Felix Cavaliere, Steve Miller Band, Ambergris, Tom Fogerty, The Youngbloods

More famous names than usual are to be found in the dollar bin this time around, but they're represented by less-remembered albums.

Felix Cavaliere: Felix Cavaliere
Felix Cavaliere has one of the all-time great blue-eyed soul voices, used to great effect in The Young Rascals. That band, though, was one of the many great mid-1960s rock outfits absorbed by the hippie borg, beginning with the sprawling, messy double LP Freedom Suite. Original members Eddie Brigati and Gene Cornish had bailed by the time of their final albums as The Rascals on Columbia, and Cavaliere and Dino Danelli soldiered on in a sort of jazz-funk-rock-folk hybrid -- a (d)evolution mostly unlistenable to these ears. Cavaliere resurfaced in 1974 with a self-titled solo album, co-produced with Todd Rundgren. '70s rock listeners probably recognize that name means there's some big production going on, and that is definitely the case. But despite some unfortunate ARP usage, this album is far more accessible than the later Rascals efforts, holding steady in a pop-rock mode flavored with soul and even occasional country touches. In typical Rundgren fashion, it does meander a bit, but is successful at putting Cavaliere back on the right track. (Bearsville, 1974)

Steve Miller Band: Rock Love
I'm a pretty big fan of the first three albums by these San Francisco transplants -- via the Madison and Chicago areas -- which are a successful mix of psychedelics and bluesy rock. Things get a bit sketchier on Your Saving Grace and Number Five and take a nose dive on Rock Love, a collection which was supposedly -- at least, according to Wikipedia -- put together from leftovers and live tracks when Miller was out of commission for awhile after a car accident. I have my doubts as to the accuracy of that statement, as the album showcases a stripped-down trio version of SMB which doesn't appear on any other albums, including drummer Jack King and Journey bassist Ross Valory. While the shorter studio tracks aren't awful they feel half-finished (like the goofy ending of the otherwise successfully moody "Harbor Lights") but do point toward the funky stripped down feel Miller would ride to huge success with The Joker. The live tracks and long jam "Deliverance" are best left undiscussed.

That's the more considered version of the review. The original version, emailed to a friend directly after listening, follows: "Jeebus jeebus jeebus. Someone take away these men's access to recording equipment. The shorter songs are at least innocuously passable piffle, but the long tracks are filler exemplified. Steve Miller's Rock Love LP is just as bad a stoned piece of junk as I remember it being. It might be time to throw it at the Capitol building or something."

Sorry, Steve. (Capitol, 1971)

Steve Miller Band: Recall the Beginning ... A Journey From Eden
And, from the same stash ... here's the other "lost" Steve Miller album. Neither this nor Rock Love have ever been reissued on CD, though both finally became available again via download a couple years back. I like this Ben Sidran-produced album a lot more than its predecessor, as it's reminiscent of the mix of spaciness and thought-out arrangements of Children of the Future. Various players are listed, but the group must have been solidifying a bit around this time; along with drummer King from Rock Love, bassist Gerald Johnson and keyboard player Dick Thompson are both here, and those three with Miller would be the band for The Joker in 1973. Also present (in song) is the third persona from the opening line of that hit -- Maurice. (Capitol, 1972)

Ambergris: Ambergris!
Horn rock alert! This is a particularly funky proponent of the genre, though, so never fear. From what I can learn on the internets, the nine-piece Ambergris only left behind this lone 1970 debut album. The band includes Jerry Weiss, who was a trumpet player in the original Al Kooper-led lineup of Blood, Sweat and Tears. Here he plays bass and piano instead, and despite his BST connections this album is much more reminiscent of the uptempo side of Chase, a group Ambergris may have influenced since they didn't record until 1971. Ambergris! was produced by guitarist Steve Cropper for Paramount (apparently, between his leaving Stax and starting his own TMI studios?), and a lot of the guitar work here sounds suspiciously like his playing. (Paramount, 1970)

Tom Fogerty: Zephyr National
Tom Fogerty was actually the first member to leave the hugely successful Creedence Clearwater Revival, rather than his more famous younger brother John. Tom began a solo career nearly immediately, with his self-titled debut making the lower reaches of the Billboard Top 100 album charts in 1971 and the single "Goodbye Media Man" gaining some airplay. But his solo career never really took off from there commercially, and on the records I've heard his songs are always enjoyable but usually lack the catchiness that had pushed John's work forward in CCR. Somewhat surprisingly, the closest that CCR would ever come to a reunion on record is on Fogerty's 1974 album Zephyr National. The credits show the rhythm section of bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford intact, and "J.C. Fogerty" listed on guitar. The back cover also has a stagy shot appearing to show all four CCR members, but I'd bet the person with his hat obscuring his face is a stand-in and not actually John. According to Wikipedia and other online sources, John's contributions were recorded separately from the rest of the band. All that being said, while Tom's songs are sometimes lacking lyrically this is a fun '70s rock album with the odd combination of a '50s throwback feel and the occasional reggae inflection. It's hard to beat anything with the Cook-Clifford combination holding down the beat. (Fantasy, 1974)

The Youngbloods/Jesse Colin Young: Two Trips
Judged at face value, this album screams "exploitation release," from the incredibly fugly cover art (there were actually two versions) to name-checking as many people as possible in the unwieldy titling. However, what's actually included is surprisingly well delineated on the back cover. Better still, there's some very worthwhile music here. Half of the album is culled from Jesse Colin Young's nearly impossible to find second solo album, Young Blood. Even more interesting, side one features the first recordings of the nascent Youngbloods, apparently recorded as demos for Mercury sometime after the release of Young Blood. These are pretty together for demos, though, and the sound of the band is there from the start. Comparing the two sides of this album makes for a great study in acoustic folk's transition to folk rock. The only downer is the crappy stereo mix on the Young Blood sides, marred by oddly muddy/flat sounding vocal tracks. (Mercury, 1970?)

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