=  July 2024 =  
 
Empty House
Back Jack
Chris Forsyth












 
 
 
 
 
 

EMPTY HOUSE – BLUESTONE
(CASS/DL from Cruel Nature Records or
https://emptyhouse.bandcamp.com/)

Empty House is the current creative vehicle for Fred Laird, whom long-time readers will be unsurprised to learn has his name stamped on one of Terrascope’s lifeboats (the ones kept behind Phil’s print shed). [feature interview in Terrascopaedia issue 22 - Phil]

Bluestone is inspired by a trip around Pembrokeshire, from where much of the raw material for Stonehenge is reputed to have originated. It is a collection of intense and occasionally acerbic meditations on which Laird gamely wrestles an ISB-worthy array of instruments variously plucked, bowed, thumped and unsung (take a curtsy you Behringer Wasp). The title track is reminiscent, and approvingly so, of Flying Saucer Attack’s studies in cooking up DIY bathtub psychedelia and skin of the teeth feedback (think ‘To the Shore off Further or the monumental In Search of Spaces) leavened with more airy, folksier passages and snippets of choral chanting. Another high point, ‘Fires at Midnight’, enlists the assistance of another Terrascope regular, bongo bothering hired gun Nick Raybould (Glowpeople, Thought Bubble) on djembe which adds a palpable layer of tribal suspense in response to which that Wasp buzzes ever more fervently.

We were fortunate enough to be treated to ‘Written in Earth’ on Jon Chinn’s commendable Trace Imprint vs The Others compilation fundraiser a while back. Whether its comfortable familiarity, having already given it the reviewer’s obligatory three spins, but its mystical reveries just edge out ‘Fires…’ for the reviewer’s top gong (yeah, there are faint traces of them here, too).

In all it amounts to a more caustic Ash Ra, spliced with elements of Popol Vuh (and the aforementioned FSA), a rough terrain of country rambling for the Weird Walkers with an occasionally raised digit of ur-pagan attitude. Noel Edmunds’s house was reputedly Full, while Fred’s is Empty.  Honestly, is there no justice in the world, because I know which one I prefer.

Ian Fraser



BACK JACK – BACK JACK

(LP, Digital on RidingEasy Records)

 

Last month we reviewed the comp Brown Acid – The Eighteenth Trip, the latest in the long-running series of predominantly early 70s hard rock singles mostly by bands you never heard of.  The lead-off track in that set was an excellent song called “Bridge Waters Dynamite,” a slice of 1974 heavy guitar rock by a band from the St. Louis area called Back Jack.  This month we come right back at you with a full album by the band.  Not that they ever released an album.  During their time, Back Jack released a sole 45 rpm on obscure Missouri label World Concept.  But the good people at RidingEasy have compiled all their recordings into this new release.

 

Back Jack was active from 1971 to 1975.  Originally called Trellis, they changed their name to Back Jack, after a bumper sticker about bass player Kim McKinney’s father Jack’s campaign for mayor of his small town in Missouri, which urged voters to ‘Back Jack!’.  In their heyday, in addition to backing Kim’s dad, the band opened for outfits such as Blue Öyster Cult, Trapeze, James Gang, Charlie Daniels, Rush, and Canned Heat.  Band members included Mike Collier (guitar, lead vocals), the aforementioned Kim McKinney (bass, vocals), and Hans Myers (drums, vocals), and later Jeff Ballew (guitar, vocals) and Mike Lusher (drums, vocals).

 

The majority of the tracks on this collection were recorded in 1974 and 1975.  The Brown Acid series is mostly about bands with a single 45 to their name, like Back Jack.  Occasionally, RidingEasy has released albums by Brown Acid artists.  I’ve listened to some of these, and let’s just say as kindly as possible there’s a reason most of those albums are unknown.  But Back Jack is different.  Most of the 13 tracks on this collection live up to promise of “Bridge Waters Dynamite.”

 

Back Jack played a brand of hard guitar rock not unlike artists of the time like Bachman Turner Overdrive, Rick Derringer, and Grand Funk Railroad.  The music conjures images of muscle cars, long hair, handlebar mustaches and bell bottoms.  The band is tight.  Mike Collier’s and Jeff Ballew’s guitar playing is solid throughout.  The rhythm section of Hans Myers or Mike Lusher on drums and Kim McKinney on bass keeps the beat steady and driving.  Collier is a fine rock and roll singer, who occasionally reaches back to wail at the top of his lungs, sometimes when it’s not really necessary.  Many of the songs have solos or instrumental passages, which they pull off with excellent chops.

 

They occasionally throw a curveball at you, such as on “California,” where they unexpectedly morph into the Doobie Brothers, or on the fine, rocking, lone instrumental “Phonic Voyage,” in which guest Gary Reed’s piano is almost like a Vince Guaraldi-inspired interlude from a Charlie Brown TV special, played by Beethoven-loving miniature keys man Schroeder.

 

It’s cliché to say, but Back Jack deserved better.  Had a solid break or two turned their way, they might have been able to put out some quality albums in their time.  Props to RidingEasy for trying to bring them some overdue love.  Worth a listen.

(Mark Feingold)



CHRIS FORSYTH – CHRIS FORSYTH PLAYS LOVE DEVOTION SURRENDER

(Digital on Bandcamp, streaming services)

 

It takes a lot of chutzpah to take on a performance of a popular album by not one, but two of the greatest guitarists in rock music history.  But if anyone can pull it off, Chris Forsyth can.  The Philadelphia-based guitarist recorded this live rendering of the 1973 record by Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin at the 2023 Philly Music Fest, possibly commemorating the original’s 50th anniversary.

 

The 1973 release saw Santana and McLaughlin, both at the heights of their instrumental powers, backed on record by their respective bands Santana and Mahavishnu Orchestra.  Both were devotees of the guru Sri Chimnoy (McLaughlin had introduced Santana to Sri Chimnoy in 1971), and the album reflected his teachings, including the title.  Since both guitarists were going through a deeply spiritual phase, that sacred journey informs their playing and passion.  The other deep influence on the record is fellow spiritual traveler John Coltrane, and two of the five tracks are his compositions (“A Love Supreme” and “Naima”) while McLaughlin’s “The Life Divine” is also influenced by ‘Trane.

 

Forsyth is a student of music history, and has both surveyed and learned hands-on from some of the great guitarists.  He applies all of his attained mastery here in playing Santana and McLaughlin in what is often some pretty gnarly work.  I’ll add that he’s joined on guitar by Nick Millevoi, who’s no slouch himself when you listen to the many passages with both of them powering away.

 

I’ve heard Forsyth play before, but rarely as accomplished as this. He attacks the compositions with dedication and gusto.  Sure, it helps that he had great material to start with, but he performs it magnificently.  His work on McLaughlin’s “The Life Divine,” Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” and the traditional “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord” are especially incendiary.  One small nitpick I have is that the two shorter, quieter pieces, Coltrane’s “Naima” and McLaughlin’s “Meditation” do sound better on the original album, boosted by McLaughlin’s sensitive acoustic guitar on the former, and Santana’s acoustic playing and McLaughlin’s piano (who knew he played piano?) on the latter.

 

The finale, the sixteen-minute “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord,” is a guitar lover’s dream.  You can tell the arrangement is more Santana than McLaughlin, and Forsyth summons up all his dexterity to play this finger torturing piece, while drummer/percussionists Michael Patrick Avery and Ryan Jewell similarly get a workout on congas and drums.

 

Some might consider this blasphemy, I don’t know, but as a guitar fan, I like some of these tracks as transposed for guitar more than the original Coltrane horn-based versions, or Lonnie Liston Smith’s version of “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord,” which some believe is the inspiration for Santana and McLaughlin’s version on the studio album.  In any event, Chris Forsyth pulls it off letter perfect on guitar.

 

This is a digital only release that I can barely find any mention of anywhere else, so you heard it here on the Terrascope first, folks.  If you like brilliant guitar playing, it’s well worth a listen.

(Mark Feingold)