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Fifty Year Friday: April 1970

GENTLE GIANT: THREE FRIENDS

Released on April 14, 1972, Three Friends is Gentle Giant’s third album and their first self produced album, and takes a musical direction quite different from the previous two, with the music coalesced around the thematic concept of three schoolmates and the different directions they take. Whereas the music of the previous album generally flows and evades concrete musical borders, owing much to medieval and renaissance musical sensibilities, the music of Three Friends is distinctly of the twentieth century with repeated musical cells and patterns, occurrences of syncopation, and both subtle and more strongly emphasized meter changes — all taken together, form the initial characteristics of an identifiable Gentle Giant style that would become more prevalent in their fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth albums.

The first track, the prologue, starts off in 3/4, appropriate for the concept of “three friends”, then shifts into 4/4 in preparation for the lyrics and then ends in mostly 3/4 with a few apparent meter changes for the ending. The high register synthesizer, like the wispiness of memory, adds to the overall effect of detailed stereo separation. The interlaced vocals continues with the next track, “School Days”, which brings to mind that back and forth playfulness of school children, with some more shuffling of the time signature and then a brief dark middle interlude that shifts into 4/4 for the “remember” section which includes Ray Shulman’s son providing age-appropriate vocals against uncle Phil Shulmans grown-up vocals. After a jazzy vibraphone solo from Kerry Minnear, there are some more meter changes and the the reflection on past school days quietly ends.

Each of the next three tracks focuses on one of the three friends. “Working All Day” is the stoic pronouncement of the manual laborer, voiced appropriately by Derek Shulman, who matter of factly accepts his fate with “no regrets” in mostly straight 4/4 common time. Notable is the introduction, a free multi-voiced, contrapuntal, synthesizer part, that, through the magic of magnetic type, slowly (and seamlessly) grinds down to the plodding working class tempo of the opening theme. Near the end of the piece, in the recap of that initial “working all day” theme, we get a few bars of what I call the Gentle Giant “stride” style (see Fifty Year Friday: July 1971), a “keep on trucking” era type of passage, that appears about twenty-seconds before the end of the song.  

“Peel the Paint” showcases, lyrically, Phil Shulman, light and airy with “free from the start”, then Derek with an anguished “peel the paint”, “nothing’s been learned”, and musically, the two sides of the artist — the aesthetic highs and the tortured lows — with the “peel the paint”, “same old savage beast”, and “nothing’s been learned, no, nothing at all” section relying heavily on the use of the “devil of music” (“diabolus in musica”), the tritone, and a guitar solo that starts out tormented and appears to flop into a drunken-like stupor with the piece ending with a recap of “nothing’s been learned.”

The third track covers the final friend, the lad that made the “big time”, reflecting on the material advantages of success, in a mostly 12/8 meter with some shorter bars for typical Gentle Giant variety. The album ends with “Three Friends” redeploying material from the prologue, including use of both 3/4 and 4/4 meters. The album, though maybe not delivering the most profound concept or realization of that concept, succeeds musically, and with its ample occurrence of 4/4, 2/4 and 12/8 rhythms, makes wonderful driving music. I would also suggest listening to it with visual cues — perhaps something like “light speakers” — devices that bundle different colors of strings of Christmas lights with each color associated to a band of audio frequencies and placed behind a semi-transparent plastic to create dazzling color effects coordinated with the music.’

Overcast: The Approaching Storm

Recorded in a series of contentious sessions in January 1972, made even more difficult by equipment issues and studio logistic headaches (with the band unpleasantly mired in the resulting red tape spawned by recent ownership changes at the La Brea recording studios), Overcast’s fifth album, The Approaching Storm, saw the light of day on the first of April, 1972.

Shifting tentatively from the basic blues and blues-rock formula that had provided their only hit, “Better Yet”, the band, led by the urging of classically trained keyboardist Trevor Stuart (see Fifty Year Friday: Overcast, With a Chance of Showers) explored more complex musical avenues, incorporating a range of influences from the The Who’s recent 1971 album, Who’s Next to the Yes’s Fragile album — though clearly, David Amato was no Keith Moon or Bill Bruford, and Douglas Brandt was no John Entwistle or Chris Squire.

The first side starts with the title track, with heavy bass and darkly-tinged doom-laced lyrics contrasted with pleas for optimism (“No room for grooming this looming, mushrooming doom and gloom”), followed by “Cognitive Unconsciousness” with its bagpipe-like synthesizer passage, and then “Decidedly Dangerous”, which merges into “Disaster Part One: Recognized, Resisted, Realized”, which effectively ends the first side.

Side Two opens with “Disaster Part Two: Reality” with stabbing marimba-like effects from the synthesizer and concludes with the dramatic and stormy, fifteen-minute, “Crystal Palace Workshop”, which leans heavily on Stuarts multi-track use of moog synthesizer and Bill Fortney’s heavily arpeggiated and intermittently apocalyptic electric guitar.

David Crosby & Graham Nash: David Crosby & Graham Nash; Stephen Stills: Manassas; Jim Croce: You Don’t Mess Around with Jim; Procol Harum: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

Additional albums released in April of 1972 include the first Crosby/Graham album, with an exquisite balance between the well-crafted Nash compositions and the mellower Crosby tunes crowned by Nash’s timeless gem “Immigration Man”. the Stephen Stills two LP Manassas with its individually themed LP sides, Jim Croce’s breakout commercial album, You Don’t Mess Around with Jim, with its quality arrangements, well-recorded acoustic guitar and the elegantly-wrought classic, “Time in a Bottle”, and Procol Harum’s best selling album recorded live with full orchestra.

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