The First of Many
This is the first album review in my "Studio One Project: Great Music From Doraville" series where I acquire and review every album that was recorded at Studio One in Doraville Georgia. Why would I do that you may be asking? Good question.....to find out the reason please check out the original post in the series (which has the table of albums recorded at Studio One along with links to my review of each album).
Before we dive into the review I must first issue a disclaimer:
"Warning, I am not a trained music reviewer! I'm just a guy who likes music. Anything that is said in any of my reviews is purely my own interpretation/opinion and should not be relied upon as an endorsement of the quality of any particular piece of music or compilation thereof."
OK, on to the (quite long) review!
Review #1-Hampton Grease Band-Music to Eat
The Hampton Grease band was formed around 1967 in Atlanta and as far as I can discern through my research they were the first group to record songs at Studio One that ended up on a commercial album. It was the only album made by Hampton Grease and since it's release in 1971 it has apparently attained a bit of cult status. To be honest, I had absolutely zero idea who Hampton Grease was until I started my research for the Studio One Project. Here's one of the first things I came across as I started poking around the interwebs:
From the Wikipedia page for the album:
Music to Eat is the only album ever produced by avant garderock band Hampton Grease Band. It was released in 1971. The album is a double album, which is apocryphally said to have been the second-lowest selling album in Columbia's history, second only to aMaharishi Mahesh Yogi yoga instructional record. This record compares with the likes of Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, and Pere Ubu.
I figured with a description of the band/album like that I just had to have it. I mean who wouldn't want to own a copy of the second-lowest selling album in Columbia record's history :-) Here's a listing of the tracks on the 2 LP's along with other information (courtesy of Wikipedia):
|A1||"Halifax"||Glenn Phillips, Bruce Hampton||19:42|
|B2||"Six"||Harold Kelling, Hampton||19:32|
|C1||"Evans: a) Egyptian Beaver b) Evans"||Jerry Fields, Hampton, Mike Holbrook, Kelling, Phillips||12:28|
|D1||"Hey Old Lady and Bert's Song"||Kelling, Hampton||3:22|
|D2||"Hendon: a) Spray Paint b) Major Bones c) Sewell Park d) Improvisation"||Fields, Hampton, Holbrook, Kelling, Phillips||20:10|
Tracks A1, C1 & D2 recorded at LeFerve Sound Studio, Atlanta, and Apostolic Studios, New York Tracks B1, B2, C2 & D1 recorded at Studio One, Atlanta, and Columbia Record Studios, New York
I started my search for the album on Discogs and quickly discovered that there aren't that many copies available, and the one's that were and seemed to be in decent shape were slightly expensive. One of the "rules" of this project is to try to acquire as nice a copy as I can of the original version of the album within my budgetary constraints. What are those constraints? Basically whatever I feel I can get a good copy of the album for within the universe of available copies at the time I'm looking to purchase.
When I started looking to buy a copy over the Thanksgiving weekend I found a range of offerings from $2.00 to >$120 for copies that were anywhere from "Good" to "Mint". After looking at the available options I made the decision to go with a copy that was supposed to have "VG+" media quality with a "Good" sleeve quality. I figured I wanted the best sounding (within reason) vinyl I could get and a decent cover. I ended up paying $25.99 for the album and received it in Mid-December, 2015 (along with a copy of the 2nd album from Studio One, Joe South's self-titled 1971 release).
Music to Eat is a 2LP package with a gatefold sleeve. My copy is in OK shape sleeve wise but does show a fair amount of ringwear as well as having a cut corner and a former owners name "Wolff" on the front and back cover. Here's the front cover:
As you can see there is a lot of shelf wear on the cover. The top left corner is also cut off. The image on the cover is definitely colorful and abstract. Here's the inside of the album:
The inside of the album is in pretty good shape. It is creatively done with a fair amount of pictures of the band and some interesting writing/descriptions
The back cover has a listing of the tracks on top and a drawing of a tank. My copy also has the same "Wolff" written in ink just like on the front cover.
Overall I'm happy with the condition of the cover when I compare it to the cost of other copies of the album. It is, after all, a nearly 45 year old piece of cardboard that has been through who knows how many owners hands. Whats important was that the quality of the vinyl was acceptable.
My main concern when buying an old album is that the vinyl is in good shape. The better the shape the happier I am. Fortunately the 2 discs in my copy of Music to Eat were solidly in the VG to VG+ range meaning there are a few bits of surface noise but no scratches/skips. I gave the discs a solid cleaning on my record cleaning machine and put the disks in new sleeves. Now it was time to give this thing a listen!........ But first another "rule" of this project:
I have decided that since many of these albums in the Studio One Project will be 1st time listens for me I will not do any specific research into the album until I have listened to it at least once. I want to try and learn as much as I can by listening to the music before verifying (or not) my initial impressions.
So, how did that "rule" play out on Music to Eat? Read on.........
The First Listen
I was busy with work so I didn't get a chance to sit down and listen to the album until Christmas day (and what a gift it was!) For those of you that are on Google+, Here's my quick post about my first listen. Since then I've listened to the album 2 more times and think I can relate a decent opinion/feel for what the album is like.
When I dropped the needle on side 1 my initial impression was basically, "What the Hell is This!??" The opening track, Halifax, takes up all of side one, is nearly 20 minutes long and seemed to be full of absolutely random sounds and lyrics. Bruce Hampton, the vocalist,had a slightly maniacal/completely disconnected tone to his voice. I literally sat there with my mouth half open listening to the sounds emanating from my speakers. The lyrics seemed like a mix of random thoughts combined with a chamber of commerce commercial for Halifax, which I assumed was the Nova Scotia Halifax. The whole experience was definitely free-form/avant garde/jazz improvization/psychedelic in nature. Stunned, I flipped the first disc over to side 2, composed myself, and sat back down.
Side 2 was much more obvious to me, at least at the beginning.... The first track is "Maria" which is a song about a 13 year old boy losing his virginity to Maria. The music is "Mexicanesque" and the lyrics are smart, slightly vulgar and hilarious. A very enjoyable song. The send track on side 2 is "Six" (at 19+ minutes long) and once again I was blown away. With lyrics like "Realized cabbage", "reaming our nasal passages", "fourteen Russian shoe salesmen", and "carrots exploding around us" I was at a loss for words. And that brings me to something I realized about halfway through "Six" and that is if you can block out the ramblings that sometimes pass for lyrics there are some good sections of music to be heard. It is obvious that these guys know how to play. There are lots of quick transitions, crisp guitar and drum parts and inspired improvisation throughout the entire album.
The third side starts off with "Evans" a 17+ minute track that is very interesting musically, with lots of stuff going on. The lyrics poke fun Jim Evans (who was a friend of the band) but the music is where this one is at. The side finishes up with "Lawton" a nearly 8 minute song that was very free-form and nearly devoid of lyrics except for some chanting at the end
The track "Hey Old Lady And Bert's Song" starts off the final side and is about a crazy old lady. It's just over 3 minutes and might be the most "radio friendly" of the whole album. The album finishes up with "Hendon", a 20 minute track in four parts: Spray Paint, Major Bones, Sewell Park, and Improvisation. Once again there are some crazy lyrics but the music is solid. The "Improvisation" part of Hendon was very enjoyable in a trippy kind of way.
Second Listen and Thoughts
After my initial listen to the album I spent some time researching the band and the album before listening to it again. I discovered that some of my initial impressions/assumptions were correct but a few were wrong (check out the links below).
Armed with my new frame of reference about the band and the music I listened to "Music to Eat" with a new found sense of purpose. What I discovered was that their music is pretty solid and that the lyrics, while often just flat-out bizzare, were built out of inside jokes between the members of the band as well as their own personal experiences. These guys are true musicians but with a "who gives a shit?" attitude. The result is some very creative music that doesn't neatly fit in a box.
The Hampton Grease Band has a pretty rich history despite only ever producing 1 album. Because of that this album shouldn't be discounted, even if the music isn't in your wheelhouse. I am very glad I purchased this album and I will enjoy listening to it for years to come. Check out the links below (especially the first one) for more information on Hampton Grease. If you are interested in the music of Hampton Grease Band and want to support this blog a teeny tiny bit, click on the link below. Thanks in advance for any support!
Here's a list of links I found in my "research" for this review. I've quoted excerpts from some of these in the review. Lots of interesting reading.....
http://www.angelfire.com/ga2/glennphillips/band/hampton-grease-band.html- A must read! that gives a fairly complete history of the band written by Glenn Phillips, one of the members of the band.
Coming Up Next....Joe South
If you made it this far all I can say is "Thanks for your patience!" as I learn/build/refine my music review format. I hope you enjoyed it and maybe learned a little more about the Hampton Grease Band and how it's unique spot in musical history was partially forged in a warehouse in Doraville, GA.
The next album I'll review is the 1971 self-titled release from Joe South. Stay tuned........