Incredible String Band - Changing Horses (UK 1969)

Senin, 29 Oktober 2012

Size: 102 MB
Bitrate: 256
Ripped by: ChrisGoesRock
Artwork Included
Source: Japan 24-Bit Remaster

Changing Horses is the fifth album by the Incredible String Band. It was the first record released by the band after they had openly given up drugs. This version of the Incredible String Band includes two women, Rose and Liquorice, who add some nice, high vocal harmonies to the standard Mike Heron/Robin Williamson sound. Rose also contributes some nice tuba-influenced electric bass work throughout the album.

One of the most satisfying characteristics of progressive music is its ability to transcend time. This is an inherent trait considering music of the genre is by-definition pretty much ahead of its time, at least when first created. But not all progressive music stands the test of time equally well, and this album is unfortunately one example of poor aging.

The Incredible String Band were innovative in their time, with an ever-evolving style that blended traditional folk instrumentation and storytelling songs with an eclectic mix of unusual instruments, often Eastern philosophical and compositional nuances, and the effervescence of youth, love and hippie naiveté. The band managed to remain quite active in various forms for a decade or so and sporadically resurfaced for decades after their formal disbanding in 1974. But this 1969 release really marks a pivotal turning point in many ways, and the band would never regain the same level of creativity or appeal they experienced in the late sixties.

The most pronounced change in the band was their lineup. Following several years as largely a duo consisting of Robin Williamson and Mike Heron (with various transient members and Williamson’s girlfriend Licorice McKechnie performing on their earlier albums), the band had settled on the lineup of Williamson, Heron, McKechnie and Heron’s girlfriend Rose Simpson. Dr. Strangely Strange keyboardist Ivan Pawle plays piano and organ, and Walter Grundy would come aboard with his harmonica for this and a couple of subsequent albums, but for the most part the band for a brief period was primarily its two founding members and their significant others. Many instruments on this album are plugged in as well, with the band beginning to move to a more electric sound. 

The four members also claimed to have gone ‘clean’ prior to these recording sessions, leaving behind the drugs that clearly had fueled some of their creativity in 1967 and 1968. And both Williamson and Heron were dabbling in Scientology at the time, which may have had something to do with both of their girlfriends’ departures a couple years later.

As far as the music, much of it is rather tepid; not bad necessarily, but certainly not of the caliber and novelty of the second and third albums that had brought them some measure of renown. But in keeping with the sort of split-personality that characterized the group’s music thanks to the distinctively different styles of Williamson and Heron, the six songs here are really a mixed bag. “Big Ted” is a disjointed acid folk tune that tells the story of a pig that supposedly broke into the band’s communal house and ransacked their record collection. “Dust Be Diamonds”, the only ISB song in which Williamson and Heron claimed co-credits, features singing from all four members with McKechnie on kazoo, and degenerates into repetitive and mostly nonsensical lyrics early on. The album also includes an a’cappela number (“Sleepers, Awake!”) which is interesting only in that it’s the only instrument-free song they ever recorded. And Williamson offers up another of his trademark bard-like Brit folk numbers with “Mr. and Mrs.”, featuring mostly – well, him.

The rest of the album consists of two incessantly long and drifting compositions that would find some favor performed live, but seem to be a bit too unfocused for a studio release. “White Bird”, written by Heron, is pleasant and melodic when the band manages to focus, which is only for about three or four of the nearly fifteen minutes the thing runs on. Like many ISB songs there are mild Eastern lilts and several extended laconic stretches of acoustic noodling, and overall the band’s claim of being hallucinogen-free is somewhat suspect when this song is listened to in the sterile detachment of the twenty-first century. 

The other lengthy number is Williamson’s sixteen-minute alternate-reality version of the Genesis story, “Creation”. This one is comparatively more coherent than Heron’s dirge, and features a wide array of instrumentation and percussion in addition to the soothing chanting of both of the band’s ladies. Like I said at the outset though, some things don’t stand the test of time all that well, and Williamson’s wandering tale comes off as rather staid and kitschy some forty years later. This may be a bit harsh for those folks who are old enough to have enjoyed the band back in the day, but for anyone attempting to discover them now there is little likelihood they will come away with the same sorts of epiphanies that the band’s hippie fans did those many years ago.

Joe Boyd, who had discovered the original lineup that included Clive Palmer, would once again act as producer. But the times they were a’changing, and so was the band. A stint at Woodstock would turn out to be a bust, and both Simpson and McKechnie would be gone within a couple of years. In fact the most memorable thing to come out of the Woodstock appearance was a handful of photos of a radiant Simpson on stage in a long cotton dress made see-through thanks to the heat, sweat and humidity of that day. Boyd would move on as well after another album, with Heron taking a more prominent role in the band’s direction as their music moved closer to the standard-fare rock that was more his style; and the band would fade out completely after 1974’s ‘Hard Rope and Silken Twine’.

This was a pivotal album for the band and their fans back in 1969, which itself was a pivotal period for anyone who was drawing breath at the time. The album undoubtedly garnered stronger reactions back then, either for the better or worse. But today it comes off as simply another mildly interesting and mostly forgettable period piece that most modern progressive music fans won’t find much to get excited about. Three stars since it is a good representation of the day, and a pleasant enough example of what ISB was capable of; but not much more. Only recommended to hard-core prog folk fans and those who have fond memories of the band. []

Mike Heron - electric guitar, vocals, piano, vibraphone, percussion, sitar, mandolin
Robin Williamson - vocals, piano, washboard, flute, satang, chinese banjo, percussion, electric guitar, organ, guitar, gimbri, violin
Rose - vocals, bass
Liquorice - vocals, guitar, organ, kazoo
Walter Gundy - harmonica
Ivan Pawle - organ, piano (on 6)
Joe Boyd - producer
Cover photo - Janet Shankman
Sleeve design - William S. Harvey

01. Big Ted (4:21)
02. White Bird (14:46)
03. Dust Be Diamonds (6:14)
04. Sleepers, Awake! (3:44)
05. Mr. and Mrs. (4:54)
06. Creation (16:04)

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