Originally released in 1969, this debut outlined the wide musical grasp and irreverent sensibility that would grow the bandâ€™s legend over the next 49 years. 49 years in which this initial explosion of creativity sat in the vault unreissued. 49 years in which either the groupâ€™s continuing activity diverted their attention from a reissue, or in which lawyers intermittently haggled over muddy contractual rights. Either way, Omnivore has finally liberated the album from its resting place and reissued the fourteen songs in a tri-fold slipcase with original front and back cover art, Donn Adams period liner notes, and contemporary notes by Jay Berman. Berman characterizes the bandâ€™s repertoire, even at this early point in their career, as including â€œnearly anything,â€ and the eclectic mix of covers and originals bears that out.
This first studio lineup included long-time members Terry Adams and Joey Spampinato (the latter then credited as Jody St. Nicholas), along with vocalist Frank Gadler, guitarist Steve Ferguson and drummer Tom Staley. The group stakes out the audacious corners of their musical omniverance with covers of Eddie Cochranâ€™s rockabilly â€œCâ€™mon Everybody,â€ Sun Raâ€™s avant garde jazz â€œRocket Number 9,â€ Sonny Terry and Brownie McGheeâ€™s folk blues â€œCâ€™mon If Youâ€™re Cominâ€™â€ (which the group revisited on 1972â€™s Workshop), and a country soul arrangement of Bruce Channelâ€™s 1962 chart topper, â€œHey! Baby.â€ Few bands at the time would have even known this range of material, let alone find a way to make it fit together on an album.
The original material from Adams, Spaminato and Ferguson is equally ambitious. Adams mashes up trad jazz and rock â€˜nâ€™ roll for â€œKentucky Slop,â€ boogies hard on â€œMama Get Down Those Rock And Roll Shoes,â€ captures the melancholy of Carla Bleyâ€™s 1964 jazz instrumental â€œIda Lupinoâ€ with original lyrics, and closes the album with the piano-led â€œStay With Me.â€ Fergusonâ€™s trio of originals include the pop and soul influences of â€œI Didnâ€™t Know Myself,â€ the gospel rocker â€œStompâ€ and the country, folk and gospel flavored â€œFergieâ€™s Prayer.â€ Spampinato offers the albumâ€™s most ebullient moment with â€œYou Canâ€™t Hide,â€ a title the band would revisit ten years later on Tiddlywinks.
The albumâ€™s collection of first takes (including the previously unreleased first take of â€œStompâ€ substituting for the re-recorded version that appeared on the original vinyl) provides a snapshot of the band as they played live. The set list reflects the confluence of musical interests, knowledge and talent the band members brought to the group, and the performances have an all-in quality that made second takes superfluous. Whether or not the renditions were note-perfect (and they pretty much are), they were perfect expressions of the musical ethos that sustains the band to this day. Itâ€™s a shame that the originally released second take of â€œStompâ€ wasnâ€™t included as part of this reissue, but thatâ€™s a nit, given the historical and artistic riches that have been sprung from the vault. [Â©2018 Hyperbolium]