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Phases and Stages

In Box

Reviewed by John Morthland, May 16, 2003, Music

The Best of International Artists

(Collectables) In the annals of psychedelia, no record company has quite the mystique of Houston's International Artists. During its existence, 1965-70, IA released 13 albums and 39 singles and passed through the hands of several owners, including Lelan Rogers, brother of country schlock star Kenny Rogers. Litigation has kept IA reissues to a minimum in this country despite the cult-sized demand, so what does Collectables, a Pennsylvania-based specialty label, do to make its 6-CD box set of IA material special? Nothing. The box simply bundles together CDs released individually a decade ago when Collectables first licensed material from the late Rogers. For those who've managed to go this long without, here's what you get: The Psychedelic Sounds of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators (1966) is the first, and generally considered the best, album from the Austin band that introduced Roky Erickson to the world. His bansheelike readings of jug player Tommy Hall's lyrics on the likes of "Roller Coaster" set the pace for garage-acid rock for the rest of the decade. The Red Krayola's Parable of Arable Land (1967) goes well beyond the Elevators, winding up the label's bestseller at around 50,000 copies. Originally spacey Houston folk-rockers, Mayo Thompson's trio here performs hookless songs ("Former Reflections Enduring Doubt") with little or no melody and stream-of-(un)consciousness lyrics, each proceeded by a pulsing, discordant "free form freakout" on which the band's friends join in on garbage-can lids and matchsticks; it's every bit as obnoxious as that sounds, and every bit as great. Lost & Found were Space City proteges of Roky Erickson, and their Everybody's Here (1967) pays homage with the Elevators' "Don't Fall Down" as well as a jug-band sound on "Let Me Be." The main attraction is Jimmy Frost's stinging leads, which appropriate early Keith Richards with aplomb. That said, this is perhaps the worst-sounding album ever released. Bubble Puppy's A Gathering of Promises (1969) is kitchen-sink psychedelia that doesn't miss a trick. Their "Hot Smoke and Sasafrass," which went to No. 14, was IA's biggest single ever. The San Antonio quartet combined high-energy rock with folk-rock harmonies, snazzy guitar breaks, and references to the sun. Plus, they knew how to wear those Renaissance Faire outfits. The 2-CD Epitaph for a Legend gathers an extremely patchy batch of odds and sods, such as IA's early forays into forgettable blues, various Roky/Elevators ephemera and Krayola demos, and seemingly random efforts ranging from Patterns' fetching cover of the Bee Gees' "In My Own Time" to Electric Rubayyat's atrocious hard rock assault on "If I Were a Carpenter." If you're looking for the likes of Lost & Found's fuzztone orgy of a second single "When Will You Come Through?" and its B-side "Professor Black," neither of which appeared on their sole album, you'll have to scrounge around for other hard-to-find bootlegs and compilations. Obviously, those two should appear on a box set like this, but they don't. In other words, The Best of International Artists is in many ways a mess, but at least it's a glorious, Texas-sized mess.


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