Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Dec. 14, 2007
Moby GrapeWow (Sundazed)
Moby GrapeGrape Jam (Sundazed)
Moby Grape'69 (Sundazed)
Moby GrapeTruly Fine Citizen (Sundazed)
Moby Grape's rock of ages produced unintentional gospel music by and for a fraternal order unequaled in the modern canon. Whereas the Band's harmony siphoned into a principal songwriter, all five Grapes composed from deep within the American songbook – folk, blues, country, Owsley – while weaving one voice that devoted booster David Fricke once dubbed the Moby Tabernacle Choir. Sundazed's bejeweled restoration of the San Francisco quintet's Columbia catalog, 1967-69, raises high five stone tablets brought down from the mount. The squelch and squeal of three guitars and unison yowl of "Hey Grandma" opening 32-minute debut Moby Grape introduces the initially manager-made brotherhood. Northwest tandem Don Stevenson (drums) and Jerry Miller (guitarist No. 1) backing monster voice/songwriter Bob Mosley (bass) and Loretta Young's son of a Byrds disciple Peter Lewis (picker No. 2), who all bowed to the group's Syd Barrett/Roky Erickson, Alexander "Skip" Spence. "Omaha," Spence's summation of 1960s electric brotherhood, presides over Mosley's sanctified "Come in the Morning," Miller's equally devout "Naked, If I Want To" and his Stevenson co-kill "8:05," and Lewis' barroom greyhound race, "Fall on You." Spence's closing "Indifference," whose refrain, "What a difference a day has made," again encapsulates the great awakening, seals 1967's rock ark of the covenant. Wow opener "The Place and the Time" isn't quite right from the get-go, but "Murder in My Heart for the Judge" rebounds next as a song once heard never forgotten. Mosley's gorgeous "Bitter Wind," Miller/Stevenson's stomping "Can't Be So Bad," and Lewis' gentle "He" swaddle Spence's open throttle "Motorcycle Irene" before deflating mid-LP with the loss of their captain. "Skippy got messed up right off the bat [in NYC]," writes Miller in the liner notes. "He was never the same again. It wasn't the same for any of us." Wow's bonus LP, Grape Jam, almost doubles its initial 37-minute run time (ultimate acolyte Robert Plant borrowed "Never" for "Since I've Been Loving You") with three additional jams, including a 13-minute cover of jazz standard "Bags' Groove" featuring Randy Brecker on trumpet. '69, cut in Malibu without Spence, benefits revelatory rebirth from its reissue, the quartet finally bonding over the one-two-three of blue-eyed confessional "Ain't That a Shame," Lewis' dreamy regret "I Am Not Willing," and Mosley's sublime "It's a Beautiful Day Today." Chorale vocals, mulching beat, and barbwire guitars ain't "Going Nowhere" except straight into Spence's closing supernova, "Seeing." Bonus demos are all priceless, especially Spence's squirrelly rock gem "You Can Do Anything," Buffalo Springfield chiming loud and proud on Mosley's "Soul Stew." Truly Fine Citizen, knocked out in three days via veteran Columbia producer Bob Johnston in Nashville, helps set the stage for Poco's pallid country rock of the 1970s, Lewis carrying the group upon Mosley's exit. His opening punch of "Changes, Circles Spinning" and "Looper" remain among the band's greatest hits (2007's Listen My Friends! The Best of Moby Grape), the gentle lyricism of "Right Before My Eyes" and "Now I Know High" more standouts. Bonus tracks include a trio of stellar live tracks from 1993's essential Vintage collection, demon demos of Spence's "Seeing," and Miller/Spence's raw co-write "Tongue-Tied." Remastered sound, a godsend, and Gene Sculatti's enlightening liner notes speak to the tremendous love and care that went into this rock & roll recovery, a music legacy whose varying quality proves immaterial, because every drop of Moby Grape is precious.
(Wow, Truly Fine Citizen)