SPIRIT - It Shall Be: Ode & Epic Recordings 1968-1972 [5CD Box Set] (2018)
In 2010, Sony presented Spirit's first five albums in a budget-priced box set. There wasn't anything extra, just five albums in a -looking slipcase. Great Britain's Esoteric Recordings felt the band deserved better. Spirit's first five albums are also included here with newly remastered sound -- alongside a slew of associated outtakes, singles, and alternate mixes offered in 1991 for Time Circle compilation. They also added the original mono mix of the band's self-titled 1968 debut album, and the group's soundtrack for French writer-director Jacques Demy's 1969 film Model Shop. As most fans know, Spirit's meld of jazz, blues, psychedelia, and pop proved highly influential, but was never quite sustainable commercially. Despite smoking and commercially viable singles such as "Fresh Garbage," "I Got a Line on You," "Uncle Jack," and "Nature's Way," the band's wildly eclectic sound never really connected with the masses. Listening to the band's Ode debut is a case in point. The strange mix of genres, while seamless, was unsettling and more often than not, regarded as dark, mysterious, and brooding -- check "Mechanical World," "Fresh Garbage," and "Taurus." This was enhanced by their appearance in the fragmented cover photo with 17-year-old guitarist Randy California (who'd played with Jimi Hendrix at 16), his stepfather, jazz drummer Ed Cassidy (Roland Kirk, Art Pepper, New Jazz Trio) -- whose waxy-looking bald pate looked downright strange, even in 1967 -- keyboardist John Locke (New Jazz Trio), vocalist Jay Ferguson, and bassist Mark Andes. The released stereo version of the debut album with 1968's The Family That Plays Together -- that netted the hit "I Got a Line on You" -- reveals a tale of two bands: The former seeking to express all the core elements in their sound, and the latter from an outfit that has found a way to make them gel. Disc two opens with the Model Shop soundtrack cut in 1968, followed by the slightly schizophrenic but nonetheless rewarding Clear, which was, in retrospect, deeply influenced by the experience of the film score yet contains some of the band's finest accessible tracks in "Dark-Eyed Woman" "Give a Life, Take a Life, and "New Dope in Town." Disc three contains not only their most commercially successful album in The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, but all of its attendant sessions. Disc four offers the mono mixes of Spirit as well as four bonus cuts from those sessions and Time Circle mixes. The final platter contains eight more Time Circle mixes, assorted outtakes from The Family That Plays Together and Clear, both sides of the "1984" and "Animal Zoo" singles, and other assorted mixes. It's all held together in a handsome clamshell package with a booklet chock-full of photos, liner notes by Malcolm Dome, and archival interviews with California and Cassidy. Though Spirit continued recording and touring in one way or another until California's death in 1997, It Shall Be: The Ode & Epic Recordings is a definitive aural portrait from a band whose influence continues unabated into the 21st century.
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