The Sir Douglas Quintet

1+1+1=4

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The Sir Douglas Quintet delivered two excellent records back to back in Mendocino and Together After Five, but success was hard to come by, and it was hard to tell what path was the right one for a band as talented and fuzzily focused as this. Their fourth Mercury/Smash record, 1970's 1+1+1=4 didn't solve that puzzle and by trying to touch on a little of everything, it didn't provide any clear direction for the band to follow, nor did it showcase the band at its best. Even so, the Sir Douglas Quintet on a bad day were better and more interesting than many of their peers, and part of the fascination behind this record is to hear the group -- or, more accurately, its leader Doug Sahm -- try to craft an identity by adhering to the band's signature Tex-Mex while expanding in such disparate directions as pure country and horn-drenched progressive pop/rock. The country comes from sessions Sahm held with legendary producer Jerry Kennedy in Nashville; intended to be released as a solo single under the name Wayne Douglas, Sahm's laid-back Texas attitude never translated to the professional aesthetic of Nashville, and the results -- "Be Real" and "Pretty Flower" -- wind up being a fresh southern breeze on this typically loose-limbed, unfocused, freewheeling record. A large part of the charm of Sahm with the Sir Douglas Quintet is that he was undisciplined; he had no compunction in bringing in what engaged him at a particular time, tying it into his signature blend of rock & roll, R&B, and country. Here, he lays on a little bit too much of a guitar fed through a Leslie rotating speaker, a little bit too much of the punchy, jazzy horn-laced arrangements of such pop progressives as Blood, Sweat & Tears, and he panders a little bit too much to the album-oriented audience. It was all in vain, of course -- no matter what he did, he couldn't erase the nature of his music, he couldn't remove the all-encompassing, all-Texan aesthetic, so it still sounded too idiosyncratic for its own good. That, of course, is what makes the music so rich and fascinating years after the fact, because even if Sahm tried different sounds, it still wound up sounding like him, and that's why it's aged much better than other records from that same year. It's a little too hazy and unfocused to be a true lost classic, but once you're hooked on the Sir Douglas sound, this is absolutely necessary. [The 2002 reissue on Acadia/Evangeline contains four bonus tracks: "I Wanna Be Your Mama Again (Nashville Version)," "I Don't Want to Go Home," "Leaving Kansas City," and "Colinda."]

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