The Flower Travellin' Band


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Best known for its iconic, quite frankly hilarious cover art -- featuring the four bandmembers riding three motorcycles, Easy Rider-style, only buck naked (gulp!) -- the Flower Travellin' Band's 1970 debut album, Anywhere, unfortunately isn't as original where the actual music is concerned. That's because, with the exception of its minute-long, book-ending solo harmonica workouts, Anywhere was a covers album! And the second of its kind, technically speaking, following 1969's Challenge, which was recorded by the then simply named the Flowers with two different singers tackling Western rock and pop hits of the day by Janis Joplin, Cream, Hendrix, and the Jefferson Airplane. Come time for Anywhere, new singer Akira "Joe" Yamanaka had joined guitarist Hideki Ishima, bassist Jun Kowzuk, and drummer Joji "George" Wada, in the newly renamed Flower Travellin' Band, and though they hadn't yet found time to come up with any original material, their often radical reworkings of the songs they covered almost qualified them as such. This is especially true of their 15-minute improvisation on Muddy Waters' "Louisiana Blues," which they render virtually unrecognizable while introducing numerous themes of the band' own devising; and, to a lesser degree, their extended jam on King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man," which breaks off into quite the freak-out halfway through. And, while not as engaging from a creativity standpoint, the band's relatively straightforward take on Black Sabbath's eponymous tune (surely the first time anyone covered the Sabs on record) comes off uniquely idiosyncratic enough, as does their mostly clumsy stab at the enduring folk ballad "House of the Rising Sun," which unfortunately falls apart due to Ishima's exaggerated and often off-pitch octave leaps, and distractingly accented pronunciations ("...rouse of the lising sun," etc.). In sum, a curious listening experience to say the least. But those familiar with the group's subsequent masterpiece, Satori, will recognize all of these elements as building blocks for that album's unique mixture of progressive daring, psychedelic eccentricity, and muscular, heavy rock austerity. Those who haven't heard Satori, on the other hand, will see little point in bothering with Anywhere's covers, no matter how interesting...unless they find it impossible to resist with that legendary cover photo, that is.

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