Sky Farmer

Amazing Grace

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You were either on the Mountain Bus, or you were not. Those who did like Gear Fab's 1998 reissue of the Chicago band's sole album -- and perhaps even some of those who did not -- should find the even more satisfying Amazing Grace, which collects the various recordings made by the post-Mountain Bus communal band Sky Farmer, to be a welcome treat. From the time the original band was litigated out of existence until its reshuffling and re-emergence with the music found on this archival release, the members of Sky Farmer discovered an even more liberating range of stylistic eclecticism (Mountain Bus certainly started them on the road in that regard) and a more pronounced sense of self-deprecation (for all the moments of aw-shucks insouciance on Sundance, there were corresponding stretches of solemn jamming during which the band took itself quite seriously indeed). Amazing Grace has some of the same attributes and characteristics as Sundance, but in other ways it is a whole new gumbo of coalescing musical impulses. The early rock & roll piano that opens up "Okooch Farewell," for instance, abruptly gives way during the chorus to a variety of swinging, laid-back hippie funk only endemic to the weird and uncategorizable post-Woodstock '70s. Much of the rest of the album is saturated by this brand of loose rock & soul groove ("Torch Poem"), with Annie Hat's voice at times recalling Maria Muldaur or the blue-eyed wail of Bonnie Bramlett. But there are also traces of blues ("Out of Hand"), R&B, and particularly jazz, especially during the extended cosmic jams, as well as festive Latin rhythms and nods to zydeco ("SeƱorita") and even some country licks ("Playboy After Dark"). And it is not a little bit -- say, psychedelic? -- hearing a bunch of longhairs covering a Merle Haggard song. Good songs (mostly), often excellent playing, it's worth the rediscovery.

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