Happy the Man

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Beginnings Review

by François Couture

In 1990, the label Cuneiform released Beginnings, filling a huge gap in Happy the Man's discography. The jewel of American progressive rock recorded its first album in 1977, but its members had been hard at work for over three years. This CD contains home recordings from February 1974 to July 1975, for a total of seven songs not available anywhere else. Sound quality is surprisingly good (and much better than on Death's Crown, another archival recording, released by Cuneiform in 1999). The lineup featured here is the same one that would record Happy the Man a year and a half later (Stanley Whitaker, Kit Watkins, Frank Wyatt, Rick Kennell, Mike Beck), with the addition of singer/flutist Cliff Fortney who would leave the behind shortly after these recordings took place. "Gretchen's Garden" reaches the same level of emotion as the "Death's Crown" suite, while "Partly the State" is fueled by the same complex quirkiness found in classic tracks like "Stumpy Meets the Firecracker in Stencil Forest" or "Knee Bitten Nymphs in Limbo." "Passion's Passing" is a typical Wyatt ballad, delicate and a little bit naïve. Whitaker's "Portrait of a Waterfall" is more banal, but it features Wyatt's alto saxophone as the lead instrument -- a rarity. In general, the band's writing and sound are pretty similar to their two LPs released by Arista: all the basic elements are there, the music will only be enriched and a little better focused by the time of the Happy the Man sessions. Fans of the band will discover very worthy material on Beginnings.

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