John St. Field

Control (1971)

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This strange album, pulled from Jackie Leven's dead dogs files was recorded in 1971 at the age of 20 under an alias because of an altercation with police at the time. By his own admission it was written and recorded during an intense period of taking LSD. But there is precious little evidence of this in the recordings themselves. There are a few tripped-out effects tunes ("Dune Voices" and the thoroughly psychedelic 10-minute jam "The Problem") or studio tomfoolery in these songs (there are a few silly Brian Wilson moments). What they do reveal, in startling detail is that the writing Leven was doing at the time is not dissimilar entirely of the work he is doing today. It's true it is less sophisticated, and his guitar playing was nowhere near as developed as it is now, but his storytelling methods, as evidenced in "Soft Lowland Tongue," a gothic Celt ballad, the folk-rocker "Rearona," and the gorgeous balladry of "Mansion Tension" all hold within them the entire image of the man who became such a fine songwriting poet and drunken lout. More than even the Jackie Leven of recent years, though, is the young man who six years later fronted one of the greatest unsung bands of the punk era (who had nothing to do with punk), Doll By Doll. The vocal harmonies are already sketched out, the intricate guitar parts that create the effect of backing vocals, and even the lean to lush, dense production. As an album it stands up, even if it does sound a bit dated, but no more so than, say, a Big Star record does. Another standout is "Dog Star," with its straight-ahead rock & roll intensity and the memory haunted, Laura Nyro-meets-Paul Simon "I'm Always a Prinlaws Boy." Control is a timepiece more than a curiosity piece, and Leven fans would be well served should they seek it out.

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