Earth Opera/Great American Eagle Tragedy

Earth Opera

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Earth Opera/Great American Eagle Tragedy Review

by Steve Leggett

This compilation from WEA International combines on a single disc the two late-1960s albums (Earth Opera and The Great American Eagle Tragedy) released by Earth Opera, a Boston-based group led by Peter Rowan and David Grisman. Earth Opera, released in 1968, reflects the Sgt. Pepper influence rampant at the time, and Rowan's songs are draped in arrangements that reference folk, rock, jazz, jug band, classical and country, sometimes all within the same track. Although a couple of these cuts, like the truly odd "The Red Sox Are Winning" and the feathery and delicate "The Child Bride," are fascinating efforts, much of Earth Opera is simply too ornate, affected and needlessly complicated to work as anything other than a curio of the time. The group's second effort, The Great American Eagle Tragedy, released in 1969, improves thing considerably, dropping much of the baroque feel of Earth Opera for something that resembles an early blast of country-rock. Although tunes can still get complicated here ("Mad Lydia's Waltz" sounds like an outtake from Big Star's crazed third album, for instance), the balance of it feels both more in control and more American, in a roots sense. "Home to You" is a wonderful |country-rock track, while "The Great American Eagle Tragedy," which opens with loopy, drunken horn charts, is a vicious indictment of the war in Vietnam. Both Rowan and Grisman, of course, went on to other things following these albums, and it is easy to think of the Earth Opera projects as a kind of juvenilia for both musicians, but there is something oddly compelling about these tracks, perhaps because they so wonderfully illustrate the pop musical trends of the time in which they were created. At any rate, having both albums on one disc is the way to go to sample this curious (and perhaps overreaching) group.

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