Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera

Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera

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Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera Review

by Jo-Ann Greene

Although labeled a psychedelic band in their day, the Opera never sat comfortably in that strawberry field, partially because of the diversity of their sound, but also due to the simple fact they were just too far ahead of their time even for the psyched-out crowd. In fact, Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera continued to sound thoroughly modern for decades, while their myriad musical meanderings took them down wayward byways that later became stylistic highways -- at least in their native U.K.. So it's no surprise then, that this band would have slotted perfectly into the Britpop scene, or going back further in time, into the R&B-drenched mod scene. The Opera's admiration for R&B is evident on "Intro," an homage to Archie Bell & the Drells, while their equal respect for bluesy jazz is showcased on a fabulous cover of Oscar Brown's "I Was Cool" which absolutely smokes. "Flames," in contrast, fires the band straight into rockabilly, and boasts a thumping intro bassline that, coincidentally enough, would also storm through the Jam's "Town Called Malice." So where's the psychedelia? Well "Air" languidly drifts on sitars across India, but it's heard most magnificently on the instrumental freak-out "Walter Sly Meets Bill Bailey." The rest of the 13-song set, in contrast, slides into gentler, harmony drenched numbers reminiscent of the Kinks, early Small Faces, and of course the Beatles. [The Akarma label's reissue of the album appends the Opera's trio of singles released between 1967 and 1969. Thus we find the 45 rpm versions of "Flames" and "Mary Jane," as well as the driving non-album "Volcano," accompanied by their B-sides. It's a welcome return for a seminal album, and makes it all the harder to believe Gantry himself would later turn up in 1975 fronting one-hit U.K. wonders Stretch, while the Opera's rhythm section itself would resurface in the Strawbs.]

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