Vanguard is primarily known as a folk and blues label, which makes the 2014 release of Ace's compilation Follow Me Down: Vanguard's Lost Psychedelic Era 1966-1970 so noteworthy. Like so many labels and musicians of the time, Vanguard expanded their horizons in the late '60s, taking a cue from the success of their act Country Joe & the Fish to sign a bunch of weird, woolly guitar acts that specialized in winding, elliptical jams loosely rooted in folk. Elsewhere, there were bands specializing in fuzz-drenched stomps and frenzied journeys to the center of their minds, but the groups Vanguard signed -- or at least the ones showcased on this 18-track collection of album cuts and forgotten singles -- never followed a straight path and favored pulsating liquefied grooves. Sometimes these ever-circulating patterns are a shade too solipsistic -- the Serpent Power's 13-minute "The Endless Tunnel" does seem like it will never end -- but that indulgence not only is the charm of this collection, it also results in several wonderfully elastic and ridiculous moments that capture all the odd, misshapen glory of the psychedelic era. A key thing to keep in mind with regard to Follow Me Down is that many of these acts -- acts that aren't strictly from the West Coast, either; the Third Power hailed from the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills and the Frost were from the Motor City proper, Elizabeth were from Philadelphia, Third Bardo leader Jeff Monn was from New York City -- were more about sound than song. This emphasis on aural tides means the sculpted songs do stand out -- whether it's the frenzied "Travelin' Around" from Circus Maximus or the distorto-hippie blues of Far Cry's "Hellhound" or Monn's "I Can Understand Your Problem," which almost seems like a bid for AM radio in this context -- but the best way to enjoy Follow Me Down is just to follow the compilation blindly: the point isn't the destination, it's the journey.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine