Hard Water

Hard Water

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Not far into the first track on the sole, self-titled Hard Water album, it's pretty obvious these guys had to be big Buffalo Springfield fans. The hard folk-rock riffs, the soaring harmony vocals, and the way the drums push the beat can't fail to recall Springfield classics like "Rock 'n' Roll Woman" and "Mr. Soul" (whose squelched, backwards distorted guitar riffs are even echoed in some cuts). Perhaps there's a bit of the San Francisco sound, à la early Jefferson Airplane or Moby Grape, in some of the guitar tones and harmonies as well. You can't fault young musicians for admiring the best, but they might have benefited from someone -- say, the respected producer of this 1968 Capitol album, David Axelrod -- taking them aside and advising them to put more of themselves into their songwriting and arrangements. Instead, it's a little like hearing Buffalo Springfield Revisited again, but with considerably less substance, especially in the songwriting department. If you're not one to demand something of the level of their inspirations, and just want to hear a rarity that's reminiscent of the Springfield in some ways, Hard Water isn't bad (though as heavily Springfield-influenced bands of the time go, the Penny Arkade are much better). The country-tinged folk-rock is tight, though there isn't much of the humor heard in much Springfield, and it's more on the Stephen Stills side than the Neil Young one in the songwriting department. "City Sidewalks" is one of the less derivative numbers and a mild standout for that reason, edging toward the overly earnest with a lead vocal in the pinched, early Bee Gees mold. "To Nowhere" is also a bit of a departure into bittersweet acoustic balladry that's a bit poppier and more sentimental than the Springfield and their ilk usually got. The album really is an OK listen, despite its faults, but its appeal is probably limited to collectors who are especially big fans of late-'60s California folk-rock (with some pop and country in the mix). [The 2011 CD reissue on Tune In adds the single version of "Plate of My Fare," as well as historical liner notes with quotes from bandmembers.]

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