After the top-heavy overproduction of Wow and the meandering, aimless improvisations on Grape Jam, Moby Grape seemed to be getting back into the groove with their fourth album, simply titled Moby Grape '69. The liner notes by producer David Rubinson refer to the promotional hype that soured many fans to the virtues of Moby Grape and the excesses that had dogged the group since, and while his mea culpa goes a great deal further than it needs to, it does accompany an album that clearly found Moby Grape eager to get back to the business of playing straightforward, heartfelt rock & roll. Moby Grape '69 is concise enough -- most of the songs are under three minutes and the whole thing clocks in at a shade under a half-hour -- and the high points come close to recapturing the electric magic of the group's nearly flawless debut, especially the gritty groove of "Hoochie," the doo wop influenced boogie of "Ooh Mama Ooh," the beatific joy of "It's a Beautiful Day Today," the raucous celebration of one "Trucking Man," and the folk-tinged wisdom of "If You Can't Learn from My Mistakes." However, even though these sessions found guitarists Peter Lewis and Jerry Miller, bassist Bob Mosley and drummer Don Stevenson playing and singing at the top of their game and writing fine songs, the absence of Skip Spence, who left the band after Wow, robs Moby Grape '69 of a significant share of the energy and drive that was the hallmark of their finest studio work. It's significant that the album's most striking cut, the closer "Seeing," was written by Spence during the Wow sessions; it's a harrowing meditation of madness that may well be Spence's greatest song. Despite the obstacles presented by Spence's absence, Moby Grape '69 was a genuine step in the right direction for the band, and it's a shame they didn't get the chance to take greater advantage of their new clarity. [Moby Grape '69 made its debut on compact disc in 2007 with a newly remastered edition and expanded edition from Sundazed Music.] Moby Grape fans who've been wondering when this album would finally get a digital upgrade will find this disc was well worth the wait.
Moby Grape '69 Review
by Mark Deming