Medicine Head

New Bottles Old Medicine

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One of the most refreshing hits of the very early '70s was Medicine Head's "Pictures in the Sky," a song so subtly woven and effortlessly understated that it was almost difficult to actually hear it; rather, you absorbed it straight into your subconscious, then wandered round wondering what it was you were humming. That was the band's first hit single, and their first album, one should not be too shocked to discover, is basically cut from the same cloth. True, not every track is so superbly sublime; true, not every melody as deeply, darkly haunted. But two guys with a Jew's Harp, a handheld drum, a harmonica, and an acoustic guitar nevertheless make mountains move, and would probably have moved them even further if they'd recorded the hit in time for the album. Unfortunately, they didn't. The opening "When Night Falls" sets the scene instead, haunted harp and funereal pounding keeping time behind vocalist John Fiddler's lonesome, confessional lyric. There's a ghostly Dylan air to a lot of Medicine Head's early work, and this one shows you where it came from. Or maybe that honor should go to "Ooee Baby," which throws a muddy riff, a bluesy holler, and a driving rhythm into play and spins all expectations for the album upside down. Judas could not have turned out more shocking. Those moods continue through the album: one moment reflective, one moment boisterous, but always loose and laconic enough to remind you just what kind of arsenal was making all the noise. Like Mungo Jerry, the only other band of the era capable of making such a racket with the minimum of rock toys, Medicine Head's achievement isn't simply in writing and performing such memorable songs. It lies in making them sound so memorable as well, and New Bottles Old Medicine overflows with that magic.

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