Psychedelic Pstones, Vol. 1: Hot Smoke & Sassafras

Psychedelic Pstones, Vol. 1: Hot Smoke & Sassafras

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This compilation, the first in a series of explorations of Pye Records psychedelic singles from the late '60s, nearly had this reviewer going through a psychic/musical whiteout. Whatever Pye Records' faults might have been in that era, the disc manages to escape the usual trap of U.K. psychedelia -- elegance at the expense of raw power -- with some pretty bold and distinctive playing. The Mooche open this set up with their high-energy, almost heavy metal take on the title tune, a number originally done by the Bubble Puppy in America. The Turnstyles' "Riding a Wave" strikes a perfect balance between a catchy central riff, pleasant but powerful harmony singing, and the kind of drumming one came to expect from the heavy metal bands of the period; given the latter attribute, it's no surprise that Deep Purple precursors Episode Six are here, but they, the Kinks, Dave Davies, the Sorrows, and Status Quo are far and away the best-known acts present. More typical are Scrugg with "Lavender Popcorn," which might be an unappealing dining concept but is a hell of a fine song, with a great beat, trippy tone, and ballsy playing all around. The Kinks' "Lazy Old Sun" from Something Else mixes spaciness with the best writing on the disc, but the next track, "Dr. Crippen's Waiting Room," is a piece of trippy lunacy with fuzzed-out lead guitar and a "My White Bicycle" beat, courtesy of Emerald Isle rockers Orange Machine, who deserved more of a hearing than they got away from home. "Mr. Mind Detector" shows why Status Quo has endured across the decades, played with more depth and intensity than 95 percent of the rest of what's here, while Blonde on Blonde's "All Day, All Night," with its prominent sitar, is a sonic delight but a sure sign of a band starting to lose ground at this late date. Most of the rest here isn't quite as sound musically, but is still fun. Orange Seaweed have a kind of Kinks-like earnestness about them on "Pictures in the Sky," while Neo Maya -- a pseudonym for Episode Six's lead guitarist, Graham Carter-Dimmock -- recut a West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band number. Pesky Gee!'s "Where Is My Mind" (originally a Vanilla Fudge song) was a question they should have been asking themselves at the session; Woody Kern's "Biography" shows a group halfway to progressive rock; and the Gentle People's oddball mix of folk-metal influences has an odd sea shanty-like feel to it, perhaps because its melody never gets too far from the opening organ quote of "What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor." The design of this disc, the graphics and the audio and the annotation, are exceptionally pleasing and informative, and it should be a priority purchase even for casual psychedelic and garage band enthusiasts.