The Folkswingers

Raga Rock

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The Folkswingers, a studio-only group comprised of a changeable cast of top Los Angeles session musicians, had issued a couple of instrumental LPs showcasing the 12-string guitar before leaping on the raga-rock bandwagon with Raga Rock in 1966. Give the World Pacific label a little credit, though: at least they jumped on that bandwagon real fast, almost right after the term "raga-rock" was first used. Plus, the record did employ the cream of the cream from the L.A. rock session world, with Hal Blaine on drums; Larry Knechtel on keyboards; Tommy Tedesco, Howard Roberts, and Herb Ellis on guitar; and Lyle Ritz and Bill Pittman on bass. And it did at least have an actual sitar, courtesy of Harihar Rao, leader of Los Angeles' Ravi Shankar Music Circle and director of the Indian Studies Group at UCLA's Institute of Ethnomusicology. It still sounds like what it is: a hastily recorded cash-in album, largely comprised of raga-fied instrumental covers of mid-'60s rock songs by major artists that were much more instrumental rock covers than they were Indian ragas. Some of the tunes were natural selections for this sort of project: the Byrds' "Eight Miles High," the Rolling Stones' "Paint It, Black," and the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" were some of the greatest Indian-influenced rock classics ever, and while the Indian influence wasn't as overt on the Yardbirds' "Shapes of Things," it was there. Still, the very idea of raga-rock arrangements of the Association's "Along Comes Mary," the Outsiders' "Time Won't Let Me," Paul Revere & the Raiders' "Kicks," Simon & Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound," and (most unexpectedly of all) the Turtles' "Grim Reaper of Love" is kind of ludicrous. The only songs that weren't covers of mid-'60s rock hits were the folk staple "Donna, Donna" (here spelled "Dona, Dona") and the generic title cut, its composition credited to Hollywood arranger George Tipton. Overall, the LP couldn't help but sound like a novelty record, albeit one with a much higher level of instrumental proficiency than the usual such project. Not to mention that they manage to screw up "Norwegian Wood" big time, with a drone that sounds more like a cow's moo than an Indian instrument. This rarity was reissued on CD by Fallout in 2007, with the addition of basic historical liner notes.

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