Rock and Roll Planet: 1977-1979

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While the period 1977-1979 is not quite a completely lost era for Spirit, it is a largely undocumented one. Singer/guitarist Randy California, drummer Ed Cassidy, and, usually, bassist Larry "Fuzzy" Knight, with the occasional contribution of keyboardist John Locke, issued a studio album, Future Games: A Magical Kahauna Dream, at the outset in January 1977, but its poor sales led Mercury Records to drop the act. International touring led to a live album recorded in 1978 before Spirit temporarily went on hiatus in 1979. As part of an ongoing investigation into the band's archive of unreleased recordings, producer Mick Skidmore thoroughly chronicles Spirit's late-'70s activities on this sprawling triple-disc set, which runs about as long as three CDs can, nearly four hours. On the first two discs, one may imagine attending a couple of extra-long sets by Spirit at a venue such as the club My Father's Place in Roslyn, NY (a location mentioned by California in one of his stage remarks). The trio of California, Cassidy, and Knight plays some familiar Spirit songs -- "1984," "Nature's Way," "Animal Zoo," "Fresh Garbage," "Mr. Skin," "It's All the Same," "I Got a Line on You," "Morning Will Come" -- and some rock & roll standards -- "Stone Free," "Like a Rolling Stone," "All Along the Watchtower," "Walkin' the Dog," "Day Tripper," "Wild Thing." But this is not just a hits and oldies act. They play numerous new and unrecorded songs, in many cases songs that never did appear on a regular Spirit or California solo album, probably because the band didn't have a record contract at the time, and by the time they did, they had gone on to newer stuff. Nevertheless, the songs often are good ones that could have appeared on albums if they hadn't been forgotten. On the third disc, Skidmore digs into studio recordings of the period (including some of the same songs the band was performing in its shows) to give a sense of what a Spirit album of 1979 might have sounded like. Whereas the live band tends to rock out and jam, with California taking lengthy guitar solos, the studio tracks tend to be shorter and more eclectic. For example, "Midnight Train" and "In Just a Little While" are even country-flavored. On the collection's final eight tracks, Skidmore regresses things back to the initial demo stage, presenting songs played by California alone on his acoustic guitar. This is an album for established Spirit fans, for whom it will present another piece in the puzzle of the recorded history of a band that made new and worthwhile music throughout its career, even if, at times, there was no record company to preserve it on disc.

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