Jan Dukes de Grey

Sorcerers/Mice and Rats in the Loft

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Despite their first LP getting released on a major label and their second released on one of the U.K.'s most prominent independents, Jan Dukes De Grey's two early-'70s albums remain obscurities known only to a few specialist collectors. This CD gives their discography a deluxe treatment that must have seemed like a fantasy even just a few years prior to this 2010 release. Both of the albums are contained in their entirety on this two-CD package, which adds both sides of a 1974 single by spin-off group, the Derek Noy Band, and a 20-page booklet of liner notes by British psychedelic rock expert David Wells. While their availability on CD will inevitably raise their profile, the records will likely still be an acquired taste for all except the more devoted acid folk fiends. If Dr. Strangely Strange could be considered something of a minor-league Incredible String Band, so could the first the De Grey album, Sorcerers (from early 1970), be considered another level down on the acid folk ladder. Jamming 18 songs into about 50 minutes, the duo of Derek Noy and Mick Bairstow come off a bit like hippie minstrels busking in the woods, particularly with Bairstow's frequent flute interjections. In fact, according to producer David Hitchcock, Noy even brought a tent into the studio in which to record his guitar solos to get the right mood. But in comparison to the above-mentioned acid folk deities, the songs don't sound as worked out, and lack as much variety, even if they go into lyrical themes ("Yorkshire Indian Sitting in the Sun," indeed) that weren't conventional fare for either folk or pop music.

While it's a bit of stretch to say that their second and final album (mid-1971's Mice & Rats in the Loft) sounds like the work of a different band, it's certainly quite a bit different from Sorcerers. The full rock arrangements, especially evident in the addition of a drummer (Dennis Conlon) not present for the recording of the debut LP, bear a strong progressive rock influence. The songs aren't much more melodically accessible, however, though they have a fiercer musical and lyrical bite, going on for much longer as well (in fact, there are only three tracks in all). The 19-minute "Sun Symphonica," which took up the entire first side of the original LP, is certainly the dominant work. It switches from gentle, folky passages to harder-rocking, jazzier ones that recall Jethro Tull and (more faintly) King Crimson epics from the same era, though De Grey's oblique, sometimes torturous lyrics can make those of these two-star prog rock outfits seem straightforward in comparison. Acid-folk is still central to much of the music, particularly in Bairstow's flute, clarinet, and saxophone, but it takes a more demonic turn on the closing title cut, with its contrived, ominous vocals, and some astonishing distorted guitar by Noy. The two Noy Band tracks that round off disc two are far more ordinary fare by comparison, offering a lugubrious cover of the classic '50s rocker "Love Potion No. 9" and the tensely eccentric, bluesy midtempo "Eldorado."

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