From the U.K.-based Big Beat reissue label comes one of the most interesting entries in their "Nuggets From the Golden State" series. These recordings highlight some of the lesser-known artists that contributed to the Bay Area's mid-'60s cultural renaissance. The Berkeley EP's gather the contents of the unique extended-play releases of Country Joe & the Fish, Frumious Bandersnatch, Mad River, and Notes From the Underground. Although geography ultimately bound these four groups, their decidedly diverse styles and presentations accurately represent the extensive spectrum of pop and rock being produced in every strata of San Francisco's multifarious psychedelic music scene. The tracks featured here originally comprised the second issue/"talking edition" of Country Joe & the Fish's self-produced periodical Rag Baby. Parties interested in hearing the first and third of these releases are advised to seek out Collectors Items: The First Three EP's, which also features two contributions from Peter Krug. All three of these tunes would turn up on their debut long-player for Vanguard, albeit re-recorded and arguably less edgy than these original workings. Combining blues-based rhythms with a somewhat dated farfisa-driven instrumentation, the languidly trippy "Section 43" contrasts the presumably amphetamine-fuelled "(Thing Called) Love." Somewhere in between those seemingly incongruous extremes is "Bass Strings," with its eerie harp (read: harmonica) leads and noir lyrics. The criminally underrated Frumious Bandersnatch bridged the gap between garage punk and psychedelia on their Muggles Gramophone Works EP. With a dense sound that can be directly attributed to having no less than three guitarists performing all at once, the band only recorded a handful of tracks at the Sausalito-based Pacific High Recorders in the spring of 1968. Three of those sides were issued on their self-titled EP and are available on this release. "Hearts to Cry" is a languid rocker that churns some inspiring lead electric and bass guitar interplay. The lighter and more pop-oriented "Misty Clouds" recalls the Strawberry Alarm Clock. "Cheshire," while somewhat derivative of the slinky syncopation of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady," bristles with a guitar onslaught and subsequent wall of energy. As the track grinds and winds its way throughout some tricky tempo and key changes, the band likewise recalls the adeptness and agility of Quicksilver Messenger Service. Several members of Frumious Bandersnatch would continue to make noise in notable Bay Area bands. Bassist Ross Valory, along with the band's co-manager and guru, Herbie Herbert, would become a key player in the saga of '70s and '80s arena rockers Journey. Likewise, all five bandmembers would tour and record at some point in the '70s with another San Fran-based rock legend, Steve Miller. Unlike the other groups featured on The Berkeley EP's, Mad River actually began their existence in Yellow Springs, OH, rather than California. Their defection to Berkeley in 1967 would ultimately yield not only the three-track EP featured here, but also two long-players for Capitol: an eponymously titled debut and Paradise Bar & Grill, which were issued in 1967 and 1968, respectively. While Mad River's experimental and highly idiosyncratic sound was partially to blame for their eventual obscurity, it likewise creates some of the most interesting and sonically probing material on this compilation. Blending the freedom of bop jazz arrangements with acid-drenched rock & roll instrumentation, their music doesn't immediately overwhelm the listener. The effects are more insidious, especially on the Eastern-tinged anti-Vietnam track "Orange Fire," available only on this debut EP, unlike the other two sides, which ended up on their self-titled album. True to form, the sinuous melody creeps around before unleashing a few atomic blasts of its own. The folk-flavored Notes From the Underground issued a single four-song EP drawn from an April 1967 recording session that also bore an additional three tracks; this makes their debut release on this package. While certainly not a psychedelic band, their compact tunes and almost polished garage sound is strikingly similar to Kenny & the Kasuals or Things to Come. Although the band would release two LPs for different major labels, their eclectic styles range from saccharine pop on the Sopwith Camel-esque "Down in the Basement" to the heavier and bluesy "Let Yourself Fly," which boasts a chooglin' "Smokestack Lightning" rhythm.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer