The Ventures

Underground Fire

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This was the year that Jerry McGee joined the group, temporarily replacing Nokie Edwards. There seems to be a typo on the disc's label, morphing the surname of Don Wilson into "Wilde," but there really is only one personnel change on this collection of slightly revolutionary material. Band jackets have been ditched and one guy even seems to have something in the neighborhood of long hair in the back cover photograph. The program neatly divides a bunch of vaguely psychedelic originals with cover versions of late-'60s hits. Listeners may want to give the first side -- the originals -- a fair shake, returning for several listens. Others may not want to commit so much time to what is basically a kind of thrift store freakout. Of course, the raging seas of music from the late '60s would make the members of this skilled band want to row harder, but they just try a little too hard here. "Sea of Grass" must be a reference to Stan Kenton's "Sea of Glass," and both are pretentious. There are nice moments in "Country Funk and the Canned Heat"; guitarist McGee would later work with Canned Heat bassist Larry Taylor on several good John Mayall albums. Then there are the heavy hitters, the string of songs that make up a second side, a trip through oldies radio that ends on a truly bizarre note, a version of "Fire" from the Crazy World of Arthur Brown (not the Hendrix) song of this name that is at least audacious. Some of the selections are really not that great without the lyrics, no matter how much effort is put into snazzing up "Sunshine Superman" or "Light My Fire." As far as "The Weight" is concerned, losing the lyrics is a blessing, but the music isn't that hot either. Which leaves "Born to be Wild," hard to mess up unless one can't play guitar, and not a problem on a Ventures record. "Down on Me" is surprisingly good, with the bluesy influence of McGee prodding the whole group into a sincere treatment of a song in which just imitating Janis Joplin's vocal shenanigans would make any guitarist happy.

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