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Magic Time : Millennium / Ballroom Sessions
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Magic Time : Millennium / Ballroom Sessions
Curt Boettcher went to California with his “progressive folk” group the GoldeBriars in the early 60s ... by the time 1968 came to a close, he’d worked as a vocal arranger with The Association, produced Tommy Roe and scads of bubble gum pop, and helped produce three of the landmark albums of soft rock: Millennium’s 'Begin', Sagittarius’ 'Present Tense' and Ballroom’s self-titled album,which was unreleased at the time.
Keeping the stylistic theme (and personnel) that The Millennium and Ballroom share in mind, Sundazed has released those two superb albums along with some of Curt Boettcher’s other work as a three-CD set, accompanied by a highly informative 24-page booklet.
Like other "sunshine pop" purveyers of the time (Brian Wilson, Gary Usher), Boettcher made his name with high harmonies, complex arrangements,and feel-good songs then tried to move into more serious ground — a creative epiphany helped along by several tabs of acid , according to the detailed liners. He certainly didn't get as far as Wilson did — you won't find any 'Caroline No' in this package, but he did manage to stretch the boundaries of bubblegum into more interesting territory.
The set starts off with the Ballroom album. Ballroom itself was Curt Boettcher, Sandy Salisbury (author of a recent Poptones release) Michele O’Malley and Jim Bell, (I confess I’m hard pressed to detect the influence of the latter on the album).
Dreamy vocals are the name of the game here, helped along with a dollop of studio experimentation. The music is usually sunny, as on Sandy Salisbury numbers like 'Magic Time'. other times it seems to be smiling just a little too hard ... frequently the subject matter is on the downbeat side obviously enough on tracks like 'It’s A Sad World', and sometimes it’s just plain warped, as on the crackling, cackling 'Crazy Dreams.' This fractured quality partially explained why Boettcher’s work is sometimes labelled as psychedelic.
To single out a few tracks ... 'Love’s Fatal Way' has a deep booming back beat and a somewhat sinister guitar intro ... while the lyrics say “I know you're gonna want me too ...” the music seems to say “... or else.” Of course, a lot of the musical claims of love recorded in the 60s sound creepy in the more enlightened 21st century, but this track was probably unsettling even back then. It ends with everything rising up and dissolving in a haze of reverberation.
'You Turn Me Around' sounds like it could come from the Jefferson Airplane catalogue, mostly because of the prominence of Michele O’Malley’s vocals and the busier drums. A tooting steam train even makes it into the mix.
'Baby Please Don’t Go' ” is a great version of the blues chestnut, starting off with the harmonies you expect of the Ballroom, and ending up as a sort of Krautrock Beach Boys with wordless vocals and tribal drums before concluding with crashes and breaking noises. This was the track that led Boettcher to Gary Usher, his Sagittarius co-producer.
There is a pair of unreleased recordings: 'Lead Me To Love', an O’Malley showcase belongs in the lounge, tinkling cocktail jazz piano and all. Nice vocals, but completely out of place. There’s also a typically upbeat Salisbury tune, 'A Time For Everything' which suits its surroundings far better.
CD 1 concludes with seven unreleased instrumental versions of Ballroom tracks — giving the music some limelight so people can appreciate that Boettcher’s work is about more than vocals — and just what you need for your Curt Boettcher karaoke tribute night.
Disk 2 contains various tracks featuring Boettcher, a number of Ballroom tracks recorded after the album, several of which were recycled for 'Begin', namely 'The Island, '5 a.m', and 'Karmic Dream Sequence #1' and some of his Millennium and Sagittarius work.
Starting off with the slightly snarky, bass propelled 'I’m Not Living Here'. In a similar kiss-off theme is 'Opus To A Friend', a slightly Byrdsy number written by Lee Mallory, a guitarist-songwriter Boettcher had worked with prior to The Ballroom, which gets its first release on this set. Also making its first public outing is a cover of R. Harris’ 'Sun Arise', given an Eastern feel with sitars, horns and some backward tape effects. 'Believe You', an orphaned Ballroom track repeats the “island paradise” theme that peeps out either metaphorically or literally on a number of Ballroom/Millennium tracks.
Next up are two tracks recorded as a single by Curt Boettcher and Victoria Wilson under the name Summer’s Children, 'Milk and Honey' and 'Too Young To Marry', prior to his forming Ballroom; the first song is a sweet pop confection,the latter a cover of a Tommy Roe song ... listening to them, you can understand why Boettcher wanted to move onto more meaningful music, no matter how easy they are on the ear.
Among the odds ’n’ ends are an instrumental version of 'Love’s Fatal Way', 'Sea of Tears', a previously unreleased track recorded with GoldeBriars pal Dottie Holmberg that certainly deserves to have surfaced before now; and an unreleased demo of 'Sunshine Today', recorded by Ballroom.
There’s also a handful of Sagittarius tracks: demos of 'Another Time' and 'The Keeper of the Games', which appeared in final form on 'Present Tense.' (this version of 'Another Time' puts Boettcher’s super vocals in front of some restrained guitars and percussion - Usher lauded Boettcher’s vocals as angelic in interviews, and you can hear why here). 'Lonely Girl' which appeared on Sundazed’s rerelease of 'Present Tense' is here as well. There’s also an instrumental demo version of 'Sunshine Today' and a trio of Millennium instrumentals, 'It Won’t Always Be The Same', 'There Is Nothing More to Say' and 'To Claudia on Thursday.'
Disk Three contains the 14-song Millennium album, a proposed follow up single,'Blight' and its backing track 'Just About The Same' and six single versions of album tracks. Sandy Salisbury rejoined Boettcher for The Millennium, (casting aside a promising career carving teddybears out of plywood, according to the booklet) along with Lee Mallory; a pair of Music Machine alumni, keyboardist Doug Rhodes and drummer Ron Edgar (who had also drummed in the GoldeBriars) were recruited and two songwriters, Joey Stec and Mike Fennelly rounded out the outfit. Credit, as the booklet notes, must also be given to yet another Music Machine alumnus, Keith Olsen whose production skills helped Boettcher turn his musical visions into reality.
'Begin' is a more cohesive effort than the Ballroom, with its instrumental prelude and a whacked out coda 'Anthem (Begin)' apparently composed in much thesame spirit as the Sex Pistols’'EMI' (granted, the Sex Pistols didn’t sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks after a drug binge).
'It’s You' perhaps best embodies the combination of sugary music, lovely choruses and serious musical intent that Boettcher was aiming for (although the song was actually written by Fennelly and Stec) — at the time it was thought to be written from the viewpoint of a man chastising his girlfriend for deceiving him, in actuality it’s about government coverup and Vietnam, as the jet sounds at the end give it away.
“Soft rock” or not, 'Begin' is a musically punchy effort, Rhodes and Edgar no doubt demonstrating the chops they’d honed in the Music Machine. Appropriate production touches flesh out the music (for example, “The Island” is fleshed out with wind chimes, cawing birds and Hawaiian guitar) without overwhelming it.
Curt Boettcher fans will of course want this set; afficionados of any of the West Coast pop outfits will want to give it a listen as well. Although “previously unreleased” is frequently a byword for “flab,” most of the 22 add to the appreciation of Curt Boettcher’s work and a few are brilliant.It’s more of a completist’s delight than a great introduction, naturally enough; those who already have the Ballroom and Millennium can probably live without it (not that I seriously expect them to), but pop-lovers who don’t have either should certainly buy now (and get Sagittarius’ 'Present Tense' as well, if they haven’t already).
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Magic Time : Millennium / Ballroom Sessions - CD
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