Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Quicksilver Messenger Service - Just For Love

Quicksilver Messenger Service
Just For Love

Released 1970 on Capitol
Reviewed by banjo, 13/05/2005ce

First off, I should say that Quicksilver Messenger Service are my favorite of the classic San Francisco groups – and that’s coming from someone who thinks that the Dead never made a wrong step, right up to ‘89s ‘Built To Last’.

Unlike the freewheeling Grateful Dead with their rumbling, rolling intuitive mishmash dance party, Quicksilver had a carefully honed approach, their kinetic flash of daring, sinewy guitars prefiguring the cross-weave of Marquee Moon's celebrated 'freeform' modal edginess by at least 10 actual years and an entire epoch of cultural change. Studio evidence of the early QMS template is well heard on 'Dino's Song' from the first album where John Cipollina's tightly executed twists and turns on his SG give full life and animated metallic meaning to the band's simultaneously Old West & Cosmic name.

'Just For Love', however, is a very different album by a very changed band.

Dino Valente, the author of the aforementioned 'Dino's Song' (and of The Youngbloods' famous Utopian '60s anthem 'Let's Get Together') was part of the Quicksilver plan from the onset but was kept from participating in the first two LPs by recurring hassles with the law, unfortunately culminating in jail time, apparently. Left to his own devices Valente did record a beautifully sparse solo record for Epic in 1968 with Bob Johnston (Dylan, Cohen) producing. Definitely seek this record out if you want to hear what Dino Valente was capable of at his very best because unfortunately his 're-joining' Quicksilver largely changed and arguably diminished the original arcane magic for both parties involved.

'Just For Love', even more so than its Gary Duncan-less predecessor 'Shady Grove', represents the biggest departure for QMS from their early sound since their sole vocalist and main songwriter was now Dino Valente. His distinctive nasal voice was a completely different instrument than the likeably bland non-singing of Frieberg, Cipollina and Duncan (who each, for better or for worse, sounded much like the other). Replacing much of the hallowed electrifying guitar battles of old are laid back acoustic guitars, flutes and hand drums.

As on the aforementioned 'Shady Grove', pianist extraordinaire Nicky Hopkins adds his unmistakeable piano stylings, making this later incarnation of Quicksilver sound at times like Jefferson Airplane's 'Volunteers'. To his credit, Nicky Hopkins can certainly stamp a song with his character. 'Just For Love's' songs are mostly good but for the overall feeling that Valente would've been better off on his own and that QMS should've either broken up and moved on or changed their name to something less loaded with specific mercurial promise.

There are certainly moments. The ghost of Quicksilver Past makes a much welcome albeit mellowed reappearance via Cipollina's 'Cobra', an instrumental which playfully hints at the Hawaiian ambience the album was recorded in. Beginning with a tight, controlled rolling drum pattern courtesy of Greg Elmore, we're soon treated to the familiar darting, darning chromed nickel needle of Cippolina & Duncan's Bigsby-fied nosedives. After a couple minutes of this vintage display of Old West firepower the song breaks down and changes tempo somewhat into a suitably Oceania-sounding hula-dance underscored by some very cool Nicky Hopkins piano boogie. Not as insistent as anything from the earlier band but a strong reminder of the talent in the band and a fleeting glimpse of how they could've further developed their earlier sound with the 'newcomers' on board.

The track 'Fresh Air' was probably Quicksilver's biggest hit song and is likely most casual listener's deceptive idea of what the band sounds like. It's absolutely a great song, closer in spirit to later hippie bands like Santana or the early Doobie Brothers but still Quicksilver enough, boasting as it does a remarkable stuttering then liquid-smooth and eloquently expressive solo from the great John Cipollina. This is hot Summer music to groove to. It's a great picturesque song that proves that Dino Valente could rock in his own way and goes a long way toward making this album much better than it could've been.

Another keeper is 'Gone Again', a song that would've been quite at home on Valente's classic solo album of 1968. At his best, Dino Valente can weave a heartbroken magic spell of helpless longing that could rival Tim Buckley. There is a beautiful aching in his voice that can be quite reminiscent at times of the great Johnny Rivers (Poor Side of Town). With delicate and harmonious interplay from Duncan, Frieberg, Cipollina, Hopkins and Elmore, this track shows again that the new version of Quicksilver could definitely conjure its own distinct and compelling sound and vision.

The album is at its weakest with the familiar sounding rock-honk 'Freeway Flyer' and the sprawling 2-part title track. These suffer from the lazy mellowness of the recording in different ways. 'Freeway Flyer' does have some tasty, strident guitar work, reminiscent of Buffalo Springfield-era Neil Young or Volunteers Jorma Kaukonen. Dino Valente proclaims himself a 'Psychedelic Ranger' throughout the boasting mojo-man lyric and Nicky Hopkins burns up the ivories for a fun jam but the somewhat cliched song itself never actually busts out of its box, despite beginning and ending with real gunshots (the legendary arms of the Quicksilver posse making a recording cameo).

The title track 'Just For Love Parts 1&2' is just too dirge-like to give any real justice to Dino Valente's romantic troubadour muse or to truly display the singer's melodic gifts. Similarly, it relies too much on space and its dramatic acoustic mood to make any use of either John Cipollina or Gary Duncan's wonderful abilities. In short, as a song it offers too little to the band's strengths. That said, there a moments when I do like this piece for what it is; a dramatic and moody invocation to the sunnier sounds therein.

Taken as a whole, 'Just For Love' does deserve classic status and is, in this reviewer's opinion, the best of the Dino Valente Quicksilver albums, better in fact than the Dino-less 'Shady Grove' which preceeds it. Valente has been too often wrongly blamed for 'wrecking the band' and has been criminally written off by many a fan who never forgave the original band for evolving. Again, if there's any doubt that Dino Valente was a majorly cool talent in his own right, I urge anyone interested to check out his eponymous solo LP on Epic (1968). As far as 'Just For Love' goes, it's basically as good an album as these particular musically-disparate personalities could have made - which is to say certainly not as good as the first album or 'Happy Trails' but better than any other remaining Quicksilver album - perhaps on par with the 'way-better-than-its-cover' reunion album, 'Solid Silver' (1975).

It sounds like it was a fun record for the band to have made, full of loose camaraderie and it certainly has a beguilingly leafy, breezy mellow feel to it overall. What it lacks in electric passion, it makes up for somewhat with its easygoing warm charm; a quality previously absent from the original band... but perhaps arguably not so much of a good fit for it either.

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