Stalk Forrest GroupSt. Cecilia-The Elektra Recordings
Released 2003 on Rhino Handmade
Reviewed by Dave Furgess, 17/05/2007ce
2. I'm On The Lamb
3. Gil Blanco County
4. Donovan's Monkey
5. Ragamuffin Dumplin'
6. Curse Of The Hidden Mirrors
7. Arthur Comics
8. A Fact About Sneakers
9. St. Cecilia
10. Ragamuffin' Dumplin' (Original Version)
11. I'm On The Lamb (Original Version)
12. Curse Of The Hidden Mirrors (Original Version)
13. Bonomo's Turkish Taffy
14. Gil Blanco County
15. St. Cecilia (Original Version)
16. A Fact About Sneakers (Original Version)
17. What Is Quicksand? (Mono Single Version)
18. Arthur Comics (Mono Single Version)
Ever since I was a kid I have held a deep respect for the former USA independent record label Elektra records. After all they are the label that gave us The Doors, Love, Butterfield Blues Band, The Stooges, Clear Light, Phil Ochs, MC5, Television, David Ackles, Incredible String Band, Tim Buckley and many others. Elektra operated without the three piece suit mentality of most late 60's record labels, one could only imagine what would have happened to the career of Moby Grape had they signed with Elektra rather than the short sighted Columbia. Usually Elektra's taste and vision was impeccable, but in the case of the New York based Stalk Forrest Group (aka Soft White Underbelly) they clearly dropped the ball by failing to release Stalk Forrest Group's planned 1969 album. The very fact that the label has been sitting on these tapes all these years is unthinkable! Well, the good news is they are finally out, but unfortunately only on a limited run on Rhino's specialty Hand Made label. I personally feel "St. Cecilia-The Elektra Recordings" is the greatest unreleased rock album of all time. I just can't imagine what Elektra were thinking in not releasing it in 1969.
For those who are unfamiliar with Stalk Forrest Group, they were basically the same musicians who would later form Blue Oyster Cult and go on to massive success in the USA. Stalk Forrest were originally called The Soft White Underbelly, and they did quite a bit of playing out in the New York area circa 1968-69. As Blue Oyster Cult they never really have been given their due as one of the influential groups of the early to mid 70's despite the group's early critical acclaim. They were major influences on the great Australian band Radio Birdman, and were much admired by Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices and even Alternative TV lead singer Mark Perry (who raved about BOC in his "Sniffin' Glue" publication.)
Bootlegs of Stalk Forrest have made the rounds down through the years but "St. Cecilia" is the very first official release of these recordings, what makes this release so special is a full album of alternative mixes and the inclusion of the group's DJ only 45 for Elektra. Fans of late 60's psychedelic rock should hear this album at any and all costs. What really surprised me on this material was it's strong West Coast influence. While BOC had been compared to The Doors early on, I never really thought of BOC as being fans of The Grateful Dead & Quicksilver Messenger Service (which they obviously were.) I can compare the material on "St. Cecilia" to "Four Sail" era Love, SRC, Moby Grape, Merrell Fankhauser, "Shady Grove" period Quicksilver, KAK, Strawberry Alarm Clock & Spirit to name just a few.
Every single track on "St. Cecilia" is a winner, and as an album it flows beautifully with a wide range of styles and textures. "What Is Quicksand?" (the group's lone 45) has an almost country feel, similar to Moby Grape's "Moby Grape '69" album, as a 45 this song had immense commercial potential had programmers actually played it (which of course they didn't.) The lyrics to this and several tracks on the album were written by group friend, rock writer and VOM leader Richard Meltzer, which gives the songs a real far out edge. "I'm On The Lamb" would later surface with BOC, in this form I would compare it to the MC5, SRC and The Amboy Dukes. "Gil Blanco County" is another engaging country-flavored number similar to '69 vintage Dead & Quicksilver. Lead guitarist Don "Buck Dharma" Roeser really shines on this one, his icy Frisco-style solos remind one of prime time John Cipollina. Roeser is an exceptional guitarist and truly one of rock's unsung greats. I've seen him live many times over the years and he has never failed to dazzle me.
"Donovan's Monkey" is a lean and mean psychedelic rocker that actually gives a name check to former wrestling great Killer Kowalski. "Ragamuffin' Dumpilin'" is a super cool number that allows Buck to stretch about a bit on guitar, this song also had enormous hit potential with it's massive hooks just screaming out at the listener. "Curse Of The Hidden Mirrors" reminds me of a collage of The Strawberry Alarm Clock, Spirit and the more melodic side of The Mothers Of Invention. "Arthur Comics" looks forward to the BOC sound of "Secret Treaties" with a full spoon of West Coast sunshine pop harmonies sprinkled on top.
"A Fact About Sneakers" combines a far out Meltzer lyric (which mentions UK group Spooky Tooth) to a lean, late period Doors style groove, while Buck's guitar lines are pure Avalon Ballroom meets Agitation Free (or the second side of any Ash Ra Tempel album.) From the original projected album Stalk Forrest saves their best for last with the positively mesmerizing title track "St. Cecilia." This track alone is worth the price of the entire album. It opens as a pretty melodic number similar to 1969 era Love, as the song begins to build, it shifts gears into one of the greatest melodic psychedelic guitar jams I have ever heard. It has a strong John Cipollina/Gary Duncan sound but also brings to mind Fleetwood Mac's forgotten guitar wizard Danny Kirwan, it even provides a blueprint for Radio Birdman's "Man With Golden Helmet."
The way the album is laid out for CD, tracks 1-9 would have comprised the actual 1969 album. This CD then includes the album in it's original demo form adding the boss "Bonomo's Turkish Taffy" and deleting "Donovan's Monkey." In some spots the demo versions are actually superior to the finished mixes even though there aren't that many radical differences. The package finishes with the mono mixes of the group's sole 45 "What Is Quicksand" b/w "Arthur Comics" (1969.) What more could you possibly ask for? This is the best collection of archive material since The Misunderstood's "Before The Dream Faded." This Rhino issue may be still pretty easy to find at the present moment but I wouldn't wait around too long. Also there has been a UK re-issue on the Radioactive label, this issue has a rather plain sleeve and does not add the bonus material.
If this record turns you on I would also recommend the following albums which are in a similar style.
1. KAK-Kak (Epic 1969)
2. The Bubble Puppy-A Gathering Of Promises (IA 1969)
3. Love-Four Sail (Elektra 1969)
4. Quicksilver-Shady Grove (Capitol 1969)
5. Merrell Fankhauser & HMS Bounty-Things (Shamley 1968)
6. Spirit-Spirit (Ode 1968)
7. SRC-SRC (Capitol 1968)
8. Magic Mixture-This Is The Magic Mixture (Saga 1968)
9. Amboy Dukes-Journey To The Center Of The Mind (Mainstream 1968)
10. Mighty Baby-Mighty Baby (Head 1969)
11. Pink Fairies-Never Never Land (Polydor 1971)
12. 13th Floor Elevators-Bull Of The Woods (IA 1968)
13. Blue Oyster Cult-Secret Treaties (Columbia 1974)
14. Eire Apparent-Sunrise (Buddah 1969)
15. Fleetwood Mac-Then Play On (Reprise 1969)