Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Stark Reality

Released 2003 on Stones Throw
Reviewed by Joe Kenney, 15/12/2003ce

Psychedelic jazz-funk holy grail? That's what the sticker on the CD says, at least. But beyond the appeal of obscurity, is the music of the Stark Reality any good? Does it deserve its huge cult recognition as one of the most genre-defying examples of far-out funk? In some ways, yes. In others, maybe not. Regardless, this is still a CD that demands a listen from anyone interested in experimental jazz-funk.

The Stark Reality released only one album, "The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop," in 1970, on a tiny label. The Reality took children's songs written by Hoagy Carmichael and put them through a psychedelic blender. They took sing-song tunes and weirded them out, using fuzzy vibes, rhythmic bass, funky drums, fuzzed-out guitar, and trippy vocals. It was a double-LP that practically no one knew about, except, strangely enough, it began to grow an underground reputation, as DJ's such as Pete Rock started dropping insane amounts of cash for it. There are some who have seen the original LP go for almost a thousand dollars, which should prove how fervently some feel about the group.

My favorite tracks: "Junkman's Song," which apparently was a single; "Comrades," which features the funkiest bass line on the CD; "Shooting Stars," which for the first half, sounds for all the world like a Shuggie Otis tune, except with fuzz guitar; "Rocket Ship," which breaks the sound barrier with the fuzz on 10+; and "All You Need To Make Music," which is my favorite song on here, a ten-minute track written by bandleader Monty Stark that not only features outrageous fuzz, but toward the end comes off like a breakbeat sample record, with whole bars of open drum breaks. I'm sure this track is one of the main reasons the original LP became so desired among savvy DJ's.

What upsets me the most about this CD is that it doesn't feature two tracks from the original LP release. The CD also doesn't preserve the running order of the LP. Instead, tracks 1-8 are from the original LP (and are by far the best thing on the CD), and tracks 9-12 are from earlier incarnations of the group. These tracks are much more jazzy, and barely feature the fuzz guitar that predominates the first 8 songs. Tracks 9-11, in fact, were previously unreleased; in all honesty, I don't even care for them that much, and would've just preferred to have had the original LP on the CD, with all of the tracks, in the original running order. The final, "bonus" track on the CD is "Say Brother," the theme song to public access show that isn't as jazzy as the other tracks, but also doesn't feature any fuzz at all. Regardless, it's very catchy.

That being said, those who want the original album should invest in a turntable, as Stones Throw/Now Again plan to release it as a double-LP only, with all of the songs and in the original running order. They also plan to release the "bonus" tracks featured on this CD, along with others that still haven't been released anywhere, on a future, vinyl-only release.

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