Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Harvey Mandel—
Cristo Redentor / Bradley's Barn


Released 1968 on Philips
The Seth Man, November 2019ce
A singular guitarist with a long-lasting solo recording career that led him concurrently into the unlikely folds of Canned Heat, John Mayall, and The Rolling Stones, Harvey Mandel was signed as a solo artist to Philips Records and with the assistance of Blue Cheer producer, Abe “Voco” Kesh, recorded three solo albums for the label between 1968 and 1969. The first of these was the startling work, “Cristo Redentor” which, despite its heavy, psychedelic sleeve was almost in its entirety comprised of blues-based guitar workouts treated with Mandel’s idiosyncratic, delicate touches with its only real psychedelic aspect the fact that Mandel was 23 yet had all the control, skill and intuitive qualities of stylised and deftly-handled guitar expositions of someone with a lifetime of experience.

Out of the ten tracks that comprise the entirely instrumental “Cristo Redentor” album, it’s the title track which stands out. Not only because it sounds nothing like the rest of the record, but it doesn’t sound a bit like the rest of Mandel’s entire solo output, either. In fact, it sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard in my life. One of the most beautiful instrumentals of all time, it’s either mournful or hopeful but so well harmonised it only depends on your mood. It’s orchestral chamber pop gospel mood music for the ultimate chill out of them all, death. Casting itself somewhere between the exoticisms of Martin Denny and The Mystic Moods Orchestra attempting an super-slowed down instrumental waltz version of Buffalo Springfield’s “Pretty Girl Why” for their “Stormy Weekend” album -- complete with shimmering cymbals, harp and gospel vocal backing. Now this may sound like a miscellany of styles dooming itself to eclectic fail only it isn’t. It’s a quietly pulsing effort, like it was written and forgotten long ago, lying dormant somewhere in the back of human collective consciousness ready to release itself only through the appropriate musicians at the appropriate time. If it had been released in the 21st Century, it would’ve been as distinctive as Kinobe’s downtempo classic, “Slip Into Something More Comfortable” but being released in the 20th Century it remains as much an outlier in Mandel’s output as much as the proto-electro-techno-clash instrumental, “Was Dog A Doughnut?” does in Cat Stevens’. For even though “Cristo Redentor” was written by a jazz composer and originally recorded by Donald Byrd, Mandel’s other jazz covers -- Ramsey Lewis’ “Wade In The Water” or “Cannonball” Adderley’s “Jive Samba” -- are handled with far more orthodox jazz deliveries than “Cristo Redentor.” Here instead, Mandel’s guitar tones are those of the iridescent lustre of pearl, gentle and resounding, while weaving the widest mesh in order to catch the most specific of emotions. Exotic and quiet while sustaining strings and weaving, soaring gospelisations...The swelling of the strings, the faint plucking of harp, and Mandel’s massively understated guitar link up so well that they meld together into a single eddying pulse. Is it ambient surf gospel, the soundtrack of either the calm after the storm, ascending heaven, or both? Or...all of the above. And so much more.

The trio of Carolyn Willis, Edna Wright and Julia Tillman vocally shore up soprano soloist, Jacqueline May Allen, whose voicings here are as stunning as they are wordless.

Timeless.