29 Nov 2011

H.P Lovecraft - Beginner's Guide

With their appealing blend of psychedelia and folk rock, H.P Lovecraft were one of the best underground American acts of the sixties. Although they only managed to stay together for two years they left an
impressive recorded legacy. Vocalist / Guitarist ( and former folk troubadour ) George Edwards and keyboardist / classically trained vocalist Dave Michaels met playing in a lounge / jazz combo and it wasn't long before their first single Anyway That You Want Me / It's All Over For You was released on Mercury Records, with borrowed members of local Chicago outfit The Rovin' Kind helping out. The A side was a forgettable piece of sixties pop drama, while the B side was a carbon copy of Dylan's It's All Over Now Baby Blue which showed promise.
Within six months a full line up had coalesced and they were recording their debut album. In that time they'd developed their own distinctive style, based around Edwards and Michaels dual lead vocals - an all male counterpoint to Marty Balin and Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane. The majority of the debut is made up of well chosen covers and traditional folk material given the psychedelic treatment - Wayfaring Stranger, The Drifter and That's The Bag I'm In are all concise, well arranged folk rockers with stinging lead guitar licks and keyboard work which wouldn't sound out of place on an early Doors album. The centerpiece of the album though, is a group composition based on a short story by the author H.P Lovecraft. The White Ship is a moodily atmospheric gem full of as much drama and intrigue as the story it's based on.

The album was well received and the next year was spent touring, before record company pressures forced the band into the studio to record album number two. Unfortunately the band weren't given the time for writing and recording that they would have liked and there's a noticeable drop in consistency. With a new bass player and third vocalist on board in the shape of ex Shadows of Night's Jeff Boyan, the new album relied more on originals. At the Mountains of Madness was a successful attempt to replicate the success of The White Ship and again the album highlight. Jeff Boyan's It's About Time is a semi successful counterculture anthem in the style of Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers material with a nice orchestral interlude in the middle. Elsewhere however a little too much LSD seems to have been taken.

The band folded soon after, before Edwards and drummer Michael Tegza reformed the group in 1970 as Lovecraft. Edwards left before their 1970 album was released. A tepid country rock album, it bore almost no traces of the invention that characterized their two sixties albums. Worse was to come in 1975 with a grim new AOR direction.
Good news for fans arrived in the nineties however with the discovery of an immaculately recorded live performance from 1968. Released by archival specialists Sundazed, it paints the band in an entirely new light. Featuring a selection of material from both albums in extended form it's a much more high energy performance than you'd be led to expect from the studio material with busy and propulsive drums, searing acid guitar leads and amazing keyboard work from Michaels. The band are tight and focused and the harmonies are spot on. It's amazing that this was even recorded. An essential archival release.

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