Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Rockaliser 30: Felt, Felt (1971)

[Welcome to the Rockaliser 30, a month-long series devoted to classic albums that have been eclipsed, forgotten, misheard, or otherwise not given their propers. This is Day Five. Archive here.]

This version of Felt is not the Birmingham post-punk group (“Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow”), nor is it the hip-hop collaboration between Murs and Slug of Atmosphere fame. There was another Felt that operated in the early 70s, purveyors of psychedelic blues rock in the manner of Mountain or Blue Cheer. Their self-titled 1971 debut is a packed full of tasteful yet energetic psych jams, one of which stretches past the ten-minute mark. If that doesn’t sound appealing, we simply have incompatible music interests. Great psychedelic blues rock expands the mind and invigorates the soul, but it is admittedly not a type of music whose pleasures can be explained very easily.

For an album with only six songs total, Felt covers a lot of ground, from blues to jazz to pop, all without sacrificing any of the band’s essential heavy rock-ness. The first tune is probably Felt’s most “famous,” a Beatle-esque ballad called “Look At the Sun.” On that song, 17-year old singer/guitarist Myke Jackson sings in a high yet unaffected register, wistfully observing that “the sun is like a lover/growing bright and warm each day,” as the irresistible piano melody cycles through moments of hope and plaintive absolution, settling on neither. The next song “Now She’s Gone” incorporates elements of jazz guitar into the Felt aesthetic, courtesy of second guitarist Stan Lee (!). The tense jazz beat is replaced early in the song by a slower, hazy Pink Floyd-type progression, and just as the listener becomes tired of the spacey aesthetic, the jazz figure returns with more aggression and energy. The next song, “Weepin’ Mama Blues,” is indeed a slow blues burn all the way through, albeit one with an anti-Vietnam message. The slower pace suits some of Felt’s heaviest guitar moments, which are augmented by Allan Dalrymple’s furious keyboards. Smilin’ Stan’s guitar solos aren’t bad, either. The fourth track, “World,” is different kind of blues burner with a cool bass intro, a mighty Zeppelin-esque riff, and a more limber melody than “Weepin’ Mama Blues.” In this song, bassist Tommy Gilstrap gets a few really great moments, especially in tandem with drummer Mike Neel, although neither musician draws inappropriate attention to their musicality. The following song “The Change” is the 10+ minute track referred to earlier and possibly Felt’s greatest performance. Essentially this is a medley of three songs, the first of which is their heaviest riff yet (think Black Sabbath this time) punctuated by moments of high-end blues soloing. The remainder of the song alternates between a rudimentary boogie with wah-wah solos and an epic extended riff that becomes more and more intense as the running time expands. If you’re someone who can admit to liking “Stairway To Heaven” and “November Rain,” this crosses a similar threshold of epicness. The last song, “Destination” returns to a pleasant, inoffensive jazz rhythm, dramatically ratcheting down the tension from “The Change.” Like “Now She’s Gone,” jazz elements alternate with bluesier sequences, but this time the jazz parts are more about setting mood and less about generating contrasting space to rock out.

Felt is a strange, airy album that lays a subtle groove but nevertheless exerts passion and instrumental fury. To me, that approach to art, more than fidelity to any particular sound, signifies what is and isn’t “classic” rock.

No comments:

Post a Comment