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7/10 Avi

STONE THE CROWS - Stone The Crows / Ode To John Law (reissue) - CD - Angel Air Records - 2015

The first two albums by the Scottish, 70s rock band are presented, each on a separate CD, on this reissue.

The eponymous 1970 release is a solid blues rock album that introduced the band to the world. The vocal talents of Maggie Bell and bassist Jimmy Dewar (who would later front Robin Trower's band on albums such as the 1974 masterpiece Bridge Of Sighs) are showing, even though they are not quite at peak yet, as is Les Harvey's guitar. John McGinnis, on the other hand, shows a more stable and inventive grip on his keyboard instruments.

The sonic quality is a bit shaky, most likely due to the original production that sounds raw (rather than due to inapt remastering), as it seems that the album was basically recorded as live in the studio takes. The authenticity of the music is eminent, even though it sounds a bit dated. The side long "I Saw America" is the most interesting track here, blending the band's blues rock with folk rock that is Fairport Convention derived, as well as with some jazzy licks.

The second, 1971 album sees the band honing its songcraft. The transition from the aforementioned, somewhat jam oriented "I Saw America" to more structured tunes with almost prog-rock character into them is felt from the very opening, with a detailed instrumental, proto-prog styled intro leading into the melody of "Sad Mary." Even simpler songs like "Things Are Getting Better" (which carries a bit of a Joe Cocker influence) maintain an epic sense due to a clever buildup. Similarly, on "Love" the band members explore the basic theme beautifully, with a steady pace, to a trance inducing effect. In its way, it can be considered a peaceful counteraction to the noisier Krautrock genre.

The biggest surprise here is the title track of Ode To John Law, which - putting aside the 70s production aesthetics of untampered, natural tones - actually sounds modern, and reminded us of some avant-rock chants in its vocal approach (like those practiced by Caveman Shoestore's Elaine di Falco or Thinking Plague's Deborah Perry decades later!). The playing is also more open and free, suggestive of avant garde music influence. This revelation alone might be worth the price of admission for some (ourselves included).

The bonus material - two live tracks on each CD - are culled from another Angel Air 2CD Stone The Crows set Radio Sessions 1969-72. The live take of "The Touch Of Your Loving Hand" is actually better in both performance and sound than the album's version.

(7/10 and if you're an avant-rock fan add an extra point, as you NEED to listen to "Ode To John Law," if only for its anthropological value.)


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