Quicksilver’s initial and long-awaited excursion into the primordial clear light of San Francisco isn’t quite what was expected, due to the production staff headed by the Electric Flag’s Nick Gravenites and Harvey Brooks. The Quicksilver Messenger Service don’t sound quite the same since they’ve heard the Flag and Mike Bloomfield, late arrivals on the San Francisco scene. As a result, most of the album cuts (only six altogether) come across sounding like the Electric Flag, minus their blues-loyal predication and Buddy Miles, doing straight rock.
An exception to the general tone of the album is Quicksilver’s interpretation of folk-rock (remember?) singer Hamilton (Bob) Camp’s “Pride of Man.” This is an unusual number for them to have done, but it’s really a better version than Camp’s original. Another rock group, Clear Light, started off their album with a folk-oriented cut, Tom Paxton’s “Mr Blue,” which they butchered unmercifully. Not so this version of “Pride,” which the Quicksilver carry off admirably. The song itself has some surprisingly profound lyrics: “Oh God/Pride of man/Broken in the dust again.”
The first inkling of the Flag influence is evident on “Light Your Windows,” which is spaced by some obvious Bloomfieldian guitar breaks. John Cipollina is an excellent guitarist and his susceptibility to Bloomfield’s techniques is understandable, and, since he plays so well, readily acceptable.
The guitar on “Dino’s Song” wanders in and out of a Kaukonen, Garcia and Bloomfield-like garden of sounds, supporting a strong vocal of simple but intensely reflective lyrics endeavoring to explain that “All I ever wanted to do was know you/And maybe hope you could know me too.”
“Gold And Silver” is (whether intended or not) a rock arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” Cipollina’s guitar excursions are singularly evocative of Paul Desmond’s sax changes. They manage to get away from the “Take Five” theme a bit by going into some Vanilla Fudgish, sluggish tempo drags which develop into a takeoff reminiscent of the Flag’s “Another Country,” even adding some fluttery, tinkly sounds a la Country Joe & the Fish.
Gravenites’ composition, “It’s Been Too Long,” is done in typical Flag style. The vocal is as close a duplication of Gravenites’ singing as it could possibly be. It’s a great piece, though, from its raw, Albert King intro, to a campy “whoa whoa whoa” Dion imitation and old 50’s R&R fade out.
“The Fool” takes up most of Side Two but, unfortunately, not very justifiably. It starts out carefully, waiting for the guitar to move out, spaced by some beautiful bass runs which cut into some hard-rock movements only to be lost in a series of impotent semi-buildups. Some very handsome guitar phrasing sneaks through but whatever good it does winds up buried halfway through the track. It digresses into some disappointing, ineffable routines, including a guitar-growling sequence, followed by a Claptonesque wah-wah pedal ritual. But with the addition of the vocal it picks up somewhat — the words are intoned in a middle-eastern, Hebrew cantor-like quaver. It closes out with some Yardbird “Still I’m Sad” declensions, culminating in an organ-anchored Bach-Procol Harum denouement.
It’s inevitable that a group will absorb a certain measure of influence from other bands — and the Quicksilver Messenger Service has emerged on record as a composite of influence, from their overbearing Flag-derived arrangements to a number of other easily identifiable characteristics. But, incredibly, their formula works. They have a good, even, remarkably honest sound. Theirs is a much finer record debut than the Grateful Dead’s. The only problem seems to be a lack of original direction, something that will be impossible to locate anywhere but in their own individual musical sense.