“We’re called Unrehearsed Blue Öyster Cult Cover Band, and we’re from San Francisco, Texas,” singer-guitarist Chris Forsyth announced as his jamming-guitar quartet, the Solar Motel Band, took the stage at the Brooklyn club Baby’s All Right one night in April of last year. None of what he said was true. Forsyth and his group are from Philadelphia, and they didn’t play anything from Tyranny and Mutation, rehearsed or otherwise, in their opening set for Howlin’ Rain, who are from the Bay Area.
But the four extended, mostly instrumental trips that night – all previews from Forsyth and Solar Motel’s new double album, The Rarity of Experience (No Quarter) – came with enough lysergic modal majesty and spearing improvisation, sheathed in feedback-precipice distortion, that it was easy to hear the ’66 Texas postmark of the 13th Floor Elevators and the Fillmore-dance-floor command of Quicksilver Messenger Service, not to mention flashbacks to BÖC’s hard-treble swordplay. I immediately hightailed it to the merch table for copies of 2013’s Solar Motel (Paradise of Bachelors) and 2014’s Intensity Ghost (No Quarter); Forsyth also has an extensive solo and collaborative discography that includes beyond-psych work with the minimalist-blues guitarist Loren Connors and trumpeter-composer Nate Wooley.
The Rarity of Experience is twice the surprise I got in Brooklyn – 10 pieces across two discs (on both CD and LP) – with colors and inferences that passed by a little too fast that night. The dancing leads in “Harmonious Dance” – probably Forsyth, possibly guitar foil Nick Millevoi – suggest Jerry Garcia in studious ascension. “The First Ten Minutes of Cocksucker Blues” mimics the circular ennui of that notorious Rolling Stones film, until trumpeter Daniel Carter blows in like a Miles Davis wake-up call from Live-Evil. Forsyth pays literal homage to British guitarist Richard Thompson in Rarity‘s closing cover of “The Calvary Cross,” but Television’s Tom Verlaine is in there too, lurking at the long bent-note turns and chopped-note clusters. Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band pack The Rarity of Experience with great spirits, then deliver on every expectation.
That night in Brooklyn, after Howlin’ Rain roared through a thunder-and-acid rendering of songs from their latest album, Mansion Songs (Easy Sound), guitarist Ethan Miller told me about a record he was making with a new band, Heron Oblivion. The music was, he said, “a combination of Fairport Convention and Quicksilver Messenger Service.” Heron Oblivion – Miller on bass, singer-drummer Meg Baird, and tandem guitarists Noel V. Harmonson and Charlie Saufley – have finally issued their debut LP, Heron Oblivion (Sub Pop), and it is exactly what Miller promised: an iridescent surge of garage-raga crosstalk glazed with Baird’s British-folk-angel vocals. The band flies bright and thoughtful at length (“Rama,” “Seventeen Landscapes”) but also excels in the tighter quarters of “Oriar,” a buoyant delicacy soaked in sun-shower wah-wah.
Blues With a Story
In July 1967, the young British blues guitarist Peter Green left a good job and rising profile as Eric Clapton’s replacement in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers to start his own band. Green took Mayall’s drummer, Mick Fleetwood, with him and eventually the bassist, John McVie, too, naming the group after the rhythm section: Fleetwood Mac. Mayall responded as he did after Clapton split to start Cream, hiring British guitar’s Next Big Thing, teenager and future Rolling Stone Mick Taylor.
At some point in early ’67, probably after the February release of A Hard Road, Green’s only studio LP with the Bluesbreakers, a Mayall fan with a reel-to-reel tape machine and good documentary sense, Tom Huissen, caught Mayall’s band in regular haunts such as London’s Marquee Club, the Ram Jam Club and Klook’s Kleek. In 2015, Mayall issued 13 tracks from those tapes as Live in 1967, a rough but vibrant memoir of two British blues titans, Mayall and Green, at their nightly work.
Live in 1967 – Volume Two (Forty Below) is a welcome second helping from Huissen’s reels, another baker’s dozen restored as much as the field-recording fidelity allowed. The material is British-blues-boom standards – “Stormy Monday,” “Sweet Little Angel,” Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble” – salted with Mayall originals and surprises like “Ridin’ on the L&N,” a Lionel Hampton number Mayall cut on a rare studio EP with Paul Butterfield. It’s easy to hear why Green wanted to hijack the rhythm section – and what Mayall saw in Green himself. The eight minutes of “So Many Roads” are handed over almost entirely to the guitarist, who slices the air with the blazing aplomb of an imminent legend.