It is the great lingering miracle of 1967: Moby Grape — the San Francisco quintet blessed with the voices, songs and guitars to become America's Beatles and Rolling Stones combined, that all but crashed on arrival — are stubbornly present, vibrant and adding to their discography. Live (Sundazed), the group's first official collection of prime-time concert recordings, from 1966 to 1969, was issued last spring. (Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes). And there is a fine, new studio album featuring the surviving original members — Peter Lewis, Jerry Miller, Bob Mosley and Don Stevenson — with Omar Spence, son of the late Skip Spence, carrying his father's spirit and glow forward on vocals and guitar. Alas, the record is hung up by internal issues, although a version of that Grape — with Omar, Miller and Stevenson, dubbed New Wine — played a rousing set at SXSW in Austin, Texas last spring.
A Rare Vintage
Desert Rain (Shagrat) is a welcome release, on ten-inch vinyl, of three 1973 demos by the Darrow-Mosley Band, a short-lived group Mosley formed between Grape reunions with singer-guitarist Chris Darrow of the L.A. ethno-psychedelic band Kaleidoscope. The tracks, made to seal a potential deal at Warner Bros., are the kind of modest joys that keep on giving — country-soul in the style of the Grape's great third album, '69. There is a reprise from that record — Mosley's "It's a Beautiful Day Today," in a spare parlor-demo style with a closing choral glaze — and an electric-R&B cover of the Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain," sung by Mosley. "Albuquerque Rainbow" is a song from one of Darrow's earlier solo records, a sunny-Stones number with a railroad beat and twang that would have made a fitting opener to an album if Warner Bros. hadn't passed on the band. Desert Rain comes in a limited edition of 500 copies with a wonderful cover — a California landscape in Fillmore-dance-poster hues — with an ornate label, like a 1930s 78, and liner notes by Darrow about how this sweet interlude came to a bittersweet end. (email@example.com)
The Drummer Steps Out
When drummer Don Stevenson joined Moby Grape in the late summer of '66, he came as half of a writing team with guitarist Jerry Miller. Among their contributions: "Hey Grandma," "8:05" and the funky Grape complaint on 1968's Wow, "Murder in My Heart for the Judge," inspired by Stevenson's run-in with a traffic-court magistrate. It only took 44 years, but Stevenson has finally made his debut album as a singer-songwriter, King of the Fools (Open Path). The music is an engaging blend of country, blues and R&B, like Jerry Garcia's solo records but with a rougher-timber feel in the singing and playing plus Miller contributing guitars and harmonies. That has to be Miller's biting tone and jazzy inflections in the long closing break of "Laa Laa (I Want to Be With You)." "Getting Used to Being Treated Wrong" is a sly package of done-dirty vocals and guitar temper, and "I'll Be There For You" is a country-saloon song that could have slid right on to the Grape's '69 — more proof that Moby Grape were and still are the unique sum of remarkable parts. (openpathmusic.com)