Sunday, February 27, 2011

Poor Richard - Place Of The Sun (us 1978, private press)

Poor Richard - Place of The Sun LP (us 1978, private press)

Tracklist:
01. Time 3:02
02. The Gulls 3:46
03. The Ax Of Good-By 3:50
04. One, Two, Three, Four 1:59
05. As I Walk 2:53
06. Funky Honky 3:15
07. Series 12:00
08. Finish 1:05

Rare Michigan private press psychedelic folk LP out of Kalamazoo. This is not the usual bland SSW folk you get when something is described as psychedelic folk. Instrumentation includes mellotron, moog (played by Charlie Wicks, aka CEO of ProCo Sound, the creators of the RAT distortion), cello, fife, drums, guitar, and bass. Recorded at Uncle Dirty's Sound Machine Studios and released under Kazoo Records. Boogie Records, which was a local record store at the time, also helped with the release of this LP. The track "As I Walk" has recently been included on Numero Group's "Wayfaring Strangers: Lonesome Heroes" compilation.
 ~ Posted by M.
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For a limited issue, private pressing 1978's "Place of the Sun" has picked up some big league attention including appearing in Hans Pokora's 4001 Record Collectors Dreams and Patrick Lundborg's Acid Archives (where Aaron Milenski provided the only substantial review I've ever come across, though I don't love the album nearly as much as he does). I stumbled across this LP a couple of years ago and have to admit it didn't exactly knock my socks off - a little to folkish for my tastes, though Poor Richard (aka Richard Smyrnios) clearly had quite a bit of talent.  As a result it sat around in a big 'undecided' stack of albums that I was hesitant to get rid of.   And then I noticed that a Poor Richard track ('As I Walk') was included on a 2009 compilation entitled "Wayfaring Strangers: Lonesome Heroes" (The Numero Group catalog number NUM028CD).  That was enough for me to pull the album out and give it another spin.  While I didn't experience a complete conversion, I will admit that I missed some of the album's charms the first time around.
Namesake Smyrnios is an interesting story, though not exactly the all American success story.  He was born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Dropping out of high school he enlisted in the Air Force and eventually found himself stationed in Vietnam at Khe Sahn during the peak of fighting for the Marine outpost.  Suffering pneumonia, he was evacuated and sent home to recuperate.  Discharged from the service he availed himself to his veterans benefits, enrolling in college where he started writing music and playing music for fun and spare cash. Graduating he turned 'professional' playing local clubs and restaurants. With help from his sister Angi, friends, and backing from a local record store (Boogie Records), in 1978 Smyrnios recorded his debut "Place Of the Sun".  Produced by Bryce 'Uncle Dirty' Robertson (great name there guy), the album was released on the small, local Kazoo label.  Credited to Poor Richard (I'm guessing it was a reflection of his financial status at the time), the line up included Smyrnios' sister Angi on backing vocals, Robertson on lead guitar and mellotron, and Charley Wicks on Moog. 
Musically the majority of the album had a distinctive folky sound to it which occasionally recalled something you might have heard at a Catholic folk mass (The Gulls'' and 'Finish).  The results weren't bad, but that certainly limited its overall appeal to psych and rock fans.  On the other hand the nine tracks were quirky enough to capture the attention of anyone into real people releases, and the atypical 'Funky Honky' showed that Smyrnios and company could handle a conventional rock song.  By the way, the liner notes didn't provide any writing credits, but I'm guessing all nine compositions were Smyrnios originals.
- 'Time' opened the album with a surprisingly engaging slice of jazzy-pop.  Smyrnios didn't have the world's greatest voice and while a wonderful concept, the utopian spoken word segment gave the song an extremely dated feel.  Still, the track had a bouncy melody and some great acoustic guitar.  Shame it faded out just at the track really started to roll.   rating: *** stars
- Opening up with breaking waves sound effects and a couple of painful moans, the acoustic ballad 'The Gulls' was one of those sensitive singer/songwriter tracks that send some folks into fits of ecstasy. Unfortunately, to my ears it came off as dull and plodding.  I will admit that Richard's voice sounded much stronger on this one and with his sister, the pair turned in some nice harmony work.  rating: ** stars
- So, had Donovan had been born and raised in Michigan I'm guessing he might have sounded something like 'The Ax Of Good-By'.  Musically this one was a major curiosity.  Opening up as an acoustic ballad, about halfway through the track the arrangement opened up into a full band arrangement that was quite good, complete with America-styled harmonies.  Ironically, once again, just as the song was starting to gain some momentum it was faded out.   rating: *** stars
- As mentioned above, 'One Two Three Four' sounded like something you might have heard at a Saturday afternoon Catholic folk mass.  With its fragile vocal arrangement and some nice acoustic guitar, the song was actually quite pretty.   rating: *** stars
- 'As I Walk' was the track included on the "Wayfaring Strangers" compilation.  Nice that Smyrnios got some attention out of the project, but you have to wonder why they selected this pedestrian acoustic folk number.  The song wasn't bad (though sister Angi sounded kind of shrill on this one), rather lacked anything to distinguish it from the thousands of folk acts plowing away out there.     rating: ** stars
- 'Funky Honky' was an atypical rocker, sporting a full, electric band arrangement.  While the title wouldn't be considered particularly politically correct in this day and age, powered by some nice lead guitar, the track actually rocked out with considerable conviction.  Once again it was a shame the song faded out so early.     rating: **** stars
- Clocking in at over thirteen minutes, 'Series' started out sounding like a kids sing-along, before morphing into a more conventional slice of singer/songwriter folk.  Backed by some nice acoustic guitar, Nola Douglas' cello, and Robertson's mellotron, this segment wasn't particularly original, but served as a nice intro to Smyrnios' 'big statement' ('still the killing goes on').  After meandering for a couple of minutes the song ended with a weird Western feel that included a bunch of whooping and hollering and the album's best electric guitar solo.  Truly strange, but parts of this one again recalled something out of a Catholic folk mass.    rating: ** stars
- 'Finish' was nothing more than a brief reprise of 'The Gulls'.    rating: ** stars
The album attracted minimal attention, though Smyrnios was reportedly offered a major label deal which he passed on.  He's apparently recorded some material with the group Sonora, but I've never seen or heard any of it.
 ~ by RDTEN1 (RYM).

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