Bubble Puppy – A Gathering of Promises (1969)

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“In the dim reality of our obsession”

Musical blind spots notwithstanding (and I’ve got a ton) 1960s psychedelic music seemed to have a resurgence in the 90s, at least on the bootleg and reissue market, and that’s when my narrow radar picked up on it. (Granted, the 80s had their Paisley Underground and the Nuggets comp came out in 1972, so I guess it never went away). The French label Eva introduced me to a lot of these, and Bubble Puppy somehow transcended the goofy cover and one hit wonder status to become one of my most enduring favorites. Super-heavy with some extreme channel phasing, the lead track was an unlikely top 20 hit. The most striking thing about “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” now is the more mellow breakdown with some delicate twin guitar interplay that anticipates the Allman Brothers. Maybe Duane heard it on the radio like everyone else, or I’m sure a musicologist could trace it differently. Rod Prince was a core songwriter for the band, but other lead guitarist Todd Potter gets a showcase with his own “Todd’s Tune.” It’s a touching paean to music itself—”expressing love through melody”—and as sincere a testimonial to how music can save lives as I’ve heard. But this is a band that will inevitably get to the business of rockin’—and this is one of several killer song endings on the LP and the subsequent Demian album (1970) (which actually has an overall heavier “Todd’s Tune” remake and “Are You With Me Baby?” seems to knock the wind out of both the singer and the listener). I’ve fallen behind and the moody epic  “I’ve Got To Reach You” is nearly over. The third spot seems an odd place for the longest track (8 or so minutes), but it’s allowed my mind to wander and digress. “Lonely” gallops along, with a stinging guitar sound, and a solo that literally emerges from the ether—seriously, I don’t understand how this effect is pulled into the mix. Drummer “Fuzzy” (easy to pick out on the cover photo) sits out the title track, and I’ve no idea what they’re going on about. I’m not a lyrics guy, but am often floored by out-of-context lines (like the one at the top of this entry) which break through and stand devastatingly, half-understood, on their own.

Side two (of a somewhat noisy original copy)…

“Hurry Sundown” has a more jangly, southern vibe which persists for the rest of the record. The vocal harmonies of these guys are stellar, and drummer Fuzzy does some unbelievably subtle and tasteful fills here. The stinger is back for “Elizabeth”—just an incredible palette of guitar sounds from Rod and Todd, alternately crunchy and sweet. The record probably needs “It’s Safe To Say” a laid-back breather that’s impossible to dislike (“it’s safe to say I love you, ‘cause girl you know I do”) before the last two songs. I often think of this one and the title song as acoustic, but there’s still electricity buzzing through these. This is a perfectly sequenced record, and can’t imagine “The Road To St. Stephens” being placed anywhere else other than the penultimate spot. They’re on a journey I don’t know anything about, but I’m glad to go along with them on their beaten beatific path (“I am staggered by the happiness I’ve found!”). Clever bit, closing an album with “Beginning” (after a first song that promised “many things will come to pass”) but the full circle thing is not a gimmick—the fade out jam truly does serve as a perfect concluding statement while also sounding appropriately infinite. As usual, there’s just enough nonsense to fleetingly resonate as something deep (“peace cannot be found without despair”!?), which is about as long as a sentiment stays with me. This record is top-to-bottom perfect, and I’ve only known about it and loved it for half the time it’s been with us. I’ve got pals in Austin, and I keep trying to coincide a visit with a Bubble Puppy show (Rod and Fuzzy are still in there doing it). The days of their time are numbered, but “you can hear it if you take the time to try.”

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