“shadowy darkness from a black painted room…”
The Chunklet guy recently retweeted a track from this LP, describing it as a “MC5 ripper,” and I remembered that I had it (autographed in sad ballpoint pen even) but could not recall any tune characterized as such. I thought the record was every bit the burnt-out bummer that Mosely (looking a bit like Stacy Keach) appears on the cover, which makes a more enduring impression than the music. But hey—MC5, Moby Grape—I was sufficiently compelled to give it another try.
“The Joker” is the track in question, and it is indeed easy to imagine Rob Tyner belting this one out, but I’ll give it to Mosely, who rarely rocked this hard even with the mighty Grape. There’s no Wayne Kramer or Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith here, but its peppered with some pleasing bursts of fuzz all the same. “Gypsy Wedding” was a failed Moby Grape single from the year before and the lead track from the final album in their initial run. It’s not much of a song, but the Grape at least brought some amiable guitar and vocal interplay. This take, also a single, with an easy electric piano and honking horns, is an undercooked soul stew (RIP Wayne Jackson this past year, but even his Memphis Horns can’t enliven this one much). “1245 Kearny” has a promising intro, but by now I am reminded that Mosely is my least favorite of the Grape’s many singers, and “Squaw Valley Nils (Hocked Soul)” could be a lost Grape track, down to its raging guitar outro. “Let The Music Play” is what KISS would sound like with horns: unbearable. Ever diminishing returns on side two, though “Where Do The Birds Go” is a rocker nearly on par with “The Joker.” I was about to call it dopey (the title’s not a bad question, and I’d watch a wildlife doc about it, but as a subject for deep poetic inquiry?) until “Gone Fishin’” came up, which trumps its own sense of ‘fun’ with casual misogyny. “Nothing To Do” is as trivial as it sounds, which makes the serious closer “So Many Troubles” that much harder to take (some not-bad guitar helps though).
A listener would have to study pretty hard to actually make these tunes memorable, and it’s as anonymous as any number of private press 70s hard rock albums. But Reprise actually threw some money at these sessions, and the record sounds terrible—persistently flat like they thought it would only be played on a transistor radio. I’d endure some of these songs in a Moby Grape set, which benefited from the variety of five songwriters (and if all else failed a few Peter Lewis tunes would come up) but this is simply too much Mosely. It occurred to me while hearing “Thanks” that the banality of this record is that it’s nothing more than a musician out there doing his thing, no matter how indifferently, because that’s the job. That’s fine for the pedal steel guy earning his session money (and he did), but Mosely himself barely shows up. Gone fishin’ I guess.