In my teenage years I came across Spirit, probably from “I Got A Line On You” or a few other classics on Toronto radio. I think I picked up the LP Spirit of ’84, with all the remakes of the few songs I knew. On one of my excursions to downtown Toronto with my uncle when I was 14 or 15 I picked up a number of Spirit albums in various used shops along Yonge Street – heck, I’ve still got a few stickers from those stores on my records! (Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum was a favorite stop). Years later I had written an address I found for Spirit in a magazine (I assume), as I was writing the odd review for a local music magazine. Sometime in late 1996 I received a package from their management, and it was a letter from Randy California, along with the band’s latest [and last] CD – California Blues. I reviewed it sometime soon after, and not too long after read that California had drowned off the coast of Hawaii. It was sad news indeed. I (obviously) still have that CD as well as the letter, which I will dig out and post here sometime.
• NEW REMASTERED EIGHT DISC BOXED SET FEATURING EACH ALBUM RECORDED BY THE LEGENDARY BAND SPIRIT RELEASED BY THE MERCURY LABEL
BETWEEN 1975 AND 1977 AND IN 1984
• PLUS 102 PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED LIVE RECORDINGS AND DEMOS COMPILED BY SPRIT ARCHIVIST MICK SKIDMORE
• INCLUDES THE ALBUMS ‘SPIRIT OF ‘76’, ‘SON OF SPIRIT’, ‘FARTHER ALONG’, ‘FUTURE GAMES’, AND ‘THE THIRTEENTH DREAM (SPIRIT OF ’84)’
REMASTERED FROM THE ORIGINAL MERCURY MASTER TAPES PLUS A BOOKLET WITH NEW ESSAY BY MICK SKIDMORE.
A very thorough 8 CD set from one of American’s classic late 60s / 70s bands. Sprit may be better known for their earlier material like The 12 Dreams Of Dr Sardonicus [the band’s 4th album] and the hits like “I Got A Line On You” and “Nature’s Way”, but the band carried on for years, and this box set compiles the band’s recordings during the mid 70s and 1984, while on Mercury Records. It includes the 5 albums recorded during this time, as well as a disc of demos & live tracks, a previously unreleased live show from ’75, a disc of studio outtakes from 74-75 + Randy California demos, and the 5 discs of the albums all contain a number of bonus tracks. There’s over a 100 previously unreleased tracks here! So safe to say a must have for Spirit fans.
This collection starts with 1975’s Spirit Of ’76, which saw a new line-up of the band. Following 1970’s highly successful-classic 12 Dreams Of Dr Sardonicus, Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes also left to form Jo-Jo Gunne, and following a riding accident and head injury Randy California also left, and would record a solo album Kaptain Kopter and the (Fabulous) Twirly Birds. Founder/drummer Ed Cassidy and keyboardist John Locke recorded Feedback in ’72 with a new line-up, before Cassidy and California [his stepson] got back together and eventually created the double album – Spirit Of ’76. Recorded as 3-piece, Spirit Of ’76 consists of 25 tracks, largely written by California & Cassidy with favorites like “Victim Of Society”, “Sunrise”, and the gospel ballad “Thank You Lord”. For being mid ’70s, this album still has a definite ’60s psych feel throughout, with plenty of folk, blues, rock, country influences, as well as off spoken word, and a number of interesting covers such as Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changing”, “Like A Rolling Stone”, the Stones “Happy”, as well as “Hey Joe” – tho’ not penned by Hendrix, California had played with Hendrix early in his career. There’s 14 bonus tracks on the 2nd disc, consisting of alternate takes and live tracks recorded in ’74.
Next up was Son Of Spirit, recorded later in ’75, followed by 1976’s Farther Along. These 2 albums make up disc 3, along with 5 bonus tracks. Son Of Spirit, still recorded as a trio, with Barry Keene on bass, included almost all Randy California material, a bit more country-ish in places, featured the single “Holy Man” and a cover of The Beatles’ “Yesterday”. Farther Along saw Spirit return to being a 5 piece with Locke and Andes returning, as well as Matt Andes on guitar/vocals. I liked this album a lot more, though it took on a number of new styles, as well as strings on some tracks, horns on a couple. Favorites include “Stoney Night”, “Mega Star”, “Diamond Spirit”… the title track was issued as the single (and a live version is included among the bonus cuts), and it closed with a instrumental string version of “Nature’s Way”. The band’s final album for Mercury in the ’70s was 1977’s Future Games, which seems like more of a Randy California solo project, mainly written by California, and a bit of help on a few tracks from Cassidy, as well as guests like Kim Fowley. A strange album , featuring no other original band members [aside from Cassidy]. It’s like some strange sci-fi concept with all sorts of odd tv clips inserted, and sound effects, amongst the 22 [!!] titles, many of which clock in around or just under a minute. It does include a decent cover of “All Along The Watchtower”. Tacked on the Future Games disc is 11 bonus tracks, including alternate takes and demos. 1984’s The Thirteenth Dream (aka Spirit Of ’84) saw the original band reunited again. The band would re-record many of their classics, as well as include a few new songs. I liked this album, as it was nicely up to date at the time, and a bit heavier. It also featured a number of guests, notably Bob Welch, Howard Leese, Neal Doughty, and Matt Andes. The disc is filled out by a half dozen excellent sounding live tracks from 1986. Disc #6 is titled Spirit Of Salvation and is full of unreleased studio material from 1974-75, as well as a pile of Randy California demos. Next up is a 15 song concert from the Armadillo in Austin, Texas, recorded in June of ’75. A really solid performance and recording, features a killer rendition of “All Along The Watchtower”. The 8th (last) disc consists of the Future Games demos, and I really dig this, as you can hear the songs better without so much clutter; sounds very good. It is completed with 8 live tracks recorded at the Agora in 1975; among them is a great 9 minute take of “Like A Rolling Stone”, as well as excellent performances of such classics as “Mr Skin” and “I Got A Line On You” – to close things out.
This is a very thorough and valuable collection of one of America’s great, underrated bands. Loads of different material album to album, and so much bonus material, with live stuff, makes this a highly recommended addition to any Spirit fan’s collection, as well as a cool piece for curious types who don’t want to pick up the band’s output separately.
Incidentally, this is the latest Spirit box set from Cherry Red, as there are a number of others, covering every era of the band, and Randy California’s work.