A Broad Abroad: Archival gems shake things up

While it’s not unusual for a new band to form from the ashes of other collapsing, simpatico groups, it’s less often that one emerges from the funeral pyres of two distinctly different musical units. But thus was begotten Ilmo Smokehouse, an early 1970s Midwest outfit whose self-titled debut album has just been revisited as Ilmo Smokehouse… Plus by Akarma (www.cometrecords.com). 

Freddie Tieken & the Rockers was the more established of Ilmo’s parents, a smoking R&B band that had been burning up Midwestern stages since the late 1950s, and who boasted one of the best horn sections in the region. In stark contrast, Gonn came on the scene in 1966, flying the flag of  British Beat as it morphed into psychedelia. But the union appeared to work — on stage, if not in the studio. Smokehouse had a ferocious live reputation, but this set apparently did them little justice, with only ”Johnny B. Good” and ”Pine Needle Bed” hinting at their stage potential. 

What the record does do, however, is showcase precisely why this band was born to die. The nearly seven-minute-long ”Have You Ever Had the Blues” is a flawless example of talking blues, a sound the Rockers had perfected years before. Elsewhere, jazz and prog collide on ”Are You Happy,” while jazz, soul and rock are melded on ”Movement 1 and 13.” ”Pine Needle Bed” pulls in so many directions, you expect the whole tree to splinter apart. And splinter the band quickly did.

The bonus tracks, recorded two months after the album, reflect a band working together, creating unity from so many disparate angles. Unfortunately, this all-for-one creativity wasn’t to last long. There was just too much experience and quality musicianship in the ranks, all pushing too hard for their own preferred direction. For some bands, eclecticism is a badge of honor; for Ilmo it sounded more like a bone of contention.

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Another bonus-stacked set that sees a welcome reissue this month is Atomic Rooster’sDeath Walks Behind You… Plus (Akarma), a monstrously doom-laden album that came swirling out of the shadows in 1971 to debut what we now regard as the classic Rooster line-up of Vincent Crane, John DuCann and Paul Hammond. A year after the band’s debut, Death continued to anchor its songs in the heaviest of rhythms, while majestic organ passages played off against thundering riffs and screaming guitar solos.

Tatters of the members’ British Beat influences shred the set, most notably on ”I Can’t Take No More,” which is somewhat reminiscent of The Who’s ”Magic Bus”… on steroids and acid, that is. ”Nobody Else” is positively pastoral, the title track absolutely ominous, while “VUG” throws down the gauntlet to Keith Emerson — whose own new band co-starred Rooster’s own original drummer, Carl Palmer. “Tomorrow Night,” one of the most unlikely U.K. hits of the year, further boosts the album’s credentials, while four bonus tracks include “The Rock” (the B-side to the band’s next single, “Devil’s Answer”), and three numbers drawn from a scintillating BBC radio session. The Atomic Rooster catalog has taken a lot of beatings over the years, with too many badly annotated compilations squeezing the original LPs out of view. Hopefully, this set presages a new dawn.

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Remaining in the early 1970s, the Ozit label’s excavation of the Way We Live/Tractor archive

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