Sunday, September 30, 2012

Detroit aural madness "The Happy Dragon Band"

Everyone's out of the house.  Done my chores and no soccer for a couple of hours.  So I'll post this old one.  

Having released a little noticed 1974 album for Capitol under the guise of Phantom's Divine Comedy, four years later drummer John Bdanjeck, singer/guitarist Tom Carson, bassist Dennis Craner, keyboardist Mike DeMartino and guitarist Gary Meisner reappeared as The Happy Dragon Band.  Released by the small Michigan-based Fiddlers label, anyone expecting to hear another set of faux Doors-inspired psych was bound to be surprised by 1978's "The Happy Dragon Band".  Whereas the earlier Phantom LP featured all-original material, here all nine tracks were penned by someone under the name of Tommy Court.  Whoever he was, Court  was also credited with production, engineering and direction.   Musically the set was a major shocker.  Dropping their earlier pseudo-Doors stance, material such as "3-D Free", "In Flight" and the instrumental "Bowling Pin Intro" found the band plunging headlong into outright experimentation.  Featuring extended tracks filled with synthesizers, odd sound effects and dazed vocals, the results didn't make for a particularly commercial outing.  That said, the album sported a weird, hypnotizing appeal that's worth a couple of spins.  Dark, heavy and disturbing, part of the aura may be explained by the liner notes - "This album is in memory of: my friend Ritchie & my child Ritchie Joe".  (Reportedly 200 copies were printed; hence the steep asking price.)  

- Easily one of the album's odder numbers, '3-D Free' was a slightly disconcerting ballad that combined a reggae influence, a dated stab at social relevance, along with some of the most irritating vocals you've heard in a long time (every time I hear this one I flash back to chalk on a blackboard mode).    rating: *** stars 

- Opening up with an explosion of Kraftwerk-styled synthesizers and Talking Heads-styled shouted vocals, 'Positive People' was equally hard to figure.  Ultimately the synthesizers simply took over the song so the David Byrnesque vocals simply didn't matter.    rating: *** stars
- So the ballad 'And ' In Flight' simply begged the listener to continue playing spot-the-influences ...   And 'In this case even a deaf person would be able to spot the Pink Floyd influences ...  Actually influences doesn't even come close to it.  This one literally sounded like it had bee stolen off of "Welcome To the Machine".    I'd suggest they were lucky not to have been sued for plagiarism.    rating: *** stars 
- The opening guitar feedback seemed promising, but that was a fleeting hope as 'A Long Time' quickly degenerated into an irritating sound collage.   rating: * star 
- Built on an irritating mixture of  synthesizers,  discordant noise, and various sound effect, ,'Bowling Pin Intro' was a full frontal assault slice of experimentation.  Didn't do much for my ears ...   rating: * star 
- 'Lyrics of Love' started out with a nice blend of acoustic guitars and a laconic, Donovan-esque vocal.  Yeah, it may have been recorded in 1978, but it had a very mid-'60s vibe.  Completely atypical and goofy enough to be one of the album's more commercial numbers.   rating: *** stars 
- A you may have guessed, 'Disco American' really wasn't a dance track, rather sounded a bit like a Frank Zappa-meets-Mott the Hoople-styled slice of social criticism.  A rocker that wasn't particularly tuneful, insightful, or effective, probably the best thing here was the fuzz guitar solo and the guy who occasionally showed up with the snarling George Clinton-styled vocal.  Actually, the 'American Disco' refrain reminded me a bit of a David Bowie tune ...    rating: ** stars 
- An acid-tinged mid-tempo rocker, 'Inside the Pyramid' had some heavily treated, Floyd-influences vocals.  Initially this one struck me as very disturbing, but after awhile the breezy acoustic guitars, nice vocals and breezy melodies all won be over,   rating: *** stars 
- Opening up with some of the cheesiest '70s synthesizers you ever heard, 'Astro Phunk' was best described as sounding like one of those old Atari space invaders game going bonkers with the intention of destroying all mankind.   rating: ** stars 
- '3-D Free (Electronic)' ended the album with a toughened up and heavily treated reprise of the opening song.   rating: ** star   

Quirky, but in an interesting and engaging fashion.  I'd listen to it again ...   

"The Happy Dragon Band" track listing: 

(side 1) 
1.) 3-D Free   (Tom Court) -  
2.) Positive People   (Tom Court) -  
3.) In Flight   (Tom Court) -  
4.) A Long Time   (Tom Court) -  
5.) Bowling Pin Intro   (Tom Court) -   

(side 2) 

1.) Lyrics of Love   (Tom Court) - 
2.) Disco American   (Tom Court) -  
3.) Inside the Pyramid   (Tom Court) -  
4.) Astro Phunk (instrumental)   (Tom Court) -  
5.) 3-D Free (Electronic)   (Tom Court) -    

In 2007 the Radioactive label reissued the set in CD format (Catalog number RRCD 118).  I'm guessing the Radioactive set was unlicensed so use your concious when deciding whether to fork out for a copy of the reissue.

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