Friday, November 12, 2010

SPACE OPERA--- The Incredible Power of Music

I sit here at the keyboard listening to old/new music from one of my favorite bands of the early seventies, knot in my throat and tears in my soul.  Space Opera was one of those bands I stumbled across quite by mistake, finding a copy in the racks at one of my favorite Eugene record haunts, The House of Records, and playing it straight out of the racks, a perk for those of us who spent as much time at that store as we did at our own houses.  We weren't a half a minute into Country Max before I claimed the record for myself, the sweet harmonies and country rock sound sweeping me away as did other favorites of the time--- Cowboy, Uncle Jim's Music, Johnny Rivers (his Homegrown album is toward the top of my country-rockin' favorites list), Pure Prairie League, and Robert Thomas Velline (Bobby Vee, for those who don't know), whose Nothing Like a Sunny Day album gets airplay whenever I need to recharge my country-rockin' batteries.  Imagine my surprise when Country Max gave way to music of a whole 'nother genre, Over and Over, which gave way to the even more adventurous and sweeping Outlines, which gave way to something I could hardly imagine, Guitar Suite, a track which can only be called a composition due to its complexity.  Country rock?  Hardly.  But there was something in that side which caught my ear and would not let go.

It wouldn't and didn't.  Space Opera and its handful of replacement copies have made their way all over the West Coast, an anchor in my always changing record collection.  So when John Reagan, who had read a history piece I had written about about Tulsa's legendary Cargoe, sent me an email asking if I'd be interested in writing a similar piece on Space Opera, how could I refuse?  After three years of research, interviews and editing, that project not too long ago saw light (read it here).  Theirs was a fascinating history and while I enjoyed working closely with the band's David Bullock in writing it, I began to regret never having seen them live, never having known them personally and never having heard the many recordings that they had made both before and after the one album they had released.  Actually, it turns out that there were two, the second having been put together in the late nineties and released around 2000 (I got one as soon as I found out).

Not only that, I found that three of the band members were crucial members of Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit and Greenhill who released one until recently very hard to find to find album (The Unwritten Works of Geoffrey, Etc.), much sought after by a handful of people I knew who were actually aware of it (I, myself, had only heard the name and had no idea they were Space Opera-related until Reagan pointed it out). On The Unwritten Works, they worked with a very young T-Bone Burnett, went on to sign with Epic Records (Columbia, in Canada) and record an album to their (the band's) specifications (quite unheard of in those days, labels being very anal when it came to their investments), released an album very quietly decades later and...  Well, if you want to read the story, follow the link above.  Suffice it to say that it is worth reading for the real music and/or history fan.  Oh, and one other thing--- they were from Fort Worth, Texas, a fact obscured by the lack of information on the album jacket (the album was recorded in Canada, so many of us thought they were from Canada until the truth came to light).

But I digress.  The point here is that recently there has been a release of lost Space Opera material--- the music to which I alluded at the beginning of this blog.  Comprised of tracks recorded directly before signing with Epic and others recorded in the late seventies, all worth hearing, both historically and musically.  Safe at Home, released on and available through them as well as Amazon, is pure treasure.  It is packed with unreleased gems as well as excellent alternate versions of songs from the Epic album (Country Max and Over and Over). 

So I sit here, ecstatic about the music but sad that three of the four band members are no longer here to see it.  I also wonder what life would have been like for them if they had made it.  They deserved to, you know.  They were something else.  They were Space Opera.

Instant Replay.....

I've been listening to Rita Hosking's latest CD and have to admit to a chuckle or two.  Hosking, from Davis, California, is a real coal miner's daughter, her grandfather having worked in mines in Northern California and possibly her father as well.  She grew up amongst the heritage of the miners, to whom music held a special place.  For her latest effort, she actually went into the 16-to-1 Mine to record a number of excellent folk and old-timey songs, including two co-written by Utah Phillips.  Recorded live, it uses the mine as sound chamber and it works beautifully.  You get seven songs (well, six, as they do an extended version of the opening track Bright Morning Stars at the end) and, supposedly a thirteen-minute film.  Unfortunately, my computer is not set up for viewing the film (it is a dinosaur and just about ready for the scrap heap), so I have no idea what the film is like.  I can tell you that the music is exceptional and, gasp!, educational (if those clowns in Texas want to rewrite history, we can keep truth alive through our music, eh?).  It is titled Live In the 16-To-1 Mine.  Check it out.

A couple of days ago, I posted an article about two of my favorite musicians, Tom Mank & Sera Jane Smolen.  Not only are they two of the nicest people I've ever talked with, they have put out a number of albums worth hearing.  The latest is Paper Kisses and is another step up the ladder for them.  Their story is an interesting one, Smolen being a cellist of major repute and Mank being a singer and songwriter who just keeps getting better with every release.  You can read about them here.

In future blogs, I hope to slowly work my way through Bob Segarini's list of The 15 Artists I Would Most Like To See Have Huge Success (or however he phrased it).  Stay tuned for tidbits about Dala, Research Turtles (who go into Dockside Studios in January to record another album), Courage My Love, Ali Milner and a whole slew of artists Segarini loves.  But I'll be the judge of that, eh?  Stay tuned.....