Monday, September 12, 2005
It's taken me an incredibly long time to get around to Astral Taxi, the Tin Tin album that I personally consider to be a Great Lost Classic of late sixties/early seventies Beatles-derived pop; this opinion apparently shared by the Allmusic reviewer. It came out in 1971, and though Maurice Gibb is still listed as executive producer, the heavy lifting on the production was actually handled by engineer John Pantry (now Rev. John Pantry) and the band. Not that the first Tin Tin album sounded like garbage, but Astral Taxi is a vast improvement with a warm, lush, orchestra-abetted sound that's about as good as these things get. It's not something I'd really want to argue about, but I kind of feel that a certain kind of rock production hit its peak between '68 and '72. I suppose it's a matter of taste, but I'd hold Astral Taxi up as a prime example of how I want an orchestral-pop record to sound.
Why the delay in writing about it? While researching Tin Tin, I found a number of interviews with the better-known member Steve Kipner, but noted that he often couldn't remember details about the recording sessions (in all fairness, he's been pretty busy over the last 35 years). On several occasions he suggested that the other guy behind the band would have a better recall. So I set out to interview Steve Groves who lives in Australia these days. For reasons that I don't completely understand, though they most likely derive from the fact that I had to communicate with him through his son as Steve Groves doesn't have e-mail, I haven't yet managed to complete the interview. Since I'm wrapping up in a few weeks, I can't wait any longer, but I hope that someone will succeed where I failed as it's about time that the whole Steve Kipner/Steve Groves partnership got sorted out for posterity.
Astral Taxi has come out on a bootleg CD together with the first Tin Tin record, but that's not easily found and there's never been a legitimate CD issue. I'd humbly suggest that every single person who likes the early Bee Gees needs to hear this album ASAP. It has broad parallels with Odessa although it also features a major Crosby Stills Nash and Young side, as well as several other possible influences that I'll get to later.
If it weren't going to be reissued, I'd probably post the whole album as it's got a really nice flow and features several surprisingly worthwhile instrumentals that need context to really make sense. Since it is, in fact, supposedly going to be reissued I'll settle for posting two tracks. Here's the album opener, Astral Taxi. Those of you who were around for my Skyband post may recall a song from that album called Dream Machine that featured a line about an astral taxi: clearly a lyric/image that struck Steve Kipner's fancy. A number of songs on Astral Taxi seem to have to do with sailing and travel, to the point where it sometimes seems like it's going to turn into a concept album. It never quite does, at least as far as I can tell. The fact that it was written by a couple of Australians "exiled" to England probably has something to do with the mood.
One of the things I've always found intriguing about the various Steve Kipner albums that I've written about is that they always seem to include at least one "oddball" track that deviates from the usual Bee Gees/Beatles mix. On Astral Taxi, that song is Jenny B. While one review I've read dismisses it as bordering on yodeling, I find it pretty fascinating. If it reminds me of anything, it's some of Lou Reed's early 70's stuff (compare the instrumental parts of Jenny B. to the end of How Do You Think It Feels from Berlin) and that includes the vocals up to a point. The song is written by the two Steves, but it's so different from almost everything else I've heard by them that I'd love to hear how it came to be and who's singing. The liner notes include thanks to "Jenny B's mum." Hmmmm.
What I've posted is fairly representative of the quality of the rest of the album. I've left out a Gibb-sound-alike track that would almost certainly have been a semi-hit if the Bee Gees had released it, called I Took a Holiday, a heavily orchestrated tour de force called Tomorrow Today that simultaneously reminds me of the Moody Blues and Bowie's Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud, and another song called Ships on the Starboard that's notable for 1) screaming CSN&Y (also includes the phrase "Southern Cross") and 2) being one of the few songs I've heard to use the word "focsile."
Liner notes on the album are somewhat sketchy, but Johnny Vallins and Billy Lawrie receive some songwriting credits and were most likely members of the band, and Geoff Bridgeford (better known as a Bee Gee) is the suspected drummer. Presumably either Johnny, Billy, or Geoff is featured on the cover photo along with the two Steves. What is it about Steve Kipner albums and inaccurate or incomplete liner notes?
[The "group" as depicted inside the gatefold]
For a long time, I thought that this was the end of Tin Tin, but it turns out that there's an interesting handful of subsequent singles that I'll touch on in the next post. They're not exactly what you'd expect.
"Our destiny is solitude, for there the river flows on sentimental strong. From this moment on regretted thoughts will be forgotten and tears are only tragedy, not puerile waterings from a grieving heart. But perhaps we shall never live to tell of sadness or tragedy, as the gates of man's ultimate sorrow have never been opened to us. We only know the pathways of the garden of content and of the innocence that lies behind the eyes."
[Strange poem or whatever that appears in the liner notes, connected to track number three which is in instrumental called Our Destiny, written by Steve Groves.]