Thursday, December 31, 2015
GLENN PHILLIPS - Lost At Sea 2LP
Somehow or other, this obscure gem, now reissued c/o Feeding Tube/Shagrat for the non-masses, has escaped my knowledge base until the last few weeks, and I feel like a putz for my ignorance. It's a beautiful thing.
Guitarist Glenn Phillips has an interesting history. For one, he played guitar on one of my fave obscuro discs of all time - Hampton Grease Band's gonzo 2LP epic, Music To Eat. Originally released in 1971, it completely tanked in the marketplace but found itself a cult audience later on, with even Steven Stapleton listing him in the infamous Nurse With Wound list. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, US of A, they were loved by Frank Zappa and landed bills with the likes of the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead (all fairly good indications of their sound), but their freeform brand of psychedelic southern boogie rock never made a dent, and for many years it was Columbia's second-worst-selling album of all time. Columbia actually did reissue it as a nicely-packaged 2CD set in the mid '90s - the edition I have, soon deleted - and I believe the story behind that reissue is something along the lines of Pearl Jam's manager being such a huge fan of the album (and at this stage PJ had sold a zillion records and had a fair amount of pull at the label) that it was rereleased on his wishes by a thoroughly disinterested label. Anyway! The sound of HGB veered towards the orbit of Zappa/Beefheart with the jamming tendencies of the Grateful Dead and the southern roots twang of the Allmans or Little Feat (whom he played with). Since I LOVE all of the above, that recipe sounds mighty fine to me. You'll have to decide for yourself whether you give a shit or not.
Which brings us to Glenn Phillips' Lost At Sea 2LP from 1975. After the band dissolved in the early '70s, Phillips jammed around with buddies, working up a repertoire, before deciding to lay tracks to tape and simply release a set of recordings himself. He formed SnowStar Records and released Lost At Sea in a limited fashion mid decade and the ever-curious tastemaker John Peel got on board and began giving it a hiding on his radio show. Stranger things have happened, but this one is curious: Richard Branson became a big fan, flew Phillips over (staying at Mike Oldfield's place!) to the UK and released an edition of the set on Virgin and the rest is history. Lost At Sea was never a commercial big deal in Ol' Blighty, though it had the critics raving and was quite the 'head' disc for avant-rockers and perhaps many waiting around for punk to hit town. Phillips has since released quite a few solo efforts since (even one on SST in 1987, Elevation, when the label was spewing out discs by Henry Kaiser, Fred Frith et al in Ginn's belief that avant-guitar music was where it's at. People laughed, but I think he made some great A & R decisions) and is the guy who perennially winds up in Guitar Player mag as a dude of 'taste', but let's quickly discuss the sounds of Lost At Sea...
Featuring some of his pals from the 'Grease Band days, Lost At Sea has a loose backing group which, particularly when Phillips' guitar is screeching up a storm, is set back a bit in the mix but has a loose-as-a-goose jam-band vibe very much like Live/Dead-period 'Dead with a bit of early '70s Zappa thrown in (Waka/Jawaka/Zoot Allures period), but it really is Phillips' guitar which makes the record. The backing music is exactly that: they're there to showcase him. Such a description may have one thinking that this must be a Satriani-style listening punishment, a total showoff for the main star, but it's not the case. The music provides the dynamics for Phillips to get really outward bound, and there's a ton of that onboard. Parts of this have me thinking of Television or Robert Fripp, which, since I've always held the view that TV basically sound like King Crimson meets the 'Dead (not a bad place to be, so don't think I'm besmirching them), it all comes together perfectly. There are moments when Phillips really scorches, cutting loose in a Pete Cosey/Sonny Sharrock/Henry Kaiser mold, so outre it has me wondering what the hell Sir Branson was thinking, but hey, those were different times.
Lost At Sea, as of the 1st of January 2016, gets my vote as one of the great rediscoveries of the previous 12 months. Housed in a tip-on gatefold sleeve replicating the DIY aesthetics of the original (with a few extra liners on top), the package and the tunes within are hard to beat. Get up with it.