13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS: BULL OF THE WOODS (1969)
1) Livin' On; 2) Barnyard Blues; 3) Til Then; 4) Never Another; 5) Rose And The Thorn; 6) Down By The River; 7) Scarlet And Gold; 8) Street Song; 9) Dear Dr Doom; 10) With You; 11) May The Circle Remain Unbroken.
With Roky Erickson gone disfunctional and Stacy Sutherland assuming main responsibility for the band's artistic future, what do you think could have happened? It wouldn't take a genius to predict that the music would become more accessible, more "cultured", more melodic (after all, Sutherland's contributions on the previous albums were all that way), but also much less distinctive and with much fewer reasons to exist.
All these predictions are fulfilled to a tee: with Bull Of The Woods, the Elevators showed that they no longer had any particularly beautiful place to go, and gracefully ceased to exist as a band soon afterwards, saving the world a ton of precious vinyl (to be spent on Chicago and Foreigner records instead). But also, with Bull Of The Woods they delivered a record that goes down nice on the ears and has its fair share of excellent melodies for those who treasure and stockpile music based on the emotional meaning of its chord sequences rather than its historical importance.
And the best thing of all: NO MORE ELECTRIC JUG!
Highlights that every Sixties fan will like include 'Till Then', another Byrds-like folk-rocker with 'airy' guitars that make 'Eight Miles High' sound more like 'Half A Mile High' (not that 'Eight Miles High' isn't a better song in the long run, but for all their airiness, the Byrds never really sounded that high up in the air); the mystical 'Rose And The Thorn', very much like the Stones circa Their Satanic Majesties' Request; the kiddie Monkees-like 'Dr. Doom' with its tin soldier martial trumpets and wispy vocal harmonies; and the closing gorgeous atonality of 'May The Circle Remain Unbroken', which is more of a mantra than a song but, in that capacity, forms a suitably unusual conclusion to the record. (Twenty-five years later, Neil Young took those guitar cascades, lowered the tone and made the entire soundtrack to Dead Man on that model).
In fact, on second thought, maybe it's not even the relative absence of Roky and his madness that lets down the record, but rather its late-coming in the face of the rapidly changing music scene and values. Bull Of The Woods is like a slightly commercialized and sanitized Easter Everywhere, but in 1968-69 there was already no place for another Easter Everywhere: technically, spiritually, and even rationally musical values had already overstepped it. Neither Pink Floyd nor the Byrds nor even the Jefferson Airplane themselves were doing that kind of trippiness any longer. So, as odd as it is to say it, this album, recorded in 1968, was dated stone dead... by one year.
That's what my gruff brain keeps telling me, at any rate, while the heart is grooving to the record's mellow sounds and quietly awarding it a thumbs up. Which, unfortunately, does not commit too many of its melodies to said heart for any respectable amount of time.
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