THE AMBOY DUKES: JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE MIND (1968)
1) Mississippi Murderer; 2) Surrender To Your Kings; 3) Flight Of The Byrd; 4) Scottish Tea; 5) Dr. Slingshot; 6) Journey To The Center Of The Mind; 7) Ivory Castles; 8) Why Is A Carrot More Orange Than An Orange; 9) Missionary Mary; 10) Death Is Life; 11) Saint Phillip's Friend; 12) I'll Prove I'm Right; 13) Conclusion.
Not sure about hitting the very «center», but with their second album, the Dukes have certainly reached a stable periphery. All of this is entirely self-written and much more confident than the first time around. It's also interesting in its very pronounced division. Nugent more or less owns Side A, based on individual, fat-riffed psycho-rockers, and Farmer dominates Side B, propped by a continuous psycho-pop suite, much wimpier, but somewhat subtler than Side A. Who's the winner? As much as it pains me to pronounce this, the Nuge is the winner.
Of course, the title track which opens the suite is the album's best number, and proudly deserves its place on the Nuggets boxset — but it is also the only one co-written by Farmer and Nugent on Side B. Psychedelia is rarely done at breakneck speed, for understandable reasons (try running a 60-metre dash on pot!), but that might just be one of the reasons why the Nuge still keeps pretending that 'Journey To The Center Of The Mind' is not a drug song, just an ass-kicking call for general open-mindedness and what-not. Anyway, it rocks, it's catchy as hell, it's got a blistering solo from Ted, and it shamelessly steals the fabulous riff from The Del-Vetts' 'Last Time Around' for one brief section — what's not to like?
The directions in which Farmer pushes the band on the other parts of the suite are a different matter. They borrow extensively from baroque-pop and folk-rock, and neither of these is done in a particularly exciting manner. Sure, the band learns the guitar jangle, and the harpsichord tingle, and the snowy Hammond organ badongle, but the sounds still do not come together in anything particularly impressive or original. Nugent does his best to paint the generic bolero rhythms of 'Ivory Castles' with meaty, vibrato-dependent solos, but he does little to save the Witgenstein-worthy title 'Why Is A Carrot More Orange Than An Orange', and even less to pull up the loud disaster of 'Missionary Mary' (that kind of title would suggest something grossly indecent, but, much to everybody's disappointment — no titillation whatsoever).
Thus, my and your money should be on Ted's compositional work on Side A: 'Surrender To Your Kings', another speedy anthem with a paranoid undercurrent; 'Flight Of The Byrd', another hard rock monster with a heavy Hendrix debt; and 'Scottish Tea', for which Ted honestly reworks a traditional Celtic anthem, replacing the bagpipes with psychedelic guitar — possibly the first straightforward crossing of the Highlands with San Francisco. No masterpiece, but amusing.
John Drake, as lead vocalist, once again makes no strong impression, much as he tries on the opening track: 'Mississippi Murderer', standing somewhat alone in its own corner, is a gruff roots-rocker, dedicated to the familiar subject of womanslaughter, and, in trying to find the proper spirit, Drake impersonates a thoroughly gin-soaked, smoke-choked local barroom goer, some might say successfully, but I'd rather have Tom Waits over this, since Tom has what it takes to creep me out and this guy, unfortunately, doesn't. In the end, 'Murderer' just sounds like a joke song, and a very deceitful way to start out the album.
Overall, this is «progress», in a way, because the Nuge has made way for his talents, adding a decent composing flair to his already well-honed guitar skills — and, on the other hand, it is the only Amboy Dukes album on which Uncle Ted's big dick consistently stays out of the conversation, an amazing exception in the man's career and reason enough to not only own the album, but even to award it an explicit thumbs up without bringing on seedy connotations. But be ready for a sea of filler in compensation.
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