Archives for posts with tag: Boz Burrell

In this review, I look at the 40th Anniversary editions of two King Crimson live albums. I’ve been a fan of the USA album since before I knew where it stood in the KC canon. Earthbound, however, was never high on my listening list. Having launched into this adventure of rambling through the King Crimson discography, however, I was inclined to give it another go, especially as the notoriously lo-fi recordings are accompanied by an (expectedly cleaner) radio session, Live at Summit Studios, in this release. More on Summit later.

My favourite thing about Earthbound, recorded on the Islands tour in early 1972, is Boz Burrell’s voice. Being a fan of the classic mid-70s lineup that produced USA, Red, Starless and Bible Black, and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, the limitations of Wetton’s voice always grated on me. With this in mind, however, these recordings also reveal in stark relief why leader Robert Fripp gave the Islands lineup the boot. Fripp himself had already moved on before they went on the road to meet contractual obligations. The other three members, Mel Collins on flutes and saxophones, Burrell on bass/vocals, and Ian Wallace on drums, are very loose in their playing and seem to want to be more of a boogie band than a progressive rock outfit. The original release consisted of 21st Century Schizoid Man, two improvs, a particularly sloppy Sailor’s Tale, and an extended jam on Groon, the instrumental b-side of the very jazzy Cat Food from 1970. The initial release of Groon was only about four minutes (four different takes can be found on the 40th Anniversary Edition of In the Wake of Poseidon), but on this tour, it was regularly extended past fifteen.

The CD portion of this release extends the initial album with Pictures of a City, Formentera Lady, and Cirkus. The DVD portion extends it further with Ladies of the Road, The Letters, and full versions of The Sailor’s Tale and Groon.

kc-eb-usa-back-smThe opening Schizoid man pushes the needle to the red in terms of both saturation and energy. While the structure remains the same, the improvisations in the middle exceed what is expected. Mel Collins’ sax work is intense, and marred somewhat by drumming that seems to be, possibly, part of a different song. Fripp ropes everyone back in with some searing runs. Boz’s treated vocals are more menacing that we hear in later versions, which is somehow appropriate.

Peoria lets us in with some bass/horn/drum interplay, but if Fripp’s guitar is in there, it’s very low in the mix. Sailor’s Tale fades in and closes out side 1. It’s the only song on Earthbound’s original release that also appears on the album they were touring, Islands. It’s a bit sloppy – and perhaps it’s this tendency to sloppiness that frustrated Fripp, but on its own terms it works.

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Island Records, 1971

Released almost a year after Lizard, Islands is a somewhat mixed bag of very interesting music. As you might have guessed from my previous reviews, I haven’t seen the inside of the Sailor’s Tales box set which gathers up (on 27 discs) almost all the extant studio and live work from the period from In the Wake of Poseidon through Islands. I’m sure has a lot of interesting background material on both those LPs and this one. (I’ve got the follow-up box sets of the ‘72-’74 lineup with their long informative booklets of, so I have some idea of the material included.) So this too is a review of the album as released at the time.

king-crimson-islands-cassetteThe album’s opener, Formentera Lady is introduced by Harry Miller’s double bass theme. Mel Collins’ flute and Keith Tippet’s piano weave around one another behind Boz Burrell’s vocals. (KC’s third vocalist in four albums, Burrell had previously worked with Fripp and other Crimson members in Keith Tippet’s Centipede project.)

This song’s almost stereotypically Asian flute work that introduces the third verse has always led me to confuse Formentera with Formosa (the former English name of Taiwan). Looking it up now, I learn that Formentera is near Ibiza and is part of Spain, and was a popular hippie destination in the late 60s. I obviously didn’t pay that much attention to the lyrics until recently, as its references to Odysseus and Circe in the fourth verse place it in a squarely Mediterranean setting. For a couple of minutes after the last verse, the song moves into a now familiar jazz improvisatory realm, anchored by Burrell’s bass lines, eventually coming back to square one for the final verse. I’m pretty sure the soprano vocals that overlay this section of the song are unique in the KC canon. It’s amusing to note that Joni Mitchell was living on Formentera in 1971 and working on her album Blue, leading one to wonder if she’s who Pete Sinfield is referencing in the title.

The soprano is faded out behind some sax before the mellotron introduces Sailor’s Tale, an almost Philip Glass-like workout for drums, horns, and keyboards. Well, it feels minimalist until some honks from tenor sax take the front of the song. As is becoming familiar in KC territory, the song takes a couple of turns in tempo and instrumentation, increasing in intensity before an oddly long fade. This seems an appropriate way to bring the listeners to the next track.

The Letters, a 16-line story of infidelity and death. closes side 1. The first letter from a husband’s lover to his wife informs her that she’s pregnant, the reply to which seems to indicate the wife has killed her husband (‘What’s mine was yours is dead’) and is about to take her own life (‘I take my leave of mortal flesh’). The opening verses are very quiet but lead to several turns with the sax taking the lead. The middle section of the song is all emotional turmoil until the wife takes up her pen. Collins comes back on flute and in the final lines the instruments leave all the work to Burrell’s bass.

The composition around which the song is arranged dates back to the Giles Giles and Fripp song Why Don’t You Just Drop In, performed on the early Crimson tours as simply Drop In. The lyrics to Drop In, however, are entirely different than those of The Letters.

Side 2 opens with possibly the oddest song for King Crimson to record. A couple of people responded to my assessment of Happy Family on Lizard to tell me it was actually about The Beatles. A case can be made for this, especially when listening to Ladies of the Road, a raunchy paean to groupies which sounds in places like either late model Beatles or early John Lennon solo work. To be honest, I was first turned off to Islands because of this song. It’s direct and explicit and almost glam in its presentation (not a problem for me in the grand scheme – one could hear it fitting in on the soundtracks to Almost Famous or Velvet Goldmine). The main issue I have with this song’s lyrics are not that they’re frank or sexually explicit, but more that the narrator is objectifying (‘[She] Said I’m a male resister / I smiled and just unzipped her’). The worse crime still, however, is that there’s no metaphorical content or lyric irony. This is uncommon both in Sinfield’s other lyric poetry for KC and in Crimson lyrics as a whole.

After the hardness of ‘Ladies’, Prelude: Song of the Gulls is oddly soothing. Its repetitive motif of flute against strings is almost baroque. And despite being a Fripp composition (recorded by Giles Giles and Fripp and also found on The Brondesbury Tapes), the recorded song doesn’t seem to feature him. I’m reminded of the credit given to Bill Bruford for the song Trio on which he doesn’t play (‘admirable restraint’).

Finally, the title track is a slowly built layering of instruments. Flute (or possibly alto sax), piano, and guitar are added to Burrell’s vocals. In the second half of the song, the vocals are faded and Collins switches over to tenor sax and Fripp adds a quiet harmonium as the song gathers in intensity. It’s one of their loveliest songs – up there for me with Matte Kudesai and Walking On Air.

The album works well as a whole, and taken on its own terms is mostly successful. Its production is more polished than that of the earlier albums. Combined with the the photograph on the cover, it’s a departure from how the band had earlier presented itself. I honestly can’t come up with a star rating for it – Islands simply needs to be experienced.

Next on the menu? Larks’ Tongues In Aspic!