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Mountain

The Only Twin Peaks Here Are Conspicuously Hidden Under West's T-Shirt

Introduction
Mountain (Leslie West)
Climbing!
Nantucket Sleighride
Flowers of Evil
Mountain Live: The Road Goes Ever On
Twin Peaks
Avalanche
Mystic Fire
         

Lineup Card (1969-1974)

Leslie West (guitars, vocals)

Felix Pappalardi (bass, vocals)

N.D. Smart (drums) 1969

Corky Laing (drums)

Steve Knight (keyboards)

A band of hevvvvvy rock Cream disciples led by real-life Wheels of Fire producer Felix Pappalardi in the Jack Bruce role and fat drunken lout Leslie West as a cartoonish Clapton, pulling liquid lava out of the microscopic little Les Paul Jr. guitar hanging off his enormous man-gut.  Mostly known for the molasses-thick hit single 'Mississippi Queen', Mountain had some success making the rounds in the hard-rock saturated early 70's, but never were able to really capture the public like their more viscerally attractive competition (Led Zeppelin). Much like Free, there's still plenty of people out there, especially headbangers who ought to know better, who've never even heard of this band, but can rattle off 10 faceless, gutless Foreigner songs without straining a brain cell.  Moreover, while their hits package is still commonly found in discount bins, their original studio albums aren't, and it took me quite a while to finally collect (almost) all their albums for purposes of these reviews. I think it's a goddamned shame, a good hard rock band forgotten like this. The thing is, when they were first around, they'd always had this Cream yoke around their neck, and all reviews always started with a point-by-point comparison between Disraeli Gears and whatever Mountain was trying to do and, not surprisingly considering how early 70's rock critics all wished it was 1966 again anyway, they always got pounded as a result. Yes, Felix Pappalardi produced Cream. Yes, his singing voice sounds like Jack Bruce in passing, and he plays a busy, note-heavy bass guitar. Yes, they're pretty much a power trio (with an organ player tacked on). Yes, Leslie West sometimes takes on Clapton-esque vibrato when he solos.  Yes, Corky Laing hits his tom-toms a lot, just like Ginger Baker. But you know the rub? They're actually a helluva lot more consistently good than bad ol' Cream used to be.  No, really, on the whole, I prefer any random Mountain studio album to any Cream album you care to pick out, because, well, Mountain rocks like a motherfucker all the time, and Cream only took time to rock out when they'd finished up writing idiotic little childish drug odes to warthogs and toads and drum soloing for three hours and forty-five minutes (oh, Mountain could jam it out long-term too, but they primarily kept that on live albums where it belonged). While it's damned hard to say that Mountain had more 'talent' than Cream (especially on a per-pound basis), and Cream has to be noted for doing what they did in 1966 instead of 1970, I daresay that Mountain is a band that still had above-average instrumental and songwriting chops and made the most out of it while Cream mostly squandered their considerable gifts.

But this fooking review is about fooking Mountain and not fooking Cream, aye? Bah crackie! Mah neighborrrrr's a fooking lowlanderrrr, so's I reckon I'll go take a shite in his brrrreakfast, aye? Foooking stoook-up bastarrrrds!

This Scot moment brought to you by Guinness Stout.  Guinness Stout - when you Absolutely, Positively have to take the Blackest, Smelliest Craps on your Block, make it a Guinness Stout. It's like Drinking a Loaf of Pumpernickel Rye! Brilliant! And Remember, Pub Draught is for Sissies and Little Children!

Whatever. Mountain grew out of the Long Island local-hero-never-made-it-big-huge-failure-no-one-cares band the Vagrants, from which West sprouted and whom Pappalardi produced an album for.  West and Pappalardi collaborated on West's solo album called Mountain, and proceeded to tour under that name in 1969.  After kicking out the original drummer for having the two stupidest initials imaginable for a name next to Q. X., they formed Mountain as we know it, had a memorable night at Woodstock, and proceeded to log more miles on the road than Cale Yarborough over the next five years.  They broke up in 1975 due to drug problems *yawn!* and irreconcilable differences between Pappalardi and West *yawwwwnnn!*, after which West has infrequently reformed different versions of the band for moneymaking tours, some including bassist Jack Bruce and original drummer Corky Laing and some including no-damn-body you've heard of except for West. Pappalardi, his ears blown out from too many painfully loud Mountain shows, continued to write and produce until he was shot and killed by his wife under suspicious circumstances in 1983 (he had been screwing around, but she got a reduced charge on the claim that he had been showing her how to use a gun when it accidentally went off), so never took place in any of these cash-ins, but I'll review one here just to give you a little taste of what ol Les is doing nowadays.

Mountain's biggest accomplishment is continuing on at least a residue of the anything goes, wide-open skies Sixties psychedelic feel into the often claustrophobic Seventies hard-rock world even when the Big Three hard rock/metal bands (Zep, Purple, and Sabbath, who I fondly refer to as 'B.S.') left it behind.  This was mostly due to the flowery-powery infectants used by Pappalardi, who was no doubt someone who had more acid running through his veins than the Alien and used it, in combination with his soothing, non-screechy vocals, to create Cinemascope sonic landscapes and hypnotic, shifting atmospheres to great effect.  This band didn't name one of their more accomplished epics the 'Theme From An Imaginary Western' for nothing, and I'm sure said Western was fully developed in Pappalardi's mind, with extras and special effects and credits and everything.  I tell you, I might make fun of Robert Plant as a hopeless flower child or Ozzy Osbourne as a burnt-out drug casualty, but Pappalardi is most definitely the psychedelic dark sorcerer of the early heavy metal era. No one else is fit to lick his sugarcube, you know what I mean?

On the other side, the reason I can speak of Mountain in the same breath as Sabbath and Purple and not feel even a little bit like a dipshit is because of the lead-hefty hard rock blare of West, Pappalardi, and Laing that, while not as loud, slow, and low as Sabbath or breakneck fast and flashy as Deep Purple, still sounds monstrously muscular.  West's guitar tone is a marvel of thickness, a slab of skull-bursting fuzztone that somehow keeps crystal clear and never muddies the mix.  Unless he wants it to, and 'Mississippi Queen' might just be the most gloriously muddy song in the history of loud rock music. For people like me for whom distortion is like oxygen, Mountain is guaranteed to at least raise a good metal grimace on your face five times per album.  The riffs are consistently brilliant, and the band is varied enough in its interests to pull off some nifty proto-Skynyrd (who owe Mountain a bit more than just a little tip of the cap) style Southern blues-rock moves smack dab next to a surprisingly melodic ballad smack dab next to a stomping dark bastard of a heartbroken metal anthem. Plus, West has this big black-guy blooze shouter voice to temper the lighter, more subtle vocals of Pappalardi. It's not Freddy Mercury, or even Fred Flintsone, but then nothing quite matches the rude loudness of West's guitar like his own voice straining harder than Scott Weiland after a prime rib dinner.

Often the combination of Pappalardi's fruity psychedelia and West's uncompromising metal roar is dizzying and fascinating, but one of the biggest complaints I have about this band is that neither side of their yin-yang Pappalardi/West axis is as interesting as the combination.  The West-heavier tracks are decent hard rock, but they aren't much more interesting than your average Foghat song a lot of the time, and Pappalardi's inexplicable ego can easily lose me in an intricate acid haze when he's not grounded by West's sweaty, ready id. Yup, the balance between the Mind/Soul/Ethos of Pappalardi and the rock hard full-body erection of Leslies West is what makes Mountain special, and when they have both sides working (even when it's not plain that they are), this band is considerable.  Live, they're another story - they're dominated by the hard-rockin' brickhead side of the band and are about as subtle as Lasik surgery with a battleaxe. Their live shows are so self indulgent I heard the Fillmore East actually named a women's bathroom after them for the lines that would form during their 30-minute jams on 'Nantucket Sleighride', but I still prefer their Skynyrd-y mode of jamming to Cream's jagged aimlessness on the Goodbye and Live Cream albums. Call me nuts, but if I have to hear yet another wankfest of that awful 'Spoonful' again, I can't be held liable to the damage I'm going to cause this Internet.

Anyway, Seventies heavy metal with psycho-Sixties and southern rock touches which rocks massively but can fall apart when they don't concentrate on keeping the seasoning and the meat on the same plate at the same time.  Let's all repeat after Charlie Sheen: Hey, ho! Let's go?

 


Mountain (as Leslie West)- Columbia 1969

Because Leslie West was such an audacious sonofabitch, I have no doubt that most of this loud, rude hard rock/blooze album probably made the critics sputter with anger back in the late 60's. But things change, cranky young rock critics become cranky old rock critics who like Sting, and for a young buck like me, Mountain makes me long for the more accomplished Mountain albums to come. As Felix Pappalardi is somewhat limited in his role as co-songwriter, this is primarily a simple sledgehammer to the right thigh bone from Mr. West and His Amazing Six Stringed Sidekick.  This album is intended to RAWK, preferably at volume levels that can liquefy glass window panes at 50 paces, where it sounds not just like ol' Les is sitting in your very living room, but has perched his substantial frame on top of your chest and has set to howling 'LEAVE THE CITY BEHIND ME!!!' directly into your sinus cavity while his Jr. rapes your dog and drinks all the beer.  Though there's some variation in the form of hairy-chested ballads like 'The Long Red', the album seems dominated by sludgy-yet-effective riff stompers like the opening 'Blood Of The Sun' and 'Baby I'm Down' and unfortunate, unstriking blooze along the lines of 'Better Watch Out'.  Blues rock like this was the formula of choice for the discriminating uninspired songwriter of 1969...'Blind Man' sounds like the sad result of listening to too much Yardbirds on too much hash, and his cover of Dylan's 'Wheel's On Fire' is too much displaced anger best shifted towards producing another classic riff instead of molesting this former country-rocker to distraction.

The quieter, more Felix-obvious material - 'The Long Red' and 'Because You Are My Friend', are much more jarring and out-of-place-feeling than they'd be on the Mountain albums, partially because the rest of the album is so aggressive, and partially because Leslie West has about as much place singing a flowery ballad as he does trying out for the Olympic Gymnastic team.  The guy may hold some diverse guitar chops (his double-tracked guitar solo in the country-blues 'Better Watch Out' shows a touch of true Mississippi Delta Mud got to him, even way up in Long Island, and he has a way of making even the dorkiest ballad strumming sound thick and lush), his voicebox is nothing but a big, fat blowtorch...like Wilson Pickett crossed with Joan Rivers and a few decades in the coal mines. Still, it's not like he vocally crushes these songs in a heartless, dunderheaded manner, in fact he really tries to be tasteful with it, but it's like trying to pheasant-hunt with a SCUD missile...you might be careful as hell, but no matter what you do you're still ending up with a big hole and some pissed-off neighbors.

And anyhow, what's wrong with some stoopid hard rock, then? When he forgets trying to be classy and reverent, he kicks butt from here to Tobacco Row.  'Dreams of Milk & Honey' later became a concert favorite, and there's little wonder why it did - the riff jars the smart right out of my skull, and engages in that brilliant subtle tempo shifting that makes me glad I'm a young man with grit in his teeth and soul in his shorts. 'South bound Train' revels in those goddamn railroad cliches all over the joint, but the quickness of West's riff energizes it nonetheless. Not all the rockers are winners, and the limited songwriting and general sludginess really begins to grate before the thing finally hits its strong ending duo of 'Train' and 'Friend', but what do you want from a man's solo debut? It has to be remembered that Mountain, at heart, was just a little regional mid-level release by a relative unknown, but still managed to get enough attention to push Mountain into the spotlight in a relatively short period of time.  It's simply decent, decent enough standard filler-ish riff rocking and with a couple of well-placed bright spots to point the way to the future, but not a whole lot else.  That's what bandmates are for, right?

Capn's Final Word: I though maybe having my fillings rattled would be more satisfying, but...not so much.

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Alan Brooks kerry_prez@yahoo.com    Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: Good songs, but Leslie tries to be too rootsy. You almost expect dirt to come out of the album when you open it.
 


Climbing! - Columbia 1970

Monstrous hard rock album - heavy, rocking, fast, rude, loud, and good, the formal Mountain debut record more than definitely holds its own against damn near all the excellent hard rock albums of 1970 (with the primary exception being Deep Purple's In Rock, which has a near-total spine-shiver-inducing magic that's just about frigging impossible to duplicate), and shows in its very first two songs what Mountain does best.  'Mississippi Queen' is a 4-wheel-drive voodoo-saturated ice cream cocaine sandwich of chunky, thick hard rock greatness, forever stuck in my mind as one of the undeniably awesome displays of pure, unmolested guitar tone.  It's like peanut butter, creamy, thick, and irresistible. The interplay between the heaving rhythm riffage and the fuzzy, piercing leads creates lubricant for the soul, and everything, in case you don't know, goes better with a little lubrication. Moreover, let's not forget the mighty rhythm work - this is yet another one in a long line of More Cow Bell classics, and the steady-but-lithe drum work is just another reason why this songs rocks your scrawny ass. It's Leslie West in his uncut form, and it's great.

So if 'Queen' is pure Leslie, then the cover of Jack Bruce's 'Theme From An Imaginary Western' is Felix at his best, a grinding, cinematic mid-tempo anthem based on a highly Cream-sounding descending chord sequence and Felix doing his best to top Bruce's vocals, and since Felix sounds good - vulnerable, soulful, yet determined, not to mention able to keep his head above the heavy turbulence that is Mountain in full flight, he beats out his old friend handily. And Leslie, showing he's developed that White Wizard side of his persona that he hinted as on Mountain, solos with every bit of the tragedy and vibratoed mysticism of Clapton at his best. This is a romantic, subtle attack that's just as arresting as the full-bore brontosaurus stampede that follows on 'Never In My Life', and though it unfortunately comes borrowed from Cream, it still has to be recognized that it's now fully Mountains, and ranks as another one of the band's signature songs.

The album continues with an exceptionally strong set of songs that act as variations on the light/dark dichotomy of West and Pappalardi, one crushingly loud and one melodic, poppy, and tonally diverse.  Following 'Never In My Life', (which, sheeit, is like the third Greatest Hit in a row) comes Pappalardi's 'Silver Paper', which manages to mix up some quieter moments and an almost Irish-sounding chorus in the 'Western' formula, and the jolting 'Yasgur's Farm', where Pappalardi's vocals reach a delicate peak and West tears off another weeper guitar workout.  I hear touches of Blind Faith's 'Presence of the Lord' in a few of the melody lines, but I figure as long as we're already plundering one of Clapton's bands for material, why not go ahead and raid another? It's not like they're ripping off 'I'm So Glad' here, they're plumbing only the prime material, and doing it on a much more consistent basis than he was able to do himself. Considering how derivative much of Clapton (and Bruce's) own stuff was, I say it's a neat trick as long as they keep it up.

The next phase of the album shoots off in another direction entirely, one equally derivative but also equally well-navigated by this inspired bunch of thugs.  'To My Friend' and 'The Laird' (a play on how Southerners said 'the lord'? heh!) strike into Led Zeppelin III territory, both acoustic, the first a faintly Eastern-sounding folky solo instrumental and the second a brooding psychedelic dirge, where the main point of interest is Felix's fragile mewl and the marvelous integration of some quiet electric leads and flutes into the heavily treated acoustics. Except while Led Zeppelin often sounded like they were putting on folkie clothes just to find another style to engulf and digest into their ever-growing egomaniacal (but brilliant) amoeba, Mountain is capable of genuine sensitivity, without ever sounding wimpy or contrived (like, say, Black Sabbath could on their lighter numbers) in the process. I can't stress this enough - while their rockers may sound delightfully brickheaded and one-dimensional, this band usually wasn't. They were some pretty deep cats, despite what 'Mississippi Queen' might tell you.

So 'Sittin On A Rainbow' is just a decent brittle-sounding riff rocker in the company of fantastic, solid ones, and 'Boys In The Band' fails in its attempt to finish the album on a melancholy, gripping note in a mishmash of languid riffs and clashing styles (is it bluesy? metallic? or just written worse than George W Bush's freshman Comp final?), the rest of this album is scary strong. Scary when you realize how few people know anything about it nowadays, especially.  Climbing deserves to be placed in the highest regard by hard rockers too inundated by the endless barrage of Led Zeppelin album cuts and Boston wank-a-thons on classic rock radio to consider something else. A marvelous piece of rocking that deserves better than its lot has been, and followed by a few more that are just as face-clenchingly enjoyable.

Capn's Final Word: Big and bad and some of the best you've ever had.

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mark      Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: absolutely too right on this one! i picked it up during my 60's rawk/blooze phase as recommended by a book called "sixties rock" which characterized mountain as cream wannabes, only not as "talented". well, call me a fool, but i'm a sucker for SONGS, & this album is a payoff. although nantucket sleighride is easily my favorite mountain song, this album is far more consistent and blows the hell out of ANY and i mean ANY cream release. jesus, i'm getting mad just thinking of those virtuoso hacks getting all kinds of praise, even now!! in 2004!!! mountain also had going for them the fact that fat rockers rule. if leslie west, in addition to being 2000 pounds, had only been balding and german, he would've been the greatest rock and roller ever.

 

Alan Brooks kerry_prez@yahoo.com     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: I don't think this album is any better than Nantucket Sleighride, but Climbing is quite good enough, if you are a Mountain fan. This is Mountain's second or first best album, depending- it goes without saying- on your taste.


Nantucket Sleighride - Columbia 1971

Fewer immediately recognizable classics this time around, but some progression in the sound makes the second Mountain album much more than a reiteration of the first. Just a hint of synthesizer here and some more overdubs there and Mountain begins to sound less like a bunch of barbarian raiders bent on rustling your women and raping your horses (with Felix as a sort of weird super-brain overseer) and more like, well, respectable members of the Seventies rock community, or something.  Well, maybe not...they're still heavier than Aretha Franklin after all-you-can-eat chicken fried steak night down at the Country Kitchen, and I don't think Leslie West will ever quite be tamed. But the keyboards are definitely playing a larger role in the sound on Sleighride, Leslie is playing more controlled leads and fewer chunk-for-chunk's-sake riffs, and Felix Pappalardi has taken a stronger role in general.  The man's title track plays a huge role on the album, acting as a sort of improvement on 'Imaginary Western', with a wide variety of subsections from the dark, 'Funeral For A Friend' opening to the gradually building verse section to the flailing headbanger ending, and all manner of solos and breaks in between.  'Sleighride' is one of the prototypical progressive meaty-metal epics, along with 'Child In Time' and 'Stairway to Heaven', both of which came out at the same time and have sections obviously ripped from 'Beck's Bolero' off the first Jeff Beck Group album. Plus Mellotron! Plus a part that sounds like the Allman Brothers! Holy crap, if there were more overdubs on this song Felix'd have to start dressing up in satin unitards and singing about putting his gun against some dude's head and pulling his trigger. 'Sleighride' (God only knows why it's called that) might be completely outrageous and over-the-top, but if you can't be outrageous and over the top on a 1971 hard rock album, I don't want to live in this world anymore.

In comparison to Felix and his eight-minute marathons, Leslie West's songs either come as soft, comfy, unpretentious pair of sweatpants or as a deadening hard rock sledgehammer depending on your particular set of notions and circumstances.  I still lean towards the former, as the melodies on 'You Can't Get Away' and the opening screamer 'Don't Look Around' show more than just a rudimentary understanding of rock music, and 'Don't Look', especially, isn't any 'simpler' than any of Felix's work, it's just faster than a motherfucker and Leslie howls the words in his blooze-blaster voice rather than Felix doing it with his twee box, that's all. With 'Tired Angels', Pappalardi gives us a superficially simple rocker of his own, desensitizing us with headbanging verse riffs before drenching us in icy whiskey by deconstructing into another wonderful drama-queen ballad chorus completely unexpectedly. Okay, 'The Animal Trainer and the Toad' and 'The Great Train Robbery' is just flat, fillerish slimy Leslie proto-Southern rock, great for rednecks and future Lynyrd Skynyrd members, but nothing compared to the heavyweight haymakers earlier in the album. I dunno, maybe for the hippie backlash of 1970, this stuff hedged your bets nicely against a knee-jerk reaction to 'Nantucket Sleighride', but I've heard too many Bloodrock and Molly Hatchett albums to give too much of a fuck about some barrelhouse pie-anny and some lousy slide guitar when there's mean, rockin' stuff like 'Don't Look Around' and 'Travellin' In The Dark' to look forward to.

The biggest struggle in Mountain is supposed to be the neverending battle between Felix 'The Mind' Pappalardi and Leslie 'The Body...and A Whole Lot of It' West, but a funny thing happens on Nantucket Sleighride...besides the obviously Felix title track (excellent) and the obviously Leslie southern-boogie tacks (sucky), they achieve a tentative fusion between the two factions.  Leslie plays more complicated riffs than he might otherwise have done, and Felix writes effective rockers that still integrate his favorite light/dark loud/soft dynamics the way he wants them to. I'd still say this is a lot closer to an A- than Climbing's near-A+, (it's hard to argue with 'Never In My Life' and 'Mississippi Queen') but they're still essential to any right-thinking, red-blooded American rat bastard like myself.

Capn's Final Word: Some of the best work from both Felix and Leslie. Some marginal crap, too, but still a candy-rockin' teethcracker.

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Alan Brooks  kerry_prez@yahoo.com    Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: This is Mountain's best. Did you know that Pappalardi and his dear wife-- who did all the sleeve artwork, except for 'Flowers Of Evil' -- spent six years writing 'Travelling In The Dark'? That is correct, they started the song in 1964.


 Brad Sherman scott_bradley@yahoo.com      Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: Title track alone is worth the price of this disc.  Also fun is the 17 minute version to be found on Mountain Live but the studio version is a quiet loud masterpiece. Incidentally, you claim that only God knows what the name means.  The song is about a lonely whaler and a Nantucket Sleighride was the journey a whaling rowboat went on when pulled by a harpooned whale. The boat would be pulled along until the whale bled to death. Then the larger ship would catch up and the butchering would begin. Pleasant and very heavy metal.


Flowers of Evil - Columbia 1971

Now they never actually were Minor Threat or anything, but it was around this time that the Mounties began to embrace their inner glutton and start to do everything - jams, drugs, groupies, crossword puzzles - to dizzying, artery-plugging excess. Flowers of Evil is a clear shift from the relatively compact Mountain of Climbing and Nantucket Sleighride to a very conscious sense of jam-overkill, probably brought on by the rapid evaporation of their songwriting reserve.  Think back to Climbing, will ya? Nine songs, nothing excessively long (not even 'Theme From an Imaginary Western', which, like, got down on it's tender knees and begged to be stretched out to 10 minutes), all developed, structured, and focused.  You know, like professionals make record albums, and everything you'd expect out of a group whose bass player was a hot-shit producer himself. Now, just to show you the hot and cold extremes here, 'Flowers of Evil' has a measly seven songs (six if you discount 'King's Chorale' as just a pianny-box intro to 'One Last Cold Kiss', and even one of those is just a live version of 'Mississippi Queen'), one of which is a kitchen-sink live jam ('Dream Sequence') that takes a longer period of time than it takes My Bloody Valentine to come out with a new studio album. Twenty Five Minutes!  Golly, Wally, you think Dad's gonna be pissed I wrecked my bike and them masturbated into his smoking slippers? I haven't sat through this much wanking since I saw Showgirls with the guys on my men's dorm floor my freshmen year. Now, I'm well fucking aware that 1971 was the time of 'Mountain Jam' and forty-five minute workouts on 'Dark Star', but it's always a shock to see a measly EP's worth of studio material fattened up into a fifty-minute LP ala Goodbye Cream and then passed off without any hint that, in reality, most people will probably be long nodded off face-first into their tamale platter by the time they finally get to the vocal section of this song.  Granted, they sure sound better at jamming than Cream, who mostly wanted to see how quickly everything could descend into mindless, toneless, warp-speed finger-twiddling and then how long it would be before the audience picked up and left to go down the street to buy some hash and a Dylan bootleg and head home. Mountain seems to have planned their jam to a certain extent and never quite let themselves get far enough outside the lines to lose the game plan completely.  Sure, they still wank and wank and wank until my eyes glaze over, and I'd rather they hadn't acquiesced their merciless vibe with a pandering detour into 'Roll Over Beethoven', but I can say that the jam actually gets quite a bit better towards the end....meaning, it goes somewhere! Shocking, yes, but just because Mountain count themselves as reverent Cream disciples doesn't mean they can't improve on their idols....I think the reviews on this page all point towards that end, and if they don't, well, it's because I have about as much right using the written English language as a dung beetle. It's not really my fault, see...I have this special card that's supposed to warn people I'm like this. 

Anyway, the live version of 'Mississippi Queen' that closes the live side rocks like freebase cocaine, and the twenty-one minutes of new studio material is generally as good as the stuff on Nantucket Sleightride. Again, they're not really producing any potential singles, but 'Flowers Of Evil' is this fine, glammy, straight ahead no-brains, no-bullshit West rocker, and 'King's Chorale/One Last Cold Kiss' once again reminds me that pianist Steve Knight sounds quite a bit like Elton John at his rocking best and that Felix Pappalardi uses sea-shanty rhythms like Mick Jagger uses hair dye, always and a lot of it. 'Crossroader' (Jesus! There's other bands to steal ideas from than Cream, guys!) is another Southern rocker with plenty of sticky slide guitar and cock-rocking blooze vocal stylings, and no better or worse than the same sort of thing that was on the end of Sleighride earlier in the year. All in all, more of the same, second verse same as the first, kick me in the right nut and then the left, Buy one Get One for More Money...except for the entirely unexpected big-chest, brainiac prog-rock epic 'Pride and Passion', that is....now where this came from, I have no idea. It begins with Leslie fucking about uncomfortably for a few minutes with a tape echo and his volume knob, but then ka-BLAM...it turns into a weird cross between a Styx marathon and a Bad Company power ballad. The power ballad section is really quite nice, with more great understated vocals by Felix and some of Leslies more controlled slide work, but the Styx-y part, with the jerky Hammond organ arpeggios, is gut-wrenchingly awful (other than Felix sounding, unlike that cum-stain Dennis DeYoung, like a human being).  Then Leslie fucks with his volume pedal some more, like a big fat asshole strung out on too many drugs who thinks he's being 'psychedelic' when he's really just wasting tape.  I suppose this is the end that Felix Pappalardi was moving towards with all his imaginary westerns and Nantucket Fuckslides, but as is usually the case with fucking I like the process much more than the result. Except here all that Mountain is really doing is wanking...does that count as fucking? I guess it depends on how desperate you are and how sexy your right hand is, eh?

So not much of Flowers of Evil is really new or compelling (and the only part that is, 'Pride and Passion', is sort of half-bad), and the jam isn't really one to make visions of purple warthogs dance on your solar plexus, but the level of competence and the momentum from their first two excellent albums is enough to bring me through this one with a positive feeling, too. I do think that Evil is the point where Mountain stopped seeming exceptional and started feeling more like any other hard rock band with a slide guitar and 25 minutes to spare onstage, where the initial blast really began to wear off, and the fact that their next two releases turned out to be jammy, indulgent live albums seems to bear this out.  It sure is a whole helluva lot easier to play live shows than studio albums, and it's a whole lot easier to play a live show when no one knows what the hell you're supposed to be playing anyway, isn't it? Let laziness rule, eh, gentlemen?

Capn's Final Word: Slightly stale, but with that same great chunky peanut buttah flava!

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Alan Brooks kerry_prez@yahoo.com    Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: I take it back: Gail Collins, Pappalardi's wife, did ALL the artwork for all of Mountain's albums, at least those released before her husband's demise. The title track rocks out, the rest of the album is just alright. I bought all of Mountains albums so I could tell my garage-band friends, "now here is a band you haven't heard of yet". Mountain weren't then and never have been a supergroup.

 


Mountain Live - The Road Goes On Forever - Columbia 1972.

Well, the number of original things one can say about a decent-yet-unengaging live album numbers somewhere between zero and the big goose egg, but I'll suck it up in this National Day of Mourning (gawd...four more years of President Gomer....and just when I thought maybe I had a prayer of getting through the next four years without being laid off. At least this time he was elected president by the people, at least as far as I know. But wasn't Stalin also elected to a second term?) and slog through and try to give fans an excuse to track down this album (which I think is supposed to be rarer than a Las Vegas virgin) and non-fans a pass to let it go.  It's really quite decent in terms of over-the-topedness...really, the best thing I can say about it is that, no matter what else, it's more song-oriented and self-controlled than the gawd-awful-messy Twin Peaks from the next year, meaning it at least meets my expectations of what Mountain live should probably be. Of course they're going to extend 'Nantucket Sleighride' out until it's jammier than Homer's donuts, would you expect any less? I don't mind, though, because as I've said before, my brain's been so saturated with lengthy jams due to my continuing, suffering heartbreak at the hands of Deadheadism that a few five-minute solos tacked onto this great song don't much phase me.  Hell, I like the melody of this song so damn much, I wouldn't much care if it were 'Dream Sequence' length or even longer...it's a dang fine one to base some jamming off of, very much preferable to that cobbled-together Frankenstein's mistake of a 'song' on Flowers of Evil. Especially cool moments include the fascinating 'descent' section where Pappalardi's frigged-out bass takes over the melody line and Leslie just plays these evil-sounding chords behind him in a towering monument to fuzztone. It goes through ups and downs from there, but that several minute-long initial crescendo into chaotic freaking out is extremely memorable.

The three (!) other songs on here are much shorter and less interesting than 'Sleighride', and the first two are only interesting because they're a single and a one-offs not available elsewhere. They inject some gasoline and testosterone into 'Crossroader', which is exciting and leads into 'Nantucket' well, but the opening version of the 'Long Red' single is mostly ugly, and 'Waiting to Take You Away' sure sounds suspiciously like Led Zeppelin's lame-ass 'Thank You' ballad off II. I guess West was afraid Page and Plant might sue (or send him a thank-you card for making that cheesy melody sound halfway decent, one of the two) so he left it off the studio albums. Good idea, I say, because all I can do is wonder when that orgasmic section of 'Nantucket Sleighride's gonna come around again.

Capn's Final Word: The 'big moment' is fantastic, and it's decently concise, but most of you can do without the other wanky parts.

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Alan Brooks kerry_prez@yahoo.com    Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: Pleasing version of 'Long Red', this time the song is SUNG by the Great Fatsby, not croaked.

 


Twin Peaks - Columbia 1973

Just going to show just how blockheaded they really are, the AMG calls this a 'concert at their summit', as if they'd never done any better than on this godforsaken live mess made when they were on extremely shaky ground indeed, halfway to breakup, abandoned by their sidemen, raped by the smack needle, and who hadn't released an album with more than a handful of new material in two years (and hadn't released a true LP-length studio album in longer than that).  If I had the goodwill to possibly look past a few of Mountain Live's flaws because it seemed like what a Mountain live set should be, my cells scream out that Twin Peaks is what a Mountain live album shouldn't be. The 'Guitar Solo' that leads into the thirty minute (*sigh*) centerpiece version of 'Nantucket Sleighride' is indicative of just what I'm trying to say here - Leslie at best sounds dull, at worst completely incompetent.  Most of the time he just slams out power chords like he's playing along with some internal tune that no one else can hear, but he also makes room to cop directly from Jimmy Page a half dozen times, the Rolling Stones at least once, and about 2:30 through, he sure sounds a helluva lot like that time my washing machine ate one of my daughter's tiny socks. But he's not thoughtfully 'quoting' his betters...he's absentmindedly ripping them off, just flipping detachedly through his 'playbook' of licks and scawling out noise in the meantime. Dude, I play guitar! I know what he's doing! He's noodling, fiddling, practicing, trying to get anything interesting to come out.  Well, he never really does, and after realizing he's rendered his audience catatonic, ends up tossing out a bit of cheeseball pander in an attempt to get at least a little ovation ('Jingle Bells', which is enough to make me want to punch Frosty straight in the coal lumps). Gross, but for damn sure not the only time he completely fails at the task at hand here...West's deterioration is clearly apparent, and anytime he attempts to do anything but play the chords exactly as written he staggers worse than Tracey Gold on day care carpool day. As vital and compelling as the seventeen-minute 'Nantucket Sleighride' was on Mountain Live, this version is numbing and amateurish. That orgasmic crescendo into the instrumental section? Replaced by a 'funky' guitar/organ improv section that sounds just like any other drug-addled wankers you care to name (Tommy Bolin-era Deep Purple, anyone?).  From there, it descends into truly un-Nantucket-like random improv, cashing in its chips losing all sense of melody or atmosphere. Even the verse sections are inferior - Pappalardi sounds as faded and sloppy as Leslie's soloing technique, as his voice lacks control (he cracks notes and lazily hunts around the rhythm like Mick Jagger with a mouth sore), and his fuzzed-up bass sounds way too thin and buzzy, like some angry hornet that keeps flying around stage in front of the microphones trying to sting one of West's stupendous love handles. The contributions of the new organ player aren't particularly likeable, either, as it seems like many of the less-interesting turns of the jam come at his behest.  Sure, in thirty minutes of playing, there's bound to be some nice moments - the speeding up section in minute 12 is exciting until West kills it with his terrible soloing (I mean it...he sounds very much like me, and I'm terrible). Suffice it to say that the best part of 'Nantucket Sleighride' is the clapping at the end, coming like a rainstorm to the Gobi or a Democratic congress...it's simply been too long. Bungled, too-quiet drum solo with too much cymbal crashing? Yes, indeed! A second funk section, even worse than the first? Boy howdy. Bass solo? Are World Series of Poker players sexy hunks of man meat? Don't answer that...but do avoid this like poorly refrigerated tuna.

Okay, so compared to how overblown and unnecessary 'Nunfucking Slutride' is, the shorter tunes can't help but sound better, and the song selection is less eclectic than on Mountain Live.  I'm sure another version of 'Crossroader' or 'Roll Over Beethoven' isn't too essential, though 'Beethoven' rocks the shit out of the mid-'Dream Sequence' version on Flowers.  'Never In My Life' and 'Blood of the Sun' can't help but kick ass (but for some reason, the dead-leg version of 'Mississippi Queen' can. Perhaps it's that half-hour of wanking between them that they waste all their energy on.), but the desultory 'Imaginary Western' suffers from the same lame performance by Felix that sinks the vocal parts of 'Sleighride', and 'Silver Paper', while acceptable, sure doesn't improve on the marvelous studio version in any way, shape, or form. Okay, whatever...this poorly scheduled double live album is just big and gross, sort of like my second girlfriend, except for one major difference...she didn't wank at all, Such is life.

Capn's Final Word: Alright, so Mountain live doubles itself in size, halves itself in quality, and damn near kills my love for 'Nantucket Sleighride' and 'Theme From an Imaginary Western'? I can't tell you enough times, people...you have to be very, very careful with genetic engineering.

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Avalanche - Columbia 1974

Considering the completely fragmented state of the Mountain band by the time they stumbled into the studio to record their final album in 1974, you'd have every right to expect Avalanche to be an utter, bloody, and heartbreaking failure on the order of the Hindenburg, Custer's Last Stand, or Men In Black II. It's not. While Twin Peaks may have shown them to be slightly more sloppy and unfocused than your average learning-disabled ferret, they certainly held it together in the studio, giving us an album we can actually be proud of as well as put on our turntable and headbang to until scrambled brain tissue begins to erupt from our noses. Okay, maybe it doesn't rock that hard, but it's still one of their better 'syntheses' between the Pappalardi and West axes of the band, probably one of the few times they've really coexisted since Climbing!. This means that Pappalardi is more controlled in his flower-trickery than usual - there's nothing longer than 6 minutes here, and that one's a straight-shead bone-crunching kinda rocker called 'You Better Believe It'.  Yup, the excess factor is definitely under control here overall, except in the rocks very fucking hard department, where we're still delivering the mail come rain, shine, or debilitating drug addiction. So do I miss the fact that there isn't yet another eight minute Cream-worshipping variation on 'Theme From an Imaginary Western' on this album, but instead a bunch of gloriously obnoxious heavy metal tunes to complete my day? Hell no, because Leslie West, I'm proud to say, has ratcheted up his songwriting to give us an overwhelming majority of winners. This is an album that's so good, even the covers sound great. While your below-average, mouth-breather band like Grand Funk Railroad would play 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On' straight, Mountain crunch the thing up so fantastically it sounds like the second coming of Blue Cheer, and boy is it pissed. It sure don't sound like my Richard Pinnebaker, anyway. As for the crawlin' king-snake apocalyptic deconstruction of the Stones' 'Satisfaction'? I think it's genius...the man doesn't sound like a mildly anxious teenager like in Mick's original. He sounds like an axe murderer gritting his teeth, fingering his blade, and cruising for his next kill. Fucking madness, but again, it works fantastically. When so many bands' ideas of a cover is simply to up the tempo and/or distortion level to irritation levels, a true and honest implosion of the hallowed ground that is Little Richard or the Stones greatest hits sure is refreshing.

The originals aren't much worse than those two crispy covers, either.  The riff to 'Sister Justice' sure sounds a whole lot like '73-'75 'fast' era Black Sabbath (probably mostly like something off Sabotage, which came out a year later in '75, but I don't have it in front of me and am too goddamn lazy a human being to find out for sure), but the lyrics are pure Pappalardi - dippy, but somehow banal at the same time. 'Sister Justice wears a blindfold, just as though she had no eyes....but underneath I know she cries'. What is this sensitive crap? Melanie? Ah whatever, as long as it's not Jewel, because the last time I heard Jewel I threw up all over my ex-girlfriend and then threw her diamond necklace into the In-Sink-Er-Ator. Damned Alaskans, you never know when they're gonna turn slutty on ya.

Anyway, just like a grand ol' Sabbath good time again, they turn right around and give us a folksy acoustic guitar instrumental to allow us to reload our Uzis before slammin' us face-first into another rocker and another and another. As a rocker, 'Swamp Boy' isn't quite 'Sister Justice', but it is the creepiest and most original of the band's Southern swamp rockers, with Felix's quavery voice indicating either questionable motives or undeniable intoxication, and probably both. They revisit the Southern rock vibe with 'I Love To See You Fly', again invoking a great acoustic Led Zeppelin sound that proves again that one unsure Felix Pappalardi is much less annoying than one self-assured Robert Plant anyday.  From here, 'Thumbsucker' is as heavy as this band got, but the riff is too sludgy to properly Louisville Slugger my skull over the left-field fence and the 'Don't want you to suckonmah suckonmah suckonmah thumb! Thumbsuckah!' hookline is pretty fucking idiotic, if you ask me or anybody else familiar with the English language. 'Back Where I Belong' makes another glorious noise, but it's just boogie as usual, and the merits of closing the bands with the boozy Dr. John tribute 'Last of the Sunshine Days' are debatable - how close is this to the band's true self, and how close is it to the band just fucking around drunkenly trying to fill out their album? Ah, whatever...it's still noisy as fuck, and that's as close to the real Mountain as you can get. Let em close up shop however they want, I guess, as long as it's noisy.

 Capn's Final Word: Another hilltop of goodness from the original Mountain band. Aren't you glad I didn't say it 'erupts' from your speakers? Or say it's gonna 'boulder you over'?

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Mystic Fire - Lightyear 2002

I'm missing Leslie West's 1996 'Mountain' album Man's World, but I do have this godawful ugly 1999 album that I don't want you to buy. *Sigh* See, I used to read guitar magazines back in the early 90's, like right before the time Nirvana brought grunge and some indie credibility to the heavy guitar-rock scene.  Right. Back when rock had gotten so low it sucked lobster balls. You know...Winger. Nelson. Warrant. In fact, I remember nearly getting into a fistfight with my buddy's little brother because I couldn't stop making fun of his favorite band, which at that time was some inbred little fake-eyelash band called Slaughter (their hit was 'Can You Take Me HHHIIIIIIGGHHH EEENNNOUUUGHHH!!!', in case you've maybe seen it on one of those commercials for cheapo K-tel compilation CD's on late-night TV).  Now, I'll admit that I don't hate 'hair metal' as a rule, but I do hate what happened to almost all of the hard-rock dinosaurs from the 70's that survived until that barren time...each and every one of them attempted, with their head up their ass and waving a sign saying 'Will Sell Out for Blow Jobs and Package Tours with the Scorpions', to update their sound for the new generation of listeners.  The results were roundly despicable and a pox on the face of these band's names...have a look at my Deep Purple or Black Sabbath reviews for a good idea of how I feel about some of these albums.  Anyway, I remember reading reviews of some colossal cauldron of bullshit like Black Sabbath's TYR album in these guitar magazines, and they never failed to give them a positive review, as if they were just a good song or two away from the next Master of Reality. Even then I knew what dirty, shitty liars these writers were, and when I finally heard what the albums really sounded like. Well...as a result of this (plus years of becoming violent at the sight of completely preposterous, fad-chasing, dick-sucking corporate books like the Rolling Stone Album Review Guide and the Spin Alternative Music Guide) I guess I felt the need to start a review page of my own and set the record straight on a few of these things.  Since then it's been a mostly cathartic experience, feeling like I have a slight shred of influence to counteract these record-company bought opinions in these mass-market magazines geared towards kids just discovering what good music can be. There's a whole lot of crappy music out there for an unsuspecting music fan to step ankle-deep in, and not everyone needs to waste their hard-earned $17.99 on some shitty 'Black Sabbath' album if they don't have to, goddamn it. Fuck the record companies!

The thing is, it's not a good feeling to pound a formerly great band into the mud when they come trundling out with whatever piece of filth they've gotten someone to tape for them, almost thirty years after their peak. First off, I appreciate what they did in their former lives very much. I also know most of these guys ain't super rich anymore (especially in these hard rock bands like this), and probably have more than a few hells they've made it through to live this long, and don't really want much more out of life than to keep doing the only thing they really know how to do, which is record music and play shows to longhaired hard rock fans who'll pump their fist at any blues-derived swill played through loud distortion. I applaud them for surviving, and I can't really fault them for trying to recapture a little of the glory-uh. Listen, some bands actually do the impossible, and I'd like nothing more than more of them to prove me wrong by pulling a Deep Purple or an Allman Brothers-style turnaround and start recording honest-to-goodness great albums again.

The simple, harsh truth is that most of them never do. Most bands keep bashing their brains against the wall year after year releasing crappy record after crappy record, with half an eye cocked on what the latest fad might be (Edward Van showoff solos! Comic book Satanism! Power ballads! Grungy overloaded guitars! Sampled hip-hop beats!) and half an eye cocked on trying to recreate their 'classic sound' and failing because they were A) under the complete direction of a dictatorial producer when they made their original albums and actually know nothing about making records at all, B) made records that sounded like that out of a sheer combination of beginners luck and blind ignorance, or C) were too high, in any event, to remember what the fuck happened 30 years before anyway. Listen, I don't have to be nice to each album that comes along just because I think one member of the band used to be pretty good way back several years before  I was born, and I don't have to be nice just because they're 'following their muse'.  Following their muse? What kind of deceitful bitch would inspire someone to record a derivative, brutish album like this one? Some albums just deserve to be beaten like a Whack-a-mole, and no matter what kind of sympathy or nostalgic mistiness is gonna cure that. Trundling along year after year polluting the record racks and keeping decent young bands from getting half a chance at a record contract or a decent tour is something I simply don't find particularly appealing. Of course some people might say the same thing about the Stones, or Paul McCartney, or the Who, or Eric Clapton, or 50 million other people, fair enough.  I'm saying it right now about Mountain - they broke up in 1974 and no matter what kind of legal sleight of hand Leslie West uses to be able to put 'Mountain' on his album covers, without Felix Pappalardi, this band ain't nothin'. Simply a big, fat zero.

Mystic Fire is a terrible record. Leslie West's cruddy, crack-destroyed voice sounds like a bad George Carlin put-on and his guitar is either processed all to frig like Yngwie Malmsteen or sludgier than a leaky Cajun septic tank. Most of the time he simply plays so slowly and deliberately he sounds like he's underwater. The cover of 'Johnny Comes Marching Home' is a despicable deconstructive excuse to solo more in that newfangled dentist drill style of his. The riffs wouldn't impress a two year old, and the macho-rocker evil-women lyrics scream out 'cliche' faster than you can say 'road song' and 'baby, I'm leaving you'. They include drum solos, albeit at least ones from original drummer Corky Laing. They remake 'Nantucket Sleighride' and make it offensive and shrill. All I can say is 'yikes!' and hide from my stereo.

Capn's Final Word: Fuck this record. This ain't MY Mountain.

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