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Skin Alley: Skin Alley (remaster)

Here it is, the debut from London's Skin Alley, originally recorded in 1969 and seeing a welcome remaster treatment from Electic Discs. Never heard of Skin Alley? Don't worry, I'm sure you're not alone. The band formed in the late 60's amidst the psychedelic/proto-prog/jazz rock scene, and were quickly scooped up and signed to CBS, and the rest as we say is history. Their debut is a pretty adventurous affair, littered with plenty of extended jazzy passages, psychedelia, and the early sounds of the progressive rock era, often labeled as "proto-prog". The band was comprised of Krzysztof-Henryk Juskiewicz (organ, piano, harpsichord, Mellotron, vocals), Bob James (guitar, alto sax, flute, vocals), Thomas Crimble (bass, Mellotron, vocals), and Alvin Pope (drums, congas, timpani). These four musicians used a variety of instruments to create a sound that was a bit folky, often jazzy, occasionally rocked out, yet with elements of blues and classical thrown in as well.

Comparisons to Jethro Tull will of course happen after hearing the neat instrumental "Country Aire", with its whispy flute and medieval sounding harpsichord, and "Living in Sin", a catchy rocker with driving guitar riffs, organ, and lead flute. The organ really is what drives the music on most songs here, rather than guitar, which might force some to lump the band in with other groups of the era like The Doors, Cressida, Atomic Rooster, Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, Raw Material, and Beggar's Opera. Use of the Mellotron also adds a nice dramatic effect in spots, especially on the haunting mix of acoustic and electric prog on "Tell Me", a song that will appeal to fans of The Moody Blues and Barclay James Harvest. Organ once again takes center stage alongside flute on the chilling "Mother Please Help Your Child", a track that also features some ominous chanting vocals. The upbeat romp "Marsha" is a jazz-rock lovers delight, over 7-minutes of savage organ solos and beefy sax explorations. "All Alone" is a laid back and dark piece with yearning sax strains in the distance hovering over the lazy organ and vocal melodies, while "Night Time" is a gorgeous prog-rock piece with gentle flute passages and waves of Mellotron, as well as a happenin' piano solo from Juskiewicz. The band rocks hard on the bluesy "Goin Down The Highway", with muscular guitar and sax riffs as well as a searing organ solo. Two bonus tracks are included on this reissue, the single version of "Tell Me" and the B-Side track "Better Be Blind", both engineered by none other than Martin Birch, alongside producer Fritz Fryer.

Although the music here sounds very dated, it holds up well and is very enjoyable. Fans of the early late 60's/early 70's jazz-rock & proto-prog scenes would be well advised to check this forgotten treasure out.

Track Listing
1. Living in Sin
2. Tell Me
3. Mother Please Help Your Child
4. Marsha
5. Country Aire
6. All Alone
7. Night Time
8. Concerto Grosso
9. Highway
10. Tell Me [Single Version]
11. Better Be Blind

Added: November 30th 2006
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Eclectic Discs
Hits: 2808
Language: english

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Skin Alley: Skin Alley (remaster)
Posted by Duncan Glenday, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-11-30 01:12:43
My Score:

From the first few bars it's abundantly clear that Anglo-American Skin Alley's self-titled debut was originally recorded in 1969. The musical style may be dated, but the late '60s and early '70s was the age of adventure and experimentation - the age of rewriting the rules, and of 'tripping out' to whatever felt good It was the age of invention and it spawned a variety of subgenres of rock - including today's progressive music. Not only is Skin Alley fun, a pleasing listen and a nostalgic throwback to the past - it's also instructive.

It's less jazzy and more bluesy than the To Pagham And Beyond, the record that was to follow. Skin Alley is also a very raw, organic sound that hides little, and exposes the band's very strong musicianship. This is old-fashioned Hammond-driven blues-oriented psychedelia, and although they showed scant respect for convention, it is the band's raw honesty that stands out above everything.

"Mother Please Help Your Child" is a haunting piece with imaginative use of brooding vocals and minimalistically simple flute and organ lines - and it's easily the most unconventional song on the CD. "Marsha" is more jazzy and buoyant, and slips comfortably into a Brit-styled R&B in many sections. The vocals on "Tell Me" sound like Neil Young hopped across the pond for a guest appearance, and after listening to the groove-oriented organ-led "Marsah", you could be excused for calling Skin Alley England's answer to The Doors.

Eclectic Discs has skillfully remastered this genuine classic. Despite the age of the original master tapes the sound quality is excellent, and the booklet is well compiled and informative. There are two bonus tracks: "Tell Me" was the single chosen from the original LP - it's a relatively simple piece with a pleasing melody and a melancholy tone that would never fly today. The single version has never been released on CD before, and is included here as a bonus track - and it's interesting to play the LP and the single version back to back. The second bonus track is "Better Be Blind" - also a first on CD. The vocals are more off-pitch than on, but it's an upbeat jazzy song that highlights some of the band's more candid, less rehearsed moments.

Skin Alley is a good listen for anyone with broad ranging musical tastes - and it's a must-have for those who appreciate the origins of progressive music.

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