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Skin Alley: To Pagham and Beyond (remaster)

Skin Alley followed up their 1969 self-titled debut relatively quickly, elisting the services of producer Fritz Fryer and engineer Martin Birch (both of whom the band worked with on the single version of "Tell Me" from their debut) for the sophomore release To Pagham and Beyond. While the band was recording the album in 1970, bassist Thomas Crimble left to join Hawkwind, and was replaced by former Atomic Rooster bassist Nick Graham. The music on To Pagham and Beyond still has that early prog sound, but with less reliance on Hammond organ this time around, and no Mellotron to be heard, the band expands on their jazz vibe much more with the extended use of flute, sax, and trumpet.

"Big Brother is Watching You" is a great example of this, with rich reeds and intricate rhythms, as well as strong lead vocals. The piece has a very strong jazz and blues flavor, thanks also to some thobbing bass lines and lead harmonica. Lead flute is all the rage on the pulsing "Take Me To Your Leader's Daughter", complete with jazzy saz, piano, a myriad of percussion. The band dives straight into blues rock territory on "Walking in the Park" led by a great vocal from Graham, loads of horns, funky organ, and deep grooves. I was instantly reminded of early Colloseum on this track. Dark & somber Hammond organ takes center stage on the majestic rocker "The Queen of Bad Intentions", a song very reminiscent of the style of Skin Alley's first album. Bob James delivers a stabbing guitar solo on this one as well as plenty of tight riffs, and there's a great atmospheric ending to the piece that ultimately leads to a wild, almost "free-jazz" outburst at the end. This leads into the upbeat, almost early-Chicago meets Blood Sweat & Tears influenced rocker "Sweaty Betty", a song with raging trumpet & sax, quirky vocals, and driving guitar & organ vamps. Included as well is an extended drum solo from Giles Pope on this one as well. The dark and ominous "Easy to Lie" closes out the album and mixes soaring jazz with Doors-like psychedelia, highlighted by an assortment of raucous sax passages, spoken word vocals, and creepy organ flourishes.

All told, To Pagham and Beyond is another fine album from Skin Alley, who would go on to record two more before breaking up in 1973. While some may prefer the more proggy sounds of the self-titled debut, if you like more jazz in your rock music this one might suit your taste just fine.

Track Listing
1. Big Brother Is Watching You
2. Take Me to Your Leader's Daughter
3. Walking in the Park
4. Queen of Bad Intentions
5. Sweaty Betty
6. Easy to Lie

Added: November 18th 2006
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Eclectic Discs
Hits: 3152
Language: english

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Skin Alley: To Pagham and Beyond (remaster)
Posted by Duncan Glenday, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-11-18 13:50:08
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Besides the big six of early prog (Yes, Crimson, ELP et al), early British progressive rock was defined by the Cantebury movement. Cantebury music was defined by three things - geography (Cantebury of course), style (progressive rock with a strong jazz-fusion bent), and era (late sixties to early seventies). Skin Alley is essentially qualified, yet despite trading members with other Cantebury acts and the brilliance of their music, the band isn't usually included in that genre - and it should be.

The ensemble includes guitar, bass, keyboards (with a big emphasis on Hammond), drums, saxophone, flute, trumpet, vocals and probably more. And along with imaginative songwriting and a disdain for the conventions of the day, that lineup yields 6 very different songs that will easily keep your attention through the record's 43 minutes. The two signature sounds on this record are the aggressive Hammond and the rollicking, insistent bass, played energetically in the higher registers, practically driving each song into jazz territory.

No two songs sound the same. Opener "Big Brother Is Watching You" features vocals with an almost identical style and timbre to Neil Young - but with proggy instrumentation that occasionally flares into jazz. "Take Me To Your Leader's Daughter" is almostl pure jazz, led by an alto sax and a flute that sounds like Ian Anderson on valium - stylish, but without the desperate aggression. Skin Alley breaks into very American sounding southern blues rock with "Walking In The Park" - and so we have prog, jazz and blues in just the first 3 songs. There's also plenty of Brit-styled R&B, straight-ahead '60s era hard rock, and folksy ballads.

To Pagham And Beyond has more variety across its 6 songs than most modern prog acts achieve in a career. This is the kind of imaginative bluesy / jazzy music that defined the prog genre that is still playing catch-up nearly 40 years later. It is an essential listen, and should be owned by serious collectors.

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