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The Best of Spirit by Spirit

Another one for the "but weren’t they.... " file: yes, Spirit was nominally a "rock" band, but if it were that simple we wouldn’t have this review. Spirit was a Los Angeles-based band that explored the fusion of jazz and rock (and folk, classical, etc.) during the years 1967-70 from the "rock" end of the spectrum, and they were uniquely qualified to pull it off. Guitarist Randy California used to play with Jimi Hendrix in NYC and was invited to join the JH Experience in England in the 60s but California’s mom wouldn’t let him go (RC was 16 or 17), ace drummer Ed Cassidy (also RH’s stepfather) played with Thelonious Monk and Art Pepper, keyboardist John Locke came from a jazz background and the rest played in Taj Mahal’s Rising Sons. "Animal Zoo," "Fresh Garbage" (which features a graceful electric piano solo worthy of Vince Guaraldi or Bobby Timmons) and "Mechanical World" anticipated the quirky, sardonic and jazz-informed songcraft of Steely Dan by a good few years, and the sultry, wraithlike "Taurus" gave a certain British blues-based stadium rock band the blueprint for one of their mega-hits. (Hint: their name is a synonym for "heavy balloon craft.") Spirit had an unusual (for their time) balance of Anything Is Possible vision with terse restraint ‘n’ tension: California’s guitar stings, smolders and sidesteps meandering self-indulgence, and Ed Cassidy didn’t need 30-minute solos to prove his prowess: his style was/is a unique mix of confident swing and rockin’ thump, and he contains the beat like a master. While some of their lyrics are now a tad dated, they fortunately were also possessed of a mordant sense of humor that avoided hippie clichés. This new version of Best of Spirit improves on previous LP record and CD versions by having [nicely] digitally remastered sound, adding five songs and some spiffy, informative liner notes. While some of their original albums could be a little inconsistent, this package can [also] be filed under All Killer, No Filler.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Spirit
  • CD Title: The Best of Spirit
  • Genre: Fusion
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Reissue Original Release: 1973
  • Record Label: Epic / Legacy
  • Musicians: Spirit: Randy California: guitar; Jay Ferguson: vocals; John Locke: keyboards; Mark Andes: bass, vocals; Ed Cassidy: drums; with an unidentified horn section.
  • Rating: Five Stars
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