pearls before swine One Nation Underground (CD, £11.50)label: drag city
It’s been fifty years since Pearls Before Swine first appeared. A genteel, oft-hushed missive from a far corner of the psychedelic hive mind, ‘One Nation Underground’ was released on an independent outlier of a record label, removed from the mainstream - and still its spirit came to be deeply appreciated by a generation and more. Today, this music has been reissued by labels around the world dozens of times. Tragic then that it hasn’t been heard properly in decades. The stereo record that made it to compact disc in the 90s (and to subsequent vinyl pressings) was a botched job, with reverbs added to evoke a fake stereo image and an overdub track from the original master lost in the transfer - providing a perfect analogue for a release destined not to make the original artists any money at all. The 50th Anniversary edition, however, has been returned to the hands of its creators, restoring the original mono mix that made such an impact in 1967, freed from the muffling veils that time eventually wrapped around it. Cast into a moment of incredible tumult and great discovery, Pearls Before Swine contributed a uniquely earthy strain to the arc of sound that defined the time and place of the later 1960s. A group of young men in Florida were inspired to send their demo tape to the label that released The Fugs, whose appearance and lawless attitude seemed at once a dare and an invitation. The label was ESP-Disk, whose catalogue was largely comprised of records from some of the farthest-out jazz players in New York City - but Pearls Before Swine were welcome to make a record there, too. Relocating to New York in the Spring of 1967, they were installed at Impact Sound with provisional ESP house man Richard Alderson (engineer of many of those jazz sessions, as well as sound-man on Dylan’s 1966 world tour) and, in three days, laid down the album. When it was released in October of that year, it immediately began to catch on with young people around the world with its blend of gentle and innocent, erudite and outraged. Each song was from a different genre and each track had something strange / mysterious in it, via exotic instruments, electronic oscillation or pure, simple intent. There was proto-punk in the mix, rife with humour, aloft with the pastoral acoustics of the banjo; music of the people of the world, all in the service of Tom Rapp’s visceral, unblinking lyrics. Original producer Richard Alderson oversaw the restoration and remastering of the tapes, allowing us to hear with jolting clarity the original sound of Pearls Before Swine. Notes from Richard and PBS leader Tom Rapp lend historical perspective and Tom adds his reflections on each of the songs as well. Listen again - and hear for the first time, perhaps - the sound of ‘One Nation Underground’. For music like this, radio play wasn’t dictated by pluggers pushing a single up the charts - the jockeys at free-form stations played it because it spoke to them and they loved it. This was THE cult album of its time, loved by artists as divergent as Leonard Cohen and Iggy Pop. Fassbinder’s 1969 film ‘Rio Das Mortes’ used two songs in its soundtrack and featured the album cover on one of its characters’ walls. Two hundred thousand copies were pressed over the next couple of years and by 1969 Pearls Before Swine were an underground legend, recording their third album for a major label. The mysterious glow around their first two ESP-Disk releases has never faded, even in the past several decades, when the album’s sound was undermined by technology.
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