Packing, Greetings & Gypsy

Originally posted July 25, 2008

As I look around my office/study/cave, I come to the realization this morning that this place is beginning to look like a liquor and beer warehouse.

I learned many moves ago that the best thing to use for moving records and books is lots of liquor boxes. So far, I’ve filled about thirty of them in this room alone, and I’ve barely started on the main record shelves. I’ve packed away all but the most essential music reference books, and I’ve packed all of my country, blues, classical and soundtrack LPs, as well as all the anthologies and all the LPs of the Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Band. (Complete sets that they are, those three collections get their own shelf.)

I have remaining on the shelves all the rock, pop rock, soul, R&B and anything else that comes between Joan Baez and Warren Zevon (I got the A’s boxed up yesterday.) I figure I’ll need another fifty boxes for the records that are left. Just thinking about it this morning makes me weary. But soon after I get this post up, I’ll wander down to the neighborhood liquor store and harvest as many boxes as I can, and I’ll do the same tomorrow. They know me pretty well by now.

Receiving Greetings
One of the most interesting things about doing a music blog is getting the occasional note from someone whose music is posted here. I’ve had a few of those over the past eighteen months.

The two most obvious are Bobby Jameson and Patti Dahlstrom. Then there was Alan O’Day, with whom I had an email conversation about “Rock & Roll Heaven,” which he co-wrote. But I’ve also heard from a few others. One was Dave Thomson, who played bass and guitar with Blue Rose and wrote several of the songs on that band’s 1972 self-titled album. Another was Peter Welker, who played horns on Cold Blood’s 1973 album, Thriller! And most recently, I got a nice note from Dorian Rudnytsky, a member of the New York Rock Ensemble, who thanked me for my comments on his band’s 1970 album, Roll Over. Hearing from folks whose music I enjoy is all kinds of cool.

Gypsy: Unlock the Gates (1973)
I finally got around this week to ripping the fourth album by the 1970s group Gypsy, the sometimes-fascinating band that evolved from the Underbeats, one of the most popular mid-Sixties bands in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

By the time Unlock the Gates came out in 1973, Gypsy’s moment was passing rapidly. The group’s first two albums – 1970’s double LP Gypsy and 1971’s In the Garden – had been released on the Metromedia label, a label that in retrospect didn’t have the marketing clout to take advantage of the band’s unique sound. Later in 1972, the band moved to RCA for Antithesis, and a year later, Unlock the Gates also came out on RCA. (The Metromedia label closed up shop in 1974, but one can question its effectiveness as a label even from its start in 1969; the biggest-selling artist in the label’s brief history was Bobby Sherman.)

That said, the record was still pretty good. There are flashes of the distinctive sound – layered guitars and organ, with close vocal harmonies – that made the group’s 1970 debut so remarkable.

I have some reservations: The use of strings as a sweetener in some of the tracks – “One Step Away” and “Unlock the Gates” are examples – is a bit disconcerting. And using the horn section from Chicago – Walter Parazaider, James Pankow and Lee Loughnane – on four of the record’s ten tracks was a risky idea but one that turned out well. The risk was that the horns – and all three players were outstanding musicians – would overshadow the band, but that didn’t happen, as I hear it. “Need You Baby and “Is That News?” work best of the tracks with horns, and “Bad Whore (The Machine)” does too, although the cacophonic ending is just a little too weird. The only track with horns that doesn’t seem to work is “Toin It,” but I don’t think that’s the horns.

Overall, there’s some nice stuff here. I particularly like “Don’t Get Mad (Get Even),” “Precious One” and “Unlock the Gates” (despite the softening by the strings). In general, though, the material here isn’t as strong as the songs on the first two Gypsy albums, but it’s not bad. (It’s better, I think, than the material on Antithesis.) And the musicianship is solid, as was always the case with Gypsy.

Is That News?
Make Peace with Jesus
One Step Away
Bad Whore (The Machine)
Unlock the Gates
Toin It
Need You Baby
Smooth Operator
Don’t Get Mad (Get Even)
Precious One

Gypsy – Unlock the Gates [1973]


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