LP - Alexander Skip Spence - Oar
No one except psychedelic Renaissance man Alexander "Skip" Spence could have created an album such as Oar. Alternately heralded as a "soundtrack to schizophrenia" and a "visionary solo effort," Oar became delegated to cut out and bargain bins shortly after its release in the spring of 1969. However those who did hear it were instantly drawn into Spence's inimitable sonic surrealism. As his illustrious past in the Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Moby Grape would suggest, this album is a pastiche of folk and rock. In reality, however, while these original compositions may draw from those genres, each song has the individuality of a fingerprint. As a solo recording, Oar is paramount as Spence performed and produced every sound on the album himself at Columbia Records studios in Nashville in the space of less than two weeks. This burst of creativity was directly preceded by a six month incarceration in New York City's Bellevue Hospital after chopping down a door at the Albert Hotel en route to do the same to fellow Moby Grape members Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson. A common motif to this album is the presence of saints and demons. Even the straightforward narratives such as the love ballad "Broken Heart" or "Cripple Creek" -- which feature vocal treatments reminiscent of folkie Fred Neil -- are bathed in unusual chord sequences and lyrical double-entendre. The majority of the sounds on this long-player remain teetering near the precipice of sanity. Primary examples include "War in Peace," the epic "Grey/Afro," and the sound effect-laden "Books of Moses." Comparisons have been made to Syd Barrett, John Lennon, and Frank Zappa -- the latter especially for the intense sonic collage techniques displayed on albums such as Lumpy Gravy and Civilization Phase III. In 1999, Sundazed Music issued what is considered the final word on Oar, which has been remastered and boasts over 20 minutes of additional material prepared by Spence. The album's lasting legacy is also captured on an all-star tribute CD to Spence titled More Oar.
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