Cherry Red Records have released a new box set devoted to the music of psychedelic rock band, Spirit. The set, It Shall Be, covers the band’s career during the first run of their career from 1968 to 1972. This is not the first time this music has been assembled together in a box set form, as Original Album Classics did this several years ago. However, this new collection isn’t a double dipping of the previous one, as this five disc set comes with new remasters of the albums and even more music – some of it seeing its first release on CD.
Randy California, born Randy Wolfe, started his musical career when he was just a teenager. By the time he was 15, he was playing with Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. Since Jimmy James had two people in his band named Randy, he decided to name them based on where they came from. James’ bassist was now Randy Texas while James’ guitarist was now Randy California. Jimmy James would later become known as Jimi Hendrix. When Animals bassist Chas Chandler offered to bring Hendrix to England, Hendrix asked for California to come with him. However, California was still in school; his parents told him he needed to stay home. Soon enough, California would form Spirit with his stepfather jazz drummer Ed Cassidy in 1967. Rounding out the line-up was singer Jay Ferguson, bassist Mark Andes and keyboardist John Locke.
Released in 1968, Spirit’s debut album is a psychedelic treat. This album really showcases what made Spirit so unique. They were a psychedelic rock band with a jazz feel. Given the jazz backgrounds of Ed Cassidy and John Locke, this should come as no surprise. From top to bottom, Spirit’s debut is very diverse throughout its 11 tracks.
Also offered in this set is the mono mix of the debut album, which is seeing its first release on CD. While I prefer the stereo mix, the mono mix is still strong- with some songs sounding slightly different.
Highlights: Fresh Garbage, Mechanical World, Elijah, Uncle Jack, Gramophone Man, Water Woman
Album rating: 8/10
The Family That Plays Together (1968)
While not as good as their debut, The Family That Plays Together is certainly no sophomore slump. With this album, the band were able to gain a hit single with “I Got a Line On You.” This album is fairly jazzier than the debut as there aren’t too many songs on here that predominantly feature California’s guitar playing. Nevertheless, The Family That Play Together is still a great album.
For Family, Cherry Red have presented here the original 1968 mix of the album. When the Spirit albums came out on CD, the tapes for the original mix could not be found for Family. As a result, the album was remixed for its 1996 reissue. Even though I consider myself a big fan of Spirit, I was unaware of there being two different mixes of this album. I even have this album on vinyl and I wasn’t aware of anything different. Listening to the two mixes, the original mix is rougher while the remix is clearer.
Highlights: I Got A Line On You, It Shall Be, Aren’t You Glad, Jewish, Dream Within a Dream, Silky Sam
Album rating: 7/10
The Model Shop (recorded 1968, released 2005)
In 1969, the band provided the music to Jacques Demy’s movie The Model Shop. The movie flopped upon its release and the soundtrack was never released until 2005. As an album, The Model Shop soundtrack is just okay. It’s mostly instrumental and the music isn’t too exciting. It’s an album you can easily skip.
Highlights: The Model Shop themes (but really, all of the tracks sound the same)
Album rating: 5/10
Of the first four Spirit albums, Clear is often considered to be the weakest of the bunch. Still, this doesn’t make Clear a bad album. It’s a very psychedelic offering from the band, featuring some great guitar work from California. The second half of the album does drag out a bit into hypnotic jams but I like how dark and haunting the production is here. Overall, it’s another solid album from Spirit.
Highlights: Dark Eyed Woman, Groundhog, I’m Truckin’, So Little Time to Fly, Give a Life Take a Life, New Dope in Town
Album rating: 7/10
Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (1970)
Produced by David Briggs, Twelve Dreams is often considered by many to be the best Spirit album. Personally, I would agree with this: Twelve Dreams is one of my all time favorite albums. It’s a pleasantly psychedelic album, with the band playing some of their best songs on here. Behind the scenes, the band was beginning to splinter as drug use was rampant and there were also tensions between members. Despite all of this, Spirit had created a classic in the process.
Highlights: Prelude/Nothin’ to Hide, Nature’s Way, Animal Zoo, Mr. Skin, Life Has Just Begun, Morning Will Come
Album rating: 9/10
After the release of Twelve Dreams, the classic line-up came to an end- with California leaving to pursue a solo career while Ferguson and Andes formed Jo Jo Gunne. Despite this, the band continued- with Cassidy and Locke joined by songwriting brothers Al and John Staheley. Feedback is a Spirit album only in name as this sounds nothing like the Spirit heard on the first four albums. This album has a country rock sound- which really didn’t suite the band. While not that good of an album, there are a few decent tunes on here.
Highlights: Cadillac Cowboys, Witch, Tracas Fog Out
Album rating: 5/10
After the release of Feedback, Cassidy and Locke left the band- leaving the Staheley brothers with the Spirit band name until 1973. In 1975, Randy California and Ed Cassidy were allowed to use the Spirit name again. With California and Cassidy at the helm, the reunited Spirit continued to tour and record until California’s untimely death in 1997 after drowning in a surfing accident. With the passing of John Locke in 2006 and Ed Cassidy in 2012 , this leaves Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes the two surviving members of the band’s classic line-up.
Bonus tracks and the remastering
The remaining songs presented here are songs that served as bonus tracks on the 1996 reissues of the first four Spirit albums. This includes singles such as “1984,” studio outtakes and the remixes made for the 1991 Time Circle compilation.
The albums in this set are claimed to be newly remastered. I personally can hear little to no difference between the new remasters and the 1996 issues. The only album that sounds any different is The Family That Plays Together, given it’s the original mix. If anything, I will say that the bass stands out a little bit more on the new remasters. Whatever the case is, the albums all sound good here.
If you’re longtime fan of the music of Randy California and Spirit, I’d say this is worth the purchase just for the mono mix of the debut and the original mix of The Family That Plays Together. Keep in mind that there’s nothing new here, unless you don’t own Time Circle or one of the albums in this set. If you’re looking to get into the music of Spirit or used to own their music back in the day, this is the set for you.
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