Album Review: Spirit- Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus Deluxe Edition

Aaron ConnAlbum Review, MusicLeave a Comment

Spirit Twelve Dream Album Cover

Spirit Twelve Dream Album CoverDespite being a year or two off from its actual 50th anniversary, Esoteric Records have reissued Spirit’s 1970 classic album Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus in deluxe edition form. As the word “deluxe” would suggest, this new release has the original album remastered (well…more so remixed) alongside a slew of bonus audio. While this deluxe edition is far from perfect, Spirit fans should enjoy most of the content offered here.

A Little History
Spirit were formed in 1967 by guitarist Randy California and his stepfather drummer Ed Cassidy. Prior to forming Spirit, California was playing in Jimmy James and the Blue Flames when California was only a teenager. When James invited California to come to the UK with him, California was forced to turn down the offer given he was still in school. As fate would have it, Jimmy James would later become Jimi Hendrix. Despite missing out on Hendrix, California would continue to perform and by the mid 1960s- he was playing in bands with his stepfather Ed Cassidy. Along with singer Jay Ferguson, bassist Mark Andes and keyboardist John Locke, the original line up of Spirit would release four studio albums from 1968 to 1970. Despite the band’s split in 1973, California and Cassidy would reform the band in the mid 1970s and continue performing until California’s untimely passing in early 1997- drowning in a riptide while surfing.

Spirit band shot

Spirit in the late 1960s. Clockwise: Randy California, Ed Cassidy, Jay Ferguson, Mark Andes and John Locke

The album
Of the many releases with the Spirit name, Twelve Dreams is widely regarded as the band’s best effort. Produced by David Briggs, Twelve Dreams is a delightfully psychedelic rock/jazz ride. Lyrically, the songs all follow a loose themed concept about the everyday life of a hippie. Topics such as being a musician (“Prelude/Nothin’ To Hide”), social/political climate (“Nature’s Way”), city life (“Animal Zoo”, “Street Worm”) and love (“Love Will Find a Way”, “Morning Will Come”) are all covered here. For each of the album’s twelve tracks, the band offer a different variation of their marriage of psychedelic rock and jazz music- with the jazz side coming from Cassidy and Locke. Andes’ bass playing is sharp throughout while Ferguson’s soulful voice is interwoven splendidly for each song. From what’s been written, Twelve Dreams was mostly California’s idea. At just 19 years old, California was blossoming as a guitarist and as a songwriter. No wonder Hendrix was interested in the guy: California was a talented musician.

Remaster or remix

Spirit 12 Dreams soundwaves

The audio files for “Prelude/Nothin’ to Hide” as pictured in Audacity. Top is the 2018 remaster and bottom is the 2022 remix. Note how the bottom file is louder BUT no clipping (which is marked in red)

Some might be left scratching their heads over this reissue’s existence: just four years ago, Cherry Red released It Shall Be– a box set that covered the band’s first run from 1968-72. Included in that set was the band’s first five albums plus various other extras. The albums were also newly remastered, with the last time being for the 1996 CD reissues and some reissues from Sundazed Records. So why remaster an album that was already spruced up four years prior? While the press release and other sites say otherwise, this new remaster of Twelve Dreams is more so a remix of the album. Upon listening to the first track, listeners might notice that this is much louder than previous reissues/remasters of the album. Looking at the soundwaves in Audacity, this is very much the case. However, the new remix doesn’t have any clipping in the audio file. This new remix of the album was done by Spirit historian Mick Skidmore. According to his liner notes, he felt the album has gotten quieter on later reissues- even citing that the late Ed Cassidy wasn’t happy that the album “didn’t hit you like a Led Zeppelin album” (oh, the irony). Somehow, Skidmore was able to make a new mix of the album that’s louder while also trying to maintain a solid dynamic range. For what it is, the new remix is fine. It’s cool to hear the album amplified a bit more in parts but still, I prefer the original mix.

Bonus content

Spirit band live

Spirit performing live in concert during the late 1960s.

Several of the bonus tracks on disc one are the same bonus tracks offered on the 1996 reissue and the 2018 It Shall Be set. These tracks include the studio outtakes “Rougher Road” and “Red Light Roll On.” Most of the unreleased tracks are backing tracks for songs on the album while others are unused songs (example: “Dirty Dan”). The most interesting bonus track one disc one, however, is the live version of “Nature’s Way.” What makes it so unique is that this was the song’s first EVER live performance. The story goes that Randy California wrote the song one afternoon before a gig. On the track, you’ll hear California introduce the song by telling the audience he wrote it earlier in the day.

The second disc features a (mostly) full show performed at the Fillmore West in San Francisco on May 16, 1970.One song, “Mechanical World,” is taken from another performance at the Boston Tea Party on October 11, 1969. Looking elsewhere online, this show has been bootlegged over the years. Keeping this in mind, the sound quality isn’t great- which Mick Skidmore mentions in the liner notes.  Comparing it to the full show that’s on YouTube, the one included in this set sounds much better. However upon further research, it looks like the entire show isn’t on the second disc. My guess is whatever source this was taken from didn’t have the entire show. Still, it’s looking like this is the best quality audio you’re going to find of the original line up performing back in the day. With that, I applaud Skidmore for this efforts.

Conclusion
For what it is, this deluxe edition of Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus is a solid release. While I do find myself preferring the original mix of the album, the execution of the remix is still impressive. As with many of these deluxe edition reissues, I don’t know how often I’ll be coming back to the bonus audio. Based alone for the content and overall presentation, I think this is worth checking out.

 

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Aaron ConnAlbum Review: Spirit- Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus Deluxe Edition