Band members Related acts
- Ken Westland Haag -- rhythm guitar
- Jim Hodder (RIP 1990) -- vocals, drums, percussion
- Robert "Bobby" Gass -- keyboards
- Lassie Sachs -- bass
- Jim Sheldon -- lead guitar
- Blue Streak (Jim Sheldon)
- Freedom Express
- On Wings of Sound (Robert Gass)
- Jim Sheldon (solo efforts)
- Steely Dan (Jim Hodder)
Rating: **** (4 stars)
Company: AVCO Embassy
Country/State: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: original inner sleeve; minor ring wear on cover
Catalog ID: 238
This is an album that's attracted considerable critical hype and to be honest, the first time around, it didn't make a major impression on me. It was certainly listenable and had a couple of interesting moves, but overall the collection just didn't click. So a couple of years have passed and I'm giving it another shot (on a brand new Rega PB3 turntable) and about all I can say is the album sounds a helluva lot better this time out.
It's interesting how many collectors have heard of this band, but know little or nothing about them (not that I have a lot to add to their biography ...). They were apparently formed in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a line-up showcasing rhythm guitarist Ken Westland Haag, singer/drummer Jim Hodder, keyboardist Robert "Bobby" Gass, bassist Lassie Sachs, and lead guitarist Jim Sheldon. Having previously toured the States with Van Morrison, Sheldon was seeming the front man. A true 'hippy' band, the members lived together and even though they apparently weren't big on rehearsals, somehow managed to attract a local following on the Boston club circuit, eventually cutting a series of demos for a planned album entitled "Baptism". The album was promptly shelved until the small American Sound label released a limited press in 1996 (American Sound catalog number AS 1004). And here's where it gets even more confusing. I've never been able to find the details, but under the name Freedom Express, with the addition of a horn section, the five members seemingly cut a quickie album of horn-propelled psych-oriented cover tunes for Mercury ("Easy Ridin'" catalog number SR 61250).
Abandoning the Freedom Express nameplate, the band somehow captured the attention of AVCO Embassy Records, which promptly signed them to a recording contract. Recorded at New York's Record Plant 1970's "Welcome" was produced by Gary Kannon (aka Gary Katz). Featuring all original material, tracks such as 'Punchin Judy' and the fuzz guitar propelled 'Wax Circus' showcased an engaging mix of hard rock moves with occasional country-rock and jazz touches. As lead singer Hodder had a voice that was well suited to the group's repertoire (anyone into early Steely Dan will instantly recognize him) while keyboardist Gass was notable for his understated playing (a rarity for '70s bands). The other highlight came via Sheldon's consistently impressive fills. Personal favorites include the rocking 'Amos & Andy' (which really did sound like an early Steely Dan tune) and the extended, moody closer 'Slipping'.
- Built on a repetitive and increasingly hypnotic keyboard and guitar riff, 'Punchin Judy' is one of those songs that snuck up on you and simply wouldn't leave you alone. It wasn't the most original song structure you've ever heard (nor were the lyrics Pulitzer Prize caliber), but the combination of Hodder's gruff vocals (okay his brief flirtation with scatting was crap), and some stinging fuzz guitar from Sheldon made this one a blast to crank out on the stereo. rating: **** stars
- Starting out as a pretty, slightly acid-tinged ballad, 'Lady' had the same tortured song structure Hodder would encounter when working with Steely Dan. No, there was no way you could slow dance to this one, but I'm simply a sucker for this kind of stuff ... Once again Sheldon turned in some impressive lead guitar while Gass' Baroque keyboard moves bore a slightly resemblance to Donald Fagen. rating: **** stars
- Powered by Lassie Sachs' melodic bass and Sheldon's double tracked fuzz guitar, 'Wax Circus' starred out as the album's most commercial number (in a '60s fashion). The abrupt switch to circus music theme was startling, but it was short, as was the band's move into Booker T. Jones-meets-Ennio Morricone soundtrack moves. rating: **** stars
- 'Mora' opened up with some of Sheldon's most melodic playing; Sachs' again making his presence felt with some equally dynamic bass moves. Almost progressive, the track bounced across various melodic and timing changes with impressive results. rating: **** stars
- 'Natural Song' opened up with a fantastic Sheldon solo and then morphed into a pleasant and surprisingly commercial slice of country-rock. Hodden sounded wonderful on this one with the rest of the band showcasing some sweet harmony vocals. rating: **** stars
- 'Country Girls' was an out-and-out country number. Normally such a tune wouldn't have done much for me, but this song's easy-going charms got to me. Actually, I think it was ultimately Bobby Gass' unexpected harpsichord that got me. The end result was a song that unexpectedly climbed into your head and won't leave.. The track was also tapped as the 'B' side to a post-LP single rating: *** stars
- With a lyric that included a cast of oddball characters and a mix of catchy chorus and more rock oriented moves, 'Amos & Andy' was another track that sounded a bit like early Steely Dan (particularly the bouncy, almost pop--oriented feel that closed the song). Guess that's why I liked it so much. Hodden's no-frills drumming was showcased on this one, though the drum solo really wasn't necessary. rating: **** stars
- Clocking in at over eight minutes, 'Slipping' was one of the album's standout performances.
Opening up with some gorgeous Gass harpsichord and Hodder's lightly treated voice, the song featured one of the album's strongest melodies, with a modest lysergic edge (complete to a nod to Strawberry Fields). There were a couple of abrupt shifts into harder rock, but the song always came back to the smooth, entrancing main melody. Great tune that makes me think about floating down a calm river ... always laugh when I hear the end of song studio chatter. rating: **** stars
Not the most original album I've ever heard, but consistently enjoyable and an album that I enjoy more every time I listen to it. Well worth looking for.
The band apparently toured a bit in support of the album; namely through the Northeast, but some dates in the mid-Atlantic, but the album did little commercially.
"Welcome" track listing:
1.) Punchin Judy (Ken Westland Haag - Lassie Sachs) - 5:12
2.) Lady (Ken Westland Haag - Robert Gass) - 4:22
3.) Wax Circus (Robert Gass) - 4:29
4.) Mora (Ken Westland Haag) - 4:20
1.) Natural Song (Ken Westland Haag) - 3:55
2.) Country Girls (Ken Westland Haag) - 2:36
3.) Amos & Andy (Ken Westland Haag - Lassie Sachs) - 4:47
4.) Slipping (Ken Westland Haag - Lassie Sachs) - 8:23
AVCO Embassy catalog number AV-11002
The band made a brief appearance in the AVCO Embassy financed anti-drug film "The People Next Door". They performed two songs in the film which also appeared in the accompanying soundtrack ('Sweet Medusa' and 'Echoes of Sweet Medusa').
AVCO Embassy also tapped the songs for a non-LP single:
- 1970's 'Sweet Medusa' b/w Country Girls' (AVCO Embassy catalog number AVE 4539).
And what happened to the band after they called it quits?
Starting in the late-1980s Gass seems to have recorded a string of new age-oriented albums. I've never tracked down any of his solo work, or released with the band On Wings of Sound.
Haag kept his hand in music, recording some material with lead guitarist Sheldon.
Sachs turned his attention to studio engineering.
Sheldon became a touring musician, working with the likes of Linda Ronstadt. He recorded a couple of albums with the band Blue Streak; a couple of solo efforts, and found time to get a degree in music theory and
In 2007 the album was reissued in CD format by the British Fallout label (catalog number FOCD2033). I can't vouch for the project's legitimacy and the sound quality gives you the impression it was recorded off of a vinyl LP rather than the master tapes. Still, the CD reissue won't cost you nearly as much as an original vinyl pressing. The Fallout package also included three bonus tracks - the two tracks from "The People Next Door" soundtrack and a previously unreleased instrumental 'My Life In Review'.
1.) Sweet Medusa
2.) Echoes of Sweet Medusa
3.) My Life In Review (instrumental)
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