The Blackwood Apology


Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1  (1968-69)

Ron Beckman -- bass

- Dennis Caswell -- drums, percussion, vocals
- Tom Hustin -- guitar, backing vocals
- Dennis Libby -- keyboards, backing vocals
- Dale Menten -- lead guitar, vocals
- Bruce Pedalty -- organ, backing vocals

 

  supporting musicians:

- Greg Maland -- keyboards, pipe organ

 

  line up 2  (1969)

NEW - Dick Hedland -- guitar (replaced Tom Hustin)
- Dennis Libby -- vocals, keyboards
- Dale Menten -- lead guitar, vocals

NEW - Dick Rees -- keyboards (replaced Greg Maland)

NEW- Scott Sandsby -- drums, percussion (replaced 

  Dennis Caswell)

 

 

 

- The Castaways (Denny Caswell)

- Crow (Denny Caswell)

- The Gestures (Dale Menten)

- Dale Menten (solo efforts)

 

 

 

 


 

Genre: rock

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  House of Leather

Company: Fontana

Catalog:  SRF 67591
Year:
 1968

Country/State: Minnesota

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: uni-sleeve

Available: 2

Catalog ID: 2435

Price: $20.00

You couldn't be blamed if you didn't believe the backstory on this one ...

 

Blackwood Apology was the product of Minnesota-based guitarist Dale Menten.  Menten had been a member of The Gesture who scored a big hit with their first single:

- 1964's 'Run, Run, Run' b/w 'It Seems To Me' (Soma catalog number 1417)

 

Somewhere in the ensuing long dark Minnesota nights Merten came up with the idea of a rock opera set in a Civil War era house of ill repute.  As if that concept wasn't strange enough, the whorehouse just happened to have a munitions plant in the basement, with the product being used to support Union war efforts.   To record his concept Menten recruited former Castaways members Dennis Caswell and Dennis Libby, along with bassist Ron Beckman and guitarist Tom Hustin, and keyboardist Bruce Pedalty.

second line-up

 

Menten and company somehow attracted the attention of Fontana Records which green-lighted the project.  Teamed with producer Skeet Bushor, "House of Leather" is definitely an acquired taste.  As mentioned, the album was intended as a concept, though having listened to it dozens of times over the years, I still don't have a clear understanding of the plotline, or the underlying themes.  I'll readily admit to my intellectual shallowness ...   Against that backdrop, I've been forced to enjoy the album for the musical content which bounced between Association-styled pop ('Sarahís On Her Knees'), to acid-tinged hard rock moves ('Here I Am').  With Menten responsible for penning virtually the entire set, the song structure was too fragmented to make this a great album, but there were quite a few selections that stood on their own and were memorable.  One of the most interesting tunes, 'Time Marches On' sounded like a mash-up of The Association and Queen.  As mentioned, 'Here I Am' was the album's most conventional rocker and would have sounded good on an FM play list.  Kicked along by a melody Ron Beckman bass line, 'Death And Reality'  underscored Menten's knack for penning catchy melodies.

 

Be forewarned, this was one of those albums that didn't have an immediate impact on me.  I remember giving it a couple of spins; not thinking much of it, and actually selling two copies I had.  It wasn't until a couple of years later when I stumbled on a copy at a yard sale and decided to give it another shot that the album registered with me.   

 

"House of Leather" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Medley:    (Dale Menten) - 2:06

     i.) Swanee River Overture   rating: ** stars

Hum, The Association take on an American classic ...  What did I buy?

     ii.) House Of Leather Theme   rating: **** stars

And just when you started to wonder why you'd plunked down your hard earned cash for this obscurity, 'House of Leather' kicked in with a nifty dose of fuzz guitar, organ, and lysergic harmony vocals.   Much more like it.
2.) Do You Recall The House Of Leather?
   (Dale Menten) - 2:47   rating: *** stars

Opening up with dome church organ and pretty acoustic guitar moves,, about a minute in the tune shifted into a distinctive Beach Boys direction.  Nice Menten lead guitar solo and wonderful harmony vocals which were apparently intended to clure you in that this was happening in a bordello.. 
3.) Recess With Mrs. Grim   (Dale Menten) - 1:03   rating: *** stars

Know idea how this fit into the plotline and the playground sound effects were a bit off-putting, but this one literally dripped with lysergic influences.
4.) Graduates Of Mrs. Grimís Learning    (Dale Menten) - 3:10   rating: **** stars

Opening up with some surprisingly engaging jazzy guitar and organ moves, 'Graduates Of Mrs. Grimís Learning' shifted into a fuzz powered ballad.  Once again, the lyrics didn't do much to clarify the plotline for me (I'm guessing the namesake was the bordello owner), but the tune was pretty rocking.
5.) There Is Love In The Country (On The Donny Brooks Farm)   (Dale Menten) - 2:03   rating: **** stars

Musically 'There Is Love In The Country ' may have been the album's most mainstream and commercial tune.   Imagine Davy Jones and the Monkees severely dosed and you'd get a feel for this one.   Nice melody (including the brief not to 'Dixie') and Caswell's martial drumming was interesting.
6.) Here I Am   (Dale Menten) - 4:27   rating: **** stars

My favorite performance on the album, kicked along by Menten's blazing guitar, Uriah Heep-styled organ, and some to-die-for harmony vocals, 'Here I Am' was an out-and-out rocker that would have sounded nifty on FM radio.
7.) She Lives with Me   (Dale Menten) - 1:07
   rating: *** stars

Opening up with what sounded like something pulled off an album of Greek balalaika music, 'She Lives with Me' was la pretty, if brief, harmony-rich ballad.  Ultimately too short to make much of an impression. 
8.) Thereís Love In The Country (On The Donny Brooks Farm)  Reprise   (Dale Menten) - 2:05   rating: **** stars

Side one ended with a nice continuation of  'Thereís Love In The Country (On The Donny Brooks Farm)'.  Interesting mash-up of op and psych influences.

 

(side 2)

1.) Time Marches On   (Dale Menten) - 5:23   rating: **** stars

Interesting ballad that offered up a nice mixture of a Freddie Mercury-styled lead vocal (seriously), a nifty pop melody, and just enough touch of progressive moves to make it another album highlight.  
2.) Dixie And The War
(instrumental)   (Dale Menten) - 3:21    rating: *** stars

Kicked along by Menten's driving fuzz guitar, the instrumental  'Dixie And The War' sounded like a studio jam session, but with a nice melody and harmony vocals kicking in towards the end..
3.) Death And Reality 
   (Dale Menten)- 2:52

Sporting a nice Ron Beckman bass line, 'Death and Reality' was one of the album's prettiest melodies, spotlighting the band's sterling harmony vocals.  like most of the album, the lyrics have always been a puzzle - lots of death and pain.     rating: **** stars
4.) Sarahís On Her Knees   (Dale Menten) - 2:46    rating: *** stars

Pretty acoustic ballad that again brought out the group's Association-styled pop-psych colorings.  
5.) Theme From House Of Leather (Epilogue In Suede)   (Dale Menten) - 2:45    rating: *** stars

In spite of the title, 'Theme From House Of Leather (Epilogue In Suede)' opened with a 'Swanee River' refrain that merged into an organ power 'Dixie' segment; followed by some of Menten's excellent fuzz guitar work.  

 

 

With the album attracting decent reviews, if few sales, Menten collaborated with playwrite Frederick Gaines to adapt album as a stage play.   The resulting show ran at Minnesota's Cricket Theater with a revamped version of The Blackwood Apology providing the accompanying music.  In 1970 the production moved to New York, but after being killed by the critics, the play closed after one off-Broadway performance.   Capitol Records apparently planned on releasing a soundtrack, but the project was quickly shelved.

 

With a brief mention of the album, Menten has a small website at: http://www.mentenmusic.com/index.html

 

 

 

 

 
 

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