Stone Circus, The
Band members Related acts
- Mike Burns -- drums
- Jonathan Caine (aka Larry Cohen) -- keyboards
- Sonny Haines -- lead guitar
- David Keeler -- bass
- Ronnie Paige --
- Joey Dee and the Starlighters (Sonny Haines)
- The Footprints (Sonny Haines)
Rating: **** (4 stars)
Title: The Stone Circus
Country/State: Montreal, Canada
Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+
Comments: still in shrink wrap; "D.J. not for sale" stamp on back cover
Catalog ID: SOLD
Price: SOLD $250.00
It's amazing how many cool and all but unknown bands were signed to the Mainstream label. That said, Stone Circus is certainly one of the label's more interesting and obscure offerings ...
Like many Mainstream acts, there isn't much bibliographical information out there on this late-1960s' quintet ... The line up on their 1969 album consisted of drummer Mike Burns, keyboardist Jonathan Caine, guitarist Sonny Haines, bassist David Keeler and singer Ronnie Paige. Guitarist Haines had previously been a member of Joey Dee and the Starlighters, as well as having recorded a series of mid-1960s singles with the Canadian quartet The Footprints. Luckily former keyboardist Larry Cohen (known by his stage name as Jonathan Caine) was kind enough to send me an email laying out some of the band's history.
of all we weren't from California. We were a New York based band. In fact all of us, with the exception of Sonny Haines, were originally from
Montreal. We moved to New York to form the group with Sonny and worked under
the name The Funky Farm. It was only when the album was released that
we found out, much to our surprise, that the band had been renamed by
Mainstream Stone Circus.
If you've been searching for an album full of dreamy, pseudo-psych pop-rock, or ever wondered what The Association would have sounded like had they been a truly cool band, then 1969's "The Stone Circus" may be the answer to your search. Largely written by keyboardist Caine (someone by the name of Murphy contributed two selections and co-wrote two of the songs with Caine), the album wasn't the most original thing you've ever heard, but was never less than enjoyable and actually beat the crap out of a lot of better known and more commercially successful late-1960s releases. Musically tracks such as 'What Went Wrong', 'Sara Wells', and 'Inside-Out Man' were full of pretty melodies, sweet harmony vocals, and interesting studio effects. In terms of performances, Paige had a nice voice that was well suited to the band's blend of commercial moves and more psych/experimental efforts. Elsewhere, guitarist Haines offered up plenty of feedback drenched guitar on tracks such as 'Mr. Grey' and 'Blue Funk' while Cain provided equally impressive keyboards. While the whole album was worth a spin, my personal favorites fell on the psych side of the house, including 'Adam's Lament' and the truly bizarre closer 'People I Once Knew'.
- Sporting some sweet group harmonies and a slightly MOR arrangement (including vibes), ' What Went Wrong' started out as a mid-tempo ballad, and then slipped into a more rockin' mode for the remainder of the song. As mentioned earlier, to my ears it sounded a bit like a stoned version of The Association. That was meant as a compliment. Very commercial (in a mid-1960s fashion). rating: *** stars
- David Keeler's innovative bass and Jonathan Caine' organ gave 'Adam's Lament' an intriguing opening that was picked by one of Ronnie Paige's best vocals. Like the opener, this one managed to meld a commercial orientation with a distinctive acid tinged feel that was underscored by some of Sonny Haines most impressive fuzz guitar. In fact, my only complaint on this one was that it faded out way to soon ... rating: **** stars
- 'Mr. Gray' found the band dipping their collective toes into the concept song arena. One of the album's hardest rocking tracks (be sure to check out the fuzz effects on this one), Caine's driving keyboards provided the highlights on this one. Mainstream actually tapped this one as an instantly obscure single. For anyone interested, Barry Yank re-recorded the song on an obscure 1972 album "The Diary of Mr. Gray". rating: *** stars
- Opening up with some great Haines fuzz guitar (see a pattern here), 'Blue Funk' found the band playing around with an intriguing mix blue-eyed soul and more straightforward rock. Yeah the 'dollhouse' sections were momentarily disconcerting, but the song quickly regained its footing. One of my favorite tracks. rating: **** stars
- Like clowns themselves, songs built on carnival themed melodies normally don't do a great deal for me so I wasn't expecting much from 'Carnival of Love'. The first 30 seconds or so of this one weren't all that promising, but then the song exploded into another slice of lysergic soaked Association harmony-rich pop. Not sure the 'carnival of love' line would be a particularly impressive pick up line in this day and age, but maybe back in 1969 it carried more weight ... rating: **** stars
- With an insidiously catchy refrain, 'Sara Wells' was such an over-the-top slice of social commentary that it instantly won my affections. Another track that I wish had been a bit longer. rating: **** stars
- As you probably guessed from the title, 'Inside-Out Man; was one of the album's most psychedelic efforts. Waves of fuzz guitar, swirling Hammond, acid-tinged vocals, nifty bass line ... Hard not to love this one !!! rating: **** stars
- 'Camino Real' was a pounding rocker built on a hyperactive Keeler bass line. Yeah, the lyrics haven't aged all that well "poison never kills if its used tastefully ..." but musically this one really cooked. rating: **** stars
- Yeah, the spoken word introduction and closing sections of 'People I Once Know' were a bit-over-the-top, but if you could sit through them, you were rewarded by a dazzling Haines fuzz solo (probably his best performance on the album), followed by an equally impressive Caine Hammond tour-de-force. rating: **** stars
As mentioned above, the album spun off a single in the form of:
- 1969's 'Mr. Grey' b/w 'What Went Wong' (Mainstream catalog number 694)
All hyperbole aside, this is easily one of the best Mainstream releases. Well worth looking for.
"The Stone Circus" track listing:
1.) What Went Wrong (Jonathan Caine) - 2:31
2.) Adam's Lament (Jonathan Caine) - 2:35
3.) Mr. Gray (Jonathan Caine) - 3:03
4.) Blue Funk (Murphy) - 2:30
5.) Carnival of Love (Jonathan Caine) - 2:58
1.) Sara Wells (Murphy) - 3:06
2.) Inside-Out Man (Jonathan Caine - Murphy) - 5:09
3.) Camino Real (Jonathan Caine - Murphy) - 3:35
4.) People I Once Know (Jonathan Caine) - 6:42
And that was all she wrote for the band. As mentioned above, Caine/Cohen collaborated with the infamous Barry Yank on an obscure 1972 album. He's still active in music via his Creative Research Into Musical Expression project.
I'm not sure about the project's legitimacy, but in 2008 the Liechtenstein-based Tapestry label reissued the collection (Tapestry catalog TPT 235LP)
Also be aware that there's a 1990s German band with the same name.
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