Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1977)
- Rick Bess -- guitar, bass
- Mark Biehl -- vocals, flute, trumpet, piccolo
- Blair Blake -- keyboards, synthesizers, celeste
- Dave Kelly (RIP) -- drums, percussion
- none known
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title: Assault On Merryland
Country/State: O'Fallon, Missouri / St. Louis, Missouri
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Catalog ID: 20357
Best time to play: when you're folding laundry
How could you not pick up an album that sports liner notes like these?
"You mustn't harm it," the old man muttered. "But what purpose to the serve?" asked the little boy, talking of the street light bees that buzzed slowly over a jubilant bush. "Perhaps they are just a reminder today, but once a long time ago there was no light in Merryland, and the glow from the street light bees was the only source of light the people had to see with." "What happened to the light?" the little boy asked inquisitively. "Well now," the old mnn thought, trying to remember the tale he himself had been told many times when he was a child. - a tale about a magic spell that left Merryland in eternal darkness until a beautiful princess from a land far away and her lover, a common man from Merryland, brought back the sunlight. Now sure himself of the story, the old man began to tell the little boy the tale: "Long, long ago ..."
Co-produced by Bill Schulenberg and the band, 1977's "Assault On Merryland" offered up an interesting slice of mid-'70s American progressive influences. While I'm no expert on the progressive genre, to my ears this collection had quite a bit going for it. Seemingly self-financed (the liner notes thanked Ross Black "for financial backing of this project"), the album reflected impressive sound and was great when heard through a quality set of headphones. Kudos to engineers Schulenberg and Chuck Sabatino and St. Louis' Technisonic Studios. Even for someone who wasn't a hardcore progressive fans, the resulting concept album was surprisingly enjoyable. Guitarist Rick Bess (music) and keyboardist Blair Blake (lyrics) were responsible for all nine tracks. Admittedly, as described above, the plotline and some of the lyrics may have been a bit on the cheesy side, reminding me of a couple of high schoolers who'd spent way too much time reading comic books and playing fantasy-themed board games. But, then who doesn't like a story that involves magic, spiders, a princess who defies her father, only to repent thereby saving her homeland from a dark spell? Musically it wasn't hard to figure out who these guys had been listening to. Like some of their better known mid-American competitors (Kansas, Starcastle and Styx readily came to mind), think along the lines of Genesis and Yes and you'll get a feel for their musical inspirations and influences. The results made not have been as glitzy as those big name acts, but I will tell you the four band members brought together a nice chemistry that showcased their technical prowess without getting too mired in showing off their chops. Bess was particularly impressive, his guitar providing steady support throughout, without being overtly showy. Check out his solo on 'Tournament of Love.' That said, drummer Dave Kelly was the band's secret sauce.
Only 400 copies of the album were pressed, making originals fairly valuable and explaining their big ticket prices. For most folks, the 1995 reissue is going to be a more affordable alternative. Geoff Logsdon's Zarathustra Progressive Recording label remastered and released in CD format (catalog number ZARA 1001). The CD included a booklet and one bonus track:
Tyrangatang (1994 remix) (Rick Bess - Blair Blake) - 4:58
On Merryland" track listing:
1.) Eve of the Assault (Rick Bess - Blair Blake) - 6:50 rating: *** stars
'Eve of the Assault' started the narrative with a buoyant, up-tempo tune describing a wonderful life in Merryland. About halfway through the sound turned distinctly darker. Yeah, things were going to turn nasty ... Musically the tune sounded surprisingly impressive, with
2.) The Acrobat Between the Stars (Rick Bess - Blair Blake) - 6:15 rating: **** stars
Exemplified by 'The Acrobat Between the Stars', the album should be a delight for mellotron fans. Perhaps the album's most straightforward and commercial performance, the song also served as a nice setting for Mark Biehl's surprisingly commercial voice.
3.) Palace of King Ferris (Rick Bess - Blair Blake) - 3:30 rating: **** stars
Opening up with crickets and some nice Bess acoustic guitar, 'Palace of King Ferris' was a surprisingly commercial ballad that displayed some unexpectedly sweet group harmonies. I 'll even admit I didn't mind Mark Biehl's flute solo.
4.) Tyrangatang (Rick Bess - Blair Blake) - 4:38 rating: *** stars
Damn, given the opening Hammond and lead guitar sound, you could be forgiven for thinking you'd slapped on a Uriah Heep album.
1.) Dance of the Tarantella (Rick Bess - Blair Blake) - 3:38 rating: **** stars
Trying to figure out who 'Dance of the Tarantella' reminded me was one of those things that gnawed at me for a long time. And then one Sunday morning it hit me like a ton of bricks. Biehl's vocals and the song's dark, disturbing imagery sounded like prime Blue Oyster Cult. Yeah, that may sound like a strange comparison, but darned if the vocals and aura didn't remind me of Buck Dharma.
2.) Tournament of Love (Rick Bess - Blair Blake) - 4:28 rating: *** stars
'Tournament of Love' was another tune that sought to blend commercial moves with their progressive roots. Unfortunately, this time they went too far in the commercial direction, giving this one a saccharine sheen (I would love to take you dancing through the galaxies ..."). The only thing that saved this one from oblivion was Bess' killer guitar solo.
3.) March of the Squatamaudars (Rick Bess - Blair Blake) - 2:39 rating: *** stars
Well, the song title deserves a star on it's own. 'March of the Squatamaudars' started out like a pissed-off BOC and then some Head East-styled synthesizers removed the threat, revealing a wedding band. Seriously, the theme seemingly had something to do with a wedding. Once again, Bess turned in some nice twin-tracked guitar work.
4.) A Day without Light (Rick Bess - Blair Blake) - 4:56 rating: ** stars
Opening up with a Biehl flute solo, the pretty ballad 'A Day without Light' sounded like the band had slipped over into the dark world of adult contemporary rock.
5.) The Wonderful Sunshiner/Grand Finale (Rick Bess - Blair Blake) - 5:30 rating: *** stars
Pretty melody, lots of time changes, llots of synthesizers, lots of acoustic guitar, whispering vocals ... oh it's Styx.
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