Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1967-70)
- Paul Album (RIP) -- bass
- James Spider Barbour -- vocals, guitar
- Ralph Kotkov -- keyboards
- Nancy Nairn -- vocals
- Jon Sabin (RIP) -- guitar
- Dahaud Shaar (aka David Shaw) -- drums, percussion
- The Curmudgeons (James Spider Barbour)
- Fear Itself (Paul Album)
- Imago (James Spider Barbour)
Rating: 4 stars ****
Country/State: Ithaca, New York
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Catalog ID: SOLD
Price: SOLD $40.00
This is the first album I ever bought at a yard sale. I remember picking it up and hesitating whether to pick it or a Thin Lizzy LP for the $1.00 asking price. I ended up with both for $1.50 ... guess I'm showing my age here. Anyhow, warning that my background with this album may have colored my opinions a little bit.
Fronted by singer/guitarist James Spider Barbour, Chrysalis came together when the members were attending Cornell University. Supporting Barbour were bassist Paul Album, keyboardist Ralph Kotkov, singer Nancy Nairn, guitarist Jon Sabin, and drummer Dahaud Shaar. The six members quickly gave up their college careers, moving to New York City where they found a fan in the form of Frank Zappa. By a quirk of fate the band's rehearsal space was across the street from the Garrick Theatre where Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were playing. Zappa's interest in the group saw Barbour record with Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. He appeared on Zappa's1967 solo debut "Lumpy Gravy" and The Mothers of Invention's "We're Only In It for the Money". That connection may have helped the band score a contract MGM Records (which happened to be Zappa's label). Signed by MGM, the band was originally interested in having Zappa produce their debut. In the midst of a struggle to escape his own contract with MGM, Zappa politely declined, leaving former Au Au Go-Gos producers Jim Friedman and talent manager Charlie Joffe to handle sessions for 1968's "Definition".
With Barbour responsible for all of the material, the album's always struck me as epitomizing the true mid-'60s hippie vibe - something that sounded like it had the Summer of Love dripping all over it (though recorded a year later). Barbour's musical influences were heady and diversified, including a wide array of musical genres ranging from Dixieland jazz ('30 Poplar'); lysergic-tinged ballads ('Summer in Your Savage Eyes'), and even Zappa inspired quirkiness ('Dr. Root's Garden'). Coupled with Barbour's raspy voice, it wasn't the year's most conventional, or catchy album. But like trying to master any skill, perseverance pays off. Underneath the band quirkiness and seeming lack of focus lay some real talent. It's an album where there was only one bad song - the lame ballad 'Lake Hop'. Yeah, about half of the album was so-so, but the other half was full of first rate performances like the English Toytown inspired 'Father's Getting Old', 'Piece of the Sun', and the catchy as all 'Baby Let Me Show You Where I Live'. Sounds like kind of a cop out, but it's really one of those albums that gets better the more often you listen to it. Barbour and company were the real thing - true members of that '60s generation, following their muse, rather than selling out to a record company.
Chrysalis were scheduled to tour in support of the album, but their manager reportedly absconded with the touring budget, blowing it on a trip to Vegas. The band soldiered on through 1970, even recording some demo material for a projected second album. Several of those tracks 'The Dues Are Hard', 'Gimme Your Love', 'Sink In Deeper', 'Window Shopping', 'Wheel I Can Ride' and 'Cold and Windy City' appeared on a 2005 reissue of the album (Revola catalog number CR RV 104). The songs are actually quite good ('Gimme Your Love), if considerably more mainstream than anything on the debut.
"Definition" track listing:
1.) What Will Become of the Morning (James G. Barbour) - 2:29 rating: *** stars
Just like I can remember buying the album, I can clearly remember putting 'What Will Become of the Morning' on my stereo and wondering what I'd bought with my 75 cents. Not exactly discordant, but the song was far more jazzy than my normal listening range. It took a little while to acclimated to Nancy Nairn's "little girl" voice, though Ralph Kotkov's speed-of-light keyboard runs were fascinating. How does anyone make their fingers move that quick?
.2) Lacewing (James G. Barbour) - 3:30 rating: *** stars
Does acid folk actually exist ? If so, it's a genre I've never been able to relate to, but 'Lacewing' was one of the exceptions. Quite fragile; almost fey and Barbour's voice was kind of an acquired taste, but the harmony vocals were gorgeous. I didn't even mind the flute backing. Yeah, the song seemed to be about a bug, which was ironic given Barbour became an entomologist.
3.) Cynthia Gerome (James G. Barbour) - 2:30 rating: **** stars
Pretty singer/songwriter folk tune with a bittersweet lyric (time doesn't even spare the world's "beautiful people") that had an unexpectedly commercial edge. Wonderful harmonies.
4.) April Grove (James G. Barbour) - 2:55 rating: **** stars
Quite jazzy, but 'April Grove' provided a nice forum for Nancy Nairn's interesting voice. Besides, how could you not smile at a lyric that included the line "Sitting in the woods, drinking flower juice, getting stoned and enjoying life ..." Yeah, apparently another song about bugs.
5.) Father's Getting Old (James G. Barbour) - 2:20 rating: **** stars
Note sure why, but 'Father's Getting Old' has always reminded me of some English Toytown tune. That was meant as a compliment since I'm a big fan of the genre. Also always loved Jon Sabin squealing fuzz lead guitar moves.
6.) 30 Poplar (James G. Barbour) - 2:26 rating: **** stars
Complete with Dixieland jazz touches, '30 Poplar' started out sounding like something Spanky and Our Gang, or The Mamas and the Papas might have done. Nairn's voice really reminded me of Spanky McFarland. Luckily the hook was a killer.
'Baby Let Me Show You Where I Live' was a perfect example of how the album's charms slowly revealed themselves to you. The first couple of times the song struck me as being too cute. Over time it began to reveal all sorts of facets I'd originally missed. Rather than being fey, the melody was actually very catchy, as were Barbour and Nairn sweetly blended vocals. rather than being cloying, the mid-song flute break opened up a cool, Middle Eastern-flavored segment. Cool song.
2.) Fitzpatrick Swanson (James G. Barbour) - 2:30 rating: **** stars
Ever wondered what The Free Design would have sounded like if they'd decided to try to record a truly conventional pop song? Probably not, but throw in a little bit of Eleanor Rigby-styled pop psychology and the glistening radio-ready 'Fitzpatrick Swanson' might give you an idea. Another album favorite.
3.) Lake Hope (James G. Barbour) - 2:14 rating: ** stars
Not a big autoharp fan ... The song simply never kicked into gear for me.
3.) Piece of the Sun (James G. Barbour) - 1:55 rating: **** stars
Perhaps the album's best tune, I once read it described as a perfect aural representation of a good acid trip. Can't comment on the analogy, but I will admit there was something profoundly trippy about the package. Killer Paul Album bass line, only outdone by Jon Sabin's totally unexpected fuzz guitar explosion.
4,) Summer In Your Savage Eyes (James G. Barbour) - 2:15 rating: **** stars
My pick for the album's standout performance - 'Summer In Your Savage Eyes' had the album's strongest, most conventional melody. Wonderful summer of love, acid-tinged ballad. The abrupt ending was supposedly due to the fact their manager took a pair of scissors to the master tape.
5.) Dr. Root's Garden (James G. Barbour) - 4:55 rating: *** stars
I can see lots of folks running for the exits, but 'Dr. Root's Garden' was almost Zappa-esque in it's strange structure; treated, cartoonish vocals, and goofy lyrics. Actually, Barbour's arch vocal also reminded me a bit of early Arthur Brown. The song was inspired by one of Barbour's high school teachers.
Wonder what happened to the rest of the band?
- Barbour moved to Saugerties, New York where he eventually made a living working as a biologist. He's taught, consulted, and with his wife Anita have written a couple of books including "Wild Flora of the Northeast". He's apparently written and recorded hundreds of songs over the years. Some of those songs saw a release on a 1980 EP with the band Imago ("Especially for You To Play"). He also released a 1997 album credited to The Curmudgenons ("I Hear a Dog" LOKI catalog LOCD 92-002).
- After joining Ellen McIlwaine's badn Fear itself, Album was killed in 1969 by a drunk driver.
- Kotkov got a doctorate in art therapy.
- Nairn became a Florida-based Marine Biologist
- Sabin went into teaching and died of cancer.
- Shaar changed his name to David Shaw and became an in-demand drummer, working for everyone from the Breckmeier Brothers to Van Morrison. He also became a regular member of the Saturday Night Live band.
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