Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1967-69)
- Paul Arnold -- voice
- Tsvia Abarbanel -- vocals
- Tsvia Abarbanel (solo efforts)
Genre: world music
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title: Prophetic Express
Company: Modern Harmonic
Country/State: US, Yemen
Grade (cover/record): NM/NM
Comments: still sealed; gatefold sleeve; bonus 45
Catalog ID: --
I landed on the Moon Express doorstep after reading some material on the Los Angeles psych band The Id. Well, I was actually reading some material on producer Paul Arnold (aka David Sukonick).
Arnold's role in The Id is subject to debate. He clearly had a significant role in the album's creative concept . He was also credited with producing the 1967's "The Inner Sound of the Id" and writing several of the tracks. I love the album and that got me wondering about this parallel project. Adding to my curiosity, although uncredited, singer Tsvia Abarbanel was thought to have provided vocals on a couple of the album tracks.
Abarbanel was born in Yemen. As a young child her family immigrated to Israel where she was raised in a traditional Yemenite household. After working as a shepherdess on her family's farm, in her twenties she enrolled in Los Angeles University's Ethno-Musicology and Fine Arts program. At school she met Arnold and starting in 1967, over a two year period they pair collaborated on an odd mash-up of Yemeni folk music and western influenced music. Performing as "Tsvia & the Followers" the group made some inroads via an appearance on a 1967 Andy Williams television special. A couple of years later they garnered a slot opening for Donovan at a Hollywood Bowl appearance. For the curious, or hardcore fans, in April, 1969 NBC aired the bizarre 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee. The television special included a performance by what was now billed as Arnold and Moon Express. You can see it on YouTube. Slapped on top of some scary dances ad an acid light show, the group's musical contribution starts at the 17:40 mark and you can see glimpses of a live performance of Awake and Love' at the 44:44 mark: The Monkees - 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee (Complete TV Special) - YouTube The high profile appearance seemed to indicated this group was about ready to hit the big time. And then ... nothing. Making a phone call, Arnold was hit by an out of control car which left him seriously injured, sidelining his musical career for several years. He died in 1991. Tsvia returned to Israel and embarked on a solo career. The resulting tapes sat on a shelf for some 50 years. Then in 2019 Arnold's nephew David Sukonick oversaw release of the tapes.
As it turns out, musically Moon Express was about as far from The Id as Yemen was to Los Angeles. Forget anything about garage rock, or psychedelic masterpiece. Instead, view this as an early world music package. If you've ever heard "Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan", you'd be in the right musical neighborhood. Replace the Master Musicians of Japouka with Yemeni musicians. Add lots of ethnic percussion and an occasional sitar. Slap on a series of pompous, theatrical readings by Arnold. Round it out with Abarbanel's occasional vocals and you've got the recipe for this one. About half of Abarbanel's performances were in English. Kudos to her courage since she didn't appear particularly comfortable in the language. The rest of the vocals were apparently in Yemeni. Though she sounded very young and very uncomfortable singing in English, she had a clear and powerful voice. I've struggled to come up with a comparison - about the best I can come up with is the late Yma Sumac. Arnold was a different creature. He sounded like a washed-up actor trying to project depth, insight and gravitas: characteristics lacking on all of these performances. It must have sounded pompous in 1967. Today his recitations on material like 'Awake and Love', 'Wilderness, Ocean and Space' and 'Wakefulness of the World' are just irritating. If I had to pick a highlight it would be the Abarbanel-Arnold duet on their cover of 'Love Is Strange.' Nah it wasn't particularly good, but it was the one track with a conventional structure and melody that blended Eastern and Western influence with a little bit of success. Plus, the collaboration was so bizarre it earned an extra star.
The album was released with a bonus 45: 'Can't Buy Me Love' b/w 'Tell Me What You See'. The 'A" side Beatles cover was one of the oddest covers I've ever heard. With the focus on Abarbanel's voice and what sounded like wolf howls, the flip side 'Tell Me What You See' was almost conventional.
With six days to go until the end of the year, this stands as my biggest disappointment of the year. Remember, just because I didn't like this album doesn't mean it won't scratch your itch. = )
Express" track listing:
1.) Awake and Love (Paul Arnold) - 3:36 rating: ** stars
I'm guessing Arnold handled the brief narration on the opener 'Awake and Love.' Musically most of the song featured a percussion heavy melody reflecting a distinctive Middle Eastern flavor. Abarbanel's wordless vocals kicked in about halfway through the track, giving it a strange, ethereal feel.
2.) My Little Corner of the Earth (Paul Arnold) - 2:58 rating: ** stars
If you've ever heard The Id's "The Inner Sound of the Id" album, then 'My Little Corner of the Earth' is going to sound familiar. As on the opener, the structure featured Arnold's theatrical, over-the-top spoken word narrative over a variety of percussion effects. Arnold's new age lyrics were certainly intended to be thought provoking, but some four decades later, they came off as pompous; almost funny. Abarbanel's cat wail vocals made a brief appearance.
3.) Fly By Night (Paul Arnold) - 2:21 rating: ** stars
'Fly By Night' was the first track to spotlight Tsvia Abarbanel. Singing in accented English and Yemeni, she had an interesting, slightly operatic voice. Complete with heavy percussion and what sounded like sitar, the music had a distinctive Indian feel and a mildly lysergic edge.
4.) Wilderness, Ocean and Space (Paul Arnold) - 4:42 rating: ** stars
Great, Arnold was back with another over-the-top theatrical spoken word lecture. I guess the sitar accompaniment was meant to check the "coolness" box. It didn't. Neither did the musique concrete sound effects, or the raga percussion. It was the album's longest performance and did it ever feel long.
5.) Love Is Strange (Mickey Baker - Ethel Smith - Sylvia Robinson) - 2:13 rating: *** stars
I was hoping this was going to be a remake of the old Mickey and Sylvia tune. It kind of was. Abarbanel's second performance in the spotlight, 'Love Is Strange' seemingly tried to meld a Yemeni folk song with Arnold croaking his way through part of the Ethel Smith (aka Bo DIddley) classic. It was an odd duet, but far better than anything that came before it.
6.) All This I Do Behold (Paul Arnold) - 1:00 rating: * star
No music - just Arnold blathering on.
7.) Wakefulness of the World (Paul Arnold) - 0:27 rating: * star
More blathering ...
8.) The Morning Cometh (Paul Arnold) - 2:15 rating: ** stars
Yemeni tune kicked along by some energetic percussion work. Once again Abarbanel's performance was interesting, but Arnold's theatrics just made you wish it would end.
1.) Between My Inner World (instrumental) (Paul Arnold) - 4:13 rating: ** stars
Oh no, did I put on a Ravi Shankar album by mistake? The sitar can be a fascinating instrument, but it sure wasn't on this instrumental.
2.) Daughter Of The Night (Paul Arnold) - 3:24 rating: *** stars
I know nothing about Yemeni music, but 'Daughter Of The Night' seemed to be an effort to meld it with a rock and roll baseline. The lyrics seemed to reflect a mixture of Yemeni and English, but the sound was muddy, with the drums way to up-front and load and Abarbanel's performance coming off as shrill.
3.) Lost Spirit Of America (Paul Arnold) - 7:41 rating: * star
Arnold reappears on the album's longest and most pompous composition. This one is best described as Abarbanel moaning over a musical genre with Arnold reciting really, really bad poetry.
4.) Awake and Love II (Paul Arnold) - 2:16 rating: ** stars
A continuation of the opening track, this time around the focus was on a mix of ethnic and Western rock drumming. Unfortunately half way through Arnold's pleading voice reappeared in the mix.
5.) Peace (Paul Arnold) - 1:54 rating: * star
Arnold bleating over an irritating xylophone
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