(All Album Reviews by Reginod)
By now it's just another one of those one-shot obscurities: released in early 1971, Indian Summer's self titled debut album was also sadly destined to be their only album. As fate would have it, the band's management had another young British group under its wing that would go on to lofty heights of fame, fortune, and notoriety. Indeed, Black Sabbath became genre-pioneering metal godfathers, with their sludgy Precambrian riffery set in lucid contrast to Ozzy Osbourne's paranoid wails of angst and isolation.
With all due respect to Sabbath's achievements, it's a damned shame that Indian Summer didn't make it off the runway. They were a band full of promise and burgeoning talent, and although their music was founded firmly on the blues-rock elements common to that era, there were some undeniably sophisticated elements that gave a tantalizing hint at the direction they might have taken, had they enjoyed the opportunity to make more albums.
There was some legitimate, well-known support for Indian Summer. Rodger Bain produced the album roughly a year after handling the same duties for Sabbath's debut. Robin Cable was the engineer; his has since become a familiar name, gracing albums by a diverse range of artists including Genesis, Audience, Elton John and Carly Simon.
The Coventry-based band itself consisted of lesser-known but nonetheless talented individuals. Besides handling lead vocals, Bob Jackson was a fine keyboardist in both rhythm and solo capacities. Colin Williams was the guitarist and another fine soloist, with a pealing tone and a propensity for Montgomery-influenced single-note runs. Paul Hooper handled drums and percussion, and was joined in the rhythm section by a deceptively good bassist in Malcolm Harker. Interestingly enough, Harker added a different and rather unique element to the band's sound by contributing vibraphone on several cuts.
One immediate advantage to Indian Summer is in the sequencing. The weakest track is first. "God Is the Dog" plods slowly along, primarily in the simple and well-worn key of Em, but is ultimately saved by an instrumental break highlighted by a matching melody line from guitar and keyboard. It isn't a particularly memorable cut but neither is it particularly bad; it foreshadows the remainder of the album, demonstrating how the band took pains to develop their music and elevate it well above the average.
Afterwards the album becomes stronger. "Emotions Of Man" is highlighted by Jackson's plaintive singing and a lengthy solo from Williams. It also made plain the band's propensity for "peace and love" sentiments in their lyrics: "Lost is the city/ In the heart of the hills/ Free from oppression/ And there ain't no ill will, yeah." Indeed the band seemed to take a cue from the lingering haze of the Summer Of Love; by contrast their music was quite focused.
"Glimpse" starts out as if it's going to be an instrumental; it turns into an exhibition of how common chord progressions can be utilized effectively. At 6:45 it is the album's second-longest track and is brought to a rousing conclusion by some excellent and ethereal work from Jackson, both on mellotron and organ. "Half Changed Again" has a lengthy instrumental section featuring a potent organ solo, and more tasty tron, before culminating with more doubled lines from guitar and keyboard.
If anything on Indian Summer bore a resemblance to Black Sabbath, "Black Sunshine" came the closest, the opening verses being sung over a somewhat sludgy riff. But with the band's nimble musicianship on display in the ensuing instrumental break, it also highlights the sophistication that separated Indian Summer from Sabbath.
The entirely instrumental "From The Film Of The Same Name" has to be one of the great forgotten tracks of rock music. The album would be worth it for this cut alone; it encapsulates everything that was special about Indian Summer, taking several melodic and rhythmic twists and turns before both Jackson and Williams burn the stage with some fine soloing. It is a particularly well-composed cut from a melody standpoint, with the band matching one another on each memorable line.
The dreamlike "Secrets Reflected" juxtaposes Jackson's seamless 'tron-and-organ blend with some shimmering, harmonic-inflected guitar work from Williams. Jackson also turned in another particularly excellent vocal performance as the tune stretched out over almost seven minutes.
The album closes with "Another Tree Will Grow," which features another of Williams' incendiary solos laid out over some swarthy bass work from Harker. It was a shame that another album would not grow from the band's labors of musical devotion. Harker departed ranks shortly after the album was released, and the group didn't last much longer. Williams got out of the business altogether, but Hooper and Jackson have over the years remained musically active in some form or other.
Indian Summer might well fool a new listener. At first it can seem rather dated and pedestrian, with its liberal use of common chord progressions, and could thus be easily glossed over. Yet it grows better and more infectious with each listen (certainly to this reviewers sensibilities, anyway), and the real depth of each track is slowly revealed. I'd be surprised if the band (co-writers of all the material) didn't flesh out these eight pieces over a period of a several years; every part fits into place comfortably, yet the band also had a lot of power. Every progression and melody seems quite well considered. With no track shorter than 5:25, there was plenty of time for musical development.
At the very least, Indian Summer is a valuable period piece. At best it is an essential nugget from the British progressive scene of the late 60's and very early 70's. Although its inspiration was borne of a tumultuous decade long past, its energy and vitality are still evident.