(All Album Reviews by Hippy Pants)
The United States of America came together in the summer of 1967. Their leader, Joseph Byrd, was their arranger, producer, and composer of "serious" experimental music. He had a background in ethnomusicology and composition. He was also known for coordinating muiti-media happenings.
His co-conspirators & bandmates were:
Dorothy Moskowitz- vocalist, studied jazz, worked in production, music theater, and experimental music.
Craig Woodson- studied African and Indian drum technique, and dabbled with electronic percussion.
Gordon Marron- played electric violin; however, his instrument's textures were changed, crunched, and channeled thru tape echos, amps, and ring modulated (a device that can change/raise or lower an instruments octave).
Rand Forbes- an experimental composer, played an unfretted electric bass, which is supposed to have greater range and adaptability than the fretted ones.
Ed Bogas- played organ, piano, and calliope, and wrote and arranged a few songs, he was classical trained in chamber ensembles and orchestras.
And missing from the above mix? No guitars, however, they were supposed to have used them when playing live. Although he probably did not contribute musical ideas to the album, Richard Durrett helped shape the bands sound by designing the Durrett Electronic Music Synthesizer and Ring Modulator. Electronic instruments pioneer Tom Oberheim also worked with the group in its formative stages.
And how did they sound? Well, rather experimental, electronic & psychedelic, but in a tightly, composed manner. It is an interesting album that owes much to classical composers like Charles Ives, Varèse, or Cage as it does to Hendrix, Zappa, the Beatles, and the other music of the timeframe. Perhaps it reminds me a bit of how the electronic parts to say Zappa's Lumpy Gravy sounds or some of the musical parts of We're Only In It For The Money, but with a more straightforward female vocal similar in style to Nico on the first Velvet Underground effort. It is worth hearing and owning, but is probably not a work you'd listen to everyday due to its experimental nature.
Joe Byrd was also involved in another experimental project similar in vein, called Joe Byrd & the Field Hippies. I believe they produced one album.
This is a very unique and strange album. It's a bit of an oddball to be honest, but it's very well played and inspired and has it's own kind of charm even if it sounds like it was made on another planet but hey this was the late sixties so I guess given that anything goes mentality back then it probably wasn't all that out of place. This is one of those albums that probably gets labeled psychedelic (which it is) but there's something more going on musically which makes me consider it a forerunner to all things prog. The diverse instrumentation includes drums (including very early drum machines), fretless bass, electronics (early primitive synthesizers), violin and female vocals (which give the whole affair a bit of an Airplane vibe at times). The album is notable for being pretty rocking at moments but without electric guitars (in fact I don't believe there is any guitar on here except for bass). One might be fooled into thinking there is guitar on the second track "hard coming love" on first listen but it's actually an electric violin you hear. There is also a spacey (pre-Hawkwind) vibe going on on some of the tracks and at least one track on here predates new age music by about 15 years. The unique instrumentation and varied sounds make this a very eclectic album.
Given the year this came out (1968) I can say without any hesitation that this is one of those not too common albums from any time period which could be considered progressive in the literal sense. It's definitely an album which pushed the envelope further which ultimately led to prog (at least the kind that most associate with the term since it's pretty obvious upon listening to this that this is progressive music). To sum up this is a one of a kind album for sure and a great one at that.