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(68:21, Airaid Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Laughing 0:22 2. Opposites 0:27 3. Duva 3:03 4. Hyphenate Ice-less 3:53 5. Horse Remorse 3:32 6. Parts & Ponds 2:09 7. Ain't Life Dumb 2:25 8. A Frog for You 2:32 9. Hogshead 5:51 10. Manic Detective 2:05 11. Brown Algae Is Attractive 2:19 12. Plymouth Ascendants 2:48 13. The Salient Sickle Sucker 5:22 14. Hairy Bag 1:01 15. Fast Bananas 2:54 16. The Unfortunate Frankfurter Vendor 1:11 17. Last Dance 0:59 18. Fill the Sheet 1:51 19. The Still Nite 2:04 20. Dance of the Ivy Dog 1:52 21. Gotta Write a Poem 1:18 22. The Insipid City of York 2:59 23. Board Organ 1:31 24. The Continuing Story of Cragwheel-II 6:19 25. Lemon Flowers 2:13 26. Corrective Shoes 0:54 27. Pale Hippo 1:49 28. Sorry 3:18 29. Chess Is Boring 0:36 30. The Plague 4:12 LINEUP: Jeffrey Graboski drums Steven Heck bass; vocals Mark O'Connor keyboards; vocals Joe O'Sullivan guitars; vocals Jay Graboski guitars; vocals With: Boris McFinnie horns Gene saxophone Nuna bass Larry percussion Greg Coulson vocals &: Cedarcroft Girls Chorus backing vocals
Prolusion. The US ensemble OHO was formed in 1973 and is still an active unit today, rapidly closing in on its 40th anniversary: Not without a fair share of challenges and line-up alterations along the way however, the financial ones of the former often making a large impact on the latter. "Okinawa" was their first-ever production, initially issued as a privately pressed vinyl LP in 1974, reissued on CD in the 90's, and now remastered and reissued again in 2010.
Analysis. I don't know just how well-known (or not) this long-lasting US band is, but one thing is for sure: its fans are given a real treat with this second reissue of their debut album. The mix and production appear to have been given a substantial upgrade, as the overall sound is modern in a good, non-compressed manner. The CD cover tells the full tale of the various challenges that befell this act until 2010, and a thick booklet adds further comments, poems and anecdotes for each of the songs and a few other juicy tidbits. If every reissue had been given the care of this particular item, quite a few music fans would be much happier when hearing about them. But bells and whistles aside, as delightful as the packaging and technical details are, it is the music that matters. And in this case we're dealing with a band that was among the pioneers of capital P progressive rock, themselves acknowledging influence and inspiration from the likes of Frank Zappa, as well as Syd Barret-era Pink Floyd. The latter UK-inspired sound is not by far as dominating as the Zappaisms; early 70's avant-garde has a much greater presence than the psychedelic progressive rock of that era on this occasion, at least to my ears. And as far as challenging musical escapades go, this is a production surprisingly kind in this department. The 30 (!) tracks presented in this elaborate package are rather straight forward for this kind of endeavor, with abrupt changes, dramatic inserts and occasional free-form or dissonant sequences as the main effects utilized in songs that by and large focus on moods and melodies over taxing technical exercises. The piano is a central feature throughout, with plenty of references to 50's and 60's rock'nroll, most often in tight interplay with guitar riffs: distinct 70's-tinged soloing or the gentler landscapes of the acoustic guitar. Tight, energetic drums underscore effectively alongside the bass guitar. The vocals and lyrics are in a different department entirely, however. Off-kilter spoken, sung and occasionally shouted vocals are a common aspect throughout, only rarely taking on what most would describe as a common approach. While the lyrics tend to be surprising, whimsical and often rather dramatic too, quite a few of them are of a kind I'd suspect of being cooked up with the help of what one kindly might describe as mind-enhancing substances, or crafted by persons without the need of outside help to reach such a state of mind, something the aforementioned Frank Zappa was a living example of, incidentally. At best this combines into highly intriguing musical journeys, the early Pink Floyd-influenced The Salient Sickle Sucker being the most brilliant of the lot in my opinion. On this occasion an instrumental guitar and piano combo swerves off into a delightful Mellotron-laden affair where pianos and additional dark-toned guitar riffs combine into a superbly rich, majestic arrangement that should cater for most with a taste for adventurous symphonic rock of the 70's variety, with some nifty psychedelic details to boot. Final track The Plague explores a similar musical territory, this time with the organ being added to the proceedings too. Hyphenate Ice-less and (bonus track) Hogshead also cater for a more or less similar musical style or approach. The remainder of this CD is the realm of whimsical and dramatic creations, emphasizing that aspect in the vocal department, in compositions ranging from gentle ballads to straightforward 70's hard rock in terms of instrumental backing, with odd, challenging instrumental details thrown in for good measure, but by and large focusing on the lyrics and how they are conveyed. Some of them are good, some average and a few that most likely were much more impressive 30 odd years ago than they are today. The high-quality remastering given this disc can't hide the fact that the music was made almost 40 years ago, and that there are a token few items that haven't aged all that well.
Conclusion. If you generally enjoy challenging progressive rock as it was made in the 70's, and in particular if you fancy a band emphasizing the lyrical and vocal dimensions of that approach, you'll most likely find Oho's "Okinawa" to be an interesting experience. Not without faults, but with 30 creations to explore there should be plenty of material to enjoy even if a few should be given the skip.
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