CD Review – Spirit – Sunrise & Salvation: The Mercury Era Anthology Boxset

In a lot of ways, Spirit never became as noted a band as it could have been. It certainly hit a number of highs in the early years, especially the band’s first four albums, the eponymous debut, The Family That Plays Together, Clear, and Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus, the latter considered by many fans and critics to be the band’s masterwork. The group’s greatest asset was guitarist Randy California, who was capable of brilliant highs on his instrument. (Randy was actually born Randy Craig Wolfe but was dubbed as Randy California by Jimi Hendrix, with whom he played in Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, to differentiate him from another Randy in the band, Randy Palmer, who became Randy Texas. Randy California would have come to the UK with Hendrix but was too young at the time, still being in his mid-teens). But relationships in the Spirit were always fractious. There were fights, defections, and artistic differences that saw the band stumbling along and serving a hiatus in the early Seventies. This eight CD box set represents the band’s output when it signed with the Mercury label and attempted a renaissance, starting in the middle of the decade.

Having been founded in the Sixties, Spirit’s sound was drenched in psychedelia, tumbling from time to time into progressive rock and even jazz-fusion at times. Although Randy California was the keystone of the band, there were several really talented other members of the group. Percussionist Ed Cassidy, Randy’s step-father, had played with Cannonball Adderley, Gerry Mulligan, Roland Kirk, Thelonious Monk and Lee Konitz, he had been the drummer of Rising Sons, an early blues rock vehicle for Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. Other talented musicians were involved at times too, both as full-members and session men.

This clamshell boxset contains the albums the band created between 1975 and 1977, then again from 1984 for the Mercury record label. The eight CDs are comprised of the albums Spirit of ‘76’, Son Of Spirit, Farther Along, Future Games and The Thirteenth Dream. There are also a stunning number of previously unreleased tracks, consisting of one hundred and two demos, alternate versions, or live recordings that have never been available before. All have been newly remastered from the original master tapes. This was all compiled by Spirit archivist Mick Skidmore, who has also written a new essay for the illustrated booklet.

Released in 1975, The Spirit Of ’76 is a double album maintaining the psychedelic aspect of the band, this time displaying the influence of Randy California having lived in Hawaii for a while. In parts it shows the straight-ahead rock side of the bands output too. The highlight is probably a cover version of Hendrix’s Hey Joe. The fresh sound of Hawaii is most obvious on the track Mauna Loa, where there’s a nod to the Beach Boys too. Fast on the heels of this album, released in the same year, Son Of Spirit consists of material from the same sessions as the previous album. Much of it is little more than California’s guitar accompanied by percussion. It has the feel of demos though. There’s a slightly blissed out version of The Beatles song Yesterday, presented in a somewhat languid style. Farther Along, from 1976, sees the band moving slightly way from the fresh sounding influence of Hawaii, drawing on a more varied selection of styles including folk, soft rock, and a touch of Motown.  It remains a quite mellow listen, although it tries to chug to life on the heavier numbers like Colossus and Mega Star. Overall, the album is a little too schizoid, never settling on any particular style, like a butterfly seeking a nectar laden flower in a storm. Future Games from 1977 could quite easily be a Randy California solo album as he dominates so much. He plays just about all the instruments apart from percussion. It is somewhat of a sci-fi influenced release, still in the psychedelic realm. There’s an interesting take on Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower, similar to the version by Hendrix, but it sounds just a tad too nice and safe. There was then a little pause in the Mercury output by the band until The Thirteenth Dream was released in 1984. It features re-recordings of seven of the bands most loved songs and just three new ones. Several old members returned, along with a number of session men that included Jeff Skunk Baxter and Bob Welch, amongst others. It is quite a weak album; the music seems quite insipid and uninspired in a rather plodding psychedelic rock manner. It is more mannered and refined overall. The opening track, Black Satin Nights, tries to be a more contemporary rock song, but doesn’t quite have the legs to take off which sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Following this, Spirit moved on to other record labels with different ideas, but essentially continued to bumble along in the same semi-shambolic manner. Randy California released a few solo albums too. Sadly, it came to a tragic end when California drowned in the Pacific Ocean in 1997 at the age of forty-five while rescuing his twelve-year-old son, Quinn, from a rip current near his mother’s home in Hawaii. He managed to push Quinn toward the shore and the boy survived. The band had further releases after the tragedy, and continue to do so to this day (obviously!). Many people will remember that the band, or there representatives, became embroiled with Led Zeppelin in a legal battle accusing Jimmy Page of lifting a guitar part from Spirit’s tune Taurus. Led Zeppelin won the long running legal case.

In spite of the weaknesses already highlighted, these albums still have some positives. The players involved were all very good musicians, lead from the front by the brilliance of Randy California’s guitar work. He was an extremely talented and dextrous player, with a great tone and imagination. The band created some very interesting and melodic songs, which this release captures handsomely. The sheer amount of unreleased material would make this a must for serious fans of the band. It must have been a labour of love for archivist Mick Skidmore, and a great accomplishment for him producing so lavish a project. For fans of the band this is a glorious listen, others will find it intriguing at least.

Disc One: Spirit Of ‘76 – Remastered

1. America The Beautiful/The Times They Are A Changing

2. Victim Of Society

3. Lady Of The Lakes

4. Tampa Jam (Part One)

5. Maunaloa

6. What Do I Have?

7. Sunrise

8. Walking The Dog

9. Tampa Jam (Part Two)

10. Joker On The Run

11. When?

12. Like A Rolling Stone

13. Once Again

14. Feeling In Time

15. Happy

16. Jack Bond

17. My Road

18. Tampa Jam (Part Three)

19. Thank You Lord

Disc Two: Spirit Of ‘76 – Remastered

1. Urantia

2. Guide Me

3. Veruska

4. Hey Joe

5. Jack Bond Part Two

6. The Star Spangled Banner

7. Guide Me (Alternate Version)

8. Joker On The Run (Alternate Version)

9. America The Beautiful/The Times They Are A

Changing (Alternate Version)*

10. I’ve Got To Use My Imagination (Live 1974)*

11. Nature’s Way (Live 1974)*

12. Mr Skin (Live 1974)*

13. Guide Me (Live 1974)*

14. Fresh Garbage (Live 1974)*

15. Hey Joe (Live 1974)*

16. Veruska (Live 1974)*

17. Run Sinner, Run (Live 1974)*

18. Victim Of Society (Live 1974)*

19. On The Road Again (Live 1974)*

20. Happy (Live 1974)*

Previously Unreleased *

Disc Three: Son Of Spirit – Remastered

1. Holy Man

2. Looking Into Darkness

3. Maybe You’ll Find

4. Don’t Go Away

5. Family

6. Magic Fairy Princess

7. Circle

8. The Other Song

9. Yesterday

10. It’s Time Now

Farther Along – Remastered

11. Farther Along

12. Atomic Boogie

13. World Eat World Dog

14. Stoney Night

15. Pineapple

16. Colossus

17. Mega Star

18. Phoebe

19. Don’t Lock Up Your Door

20. One With

21. You Diamond Spirit

22. Nature’s Way

Bonus Tracks

23. Hawaiian Skies

24. Song For Clyde

25. Constant Stream

26. Let Me Be Your Daddy

27. Farther Along (Live 1976)

Disc Four: Future Games (A Magical Kahauna Dream)

1. CB Talk

2. Stars Are Love

3. Kahauna Dream

4. Buried In My Brain

5. Bionic Unit

6. So Happy Now

7. All Along The Watchtower

8. Would You Believe

9. Jack Bond Speaks

10. Star Trek Dreaming

11. Interlude XM

12. China Doll

13. Hawaiian Times

14. Gorn Attack

15. Interlude 2001

16. Detroit City

17. Freakout Frog

18. The Romulan Experience

19. Monkey See Monkey Do

20. Mt Olympus

21. The Journey Of Nomad

22. Ending

Bonus Tracks

23. Detroit City (Alternate Version)

24. Would You Believe (Alternate Version)

25. Stars Are Love (Alternate Version)

26. Monkey See, Monkey Do (Demo)

27. Chairman Mao (Full Band Version)

28. Would You Believe (Full Band Unedited Version)

29. Hollywood Dream (Bonus)

30. Something New (Bonus)

31. In Just A Little While (Bonus)

32. Love Charged (Bonus)

33. Same Old Naturally (Bonus)

CIRCA 1975: Randy California of the rock group ‘Spirit’ poses for a Mercury records publicity shot circa 1975. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Disc Five: The Thirteenth Dream (Spirit Of ’84)

1. Black Satin Nights

2. Mr Skin

3. Fresh Garbage

4. Rasta Girl In A Ferrari*

5. Nature’s Way

6. 1984

7. Pick It Up

8. All Over The World

9. Give Me Your Number*

10. Mechanical World

11. Elijah

12. Uncle Jack

13. I Got A Line On You

14. All Along The Watchtower (Live 1986)

15. Animal Zoo (Live 1986)

16. Dark Eyed Woman (Live 1986)

17. Tobacco Road (Live 1986)

18. Prelude: Nothing To Hide (Live 1986)

19. Working In Detroit (Live 1986)

Previously Unreleased *

Disc Six: Spirit Of Salvation –

Unreleased Studio Material From 1974-1975

1. You’re So Beautiful

2. I’ve Got To Use My Imagination

3. Looking Into Darkness

4. Neptune Caper

5. Positively 4th Street

6. Jimmy Brown

7. We Are One People

8. Wake Up America

9. Family

10. Magic Fairy Princess

11. The Other Song

12. Cass Drums

13. Salvation

14. Future In My Hands

15. The Maharaji Speaks

16. Holy Man

17. Maybe You’ll Find

18. Yesterday

19. Magic Fairy

20. Circle

21. Kathy’s Song

Randy California Solo Demos

22. Miss Lani

23. Sparkling Sands

24. High With You

25. Seven Fires

26. 10,000 Days

27. Seems Like 1000 Years Ago

28. Livin’ In This World

29. Thinking Of You

Disc Seven: Live At Armadillo Headquarters,

Austin, Texas – 19th June 1975

1. Introduction*

2. Going Down*

3. So Little Time To Fly*

4. Austin Jam*

5. Working In Austin*

6. All Along The Watchtower*

7. Joker On The Run*

8. Mr Tambourine Man*

9. Old Blue*

10. Mr Skin*

11. Prelude: Nothing To Hide*

12. Miss This Train*

13. I’ve Got To Use My Imagination*

14. All The Same*

15. I Got A Line On You*

16. On The Road Again / Star Spangled Banner/ On The Road

Again/ Austin Jam*

Previously Unreleased *

Disc Eight: Future Games – The Early Demo Version

1. CB Talk

2. Stars Are Love

3. Kahauna Dream

4. Buried In My Brain

5. Bionic Unit

6. So Happy Now

7. All Along The Watchtower

8. Would You Believe

9. Jack Bond Speaks

10. Star Trek Dreaming

11. Interlude XM

12. China Doll

13. Hawaiian Times

14. Gorn Attack

15. Interlude 2001

16. Detroit City

17. Freakout Frog

18. The Romulan Experience

19. Monkey See, Monkey Do

20. Mount Olympus

21. Journey Of Nomad

22. Would You Believe (Reprise)

23. Ending

Live 1975

24. Downer

25. Like A Rolling Stone

26. Victim Of Society

27. Ohio Jam

28. Mr Skin

29. Old Blue

30. All The Same

31. I Got A Line On You

Release date: 24th September, 2021

Label: Cherry Red Records

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