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Class ?

Main Category: Folk Rock
Also applicable: Art Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of an It's A Beautiful Day fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective It's A Beautiful Day fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Postponed until the page is more comprehensive.



Year Of Release: 1969
Overall rating =

Frisco lads catching the prog bug? Oh yes it CAN bring good results.


Track listing: 1) White Bird; 2) A Hot Summer Day; 3) Wasted Union Blues; 4) Girl With No Eyes; 5) Bombay Calling; 6) Bulgaria; 7) Time Is.

It certainly is a beautiful day and a pretty unique album at that. There have really been few attempts at merging the classic psychedelic sounds of mid-Sixties San Francisco bands with the pretentious art rock experiments of their British colleagues, and even fewer ones that really worked - this excellent debut, which It's A Beautiful Day were never really able to top, is one of the exceptions. Yes, David LaFlamme and his croonies do have a style of their own, but it's nigh near impossible to define in a few words, so many different elements it is comprised of.

I have a weird feeling that for most of the people who love this album to death, chances are they would probably make an exception for 'Wasted Union Blues'. Indeed, it looks like that's one number that truly doesn't fit in with the general moods/styles of the record. It's bluesy, maybe even rock'n'rolly in places; it's utterly chaotic in other places; and they manage to get just about the ugliest guitar tone imaginable for the opening riffs, dissonating like mad with the general beauty and smoothness of the picture. But I like it a lot - not even so much by itself as simply because it shows these guys weren't afraid to try anything and weren't intending to completely shut themselves off in innocent rosy-cheeked fairy land. Besides, if the ugliness really gets to you, you only have to live through the first thirty seconds or so, and then they're gonna kick your ass real hard in a good ol'-timey way.

Although, of course, they're really sissies at heart. But gallant and knowledgeable sissies. The first two songs on here set the scene - organs, pianos, celestes, and violins a-plenty, great vocals from David LaFlamme and Pattie Santos (duet on the former, call-and-answer mostly on the latter), beautiful, inspiring, memorable melodies, clever dynamics, you name it. First-grade late-Sixties art-rock. Going back to the "cultural bridge" thing, I'd say that the songs are essentially done California-style, with more than just a nod to the Mamas & Papas and Jefferson Airplane, especially in the singing department; but the instrumental passages certainly display a knowledge of the classical European form, and Linda LaFlamme's organ playing certainly reminds me more of Procol Harum (and, in turn, Bach & Co.) than of, say, the Grateful Dead, for example.

The other equally important thing is that this is virtually drug-free music. Now I have no knowledge of the band's true state of affairs at the time, and it would seem a total miracle for a Californian band not to drop acid, but there's nothing in the music to betray that. (There is a reference to 'getting high' in 'Girl With No Eyes', though, but it's brief and sort of... well, perfunctory, if you know what I mean.) 'White Bird' and 'A Hot Summer Day' are both pretty romantic ballads, with a slight, but (if possible) sweet aura of loss and mourning, lofty and spiritual, but at the same time very realistic. No doubt, some would say that It's A Beautiful Day are already lamenting the demise of the hippie era and, unlike their drug-fuelled colleagues, trying to keep their feet on solid ground, but that would be exaggerating things. After all, we have only been calling 1969 the "year of Altamont" instead of the "year of Woodstock" in retrospect, haven't we?

And finally, I can't help being amazed at just how every song on here is so carefully thought over. Even a "trifle" like the harpsichord-dominated 'Girl With No Eyes' turns out to possess a beautiful baroque style melody at the end; it's just subtler and shorter than the rest, so it's natural that you don't really notice it until the rest has sunk in. Then, of course, there's 'Bombay Calling' - the instrumental all of you already know (at least partially) without having heard it, since it's exactly this composition's main organ/violin riff that was ruthlessly ripped off by Jon Lord for his famous melody of 'Child In Time'. Granted, it wasn't nearly as big a rip-off as Led Zeppelin's violation of 'Taurus' for 'Stairway To Heaven' - in the end, Lord borrowed but three notes, and he put them to better use by surrounding them with numerous variations and improvisations. But fact is fact, of course. In any case, if there are any Purple fans out there, I heartily welcome them to check out both the instrumental and its immediate surroundings - Jon Lord can at least reimburse his crime by drawing more people to the music of this unjustly forgotten band.

You could possibly complain about the snail-like pace of the dirgey 'Bulgaria' (a song that really looks not unlike something Marty Balin would have loooooved to sing on the Airplane's debut), but then the fullness and richness of the arrangement and the almost Gregorian-chanting-like backing vocals and the very gradual, sly, barely noticeable "dynamisation" of the proceedings would devalue any such complaints. I know, because I was you once. And now I don't wanna be you again.

There is exactly one faux pas committed by LaFlamme & Co.: a pointless drum solo in the middle of the otherwise powerful and meaningful epic 'Time Is'. A forgivable flaw - being either artsy or heavy metallish in the late Sixties automatically meant you had to give your drummer a chance to prove his crucial importance for your band - but still a flaw. At least it's not ten minutes long or anything, and one should also note the clever use of the wooden block to "count out time", four long years before Pink Floyd performed a similar trick on their 'Time'. Unlike Floyd, though, It's A Beautiful Day hold a slightly more optimistic view on life, and they actually think that the power of love beats the power of time - which is why the whole epic can be sort of considered a big battle between the two, with two respectful climaxes (Linda raises real hell with one finger on the piano! Okay, maybe two) and... mmm, the drum solo in between. Sure, it's nowhere near as melodically challenging as 'Tarkus' or 'Close To The Edge', but it's just as sharp, if not sharper, in the emotional plan of things.

In the end, I guess the album's main flaw is... being too short. Actually, it isn't, it goes on for at least 40 minutes or so, but there's but seven songs, and while most of them utilize their time wisely, with buildups and pretty instrumental passages and all, I still end up feeling cheated - maybe because I sense that this band was actually capable of even more. They love stretching out and repeating their ideas - their good ideas; but I could really use some more of them. Then again, "little" albums like these are easier to assimilate. And this is such a "little", friendly, album, humble even, despite the grandness of the vocal parts and the occasional epic length of a song.



Year Of Release: 1970
Overall rating =

I won't take charm over ambition, but I will give charm its due.

Best song: DON AND DEWEY

Track listing: 1) Don And Dewey; 2) The Dolphins; 3) Essence Of Now; 4) Hoedown; 5) Soapstone Mountain; 6) Waiting For The Sun; 7) Let A Woman Flow; 8) It Comes Right Down To You; 9) Good Lovin'; 10) Galileo; 11) Do You Remember The Sun.

Some lineup changes are insignificant, some can be drastic, and then there are the particularly nasty ones, when something simply goes badly wrong, and then the band has to carry this "wrongness" on its shoulders for the rest of its career, like a deadly virus or something. Thus, with Linda LaFlamme's departure, the band lost a lot of its original - and unique - flavour. That flavour they mostly got from the interaction of David's violin-based, American-rooted practice and Linda's keyboard-based, more European-style flourishes. Without Linda, the classical influences are reduced to a minimum, the ambitions are trimmed down, and the whole thing becomes barely noticeable when you play it. In short, an obvious and, unfortunately, permanent disappointment.

On the other hand, the results are still so listener-friendly, so peaceful and, come to think of it, so well composed that I can't help but like it. No ambitions? Well, that's okay by me as long as the music is fine. Marrying Maiden is, predictably, much more 'American', and, also predictably, much more conservative, but on the other hand, it's very diverse and, in a sense, encyclopaedic. There's country, and lounge jazz, and some bluegrass, and some rock'n'roll, and some good ol' timey pop music, and, just so you don't get completely disappointed, one or two relatively more complex numbers embellished with art rock elements. And all this within the brief span of thirty four minutes. And all this sung by a man with one of the prettiest voices in ol' Frisco. Hardly a bad deal, eh?

There's a funny story about the album, too. Any other band, upon learning that they were cruelly robbed by competitors, would probably have sued Deep Purple to death. (Arguably, had they done that and won, today LaFlamme would probably be making more money off Purple albums than off all of his own catalog!) Instead, It's A Beautiful Day opted for the "eye for eye" principle: they took a Purple instrumental - 'Wring That Neck' - and appropriated it for themselves, replacing guitars with violins and renaming it 'Don And Dewey' (in honour of a couple 50s' musicians whose surnames I don't really remember). And it worked! Dave's violin tears through the melody just as ferociously as Ritchie's guitar used to do. I mean, technically it doesn't rock as hard, of course, although guitarist Hal Wagenet does get a brief chance to shine with some flashy work, but it's got a great 'soft stomp' in these guys' hands anyway.

'Soapstone Mountain' is the album's "magnum opus" - quotation marks due to the fact that it's all over in four minutes and is essentially a well-structured pop song, but with a big, furious instrumental section, lots of wailing organs and guitars and energy a-plenty, which is really surprising to see on an album that quiet and calm. It's even got a certain psychedelic feel to it; odd, considering how the debut album was virtually psychedelia-free. Other than that, only the closing 'Galileo' can be called 'pretentious', as it features narration instead of singing and, for some reason, inserts a bolero piece into the middle of this, essentially atmospheric, mood piece. Oh yes, there's also 'Waiting For The Song' - nothing to do with the Doors' 'Waiting For The Sun', just a one-minute interlude chockful of choral chanting.

The rest is pretty much all cooked according to traditional recipes, but David knows these recipes well, and his personal charisma and professionalism helps us not to get bored. 'The Dolphins', 'Essence Of Now', and 'Let A Woman Flow' are all pretty, endearing ballads - I can't bring myself to call them "gorgeous", yet it's not necessarily a denigration, since "gorgeous" often carries a slight scent of something artificial and fake with it, reminds you that sometimes people try to put Beauty together by means of nuts and screws instead of just capturing it in one piece from somewhere high above. No, these songs aren't gorgeous, but they're pretty, and sometimes pretty is better than gorgeous. It's funny how David sometimes gets this whiff of 'Elvis-like' when he switches to a lower register, especially on 'Let A Woman Flow', only nobody aroun Elvis ever played the violin that well.

It's also great to see the band just pounding away on something as stubbornly straightforward as 'Hoedown' - two and a half minutes of violin madness, completely unrestrained, with David playing as if his very life depended on it, with the same spirit possessing him that took over Angus Young on 'Whole Lotta Rosie'. Whoever said you can't rock hard with a violin? Well... no, you can't. But if "rocking hard" is in any way synonymous to "getting your listeners' blood a-pumpin' and feet a-stompin' and head a-throbbin'", then, in a certain way, you can. 'Hoedown' is fun! Same thing goes for the jazz-meets-country ditty 'It Comes Right Down To You', where David gets helped out by background vocals from Pattie Santos (who, by the way, is almost criminally underused on the record) and the good ol' rock'n'roll stomp of 'Good Lovin'. All good songs, not one piece of crap anywhere.

Of course, the lack of ambition, which can be appreciated today, would be a death sentence for any band in 1970, and it more or less was. Not only isn't Marrying Maiden bold, it doesn't even have a potential hit single like 'White Bird', and with a direction like that, it was pretty obvious that It's A Beautiful Day wouldn't last long. Even if you were "rootsy" rather than "proggy" in the early Seventies, you still had to have ambitions - like the Stones on one side of the Atlantic or The Band on the other one. But then again, let's not forget that "San Francisco progressive rock", at least, if we use my definition of progressive, is almost an oxymoron, and if music can be said to develop according to at least some kind of 'social rules', then the band's debut album was clearly a miraculous anomaly, and we needn't be too sad or too angry with the consequences. The good thing is, Marrying Maiden never had a chance to be 'forgotten' cuz it wasn't actually 'remembered' in the first place! Time rectifies everything, and today It's A Beautiful Day's second album sounds no better and no worse than it did more than thirty years ago - which is more than I could say about quite a few albums.


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