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"Mississippi Queen... you know what I mean"

Class D

Main Category: Hard Rock
Also applicable: Psychedelia, Rhythm & Blues
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, From Grunge To The Present Day




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Mountain fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Mountain 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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Say all you will about how Led Zeppelin and the heavy metal scene in general were the evident successors of Cream: I actually thought likewise until I heard Mountain. While there are obvious differences between the two bands (Mountain had an organ player, for instance), there are much more similarities. The band carried on the grand tradition of combining Cream's heavy riffage with Cream's delicious psychedelic flavour: Led Zep and company only took the first side of that, as the entire 'philosophy' of Zeppelin music was based on emphasizing darkness, pessimism and medieval mystique over brightness, 'multicolouredness' and happy flowery psychedelia. On the contrary, Mountain were definitely a psychedelic band, and one of the last truly enjoyable and worthwhile psychedelic bands. Actually, one of the last psychedelic bands in general - somehow, they managed to breathe new life into the genre, if only for a couple of years. Their heyday was somewhere around 1970-71, before audiences' tastes were completely spoiled by the onslaught of Black Sabbath. Now I haven't heard the entire output of the band yet, but based on what I've heard - I'm gonna persevere that they were a much more interesting outfit than Black Sabbath. While they never had a riffman as powerful or inventive as Tony Iommi, their magnificent 'update' of Cream-style heavy psycho music for the Seventies holds up incredibly well today, and they managed to be as visually, aurally and stylistically impressive as Sabbath without falling into the trap of 'vulgarity' and unabashed goofiness.

If I'm going to prove my point about Mountain directly continuing the line of Cream, I'll have to mention multiple facts. Their base player was Felix Pappalardi, Cream's famous producer and long-time inspirator; not only did he pen melodies extremely close to Jack Bruce's trippy ditties, he also sang in a voice extremely close to Jack Bruce's (not to mention that at least one of their most famous tunes, 'Theme For An Imaginary Western', was taken from Bruce's first solo album). The band's lyrics bear a remarkable similarity to Pete Brown's (same nonsensical psycho imagery), and for good reason - apparently, some of them were written by Pete himself.

Not to mention their (in)famous live shows which often extended into lengthy jams, a la Clapton and company - a tactic that sometimes worked (see Flowers Of Evil) and sometimes did not (see Twin Peaks). And speaking of Clapton, their lead guitarist, Leslie West, was certainly influenced by Clapton more than anyone else. He's got a very distinct style of playing dirty, mean, crazily distorted blues licks, and his trademark vibrato is famous throughout, but he does borrow a lot of tricks from Eric, that's for sure. Not that I mind: by 1970, Eric had completely abandoned his Cream-style playing, so it was only great that somebody else picked up the baton. And both direct and indirect quotations from Cream abound in their music. Hell, just take a look at the Flowers Of Evil cover and tell me they aren't modelling themselves after Cream.

That said, Mountain definitely is not just a carbon copy of Cream: they have their own special identity and their own special contributions to the world of rock'n'roll, otherwise I'd hardly let them ever appear on this site. First, like I said, they didn't just borrow Cream's sound, they 'updated' it for the Seventies, i. e. made it more heavy and less compromised. This sometimes makes some of their more rocking numbers hard to endure, as Leslie West was particularly fond of drowning all the 'rockers' in a sea of fuzz and distortion; however, if you have nothing against a little extra distortion, don't be afraid to crank up the volume on their best records and revel in the thunderstorms contained therein (hell, their debut album doesn't sport the notice 'This Record Was Made To Be Played Loud' for nothing!)

Second, they had a wilder, somewhat more extravagant set of personalities than Cream - they do look like they're from the mountains indeed, always dressed in these fur coats and looking like a bunch of hungry yetis in most cases anyway. Add to this the sheer bulk of Leslie West, and you'll realize these weren't your average early-Seventies bare-chest-flashing hairy howling potheads: these guys meant business, and they always announced their presence with a vengeance. Felix Pappalardi was the 'wimp' in this company, scooping up tiny flowers and weaving them around Leslie's thick rod of power (don't take that too literally, please); nevertheless, frizzed, messy hair and enormous overcoats were a must for him as well. And they really played their hearts out - this was no commercial product.

Lineup: apart from the immortal Felix/Leslie pair which I already mentioned, the original players were: Corky Laing - drums; Steve Knight - keyboards. They got some minor replacements for the later part of their career, but read on about that.



(released by: LESLIE WEST)

Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Very 'eavy, very groovy, but this is only halfway up the actual Mountain - the psycho stylistics isn't there.


Track listing: 1) Blood Of The Sun; 2) Long Red; 3) Better Watch Out; 4) Blind Man; 5) Baby I'm Down; 6) Dreams Of Milk & Honey; 7) Storyteller Man; 8) This Wheel's On Fire; 9) Look To The Wind; 10) Southbound Train; 11) Because You Are My Friend.

This album does sport the 'Mountain' title on it, but it's not the real thing yet. It's close, though. Actually, it's a Leslie West solo album which is called Mountain; however, what distinguishes it from later Leslie West solo albums (which I'm not too interested in hearing since he could hardly do better than on his debut) is that (a) it's fresh and really innovative, in a way; (b) it features some of the songs Mountain the band would go on performing in the future, most notably 'Dreams Of Milk & Honey'; (c) most importantly, it has Felix Pappalardi supplying bass and keyboards throughout, so at least on the playing level, the immortal duo is already formed. So I can easily incorporate the album on the page.

What's so essential about Mountain is that the album really sets the scene for the classic 'balls-to-the-wall' hard rock scene of the Seventies (everybody from Aerosmith to AC/DC to KISS and company), yet it is far more interesting and challenging, not to mention intelligent, than any selected record by any of these bands. West has all his followers beat on several counts. First, the incredible rawness of the sound: turn this up loud and you'll see visions of the Great Fatsby actually pumping out the notes right out of your speaker directly into your living-room; the production is minimalistic, designed to highlight his guitar techniques and his unpolished singing. Second, it is not entirely heavy-guitar based: there are some pretty acoustic shuffles to help you get on the way, and the styles are different: Leslie often alternates from a proto-grungey, wall-of-sound pattern to stern, direct, catchy riffage and back, so the songs can usually be distinguished from one another, at least while you're actually listening (a trick that rarely works with AC/DC, now doesn't it?) Third, you can actually listen to the lyrics without blushing: much of them are written by Pappalardi, and the ones written by West are perfectly okay, if never spectacular.

That said, the album is certainly also flawed in the same way all 'hardcore' heavy albums are: the heaviness eventually gets to you, and only a couple of tracks on here point the way to the really good band Mountain would become in the future. I cannot really blame any of the individual songs in particular: I'd be happy to hear any single one of these eleven tracks any day of my life. But taken together, they wear you down, unless you're the iron-brained heavy-rock monster like some of the dudes flaming Prindle for his not liking AC/DC's Ballbreaker. The biggest flaw, of course, is that Pappalardi is still largely missing from the deal: he doesn't sing, and his contribution to the album is still a 'helping hand' rather than something coming from a full-time partner. What we have here, essentially, is just a young promising fat man coming out of nowhere (from the mountains?) to play some young promising fat guitar lines and sing in a young promising fat voice. Of course, he isn't tied in with Cream in any way, and he has, as of yet, no thoughts of taking over that band's legacy, and even if his sound is unique for 1969, it is certainly not unique for our times. In that respect, Mountain the album has definitely dated a little, quite unlike the following studio albums.

That said, if you just lower your expectations a bit, or if you're that kind of Mountain fan who only listens to the band for Leslie and hates the 'wussy', 'wimpy' Felix, this record's a must for you. Like I said, almost every single tune on it is good. The obvious highlight is the opening number - the excellent rifffest 'Blood Of The Sun', which might just be about the catchiest thing Leslie ever did. The only problem is that as soon as the between-the-verses-riff goes away, the melody becomes way too similar to the one of Dylan's 'This Wheel On's Fire', which also gets covered on this record. Sidenote: it's kinda funny how there exist so many hard-rock covers of this song. Two, at least - the Byrds also did a rip-roaring version of the tune on Dr Byrds And Mr Hyde. And it's not even one of Dylan's better numbers. Leslie does it some justice, though.

Another 'heavy' highlight is, of course, the famous 'Dreams Of Milk & Honey' (later met in a live version as part of the 'Dream Sequence' on Flowers Of Evil). I can't really say what makes the number a standout: basically, it's just an ordinary heavy rock tune, with a good riff and weird psychedelic lyrics. But out of all the songs on here, it's about the only one that really sounds Creamy - I can almost substitute Leslie's singing for Jack Bruce's. Pappalardi probably had a big part in the number. Oh, yeah, it also has Leslie's best soloing on this record.

The only fast number on record, 'Southbound Train', is good, too: Leslie shows us he knows how to establish a solid fast groove going on, because the fascinating five-note riff repeated over and over and over really sets my head in a whirl. Was this guy really a 'proto-punker' as some try to point out? This song's possibly the best argument, even if it's still way too bluesy to serve as an inspiration for punk.

The slower numbers don't capture one as immediately (a big problem with Leslie from the very start), but in the end both the folkish 'Long Red' with its silly martial rhythms and the closing gentle ballad 'Because You Are My Friend' turn out to be minor winners. And on 'Friend' Leslie even tries to convince the listener that he can sometimes abandon that loud hoarse off-key voice of his and engage in some more tuneful and heartfelt notes. Because, to be frank with you, even if Leslie's voice is powerful and excellently suited for his fat guitar tone, it's way too limited in range and style; sometimes it gets really annoying. So that final ballad really sounds refreshing.

Finally, there's just one more thing: Leslie solo or no solo, this is his first recording effort, and, like oh so many first recording efforts, the thing is just brimming with energy. He might have come from the mountains (figuratively speaking), but he displays none of the mountaineers' supposed shyness and timidness, falling into the category of artists who are willing to shove their full potential into their very first recording. Of course, this potential is not a Lennon or a Townshend potential, but it's potential all the same. With all this barrage of energy and testosterone pumped in, a second solo album would almost definitely have been a failure, or at least a serious letdown. So it's a good thing that Felix was there to suggest forming a band and thus breathing new life in the project.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

The Cream is dead - long live Mountain!


Track listing: 1) Mississippi Queen; 2) Theme For An Imaginary Western; 3) Never In My Life; 4) Silver Paper; 5) For Yasgur's Farm; 6) To My Friend; 7) The Laird; 8) Sittin' On A Rainbow; 9) Boys In The Band.

Mountain announce their arrival on the rock scene with a crash and a boom and a bang, so that many regard this as the band's finest hour and one of the Top Three hard rock albums of 1970 (a year pretty rich on HR classics by itself - Live At Leeds, Paranoid, Deep Purple In Rock... need I go on?) I'm pretty fond of it, myself: while Flowers Of Evil is certainly a better introduction to the band's unique sound and a little stronger on a song-for-song basis, Climbing! might easily make it judging by the freshness and the force alone. After all, who needed a wimpy wussy debut album in 1970, the year of hard rock par excellence?

Nobody, and that's why the record crashes into and out of your speakers with the powerful 'Mississippi Queen', the trademark Mountain tune and still the only 'radio classic' in the entire catalog of the band, as far as I know (here's one more chance to remind you that I never listen to the radio). Corky Laing introduces the song with his trusty cowbells, and Leslie breaks out a riff that's completely generic, I admit, but he lashes it out with such tremendous power as if he were pounding his poor guitar with a mallet. It's not 'heavy' in the Tony Iommi sense - which equates 'heavy' with 'low' rather than 'loud', but it's not just stupid loudness, either. It's more like the Hammer of the Gods, you understand: the God of Thunder coming down from the mountains and confessing his love to the Mississippi Queen. A short and verrry convincing confession, indeed. An all-time classic; the only complaint is that the song really overshadowed the rest of Mountain's output and so became a stone round their neck rather than just one of their worthy contributions.

So do not forget that there are eight more songs on the record - not all of them are equally good, of course, and some are even annoying, but anyway, a song never makes an entire album, be it 'Satisfaction' or 'Baby One More Time'. Climbing! does not have such an obvious division of the record into a Leslie part and a Felix part, as on some of the subsequent albums; still, it is evident that some of the songs bear a more psychedelic, hippie flavour, courtesy of Felix, while others lean towards the give-it-yer-all unsophisticated rip-roaring, courtesy of Leslie. Both ideally complement each other, of course. Leslie's contributions on here are mostly in the same vein as 'Queen' and often just as enjoyable: the level of energy on 'Never In My Life' is simply incredible, and don't miss the drumming - Corky Laing bashes like a real powerhouse, and he never misses a beat. Likewise, 'Sittin' On A Rainbow' is another fun riff-fest, with a little charming, almost childish, melody, complemented by the relentless tom-tom-tom-tom of our trusty drummer.

The only West tune I don't really like on here is the silly acoustic instrumental 'To My Friend'. Whatever friend it was, he certainly deserved something better; I take a guess that Leslie just didn't take enough care to write a real tune and shoved these three and a half minutes of acoustic improvisation on the record instead. Near the end he sometimes lets himself get carried away with some fast, engaging rhythms, but mostly he's just playing short flurries of meaningless notes that don't even come close to being 'atmospheric', let alone 'memorable'. And who needs an unatmospheric and an unmelodic instrumental? Not me, mister.

And Felix? I suppose it was his idea to cover Jack Bruce's 'Theme For An Imaginary Western' (although Leslie had been great friends with Bruce as well - he even formed a band with him later on! Didja know that?), and a clever idea it was. While Jack's own performance of it was excellent, Mountain carry it even higher, as the song is, quite contrary to its name, re-arranged as a heavy, droning-and-buzzing rocker with psychedelic lyrics (and vocals: it's quite easy to mistake Felix for Jack himself on that one). Leslie plays an excellent, tear-inducing solo that builds up to a tremendous climax, and anyway, I really needn't be praising the song, as it's obvious that 'Theme...' is Mountain's trademark number two after 'Mississippi Queen'. What a blast: to put the two greatest songs of their career at the very start of their debut album. Heh heh. Talk about overkill.

Other mini-wonders include 'For Yasgur's Farm', a dramatic, ear-shattering number with yet another tear-inducing chorus (I couldn't quite make out the lyrics, but I guess they're easy to guess judging by the song's name), and the pretty ditty 'Silver Paper' whose melody was later reworked for the far more superior 'One Last Cold Kiss'. Again, though, there are problems: the weird acoustic mantra 'The Laird' has never struck me as particularly captivating, as it's neither powerful nor catchy, on the contrary, it's quite annoying in its repetitiveness, and Felix whines on it like a poor little beaten boy. And 'Boys In The Band' sucks; a pretty lame way to close such a terrific album with a messy, uninspired 'rocker' with no interesting riffs at all. They go for a more melancholic, piano-based sound with more emphasis on mood and lyrics than melody, but end up heading nowhere. Me, I'd better hear an 'extended mix' of 'Mississippi Queen'... please?

So I'm not yet ready to praise the album with the highest possible score, you gotta understand me; it's simply not enough consistent for me. I hate it when a record picks me up and kicks me down - a pretty rude way to deal with a listener, let alone a poor honest reviewer. Nevertheless, I wouldn't hold a grudge against the Wimp and the Fat Guy: they did earn enough cherries on that one. The ex-Cream should have been proud.



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

A strong Pappalardi/West differentiation here, but in the end they all melt together fairly well.


Track listing: 1) Don't Look Around; 2) Taunta (Sammy's Tune); 3) Nantucket Sleighride; 4) You Can't Get Away; 5) Tired Angels; 6) The Animal Trainer And The Toad; 7) My Lady; 8) Travellin' In The Dark; 9) The Great Train Robbery.

Basically more of the same. It's kinda funny, you know, to witness a band with two strong creative personalities each pulling the blanket on themselves, especially when said blanket as a result doesn't become torn in two uncovering the guys' bare asses, but actually manages to envelop both of them pretty well. I mean, from a 'message' point of view, songs like Leslie's 'The Animal Trainer And The Toad' and Felix's 'Nantucket Sleighride' just don't belong in the same package, but since they're in the same band, after all, they merge them pretty fine so that the seams don't show.

Anyway, the songwriting is split in half here, with Leslie blowing the top away on his riff-based ferocious rockers and Pappalardi taking a milder approach on the 'Creamier' heavy-psychedelic numbers. Thus, the occasion is perfect for all Mountain fans to bicker among themselves about who was more important for the band. Stepping off the high horse, I'd personally say that I enjoy Pappalardi's numbers more because they display more personality - but then again, that must be the high browed intellectual in me, afraid to let his hair down and acknowledge the absolute coolness of Leslie West's guitar. So maybe it's a tie, I don't know, you'll have to ask the two halves of my inner self about that.

Whatever - both halves will have to acknowledge that the title track is the best stuff on here by far. An epic tune that more or less resembles a love ballad, it's by far the most creative track to ever have appeared in the band. It starts off as a gentle folksy chant with a typically folksy catchy refrain, then speeds up to incorporate some mean gruff riffage and a few lines of 'astral organ', gives us the second verse, then gets into beautiful Mountainesque jam mode, then brings on medieval influences in the form of an unexpected flute passage, gives us a couple more inspired Leslie solos, then there's the third verse, and a fat powerful coda. In other words, in six minutes it takes you on a little journey that's certainly no worse than a 'Close To The Edge'-type journey and in certain respects, maybe better, as Mountain's war cry for beauty never seems as forced and contrived as Yes sometimes sound.

Actually, for the most part Pappalardi gets away with vocal melodies - 'Tired Angels', for instance, has a masterful vocal twist in the chorus that grabs my collar and hangs me up on the nearest nail. If you ever get around to hearing 'Tired Angels', look out for that chorus hook: take a couple of minutes to think on how really unnecessary it was to wreck one's brain trying to fashion the melody in such a complex way because the song would have been acceptable anyway. Acceptable, but nowhere near impressive. Here's difference between professionalism and genius. Or, maybe, between basic professionalism and extreme professionalism - after all, you don't really need genius to write great hooks if you have a good understanding of what a great hook is.

Now, before we get too theoretical, let's also mention a few Leslie highlights - songs like 'Don't Look Around', for instance. Big Fat Leslie, of course, goes straight for the grand prize: loooooud, bombastic, greasy, often chaotic. 'Don't Look Around' will definitely get you a headache on first listen, much like Deep Purple's 'Speed King'; it takes a few attentive listens to actually discern the main powerful riff from behind all the aggressive drum barrages, feedback, thick organ layer, and Leslie's wild bellowing vocals. The riff to 'You Can't Get Away' is almost as good. But Felix comes to the fore once again and battles Leslie with the 'ballad rocker' 'My Lady' and the ominous psycho anthem of desperation, 'Travellin' In The Dark'. These songs are hard to describe - remember, in the way of basic stylistics and instrumentation, if you heard one or two Mountain songs, you've heard them all (good ones, at least). They're simply good because they're well-written and, like, moody. Pappalardi's sense of romance and of paranoia is certainly to be appreciated.

And Leslie? And Leslie would like to answer those blows with 'The Animal Trainer And The Toad' and 'The Great Train Robbery', but... but, see, this is where he fails. When you're working strictly in the blues-rock pattern, it's so dang difficult to keep remembering to write original melodies; here, he falls back on genericity. The fat guitar tones and the enthusiasm still blow me away, but the melodies don't. That 'I'm in a ba-a-a-a-and' chorus to 'Animal Trainer' gets on my nerves, even. Almost like Grand Funk Railroad or sumpthin'.

But minor misfires are minor misfires; the major misfire is that many of the songs tend to drift together and stick in one huge sticky greasy lump which can get really painful to separate. For a band of lesser stature, Nantucket Sleighride could be a masterpiece to end all masterpieces, for Mountain, this is, like, a flawed record. Occasionally even overproduced - sure, Pappalardi's arrangements are essentially what keeps Mountain from becoming a pre-AC/DC kind of band, but when there are too many overdubs on a single track, that can get real heavy to swallow. And finally, apart from the title track, there ain't an all-time classic to be found - which is maybe why live material from this record is so rare. Still, while all of those factors prevent the disc from getting a 10, they sure don't prevent it from getting a nine, and now, if you'll excuse me, I must be off getting the wax from my ears. What? Oh no, it wasn't there when I started listening to the album, believe me. It's just that Mr West sure creates a vast magnetic field within my earlobes.



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

A unique experience if you want to combine a psychedelic experience with lotsa fun headbanging. Lengthy wankfests that never get boring? Hah!


Track listing: 1) Flowers Of Evil; 2) King's Chorale; 3) One Last Cold Kiss; 4) Crossroader; 5) Pride And Passion; 6) Dream Sequence; 7) Mississippi Queen.

The band's third and arguably best album, Flowers Of Evil is a lengthy, half-live, half-studio record. Some people complain about it being recorded towards the end of Mountain's peak (ha ha, good pun there), but that was probably a moment when they just climbed the darn mountain to the very top and didn't yet start falling down from the other side. Because, as much as all of these songs are in the traditional Mountain 'heavy psycho' vein, all of them also really have something unique and fresh to offer to my ears. As usual, it's Leslie West's fat, 'greasy' guitar sound that dominates the music, but on the studio side it is firmly held back by Pappalardi's psycho vocals and, sometimes, keyboard player Steve Knight's tinkling pianos, not to mention other multiple gimmicks. The title track is perhaps the best known song out of the six, a mastodontic, energetic psychedelic rocker underpinned by a masterful West riff; however, it's not so much the riff that manages to thrill me, but rather the masterful alternation of the rip-roaring verses with the quiet, 'squeaky' chorus where Felix's vocals are encoded with some murky gadget, giving them an 'underwater' effect. I probably don't like it as much as the average Mountain fan, as on third listen it already starts sounding kinda pedestrian, but overall, one strong and clever hard psycho tune.

My favourite would be the one that starts after the short piano interlude ('King's Chorale' - rather boring, don't you think?), that great medieval ballad cleverly disguised as a heavy rocker, the one called 'One Last Cold Kiss'. The melody is so beautiful and so catchy, and so heavy and menacing, all at once, that you just can't help not 'noticing' it - in that grand old sense of the word 'notice', I mean. At first, I used to feel kinda uneasy about that fast instrumental chorus ripping the melody apart all the time, but I got used to it, and now the two parts manage to coexist as happily in my worried mind as the two swans that Felix sings about in the song. Then there's 'Crossroader', a generic, but hugely impressive blues tune that reminds me of Cream's 'Politician' without the overdubbed guitar solos and a more vague riff, and the bombastic, almost progressive-like 'Pride And Passion'. It ain't 'progressive', of course, because it's simply 'psychedelic' (there's a big difference, in case you don't know), but what the hell! Who cares? Some weird organ effects start the song, some of them certainly played backwards, then Felix comes in and starts singing a childish, piano-accompanied melody, and then there's just a very pretty melody going on for quite a few minutes. But it's really pretty - perhaps it does stop before reaching the gates of 'gorgeous', but that depends on where you actually place these gates.

But frankly speaking, most of these songs, interesting as they are, pale in comparison with the live half of the album. Now trust me, I don't go about giving fake praises to just about any live album with tons of 'wanking'. And this half has 'wanking' in spades - apart from the short closing performance of 'Mississippi Queen', it's all occupied by a lengthy, lumbering, twenty-five-minute-long 'Dream Sequence' where vocal parts occupy only, like, about two or three minutes at max. But the incredible thing is that the band were a magnificent jamming outfit, and I'm not afraid to say it - better than Cream. Not better professionally, of course: while both Felix and Leslie are experienced bass and guitar players, respectively, they don't hold up to Bruce or Clapton. But they manage to bring some kind of structure and order into their obviously improvised jams, and in that respect I would probably compare them to the Who rather than Cream. Remember the differences? Cream just used to take off at the wave of Clapton's hand and engage in a lengthy, non-ending, repetitive solo; the quality of the jam thus depended exclusively on whether Eric was inspired or not at the moment. And, of course, with Cream's endless touring, it was hard to expect Eric be truly inspired every night. On the other hand, the Who constructed their jams as based on Townshend's riffs: he would find a groove and lead the band forward, then he would stop and keep hitting these high disjointed notes for half a minute before finding another groove, and so on - never repeating, always captivating. Mountain structure their jam in exactly the same way. They begin with a short Leslie solo where he showcases his classy vibrato, then rip into a take-no-prisoners rendition of 'Roll Over Beethoven' - another short solo - the thumpin' 'Dreams Of Milk And Honey' - the band searches for the groove - the band gets it (I adore these two minutes or so when Felix and Leslie take short turns in soloing) - another search - another groove (that funny fast melody taken from the chorus of 'One Last Cold Kiss') - the end. Outstanding, and never really manages to lose me apart from maybe a couple minutes out of twenty-five. If you're gonna jam with your band tonight, please go to the nearest store and get a copy of this album as a suitable handbook; together with Live At Leeds, this should constitute the primary course of live playing.

In that respect, I proudly give the album a 12 with no remorse at all; a higher rating would hardly be possible as it would place Mountain among the giants of rock music which they are not, but it's a very high 12 anyway. It gels perfectly as an album, and, while there are no points here as high as the original brontosauric studio version of 'Mississippi Queen' or the haunting 'Theme For An Imaginary Western', taken on a song-for-song basis it's simply more consistent and more adequately showcases all of the band's strong points. Oh, and this should also count as the last great 'heavy psycho' album ever made, no doubt about that.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

A mess, and only redeemed with several moments - now and then. Continuing the worst excesses of live Cream.


Track listing: 1) Never In My Life; 2) Theme For An Imaginary Western; 3) Blood Of The Sun; 4) Guitar Solo; 5) Nantucket Sleighride; 6) Crossroader; 7) Mississippi Queen; 8) Silver Paper; 9) Roll Over Beethoven.

Well now, this is certainly not a very good live album. The band was having a lot of internal troubles at this time - troubles that had to do with both personal factors, as Leslie West descended further and further into drug dependance, and economical factors, as their records didn't sell. In the end, Laing and Knight just plain quit, replaced by Bob Mann (guitar, keyboards) and Alan Schwartzberg on drums. This isn't actually so much important for this album's sound, tho'. Yeah, Bob Mann rarely plays the keyboards - he prefers to duet with Leslie on guitars, but after all, I never heard the keyboards on Mountain's live tracks in the first place, and Leslie's got his fat, 'greasy' sound completely overshadowing everything but Felix's equally loud bass, so this 'guitar duet' is nothing but a farce. What bothers me more is that Leslie's guitar is far less interesting - just take a listen at the five minute 'Guitar Solo' that precedes 'Nantucket Sleighride'. Sometimes it's cool in its dirtiness, sometimes it's just boring as he keeps hitting the same distorted notes for what seems like hours. I mean, the excourses into 'Can't You Hear Me Knockin' and 'Jingle Bells' are hilarious, but much too often it simply sounds cacophonous. Drugs? Or simply one of the 'bad' nights? Who can tell...

The album is a double one this time, and really not worth the long format. Half of it is being occupied by an endless, thirty-minute rendition of the classic 'Nantucket Sleighride'. The original was a beautiful psychedelic masterpiece; this particular version sucks big time. After the typical Pappalardi-style 'introduction' (supposedly, it's the main part of the song, but it's so short in relation to the rest of the composition I can't call it otherwise) comes the endless solo which I could easily live without. Unlike the riff grooves of 'Dream Sequence', where you could easily cling on to any separate part and feel well at ease with it, there's simply nothing to get hooked on here. The band just drags on and on, obviously not knowing when the hell to stop, and nothing, well I mean Virtually Nothing redeems the wankathon. I mean, these guys don't even have Cream's chops! In case somebody attacked the Fab Three's sixteen-minute version of 'Spoonful' or anything, I could always pull off a Master Technician and say, 'yeh, yeh, it's boring for sure, but what on Earth equals that flawless vibrato at 8:45 in the song? And gee, that bassline at 11:43 was cool too! That Jack Bruce sure can twiddle a note or two!' Here, I just have to shut my tired trap. Remember when I said that 'Dream Sequence' was structured more like a Who jam than a Cream jam? Well, this here 'Sleighride' sounds like the Who suddenly giving up on catchy riffs and instead engaging in meaningless, amateurish, expressionless solos that go on for half an hour. The addition of a second guitar doesn't really help one single bit.

Luckily, when you throw away this disaster, it's more easy to put up with the rest. If you can get around the fact, that is, that due to a lameass fat drug addict and a goofy compromising hippie, a potential first-class seventy-minute-long live masterpiece is reduced to a second-rate forty-minute live bummer. No, wait, not 'bummer'. Some of this stuff is quite cool. The other originals, such as 'Never In My Life', 'Blood Of The Sun' and 'Silver Paper', are all treated with respect, and, although Felix sometimes puts way too much crazyass fuzz on his crass bass so that all the fuss makes his mass a real wuss, at least the main riffs are intact and all the Gargantuan feel that's generated by West's wild, crash-bang-booming tone is right there at the very heart of the rockers. The solos pretty much suck, though, and even Leslie's trademark vibratos sound insecure and end way too quickly to be truly appreciated.

The best stuff on the whole record more or less comes near the end, when they do 'Crossroader' and 'Mississippi Queen': both versions are inferior to the ones on Flowers Of Evil, but tolerable, and the short, two-minute-long 'Roll Over Beethoven' at the very end kicks all sorts of ass, including Leslie's own, immense as it possibly is: they ignite the rhythm section at once, unlike on FOE, where Leslie was way too slow to signal it to get going, and it's just loads of fun. Actually, sometimes I start suspecting that they really got a bit heated towards the end of the show - unfortunately, you do have to sit through a lot of dreck to get to it. Plus, the situation is all the more confusing since the absolute best, the gentle, touching 'Theme For An Imaginary Western', comes on as the second track on the album. Here, it's the only song where Leslie generates some kind of real feeling with his instrument. Otherwise, it's mostly just heaviness and headbanging.

Still, for some reason, I don't feel that bad about the record. Maybe it's due to the fact that I love live albums in general (oops, I've given away my trade secret). Maybe just because I love Cream so much that I'm ready to forgive these dudes simply because they carried on the tradition. What the hell, I'll just go listen to it again, one more time. Please don't bother about buying it, though; the show sucks, the playing sucks, the album cover (a worthless Japanese stilization) sucks, the review sucks, and anyway I'm just making a fool of myself to bug you as much as lies within my possibilities. Whatever be, the record is definitely a low point in Mountain's career, and we'll just leave it at that.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Concentrated Mountain sound! Virtually the best-of!


Track listing: 1) Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On; 2) Sister Justice; 3) Alisan; 4) Swamp Boy; 5) Satisfaction; 6) Thumbsucker; 7) You Better Believe It; 8) I Love To See You Fly; 9) Back Where I Belong; 10) Last Of The Sunshine Days.

There are in-between different stage career breaks which work against the band - they lose the moment and forget the old way in which they used to gel together. But there are also refreshing breaks, pauses which only help instigate the band's true creativity, and Avalanche is definitely that category. More than that, Avalanche is the last classic line-up Mountain album, and thus an excellent swansong for the band. Strange, because the album really doesn't feel like a goodbye, except for maybe the closing track, 'Last Of The Sunshine Days', whose grim title and weird metallized music-hall atmosphere might actually be suggesting that Felix and Leslie were hinting at a possible break-up. But in all other respects, it's just a strong, powerful, and totally competent hard rock offering that's been rather unjustly overlooked.

The guys REALLY let it rip on that one; even Felix's milder psycho numbers are very significantly dominated by Leslie's mountaineering outbursts of rumbly fuzz and buzz, and Leslie's own songs... well, you can imagine. In addition, the band beefs up a couple of classic rock'n'roll covers, just in case you ever wondered what Mountain's schtick is really like and wanted it demonstrated by means of transformation of well-known songs. Good call! 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On' is ripped out of its lightweight good-time dirty fun shell and revved up to almost apocalyptic proportions, with a bellowing wall of sound, furious overdubbed solos and, of course, Leslie's vocals that sound like he's spilling them from every part of his body. There's also a strange, but inventive rearrangement of 'Satisfaction', with cute little syncopations of the riff (played on a slide guitar, no less) and more of those FAT solos.

If anything, the problem is many of the songs on here sound the same - there's less diversity than on, say, Climbing!. But a few well-placed listenings reveal that each song really rules in its individuality, and each song is planned and written in its own way as well. Maybe this has something to do with the addition of David Perry on rhythm guitar - I'm not sure if he's responsible for all of the rhythm work on here, but supposedly he's an excellent axeman anyway, and gives Leslie more space to flaunt his vicious soloing. Cool riffs abound all around; 'Thumbsucker', 'Swamp Boy', 'You Better Believe It', and 'Sister Justice' are all good examples. If you've ever been disappointed by the filler percentage on Nantucket Sleighride or Flowers Of Evil, Avalanche might be a great cure - the production is just right, balancing an overall feel of might, power and fatness with well-defined riffs that you'll be wanting to commit to your air guitar if you have one. 'Sister Justice' actually uses the classic 'four-chord sequence' of 'Sunshine Of Your Love/N.I.B.', but gives it more ominous aggression than any of those two songs, which is weird considering it's essentially a Pappalardi showcase with more of his hippiesque word imagery. On the other hand, Pappalardi is also slowly drifting away from the flower imagery of the past to more 'grounded' topics - like the Southern lyrical imagery of 'Swamp Boy', or the aggressive punch of 'Thumbsucker'. The further we move into the Seventies, the more bitter it gets, you see.

On the other hand, this is also an album to host 'Alisan', maybe the prettiest instrumental tune ever recorded by these guys. Acoustic for the most part, it shows Leslie's abilities at folkish stylistics, with several different parts taking you from a relaxed medieval atmosphere to hilarious country shuffles. It's one of those near-spiritual, soul-calming little ditties that may take some time to appreciate, although if I were you, I'd better not force it but wait for the right moment instead. If you ever heard Bob Dylan's Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid soundtrack, you'll know what I mean. The only other non-heavy track is 'I Love To See You Fly', with an interesting sound of several overdubbed acoustic guitars submitted to heavy phasing. Hmm, maybe there's actually only one guitar - it's been phased so earnestly I really can't tell the difference.

It's also really a lot of fun to see how these barbarian guys take every genre and style and grind them in their heavy mill - 'Last Of The Sunshine Days' really sounds like it could have been played by Paul McCartney or an early incarnation of Tom Waits. But none of them would probably have ever thought of playing it with wild distorted guitars... You could say this reeks of stupidity and stubbornness, and you'd be wrong - the last thing I'd accuse these guys of is incompetency in any of their ventures, particularly since they always had the good taste so as not to poke their nose into ventures which were made not for them. See what I mean? When Led Zeppelin play 'D'yer Mak'er', that's a venture NOT made for them. When Mountain play a thirty-minute live version of 'Nantucket Sleighride', that's a venture made for them - even if it sucks horrendously, but hey, that's a different thing. Enough of Zep bashing, though, let me just finish this review by saying few hard rock bands finish their career on such a glorious note. Of course, it mostly has to do with Mountain disbanding so early - so let us thank Mountain for disbanding so early and putting out just ONE crappy reunion album when they could have been putting out shitty albums for the next twenty five years or so.



Year Of Release: 1996
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

A lame reunion record, sounding more like mediocre Black Sabbath than like prime Mountain.

Best song: I LOOK

Track listing: 1) In Your Face; 2) Thunder; 3) Man's World; 4) So Fine; 5) Hotel Happiness; 6) I'm Sorry; 7) I Look (Power Mix); 8) Is That Okay; 9) Crest Of A Slump; 10) You'll Never Be Alone; 11) I Look (Hit Mix).

Mountain disbanded in 1974, and when Felix Pappalardi died in 1983 (and a famous death it was, too - shot dead by his own wife!!!), all hopes for any subsequent reunions seemed to be quelled, what with Leslie West being a serious druggie and all. However, he surprised everyone by grabbing back Corky Laing and joining forces with new bass player Mark Clarke and returning with a 'power trio' and a record in 1985. Since then, the band has been coming and going, occasionally reuniting and parting ways, but they never seem to have had a mass audience.

Nevertheless, I was intrigued when I saw this, rather recent, CD. Not that I expected it to be good, mind you: I'm quite used to having to live over shitty reunions and stuff like that, but I was simply interested in whether the band would be able to preserve its trademark sound or not. So when the album turned out to be nearly unlistenable, I wasn't all that disappointed and just kept listening.

Over the course of three or four listens, I got a bit softer; however, the final verdict stays not too different from the original - if you are a Mountain, not a Leslie West fan, better stay away. Felix is gone, and nobody is going to compensate for the essential element he brought with him that made Mountain such a unique group for the early Seventies: psychedelia. Man's World is simply an overloud, brawny, sluggish collection of rather generic heavy metal riffs and uninspired, formulaic ballads, with trivial lyrics and unmemorable melodies. Leslie does preserve the essence of his sound: the famous fat, 'greasy' blues tone, but it's been significantly updated for the modern times, and much too often he ends up sounding like a typical Tony Iommi with just a bit more ear-grating distortion than necessary. In a certain way, that's a compliment: Leslie is playing real riffs with his guitar, not just heavy melodyless sludge that distinguishes your average heavy metal band. But these riffs aren't interesting at all! The two fastest tracks, 'In Your Face' and 'Crest Of A Slump', are simply dismissable - they don't attract my attention like an older tune, such as 'Mississippi Queen', could have attracted it. This is probably what could have been dubbed 'effective heavy metal', but it's really not my forte nor my area of interest. Bah. Likewise, the title track is a complete dud - with laughable lyrics ('This is a man's world/And it will be nothing/Without a woman or a girl') and a thunderous, power-chord-dominated metallic background. It certainly reminds me of some of Sabbath's worst excesses, notably Seventh Star. Not to mention that the vocals suck - Leslie's voice, not too perfect from the very start, only got worse with time, and his hoarse whinings get on my nerves even more than the hoarse whinings of a middle-aged Ian Gillan.

It's only when Leslie and co. go for something more traditional that the sound finally begins to gel and something truly Mountain-like emerges from the rubbish. Thus, the blues stomp of 'Hotel Happiness' is certainly not any less formulaic than the other tunes, but I far prefer a well-executed heavy blues number than an equally well-executed heavy metal number (respect the blues, all ye people!), and the pianos set a nice groove and a good counterpoint for the fat guitar sound as well. And at least on one track the band goes for an excellent recreation of the true Mountain sound, the bouncy, poppy rocker 'I Look', present here in two versions - the 'power' mix and the 'hit mix' (not that it was a hit, of course). The tune is a definite highlight, and might have ideally fit in on any of the best 'classic' Mountain albums: note especially the incredible power of Corky Laing's drumming on that track, but don't forget the masterful, sing-along-style vocal melody either. And that's also one of the rare tracks where they don't go for a defiant, in-yer-face heavy metal sound, putting in more blues and emotion than fuse and distortion.

The heavy numbers are at times watered down with a ballad or two, and the ballads seem to be more or less equally distributed between cute little passable shuffles and unbearable, over-emotive suppah-duppah stinkfests that ideally highlight Leslie' newly-found lack of voice and a total lack of lyrical abilities. 'So Fine' has a nice countryish acoustic riff that doesn't allow me to dismiss the song, and 'Is That Okay?', sung by Corky (and sung quite well, too - why didn't he take more of the lead vocals on here?), is so utterly unpretentious, humble and friendly that it's impossible to have any hard feelings towards the number. On the other hand, 'I'm Sorry' and 'You'll Never Be Alone' are atrocious: on the former Leslie obviously makes his most credible Aerosmith impression, and on the latter he's just left alone with his acoustic and sings a love ode, but he sure ain't no Neil Young and no Bob Dylan either. Okay, maybe I have a hard, rough, emotionless heart and so can't feel all the pain and sufferings and anguish and sorrow and trouble and strife and remorse and repentance and regret and compunction and tenderness and subtlety and care and concern and [...half of Roget's thesaurus here...] that are all obvious in Leslie's delivery of the song, but I prefer to keep it short.

This song SUCKS!

End of review. You'll never get to see the album anyway if you're a US resident, because it hasn't been released in the States. Congratulations! I have just wasted several minutes of your precious time.


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