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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Paradox, USA

Paradox - Modern Madness. 1977 Magna Glide

And here we are again with another incredible find from The AC! His deep diving skills are unsurpassed. Paradox, it appears, are an unknown instrumental progressive rock band from the New York City/Long Island area.

Here's the full dossier from The AC: "The label this is on, Magna Glide, has an interesting history. It was the project of Kasenetz & Katz, the well-known duo who had been behind much of the "bubblegum" pop of the preceding era, such as the 1910 Fruitgum Company, before hitting it big once again with Ram Jam and their annoyingly ubiquitous "Black Betty". They apparently took some of their earnings and invested them into a high-tech recording studio on Long Island, which opened in the mid 70s, where most of this label's output was recorded and produced. It all seems to have started out legitimately, producing a few singles that found some minor chart success, but when the tax scam train came rollin' into town, they apparently couldn't resist. On the positive side, it seems that they actually made some effort in signing and recording real local artists, and the packaging is generally quite cool. But the print runs, distribution and promotion seem to have been pretty much non-existent, even by tax scam standards. As a result, this entire enterprise has been basically unknown to collectors until just the last couple of years, after a few of the label's releases were finally dug up in the local NYC/tri-state area. The roster consists of the usual random grab-bag of tax scam wackiness, but none are as strange and obscure as the Paradox LP.

So, what about the music then? First off, the band was an instrumental power trio (guitar/bass/drums, no vocals, no keys, except for some minor use of string synth on one track). It's a bit hard to put your finger on, but the best description I can come up with is a mixture of trippy instrumental guitar psych/prog and thunderously heavy power trio hard rock/metal, all infused with a stoned, freaky vibe. I can only imagine the epic fog bank of pot smoke that must have descended on the studio when this was being recorded. On one hand, some of this material almost reminds me of the farthest-out end of the early 70s UK and US prog/psych power trio spectrum. On the other hand, there are sections here that are just incredibly heavy for the time, with a crushing guitar tone and fast, aggressive riffing that was very unusual for 1976-1977. A couple of the more extended cuts even have something of a proto epic metal feel to them, while many of the the trippier, spacier passages feature an eastern-tinged psych guitar style that's quite hypnotic. Somehow, this album is simultaneously anachronistic and way ahead of its time, so I'm going to assume that it was actually the work of time travelers. Very mysterious..."

Well, there you have it. I mean if that description doesn't excite you, not sure I can offer much more. One band that did come to mind while listening to Paradox is Automatic Fine Tuning, the excellent English instrumental group that continues to be much unheralded. AFT had a twin guitar attack recalling Wishbone Ash, and I would say that Paradox took on a more straightforward hard rock route, perhaps recalling Rush around that same time. From a composition standpoint, and perhaps overall musical approach, I was also reminded of the obscure Chicago band Seiche, who recorded a similar album in 1979 (though Seiche had vocals, giving the band a little downtime).

Excellent album.

Priority: 2

July 13, 2014 update: We've since heard from drummer Joe Wood, and he relayed the following comment: "Glad you like Paradox. I was in that band in the 80's. We recorded more music in the 80's on 2 inch reels. Three new songs will soon be posted on IACMusic.com. I am the new drummer and I'm working on finishing all the songs we started back then. It includes a new version of Modern Maddess. The new band had me Joe Wood on drums, Rich Hoffman the original guitarist Pete Martinez the original bassist. Also Rob Jack keys and Rob Adamo vocals. My new band Coney Island Steeplechase is on IacMusic.com Me and Rich Hoffman still keep in touch and work together. We are talking about a reunion. Pete is one of the best musicians and writers I ever worked with."

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Jon & John, USA

Jon & John - s/t. 1974 Trilogy

Jon & John, from Rochester NY, is yet another amazing find from the AC, and it's one of those albums - it's got a special vibe that transcends the normal expectations of a particular genre. In this case, that genre would be "psych folk". As you have read from me countless times over the years, I feel that most albums in this space are pure folk with very mild rock or psychedelic characteristics. But that's not the situation with Jon & John.

I'll let The AC take it from here, and I'll add a small bit of commentary at the end. "Interesting little album, that's mainly a folky singer-songwriter type of affair. However, that doesn't tell the whole story, as there are two tracks in particular that are full-on progressive rock in the Yes vein, with synths, tricky rhythms, etc. The rest of the material is also of surprisingly high quality, which might be explained by the somewhat unusual history of this duo that I've been able to dig up. It seems that Jon & John were actually Jon Elias and John Petersen, who must have recorded this when they were mere teenagers at a music school they were attending in Rochester, New York. A few years later they actually collaborated again to pen the iconic original MTV theme (the guitar riff with the astronaut standing on the moon), and both went on to have very successful careers in the film/television and commercial music industry. Jon Elias even produced "Union" for Yes! Anyway, while this isn't a lost classic by any means, it is probably worth grabbing if you happen to see it."

I'm going to take this one step further than The AC, in a rare display of slight dissension. I would say it is indeed a lost classic. I loved the mystical vibe and the high quality songwriting from the off. And the two progressive rock tracks he calls out are truly sublime. There's some wonderful flute playing throughout as well. Three minutes into this album and I was reminded of one of my favorite albums of all-time in the progressive folk space: Madden & Harris* of Australia. The compositions have a similar high quality about them. If Jon & John had employed a mellotron, then the comparison I think would be more obvious. A wonderful album that surely would benefit from a CD reissue.

Priority: 2 (borderline 1)

* - Vinyl only collectors will be glad to know that our old friend Guerssen will be reissuing the Madden and Harris on LP for the first time. I own the Vicious Sloth CD from 20 years ago, and since originals are off-the-charts rare, I'll most assuredly buy this LP.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Flight (Indiana), USA

Flight - Take a Long Look. 1974 Airborne / QCA

This is the CDRWL's second band to be featured who chose the name Flight, and is not related to the much more common Florida based band.

QCA (Queen City Albums), from Cincinnati (naturally enough, since Cincy is known as the "Queen City"), is like Rite Records or RPC in that they were a custom pressing plant. Their main raison d'etre was to press demo albums to shop around for a label deal. Which explains why many of these type of albums are extremely scarce and usually have poor sound. Due to the label being from Cincinnati, everyone just presumed the band was from there as well. However there has been at least one former ebay auction where the dealer stated they were most assuredly from Fort Wayne, Indiana - the same town that Ethos were from!

This is another goldmine discovery from the master digger himself: The AC. Let's get his perspective first: "While this is technically a "midwestern prog" album, it came out on the earlier side of that whole scene, and tends to be a little smoother and more song-oriented than much of the region's output. There are some attempts at more adventurous instrumental sections, but it never really gets too complex. The organ work is nice (though the few synth lines are quite crude), but the guitar is generally relegated to a background role, and the production is somewhat muffled throughout. In general, I'd say that they were heavily influenced by the simpler, more melodic side of the early British progressive movement, rather than the hyper-complex Yes/Gentle Giant styling that many of their compatriots ended up going for. To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed by this at first, and it does kind of just plod along at times. However, it did grow on me quite a bit after a while, and is a likable effort overall."

Not surprisingly, I concur with The AC's findings. Even though it's Midwestern by locale, musically it reminds me of the more song-oriented UK underground circa 1971. Bands like Still Life or Noir came to mind, though certainly not as compelling as those. It's slow moving, with organ as the dominant instrument. The songs are well crafted though, and the band most certainly had talent. It would have been interesting to hear what they could have come up with had they the proper financial support and appropriate studio time. As stated earlier, the album is definitely a demo, and possesses a muddy sound.

"Take a Long Look" is not a good choice for a reissue - unless the band wants to reform and expound upon these ideas further. Or there's a studio tape hiding in the closet. Definitely worth hearing, though, if you get the chance.

Priority: none

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mosaic, USA

Mosaic - s/t. 1978 LMI

Here's another fine entry from the ever enterprising AC. Like Touch and Ocean, Mosaic is one of those band names that has been used dozens of times, so finding info about them can be difficult without any other clues. LMI was a jazz/soul label from Malibu, founded by Lee Magid, who apparently was a famous producer and manager for some big name soul and blues artists back in the day.

This Mosaic were from Peoria, Illinois, and have that sweet jazz funk sound with an exotic bent that we so often find from this era. Perhaps Embryo's "Apo Calypso" or even the Ville Emard Blues Band can provide some context. Lovely female vocals, Fender Rhodes, sax, percussion, and guitar (note the instrumental setup on the cover). Guaranteed to put a smile on your face for the start of the weekend.

The AC affords us this fine backdrop: "Really nice fusion platter from this obscure Illinois-based group. It's instantly appealing and highly melodic, but there's some hidden depth here too, with interesting compositions full of great (but not flashy) unison playing, a wide instrumental palette and lots of rhythmic variety. Some sublime female vocals on one track and a surprisingly top-notch production job round out the package. Unfortunately the last track is a duff vocal number, but that's not nearly enough to spoil what's an otherwise uniformly strong outing. This one's always been a bit of a pain to find, but it's well worth the hunt for genre fans."

Priority: 3

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Buchenfeld, Germany

Buchenfeld - s/t. 1982 private

Here's another deep dive find from the ever amazing AC. This is an album I'd only heard about from our good friend Lev, and he stated it was worth seeking out. And I have to agree.

As soon as the needle drops, it's clear we have landed in Basementopolis. This is some real primitive stuff right here. Primarily instrumental, with a slightly amplified guitar leading the charge. There are a few off-key vocals, and even some woodwinds, and there's a jazzy undertone throughout. As stated, we are talking raw material here, and I don't mean the UK band either. You can expect the sounds of Kaputter Hamster (whose guitarist is named Peter Buchfeld, hmmm) and Dorian Gray as played by Crystalaugur. However, Buchenfeld have a genuine positive disposition, which separates this from the typical dour German mood - at least for this type of music. Not a bad record all things considered, and worth finding a copy for a listen. I suspect this was a demo not ready for prime time, so it's probably not a good prospect for a reissue, unless they have a stash of studio quality material sitting around.

Priority: none

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sun, Japan

Sun - Yume No Michi. 1978 private

This title's been bouncing around my e-mail for over two years now, but I hadn't connected the dots on various conversation about it. And recently The AC sent over a copy for me to check out.

In some ways, this album foretells the future of Japanese progressive rock as we find in the 1980s. There's a large scale bombastic "concept album" feel to the proceedings. A proto-Teru's Symphonia as it were. And, as we hear more typically from South Asia, there's quite a bit of lounge crooning in addition to the choirs, string quartets, and - of course - a couple of full blown instrumental progressive rock numbers to keep the collectors salivating. This album is seriously rare, and it's not too bad actually. Probably better suited for a compilation of rare Japanese gems though, than as a straight reissue.

The AC gives us even more in-depth insights, as well as who is behind the work: "Now this is an odd one. Based on the cover, one would think that the band's name is Sun and the album is entitled "Yume No Michi" (road of dreams), but looking inside the sleeve reveals that this is actually a sort of conceptual work composed and produced by an Osaka studio collective called Labo Nash, with the assistance of a rock band named Virgin House and a local youth choir. It's a strange hodgepodge of styles, mainly consisting of light folky soft-rock (or what is generally referred to in Japan as "kissa rock") with girls' choir vocals, and some slick pomp/AOR style pieces. There's also some typical 70s rock, a string quartet piece, and even one lengthy prog/hard rock track that's not too bad, but not really good either. Despite being such an obscure release, the whole thing is very slickly produced, sounding like some big-budget major label American AOR album. A real head-scratcher, to be sure, but not very musically interesting. Quite rare (perhaps 100 or 200 pressed), but not worth the money."

Priority: none

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rayuela, Argentina

Rayuela - s/t. 1977 Orfeo

Moved to UMR

Priority: 2

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Neuron, USA

Neuron - For What We Are. 1980 Erect

Here's one that would have been part of the CD-R revisit project, but I recently bought a mint LP copy from our good friend Midwest Mike, so that accelerated its feature.

The main reason I didn't give the Chicago based Neuron its own post in the first place, is because the album is on the margins of the list. While the music does fit squarely in the "classic Midwest prog" sound that I've featured extensively over the years, Neuron most assuredly are on the AOR side of the fence. All considered though, it's still a very good album, with a fine combination of radio friendly numbers, Latin rock, and progressive rock. Perhaps similar to Ethos' more commercially oriented efforts. The obscure Boston band Hot Flash would have to be considered another reference.

Priority: 3

Monday, March 3, 2014

Carpineta, Italy

Carpineta - s/t. 1978 Mu

And as promised yesterday, here is that new Italian discovery from The AC. Of all the countries that have had almost complete reissue coverage in regards to progressive music from the 70s, Italy is most certainly in the lead. Though this one does fit the profile for the few that still remain like Gramigna, Ultima Spiaggia, Arpaderba, Roberto Picchi, Orchestra Njervudarov, and others. All the same, Carpineta up until now, is a complete unknown. And it's fantastic! Much of what I just said is far more detailed in The AC's review below.

For quick reference, I'd say Carpineta tracks closest to Canzoniere del Lazio at the end of their storied career (Morra 1978, Miradas). That is - at their most progressive! Mid 70s Area also deserves a shout out, as well as artists as disparate as Gramigna, Franco Battiato, and even Aktuala. For my tastes, Carpineta surpasses all of them. Yea, it's THAT good.

OK, enough of my 30,000 ft view. Let's get down to The AC's much more professional reading liner notes: "There's probably no individual progressive rock scene from the classic 1970s era that has been more thoroughly excavated and cataloged than the Italian one. Massive printed tomes and comprehensive web archives are devoted to it, and a multitude of record labels have left practically no stone unturned, reissuing almost the entire back catalog of noteworthy albums, often multiple times over. A quick glance here at the CDRWL will confirm this, showing a relatively paltry selection of Italian LPs, most from the more obscure jazz/fusion oriented corner of the scene. A few well-known items (like Orchestra Njervudarov or Canzoniere Del Lazio) have somehow managed to avoid reissue, but overall it's pretty slim pickings. The continued passionate following (and incredibly high prices of many originals) have necessitated a very active reissue scene, and created a legion of dedicated collectors, both locally and abroad, who over the ensuing decades have dug to the very bottom of the well in hopes of unearthing that one last Italian gem. So it's with great surprise that I offer this particular album up for your inspection, as it does seem to be a genuine specimen of that rarest of birds - a previously undiscovered Italian progressive LP from the 1970s, not (to my knowledge) ever mentioned in any of the standard Italian prog references or encountered by collectors until just the past year or so.

Hailing from the ancient province of Cosenza in southern Italy, Carpineta seem to have been named after a type of tree, although turning the record sleeve over will reveal that each letter of the name seems to stand for something, possibly making it an acronym: "Carpini Abbandono Rabbia Pianti Incontaminazione Nord-africa Emigrazione Trasformazione Abbrazzamuni". Really rolls off the tongue, eh? With a name like that, and being from 1978, you might be able to guess that we're within the realm of that strange and uniquely Italian take on avant-prog and RIO that proliferated (on a relatively minor scale) from the mid 70s through the early 80s, in the wake of the classic early 70s prog scene's demise, rising in tandem with (and sometimes related to) the increasingly popular jazz-rock/fusion movement. But as I'm sure you know, this whole little mini-movement was quite diverse and hard to put a finger on, mixing in elements of progressive rock, jazz/fusion, Italian folk, pop, ethnic/eastern and avant-garde elements in wildly varying combinations. None of these albums really sound alike, even if you can kind of pigeonhole them due to the time, place and politics. Carpineta are no different, in being completely different. Does that even make any sense? In any case, what we have here is a mixture of elements that's not easily summed up. It opens with an abstract piece full of droning reeds (the "zampogna", a characteristic southern Italian bagpipe, is frequently used on this album, although often in a way that almost makes it sound like an eastern instrument), clattering percussion and declamatory vocals. After that we move into avant-prog territory, with varied but cohesive songs featuring elements of prog, jazz-rock, indigenous southern Italian folk and even psychedelic rock. There's a wide instrumental palette here, as aside from the standard progressive rock instrumentation and impassioned Italian vocals (which at times are sung in the local dialect, which seems to be somewhat Greek-influeced, if I'm not mistaken) they utilize various wind instruments, exotic percussion and also indigenous elements like the previously mentioned zampogna, mandolin, etc. However, the two things that really stand out are the electric guitar work and the drumming. The lead guitar is often played in an almost anachronistic psychedelic style, loaded with fuzz and distortion, while the drummer sometimes freaks out in a nervous, twitchy jazz-inflected way, unleashing rapid-fire rolls and fills like Furio Chirico after downing a few too many cappucinnos. This all really comes together on side two, in the manic and appropriately titled "Storie di cose nostre", with vicious lashings of fuzz guitar, hyper-active drumming and angry screaming vocals, creating one of the most relentless tracks you'll ever hear on a 70s prog LP. But naturally this is followed up by a mellow, sunny Italian folk-oriented song. And so it goes. A fascinating album that I've found myself returning to again and again, which certainly deserves to be reissued and discovered by the wider Italian prog fanbase. Hopefully someone in their home area can find these guys and get on the case!

By the way, the "Mu. Co." label was either their own private imprint or a tiny local interest. It has no relation to Mu, the well-known Turin prog/fusion label from the same time period (Zauber, Esagono, etc.)."

Priority: 1

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Patchwork, France

Patchwork - Ouvertures. 1978 Cobra

Moved to UMR

Priority: 3

Saturday, March 1, 2014

News: Aztec Records of Australia is back!

So this one is complicated. I thought that Aztec had become Sandman Records. Of course that would seem logical if you follow this link. Ever since Sandman came onto the scene, I've made it a point to check their website every once in awhile to see if they're going to dip back into Australia's progressive past. To date, it appears they have been reluctant to do so. I thought the story ended there.

Until yesterday...

Then our good friend Achim in Germany tells us that the Steve Maxwell von Braund album "Monster Planet" has finally been reissued on Aztec. Huh? So I went over to Sandman, but didn't see it. Then I followed the link Achim provided us. And, well.... there it is.... on Aztec Records. Huh? I then asked a long time friend of the CDRWL as to what is going on. Apparently this Aztec was bought out by Gryphon Music. And apparently they refuse to export their product outside of Australia (wholesale that is). OH GREAT. You can order it online of course, and it does appear the price includes postage, but I'm not entirely sure of that. I'm going to sit tight and watch what transpires here. For those who don't want to wait, then you can purchase this on CD from the label direct. We first announced this reissue well over two years ago! In addition to the CD label, Aztec started a sub label called Dual Planet (according to the comments section, Dual Planet is a separate entity from Aztec), Dual Planet have they've released Monster Planet on LP as well as the official/unofficial "bootleg" album Sunday Night at the Total Theatre (on both LP and CD). I guess that leaves only Cybotron's debut as the only album missing a CD reissue.

In additional reissue news from the resuscitated Aztec, look for Company Caine's 1971 debut "A Product of a Broken Reality" as well as the Ayers Rock "Big Red Rock" album to come soon. I haven't heard either, though the latter was originally licensed in the US. Looks like a good one that I'll have to investigate.

Welcome back Aztec!