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Harvey Mandel

Snake Box

Review by Gary Hill

This is a massive set. Doing disc reviews track by track, something like this is a real challenge. Harvey Mandel is probably best known for his work as the guitarist in Canned Heat. This set includes five of his studio albums and a special live disc. That live album features Mandel joined by Jerry Garcia, Elvin Bishop. Stephen Miller, Mickey Hart and John Chambers. I have to say that, despite all the work that went into this review, it’s well worth it. There is a lot of variety here, even if most of the music is instrumental. This is a strong set, really.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
DISC 1: Cristo Redentor

   
Cristo Redentor

This is a trippy little number with non-lyrical female vocals over the top of strings and psychedelic guitar. It’s mellow and powerful. The vocals at times remind me of the “Star Trek” theme song. This is both jazzy and proggy, but it does go on a bit long.

Before Six
Calling to mind both early Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears, this is a killer jazz rocker. It’s quire proggy, too. This is purely instrumental and definitely leans toward psychedelia, particularly in terms of the guitar soloing.
The Lark
Built like a chugging train, this is old school blues at the start. The harmonica adds a lot to this instrumental. It’s a killer track that really does sound like the music you would expect from Mandel’s previous band.
Snake
This instrumental is built around the soloing guitar. It’s a great hard rock groove. It’s yet a different flavor.
Long Wait
Another blues rocker, this is killer stuff. The sounds are quite retro and the whole piece just oozes cool.
Wade in the Water
This is more of a playful groove. It has some classical strings and brings a bit of prog to the table. As this works out into more rocking territory I’m reminded of Creedence Clearwater Revival just a bit. Of course, Canned Heat is also a valid reference point. This is a killer jam that brings some variety to the table.
Lights Out
I love this killer instrumental. It has a ton of psychedelia built into it. It’s melodic and has strings and psych guitar. It also has a bluesy element. It’s much in line with Canned Heat music.
Bradley’s Barn
Again, this makes me think of Canned Heat. It has that same kind of blues turned into psychedelia vibe.
You Can’t Tell Me
More of a Southern rock atmosphere permeates this piece. It’s a cool rocker that’s a lot of fun. At times it really sounds like The Allman Brothers to me.
Nashville 1 A.M.
There is a lot of country and bluegrass built into this. It has a lot of the usual suspects, too.
DISC 2: Righteous
   
Righteous

I love the blues rock jamming on this killer track. It’s another great instrumental piece.

Jive Samba
Complete with horns, this is a killer jazz stomper. It has some great jazz guitar work and is overall such a cool piece of music.
Love of Life
More high energy, this is another full on jazz treatment. It really rocks, too. This is really quite a powerhouse by the time it gets fully involved.
Poontang
A vintage jazz meets psychedelia groove drives this cut.
Just A Hair More
This is very much old school electric blues. It’s on fire in so many ways. The organ brings some retro cool to the table. In some ways, this feels like something that could have made it onto Led Zeppelin’s first album to me.
Summer Sequence
There is jazz and 1960s pop built into this little rocker. It’s a fun cut.
Short’s Stuff
Here we get another retro sounding jazz piece. This is cool. It has some proggy moments, too.
Boo-Bee-Doo
This cut actually has some vocals. It’s a jamming little bouncy cut that’s a lot of fun.
Campus Blues
We’re back into instrumental territory with this playful jazzy piece.
DISC 3: Games Guitars Play
   
Leavin Trunk

This rocker is cool. The vocals and the whole sound kind of make me think of Grand Funk Railroad a bit. I love the bits of guitar that are thrown in throughout. This is one of my favorite songs of the entire set.

Honky Tonk
An old school electric blues instrumental, this is a fun cut with some tasty guitar soloing.
I Don’t Need No Doctor
The vocals return. This has a great psychedelic rock sound. It has a lot of energy and class.
Dry Your Eyes
Psychedelic rock merges with jazzy sounds and more on this expansive melodic rocker. The vocals are great, but so is the guitar work. This is one of the better pieces on the whole set.
Ridin’ High
With great use of backwards tracked guitar, this is a killer cut. It’s got a lot of prog along with psychedelic rock and more in the mix. It’s a lot like space rock in many ways. This is really a classy instrumental with some great sounds and changes.
Capurange
Another instrumental, blues, rock and jazz merge on this piece.
SeƱor Blues
 I love the rhythm section on this instrumental. The cut definitely has a lot of fusion built into it.
Games People Play
The closing piece is another instrumental. It combines old school rock and roll, blues and even some space rock.
DISC 4: Baby Batter
    
Baby Batter

This is very much a jazz tune. It has a lot of funk in the mix. I love the keyboard sounds on the piece, too. It’s a great groove. The guitar soloing is noteworthy on this instrumental, too.

Midnight Sun
With more Americana and perhaps even a little surf music in the mix, this instrumental is another killer jam.
One Way Street
There is a lot more old school blues along with some R&B and more in the mix here. Parts of this make me think of Booker T. and the MGs, perhaps. The guitar soloing later in the piece is purely amazing.
Morton Grove Mama
The organ brings a lot of retro sound to this rocker. It’s a killer electric blues tune.
Freedom Ball
Here we get another killer jam. It’s got plenty of jazz in the mix. The organ and the guitar soloing are both prominent points of sound here.
El Stinger
The guitar riff driving this is mean. The organ soloing brings a different kind of texture to the piece. This is one of the more effective numbers of the whole set.
Hank the Ripper
The guitar soloing on this bluesy rocker really steals the show. This piece of music is purely on fire. It is one of the real winners of the set.
DISC 5: The Snake
  
The Divining Rod

This killer rocker combines jam band music, fusion, blues and a lot more. It’s a very tasty piece of music.

Pegasus
The guitar soloing on this is magical. The cut feels very much like progressive rock mixed with fusion to me. It’s energetic and has lots of fast paced melody. It’s another highlight.
Lynda Love
Another guitar driven jam, there is a lot of Americana built into this one. The violin solo is a great touch, too.
Peruvian Flake
Here we get another great guitar based instrumental. It’s not a big change, but it’s classy.
The Snake
Funk, fusion and space merge on this killer jam. This is just so retro and so tasty.
Uno Ino
There are vocals on this number. It makes me think of Steely Dan just a bit. Still, it has some Canned Heat in the mix, as well.
Ode to the Owl
Old school blues for sure, this is a tasty cut start to finish.
Levitation
Now, this cool tune has a lot of great sounds in the mix. It’s got some flute soloing and just plain jams. I love the guitar soloing, too. This really feels something like we might have heard from Canned Heat.
Bite the Electric Eel
The guitar soloing really steals the show here. It’s on fire and the whole song is energized and quite cool. It’s very much a fusion number.
DISC 6: Live at the Matrix
   
Jam

Jazz and blues combine with jam band sounds on this scorching hot instrumental. It wanders toward space rock, too. They take it into more pure blues at times, too. This thing last for well over half an hour and turns to nearly pure space at the end.

You’ve Got To Feel It
At less than five minutes in length, this is a much shorter tune. It’s more of a straightforward blues rocker. It has vocals and works quite well.
3 O Clock in the Morning
Blues meets the Grateful Dead on this rocker. It’s another with vocals. It has some great guitar soloing, too. There is a lot of pretty traditional blues on this piece. It runs about nine minutes.
She’s a Mojo Worker
This starts as a pretty straightforward electric blues number. It works out later on into more of jam band kind of thing. I love the slower moving blues jam even further along the road. Clocking in at around 20 minutes in length, this is another extended piece.
 
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