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Son of America - Expanded Edition

Review by Gary Hill

This new three-CD box set is very cool. It is made up of a lot of unreleased songs, demos and such. I have to say that the first part of the first CD actually works so well, that I'd consider it to be one of Spirit's best albums. Some of the later stuff doesn't stand quite as tall, but it's really all pretty good. The first two discs contain all the rarities. Disc three is a live radio concert. It includes some strong performances and some conversation that is often entertaining and enlightening. It's a great addition. The set comes in a nice digipack.

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Track by Track Review
Disc One:
Space Jam

Suitably spacey textures opens this. After that introduction, echoey sitar sounds create the musical textures of the piece. This turns a little jazzy as it shifts to more guitar textures. This instrumental is a classy way to start off the set.

The Prophecy
A more rocking based jam that still has some psychedelia in the mix opens this. The cut has a bit of a soulful texture. I'm reminded a bit of Rare Earth on this song. This is Spirit at their best. This is just such a cool song. It has great hooks and a meaty sound.
Interlude #1
Mellow and trippy, this is a classy little instrumental piece.
Thomas Q and Jennifer
Coming in with a fairly sparse arrangement, this tune is another solid rocker. The cut is a great "song-based" number. The arrangement fills out after a time, and the whole thing just works so well.
Sai Jam #1
This jam is very 1960s-based. It is psychedelic and classy.
20 Years
More of a balladic cut, this is another winner.
Gyrations of War
There are some parts of this that are back-tracked. The tune has a real trippy vibe. It's pure psychedelia.
Son of America
Here we get a more mainstream rocker. Again, it has some good hooks and works well. It's a poignant tune lyrically, too.
In the Dark
There is a recording of John F. Kennedy at the forefront of much of this short piece. A tasty kind of almost psychedelic texture in on hand as the musical concept.
Storm in the Night
Tentative, echoey concepts bring this track into being. The song is nearly halfway over before vocals join. The piece has shifted to kind of a jazzy guitar zone by then. This has a real 60s vibe to it. The sonic texture is classy.
I like the guitar work on this so much, both acoustic and electric. That said, the whole tune works really well. It is another with a real 1960s feeling to it. There is a real spiritual vibe to this piece.
Sai Jam #2
More psychedelic jamming is the concept here.
Shock Values
This is a strange number. It has weird spoken voices in the backdrop. The rocking sounds are rather driving and freaky. There is a freeform concept here. This one doesn't work as well as the stuff that preceded it, but it is fun in its own way.
The Times They Are A Changing
Here we get a cover of the Bob Dylan song. I really like how it is turned to a bit more of a rocker here. This is an effective tune.
Interlude #2
This is a short and rather trippy piece.
Who Are You?

This is another that's fairly short. It has a dreamy vibe and vocals to match.

Breaking My Heart (Soul on Fire)

Here we get a track that's more of a rocker. It has catchy hooks and works well.

Barking up the Wrong Tree
There some bluesy and psychedelic edges to this rocker. It's classy stuff, and a standout. Some of the guitar even lends hints of country music.
Back Home

Intricate guitar work is the backdrop for this folk-styled tune.

French Apartment

This acoustic guitar instrumental is pretty and charming.

City of Angels
A folk song, this is classy stuff.
I like this tasty mainstream rock groove quite a bit.
Sai Jam #3
This is a long jam that really feels like it fits well in the exploratory side of the psychedelic movement.
Let It Be
Yes, this is a cover of the Beatles song. I really like this a lot. This is really a great rendition.
Medley: I. Maybe You'll Find, II. When, III. Farther Along
An echoey acoustic guitar driven motif opens this three-fer. The cut continues in that motif before an electrified instrumental section takes over for a while. That gives way to another folk-like movement. I really love some of the guitar fills late in the track. They are magical.
Disc Two:

This is an intriguing, but short, instrumental that seems to merge psychedelia with proggy textures. It starts more atmospheric and keyboard based, but guitar takes over later.

One by One
Keys bring this into being. The cut shifts to a cool, vaguely jazzy rock jam from there. There is a real 80s rock vibe to a lot of this number. It has vocals singing the a couple lines, but otherwise is an instrumental.
Love from the Heart
This has a folky kind of motif to it. In some ways there are some country leanings here. The backing vocals really add a lot to the piece. This is an accessible and classy piece of music.

This keyboard instrumental has a real 80s vibe. It's a beautiful and expressive piece of music.

I'm not crazy about this bluesy rocker. It's alright, and does have some cool slide guitar, but it just seems a little goofy to me.
No Time to Pretend
This rocker is set in a very singer-songwriter style. I like it quite a bit. It has some slide guitar and solid hooks.
A folky, singer-songwriter kind of concept is on the menu here. This is another solid tune, but not a standout.
Close to You
I really dig the guitar sounds on this cut. There is a great mainstream rock sound to this tune.
The River
I love the multi-layered vocal arrangement on this tune. There is a country meets gospel angle to this. Yet, overall, it's a classy rocker.
Evil is Evil Does
A bit more of a driving rocker, this is cool stuff.
Mean and Beautiful
This instrumental is so classy. It has some great jamming and is one of the standouts here.
I dig this rocking tune. It has some cool hooks, and the guitar fills are magical.
Mean Little Sister

This cool rocker has some smoking hot guitar soloing.

12,000 Miles
There are some cool retro rock elements at play here at times. The cut is a driving number with some spacey textures and cool hooks and riffs.
Break My Back
This bluesy rocker has some great grooves and textures.
Land of Bismo
This instrumental features a lot of great guitar work. It has a cool hard rocking sound to the whole piece.
Line by Line (Water in the Eyes)
A keyboard based tune, this has a real 80s kind of sound to it. There is almost a jazzy groove to this. I love the bass that holds up the back of the track. This is a big change, but an effective piece of music.
Take me Down (To the River of Love)
With lots of great backing vocals, this cut has a cool folk rock vibe. It's energetic, catchy and classy.
Living on Love

Hard rocking and edgy, this is solid. It's not really a standout, but more like somewhere in the middle of the material thus far. That said, it is the meanest track with its almost punky edge.

Disc Three:
Live at KPFK Studios
April 4th, 1993
(taken from 8-track reel to reel)

There is an extended spoken introduction, sound check and stage banter section as this gets underway. Eventually they get out into this up-tempo rocker. It's a decent live rendition. There is a section late where the ride cymbal comes way too far up in the mix. That is very distracting.

Nature's Way
Here we get a live rendition of one of the band's best-known songs. The mix on this feels a bit rigid to me. Still, the cut works reasonably well here.
Dialogue One
I love the conversation on this. It's very funny.
Hip Pretty Child
There is a bit of an 80s groove to this, largely because of the keyboards. It is an entertaining track, and the sound seems better here than it was on the first couple songs.
Dialogue Two
This is another fun conversation, but not at the level of the previous one.
Starting on keyboards, this works out to a full rocker from there. This is a driving tune that works quite well in this live take.
There is a soaring kind of melodic rock vibe to this tune in a lot of ways. It's another solid number. I really dig some of the guitar fills here.
Dialogue - Ed's Story
Here we get another spoken part. Ed Cassidy tells a story that involves the Grateful Dead and another about The Police.
Red House
Here we get a version of the classic bluesy chestnut. I'm not sold on the vocals on this, but the instrumental arrangement is on fire. That's particularly true of the guitar work.
Love from Here
This hard rocker is pretty effective in this live performance. The vocals seem a little distorted at times, though. I really love the expressive guitar soloing on the tune. The extended instrumental movement goes on a bit long, though.
Fresh Garbage
Bass brings this number in. They work out to a very proggy kind of jam from there. The vocal movement is classy, but the song really soars when it hits the jam-based instrumental section. That movement here is extended, too, but it doesn't feel like it's too long at all. It continues to thrill. This is one of the most effective songs of this live show.
12,000 Miles
This mainstream rocker is classy stuff. It features some smoking hot jamming in the instrumental movement.
Mr. Skin
Here we a bouncy jam of this Spirit classic. I'm not crazy about the keyboard sound on this one, but it's a fun tune,
Going Back to Jones
Another where the vocals seem a little distorted, this song is solid, but not really a standout.
This instrumental number is classy. The keyboard sound is great, and they really get in some killer jamming. Some of this makes me think of The Doors.
I Got a Line on You
Another of the band's hits, this gets a high energy live telling. It's a standout tune and really rocks. There is quite a bit of dialogue at the end of the tune.
Animal Zoo
I like the mix between acoustic guitar and keyboards on this number. This is another piece that's very effective in live performance.
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