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Various Artists

Let the Electric Children Play: The Underground Story of Transatlantic Records 1968-1976

Review by Gary Hill

This new three-CD set showcases a number of songs that were originally released on the Transatlantic Records label. There is an intriguing range of music here. There is also a nice sampling of artists. I've put this under progressive rock, although a lot of this music is closer to proto-prog. Some isn't prog at all, but frankly, I think it fits better there than anywhere else. I didn't love everything here, but I didn't hate any of it, either. There are plenty of gems to be found, too. There is an awesome book in the box, as well, with a lot of great information. All in all, I'd say this gets  a "definitely recommended" from me. I should mention that I previously reviewed one cut here, the Gerry Rafferty one. For the sake of consistency the review here has been modified from that original review.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2017  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc One
          
Alan Hull - We Can Swing Together

This comes in with a folk rock sort of sound to it. As it works into the song proper there is a bit of a blues edge to it. Still, it's loaded with psychedelia. The chorus is a catchy one that does a good job of pulling it all together. I like this number a lot.

Circus - H.B.S.

Weird trippy sound effects start this. From there the bass enters. They launch out into a killer fast paced jazz styled jam that's so cool. While this has a lot of jazz in it, and plenty of psychedelia, this instrumental lands firmly into proto-prog territory. It has some great melodies and a nice energy. There is a false ending later, and bass brings it back in from there. They take it out into a powerhouse reiteration of the cut from there.

The Sallyangie - Midsummer Night's Happening
This is very much an old time music styled number - think "minstrel music." It starts with intricate guitar. Multiple lines of vocals are heard over the top. The vocals on this are too shaky for me, but that's keeping with this kind of music. There is a shift into full on symphonic stuff for a short interlude later in the cut.
Pentangle - Light Flight
There is a lot of folk music built into this. This has plenty of proto-prog and psychedelia built into it, too. It's a high energy number with multiple layers of vocals and some great picked acoustic guitar.
The Deviants - Billy the Monster
Packed with psychedelic oddities, this is a lot of fun. It reminds me a bit of The Who's "Boris the Spider," which I've always felt was an often over-looked masterpiece. The instrumental section later in the track lands firmly in the vein of proto-prog.
Jody Grind - Paint It Black
Speaking of proto-prog, this rendition of the Stones classic is packed with that. Sure, this has plenty of psychedelia, too. It's a hard rocking, fast paced jam that's just so cool. I love the horns on this and the guitar solo is so tasty. The instrumental section further down the road is a proto-prog masterpiece. They create so much magic in that powerhouse jam. They bring it back out to the song proper after that.
Circus - Norwegian Wood
This rendition of the Beatles classic is packed full of jazz, but also psychedelic rock fuzz. The combination is full on proto-prog. It's more than two minutes before the first vocals join amidst a dropped back movement. The cut is almost seven and a half minutes long so the have plenty of room to explore. I dig the guitar dominated jam that ensues after that first vocal based movement. That one takes it into some seriously psychedelic territory. They continue to evolve that jam to eventually take the piece to the end.
Alan Hull - Obadiah's Grave
Folk music is a big part of this. It's still get enough proggy stuff in it to land it under the folk prog heading. I like the vocal arrangement on this quite a bit.
Gordon Giltrap - Lucifer's Cage
Fast paced acoustic guitar based rock sounds open this and hold it for a while. It drops to some picked guitar from there, working through a couple different sections. This instrumental continues by making its way through a number of variants.
Pentangle - Once I Had a Sweetheart
Pentangle give us a folk prog number that has a healthy helping of minstrel music in the mix.
The Deviants - Metamorphosis Explosion

A rather stripped down arrangement creates a cool psychedelic rock based sound. This is slow moving and slowly growing. Around the two minute mark percussion takes over for a time. Then a new harder rocking jam ensues that turns the psychedelia into some proto-prog stuff. It gets pretty freaky for a while. Then it drops way back and a spoken voice delivers a couple lines. Then a new section emerges, a bit dropped down, but gradually growing. That jam, continuing to build, eventually takes the piece to the end.

The Humblebums - Saturday Roundabout Sunday (single version)

A folk styled number, this is quite psychedelic in nature. This is an interesting and accessible cut.

Little Free Rock - Makin' Time

Much more of a psychedelic rocker, this works well. A smoking hot guitar solo section takes over as this approaches the two minute mark. The cut is almost 10 and a half minutes long. They make good use of that time. It dissolves into some weird psychedelia for a time and then works out to a powerful grind before the riffing that started the tune returns. Rather than go back into the song proper, though, they work through some cool variants on the theme for a while. By around the four and a half minute mark it has dropped down to more of a folk music section and the vocals have returned. They work it back upward from there and explode out into some killer hard rock as they continue. The jamming ensues again. There is a fairly extended drum solo around the seven and a half minute mark. More jamming ensues beyond that, but the drums get the opportunity to show off again during that section.

Mick Farren - Mona (A Fragment)
This song reminds me a lot of "Not Fade Away." It's a cool psychedelic rocker. This dissolves into some trippy weirdness for the last half a minute or so.
Jody Grind - Plastic S***

A cool bluesy rocking guitar sound opens this. The band work out from there into a killer psychedelic rocker.

Disc Two
                  
Stray - All in Your Mind

Starting with a mellower pure psychedelia, this grows out into some fast paced hard rocking stuff. It's still very much a psychedelic rocker. It's quite effective and still manages to be catchy. This works out into some psychedelia meets proto-prog for an extended instrumental section later. At almost nine and a half minutes of music, they have plenty of opportunity to stretch out and make good use of it. There is a return to the song proper for a while, but they turn back out into some jamming after that.

Marsupilami - Born to be Free

Folk and psychedelia merge on this piece. It's not as effective as some of the others to my ears. Around the two and a half minute mark this works out to a killer proto-prog jam that's very cool. It works out to more of a soaring proto-prog movement for the next vocals. I love some of the melodic guitar soloing that comes in during the outro based on that segment.

Jody Grind - We've Had It

Intricate acoustic work built around interweaving lines of sound open this and move it forward. It's part classical and part folk. There is a definite old world vibe to it. There first vocals come in after the minute and a half mark. By that point the arrangement has shifted toward folk prog territory. A harder rocking section later somehow makes me think of Queen just a little. However you label this, it's a dynamic and particularly effective piece of music.

Jan Dukes De Grey - Mice and Rats in the Loft

A weird siren like sound starts this and holds it for a bit too long. A killer psychedelic rock meets jazz jam emerges from there. The vocals join after a time. I'm not crazy about those vocals. This is an ever expanding and evolving cut that leans toward weirdness. There is a percussion break followed by a journey into really trippy psychedelia. It makes its way back to the earlier parts of the song from the next vocal movement. Then some more jamming ensues taking it back into psychedelic rock. We get another vocal arrangement further down the road.

Peter Bardens - Homage to the God of Light

The organ heavy introduction on this definitely makes me think of Jon Lord. It works out from there into a hard rocking jam that's part Deep Purple and part pure progressive rock. There are some female vocals over the top of it. I really love the jamming that ensues beyond those vocals. This is classy stuff that's keyboard dominated. This is really a pretty amazing jam that's quite progressive rock oriented. At thirteen and a half minutes in length, this is the longest cut on this CD. Other than that short bit with vocals, it's also fully instrumental.

Stray - Around the World in 80 Days
The mellow motif that starts this has a cool bit of mystery to it. As the vocals join they bring it into some interesting psychedelic territory. This cut has a definite space rock element to it.
Mr. Fox - Mendle
Trippy psychedelic folk makes up the concept here. The female vocals deliver the lyrics. The track builds up organically, but doesn't really wander far. It's not one of my favorites here, but it has its charms. It seems to drag on a bit long, though.
Marsupilami - Prelude to the Arena
I dig the tripped out sounds that open this. A harder rocking sound comes in with bursts of sound. The vocals come in over the top of that. This is noisy psychedelically tinged proto-prog that really rocks. There are some intriguing shifts along this road. I dig the faster paced more melodic movement later. It actually makes me think of the band Flash just a bit.
Unicorn - Don't Ever Give Up Trying
I previously reviewed a couple CDs from this act. While this song wasn't on those discs, it definitely fits in the same kind of style. It's a mellow soft rock number. They do bring some proggy elements into the mix later, but overall this is the kind of soft rock that was such a big part of the sound of the early 1970s.
Pentangle - Reflection
Folk, jazz and more are heard on this number. They work it out to a bluesy rocking jam further down the road that's quite cool. After that jamming they return to the earlier modes to continue. Beyond that it works out to more of a trippy folk psychedelic exploration. There is some harmonica that rises up just before the vocals return. This cut is over 11 minutes long. The harmonica that continues from that point forward brings a bit of a bluesy edge to the piece, but overall it remains in the same kind of soundscape.
Skin Alley - Skin Valley Serenade
I really like this jam a lot. It has a lot of jazzy sounds in it. It's decidedly prog rock based, too. Of course, this instrumental is well-rooted in a mellow form of psychedelia, too. Perhaps this could be described as a jazzier Jethro Tull in some ways.
Disc Three
                      
Peter Bardens - Tear Down the Wall

There is a bit of a David Bowie vibe to this as far as I'm concerned. That's blended with a cool electronic prog meets jazz meets punk rock thing. It's a killer rocker that's packed with energy and groove. I love the keyboard solo on this thing.

Stray - Son of the Father
Acoustic guitar based stuff brings this in with a folk oriented psychedelic approach. After the first vocal section it electrifies and they really rock things. After building out for quite a while, this drops way down approaching the four minute mark. Another vocal section like the one that started it is heard next. They take it back out to the rocking territory from there to continue.
Gerry Rafferty - Don't Count Me Out

Melodic 1970s rock is the idea here. This is a classy tune that seems to have a bit of a Grateful Dead thing in place at times.

Skin Alley - Nick's Seven
Wow! I absolutely love this rocker. It has some great jazzy prog built into it. It's a killer stomper that works so well. The slower, mellower groove brings another cool sound to the table. I love the guitar soloing later in the track.
CMU - Songs from the 4th Era
David Bowie should be mentioned as a reference point here. Beyond that this is space rock merged with more pure progressive rock. There are elements of psychedelia in the mix, too.
CMU - A Distant Thought, A Point of Light

This comes out of the previous piece, with a mellower movement serving to pull them together. More of a folk psychedelic sound brings the first vocals into being. This rises up with a rocking element that's more typical of 1960s folk rock sounds.

Decameron - The Ungodly

There is a lot of folk music in the mix here. This has a powered up proggy element built into it, too. This is cool stuff. There is a mellower spacey exploration later in the piece.

Carolanne Pegg - Fair Fortune's Star

Old world music serves as the opening of this. It works out with a real folk rock sound from there. More world music takes it after that section. By around the five and a half minute mark (this cut is over ten minutes long) it powers to more of a folk rock based proto-prog. I love the guitar soloing that emerges in the jam later. We get a Celtic music styled jam further down the road. That segment takes it to the end.

Stray - Move It (single version)

This hard rocker makes me think of Sweet quite a bit. It's a fun number. It's nothing Earth-shattering, but just a solid glam rocker.

Renia - Shelter

Folk and prog rock seem to merge on this number.

Gryphon - Opening Move

This is a full on prog rock piece. It powers in with a mid-tempo jam that holds it for a time. Then it drops down to continue.  A piano solo takes control from there and takes it into its next movement.  The piece eventually makes it way back to the full arrangement. This becomes bombastic symphonic progressive rock. It's a real powerhouse in a lot of ways. The instrumental drops near the end (this is close to ten minutes long) to a mellower, mostly symphonic treatment.

Decameron - Journey's End

Folk prog is the concept here. This is a powerful and quite beautiful piece of music. It's packed with emotion.

Metro - Criminal World

I love the cool prog rock sound on this. It's a bit on the bouncy side. It feels like the kind of electronic edged AOR prog that was about to become a thing. There are definitely hints of Rush on this thing. The cool jam later brings it closer to a more rocking prog sound. That section takes the piece to its close.

 
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