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Spirit

The Complete Potatoland

Review by Gary Hill

This four-CD set is pretty intriguing. It requires a bit of a history lesson to be fully appreciated, though. Potatoland was concept album recorded by Ed Cassidy and Randy California with various guests. At the time it was recorded, it was not considered viable for release by the record label, so it sat as a legendary rarity for years.

Eventually a newly recorded version of the album, with a much different mix of songs and concepts was released in 1981. This collection gathers both of the original versions of the album. It adds in bonus tracks. Then there are two live radio shows from 1972 included, as well. Those live shows were technically not Spirit concerts, but featured both Cassidy and California as the band leaders. It could be argued that the main album also was not Spirit, but it was released under that name. I should mention that on disc four the liner notes show two songs in reverse order. I've corrected that in my track by track review, meaning you might think the order I have them listed in is wrong, but it is the order in which the songs actually play on the CD.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
CD One
                    
The Original Potatoland
              
Introduction

A recording that sounds like it might be from a movie is heard. Some piano rises up to move things along, but there is a real twisted, weird vibe to it.

1984
This comes in with a dramatic build-up. Then it launches out from there with style. The cut shifts to a driving, moving jam that is so tasty. Vocals come in distant and weird and very low in the mix. This has a real science-fiction psychedelia in the mix. This cut really could be called "progressive rock." It's packed full of shifts and changes. As it works out into the instrumental break that prog influence is really reinforced. There is a dramatic build up that gives way to another bit of movie type sound. The piano and voice return from there.
Exit 27
This is a little skit that's opened by a piano and voice section that feels like the start of a trailer. This feels like something that would have fit onto a Cheech and Chong album. There is some really bizarre stuff in this with some tribal music and weirdly slowed down voices.
Turn to the Right
More of a straight-ahead 1970s rock sound. This is a classy tune that works really well. There is harmonic in the mix. It also includes some decidedly blues rock based guitar work. This is just such a great song.
Everything Talks to Me (Donut House)

Starting with weird skits, this works out to some more cool 70s music. There is a lot of psychedelia in the mix on the song proper section. It gets kind of jazzy, too.

Fish Fry Road
The skit that starts this almost feels like something out of a horror movie in a lot of ways. They launch out into a killer, driving rocker from there, though. The song proper is so strong.
Nature's Theme
As you might guess, this has a lot of the music from "Nature's Way." The arrangement is just piano and voice. It gets slowed down via the recording at the end.
Information
Here we get another weird skit. It gets pretty freaky before it's over.
My Friend
This is a pretty straightforward folk rock song. It seems like they were channeling The Byrds on this tune in some ways. This gets pretty driving and rather crazed as it works onward.
Walking the Dog
This old chestnut gets a cool rendition here. It has so much of that classic Spirit sound. This is a lot of fun.
Giant Potatoes
With tribal elements, this is another weird skit piece.
Lonely in Potatoland
This is a really trippy bit of musical weirdness. Yet it gets rocking with some serious funk and groove and works well.
Nature's Way
With the sounds of wind and a storm, this is one of the band's classic songs. It is such a great tune. I'm not crazy about the sound effects on this version, though.
Salvation: Matter of Time Suite
This is an energized and rocking tune. It has some definite progressive rock elements along with plenty of psychedelia. It could be argued that it also wanders into space rock. Around the four-minute mark there is an abrupt shift to a folk styled movement.
1984 (Reprise)
This is what is says, just a short reprise of the earlier tune with just piano and voice.
Oil Slick-Million Years: Suite
A hard rocking jam, this is packed full of psychedelic weirdness. Yet, it still has some interesting hooks. The track works through a lot of different movements and sections. It has some very proggy sections.
Information Reprise
A cool acoustic guitar and vocal piece, this is very much a folk rock number.
It's Time Now
Another folk rock based cut with plenty of psychedelia, this has a real classic Spirit sound. It's a great tune that manages to encompass the positivity of the 60s with the rock of the 1970s.
Bonus Tracks:

            

You Know

I like this mellow and pretty cut. It has some classy textures to it. There are also some solid hooks built into it.

Donut House (Alternate Version)

As you can guess, this is an alternate version of this piece. There is a bit of a "Charlie and Chocolate Factory" element to this skit portion of it.

Walkin' the Dog (Alternate Version)
This version of the tune seems to rock a bit harder. This makes me think of the version Aerosmith would do later. I love the guitar soloing on this. I think I like this take better than the previous one, but they are both good.
Ain't That Too Bad
This has some definite weirdness late, but overall is a cool psychedelic rocker that's a lot of fun.
Mr. Skin (Live - BBC TV Old Grey Whistle Test 10th April 1973)
Here we get a live version of one of the band's better known tunes. It's a solid performance.
Turn to the Right (Live - BBC TV Old Grey Whistle Test 10th April 1973)
Another live track from the same show, this has a cool groove to it in this take.
Interview with Randy California and Ed Cassidy - 9th April 1973
As you might gather from the title, this is a short interview bit.
Fish Fry Road (Live Austin Texas 7th May 1979)
This live take has a great hard-edged blues rocking sound to it. They work it out into a smoking hot jam as they continue. At times California seems to channel Jimi Hendrix on this thing.
Day Tripper (Live Austin Texas 7th May 1979)
Here they put in a rocking version of the Beatles classic.
CD Two
                      
Potatoland - The 1981 Version
          
We've Got a Lot to Learn
This comes in with an acoustic guitar based jam. Horns and more are added to the mix as it continues. There is a real pop rock vibe to the arrangement here. Compared the earlier version of the album, this is a bit over-polished to my ears. Still, it's effective.
Potatoland Theme
There is a funky, nearly disco edge to this cut. It makes me think of later Klaatu to some degree. There are some Frank Zappa-like bits of weirdness in the mix at times, too. You could also point to Devo a bit on this thing. When it gets into the later sections horns and a disco bass line really drive it in some unusual directions.
Open Up Your Heart
There is a dreamy kind of mellow mode at the start of this that has a definite progressive rock element. This is an accessible and potent piece of music. This is one of the highlights of the whole set.
Morning Light
There is a cool groove to this cut. It has a lot of electronic music built into it.
Potatoland Prelude
This feels like Synergy in a lot of ways. Electronic keyboards bring a proggy kind of vibe.
Potatoland Introduction
There is a deep narrator voice at the heart of this as it starts. Then a flourish brings it into a different direction. The cut shifts to trippy electronic science-fiction styled stuff from there. This is more like the original album. It includes some bits of the song "1984" amidst some skit type stuff. It seems more professional than on the other version, though. The spoken voice includes some doublespeak from the book 1984. It introduces the next cut.
Turn to the Right
This starts with a skit straight from the other version of the album. I dig the weird psychedelia built into this. They take it into the song proper eventually and it feels very much like the version on the other album. In fact, it might be exactly the same. A skit takes this into the next number.
Donut House
Coming in with skit stuff, this is more like the original album. The song proper again feels like it might be exactly the same as the other version.
Fish Fry Road
Skit and all this feels pretty close to the version on the other album. That said, the production seems a bit better. This cut is on fire, pun intended. That better production is most obvious on the "Nature's Way" section.
Information
This has one of the skit bits preserved from the original album at the start. The weirdness of the cut seems well-preserved, but the flavor and texture seems different.
My Friend
Folk rock is a big part of this version of the cut. It somehow feels a bit different than that other take of the number. An announcer comes in at the end, directing the listener to come back for the next album to hear the rest of the story, setting up a classic "serial" effect.
Bonus Tracks:
                 
Salvation

I love this energized rocker. It has a great sound and some cool hooks. This is psychedelically inspired rock at its best.

Potatoland March - Midnight Train
Starting with a journey into something that feels like it could have been part of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," we get a folk rock tune from there. I prefer this to the more electronic take in a lot of ways.
Turn to the Right (Alternate Version)
I like this rocking version. It's a classy take that has plenty of bluesy rock built into it.
We've Got a Lot to Learn (Alternate Version)
The tapes on this thing feel a bit distorted. The track has a cool vibe to it. The horns bring some class with them.
Morning Light (Alternate Version)
Some backwards tracked stuff opens this alternate take. The funk is brought and the weirdness becomes part of the arrangement, too. There is a definite Grateful Dead kind of thing here in some ways. I prefer this version to the electronic one that's presented on the album proper of this CD.
Potatoland Theme (Alternate Version)
Funky and disco textures are on this version of the cut. This isn't as over-produced as the take that was used on the album proper. I think I prefer this one.
1981 Interview with Randy California
This is, as you might guess, an interview with Randy California. He's talking a lot about this newer version of the album. It includes some bits from the album amidst the interview. Interestingly since I mentioned Devo in the review, Devo is talked about quite a bit here.
CD Three
                   
Kapt Kopter Live on KPFK FM Radio
            
Los Angeles, 13th September 1972
                           
Introduction Dialogue

Here we get what is described by the title.

Veruska
The band kick off with a cool rocking jam. There is a bit of a stoner rock sound to this screaming hot stomper. It's a solid opening instrumental with hints of Hendrix.
Miss This Train
This is another powerhouse jam. It features some killer guitar soloing. I'm reminded a bit of what you might get if Hendrix jammed with Grand Funk Railroad.  There is plenty of blues built into the cut.
Band Introductions Dialogue
This is what it is described as.
Get Out My Life Woman
Here we get another killer jam. This is more of a freeform psychedelic rocking kind of thing. There is some amazing guitar soloing built into this number, too.
Walkin' the Dog
This is even more in line with the way Aerosmith later did the cut. It's a classy blues rocker that works really well.
Hi-Heel Sneakers
Here we get another blues rocker. In fact, this is more full-on blues. The guitar soloing is on fire.
Fixin' to Die

A bit more rock and roll, there is still plenty of blues built into this one, too. I'm reminded if Canned Heat a bit.

Ain't That Too Bad
There is an echoey, trippy kind of psychedelia all over this thing. It has a lot of Hendrix in the mix and California's guitar soloing drives it in some great ways.
Live for the Day
This is a cool rocking groove that works so well. It has a nice balance between mellower and more powered up stuff. There is a real old school vibe to this thing.
Happy
Here they do a Rolling Stones song. This is a cool version of the tune.
Free As the Wind
There is a real Jimi Hendrix vibe to this screaming tune. There is some cool jamming built into it.
I Don't Want Nobody
This is another jam that seems a lot like something Hendrix would have done.
Devil
This cut makes me think of early Rush in some ways, but only to a small degree. It's a rather noisy jam, despite the cleaner guitar sound.
Shotgun
More of a blues rocking cut, Hendrix is definitely back on the menu here. This is a solid stomper.
Melting Into the Furniture
This thing is a psychedelia meets folk rock piece that has a ton of jam band elements on display. It runs for nearly 12-minutes and is sort of all over the place.
CD Four
            
Kapt Kopter Live on KPFK FM Radio
                      
Los Angeles, 6th September 1972
              
Veruska

Jamming opens this up tentatively. This sound on this is better than on the previous CD.

Miss This Train
There is so much Hendrix vibe on this. The cut is a powerhouse with some killer guitar sounds built into it.
Walkin' the Dog
They put in a decidedly bluesy performance on this number.
Get Out My Life Woman
Hendrix is being channeled on this killer tune. It's a great bluesy heard rocker.
Jam / Happy
There is some trippy space meets psychedelia in the mix later on the first section of this. The cut works out to another rendition of the classic Stones song from there, but it still gets into some trippy directions there. In fact, they seem to take into "Third Stone from the Sun" by Hendrix for a while.
Ain't That Too Bad
Here we get another Hendrix-like blues rocking jam. It's a powerhouse cut that works really well.
Hi-Heel Sneakers
This is more of the same, killer blues rocking sound. It's more pure blues than some of the rest are, though.
Downer
Psychedelia and blues rock merge on this thing.
Bonus Studio Tracks and Rehearsals
                  
Sunrise (Studio Cut)

This jam is purely on fire. It has plenty of Hendrix styled jamming and really rocks.

Man in Love (Demo)
The first part of this is pretty typical of the music here. The second half is a killer hard rocking jam that works so well.
Brian Berry Blues (Rehearsal)
This has plenty of energy and really rocks the blues well. It gets almost metallic at times.
ECDAB (Rehearsal)
There is a bit of a spacey psychedelic vibe on hand with this number. It has some definite proggy tendencies, too. This is all class.
Z (Rehearsal)
The penultimate tune of the set also has some proggy elements. It gets seriously hard rocking further down the road, too, though.
Boogie Woogie All Night Long (studio cut 1972)
Here we have an old-school boogie-based blues rocker for the final number. It's solid, but nothing all that unique.
 
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