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(72:23, ‘Unauthorized Medicine’)
TRACK LIST: 1. Portal 13:07 2. Fancy 2:44 3. Magic Boogie 6:28 4. New Reggae Heat Wave 6:57 5. Third Stone from the Sun 4:24 6. Pendulum 4:55 7. Bela 7:00 8. Astral Orifice 2:24 9. Prelude 4:40 10. Moonflower 8:52 11. The Dragon's Tail 1:30 12. Oye Como Va 4:13 13. Voodoo Chile 5:09 LINEUP: Joe Malgeri – guitars Sal Pauciello – basses Raymond Franks – drums
Prolusion. The US band THE COMMON GROUND was a short-lived ensemble on the New York music scene, made up by the core trio of Raymond Franks, Sal Pauciello and Joe Malgeri. From 1996 to 1998 they performed live and recorded material, the latter resulting in three cassette/CD-R productions. "Portal" is the latest of these and was reissued as a regular CD in 2004.
Analysis. You don't have to go too far back in time to start reflecting upon the true meaning of underground music. While the last decade's steady technological developments have blurred the lines between the underground and the mainstream, as far as sound, mix and production go, we don't have to go any further back than the late 90's to discover just how massive that gulf really was. The Common Ground appears to be a true embodiment of the purebred underground band as we knew them from way back when, musically and instrumentally just as capable of bands more well-known, but whose recordings bear all the trademarks of a low-finance, DIY approach, crafted without much aid of anything hi-tech. The style of choice for this power trio is late 60's to early 70's psychedelic rock. They cover both Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana on this production, which quite nicely indicates the main borders of this band's repertoire: gritty, blues-based tracks with more of a hard rock expression on one hand and dream-laden, elegant workouts on the other, frequently with quite a lot of an improvisational vibe to it. Steady rhythms are the backbone throughout, bassist Pauciello representing the firm and solid part of it with repetitive motifs frequently approaching something of a boogie sound not too far away from early UFO, with occasional improvised runs and the odd excursion into darker, harder-edged runs with a high level of distortion applied to his instrument. The late Raymond Franks, who passed away in 2003, comes across as an inventive and thoughtful musician, with a good feel for when he should apply his sticks in a more dampened manner and when there's room for rhythmic fireworks. And unless my ears deceive me he seems to be familiar with jazz, as I imagine hearing quite a few jazzy details in his approach. On top we find Malgeri's guitar, dripping with psychedelic sounds when soloing or applying licks of a more subordinate nature, just as able to launch gritty and rough improvised soloing as he is to explore calmer exploits with more of a planned and even sophisticated nature. Distorted or clean, if there's a psychedelic sheen that can be applied to his axe he will usually find it and utilize it. But as fascinating and captivating as the music is in itself, there's no denying that the lo-fi sound will limit the appeal of this disc. This isn't lo-fi in the meaning of the sparse, non-studio-treated material often described as such today. Rather it's a case of recordings with a sound and production those of us who remember the good, old demo cassettes of yesteryear will remember, live and live-in-studio recordings with a gritty, sub-par quality, frequently broken up and distorted. A dirty, gritty sound that does suit the material, but one which many listeners today will find lacking I surmise.
Conclusion. If you enjoy instrumental, guitar-driven psychedelic rock in general and artists like Jimi Hendrix and Santana in particular, The Common Ground is a band I suspect you'll be glad to encounter. The old-fashioned lo-fi and low quality of the recordings, mix and production will turn many potential fans away I'm afraid, but those who are able to cope with the nitty, gritty sound of a low-cost DIY production of yesteryear will find plenty to enjoy on this disc. Recommended, with reservations as described.
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