Monday, April 29, 2013

Wilderness Road: “Sold For Prevention Of Disease Only” (1973/2013) CD Review

Wilderness Road is a group that formed in the late 1960s to help raise money for the Chicago 8 (Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Lee Weiner, and John Froines). I’ve always been fascinated by that trial, and yet hadn’t heard of this band. Wilderness Road also did shows to support the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement, and their approach to music, and to these issues, was satirical rather than preachy. So why hadn’t I heard them?

They recorded only two albums, the first a self-titled album released by Columbia in 1972. The second and final album, Sold For Prevention Of Disease Only, was originally released in 1973 on Reprise, and is only now finally getting a proper CD release. Perhaps that is why they managed to slip under my radar.  I really wish someone had turned me onto them back in the late 1980s when I was getting heavily into late ‘60s/early ‘70s music. But I’m making up for lost time by thoroughly enjoying this CD.

Without even paying any attention whatsoever to the lyrics, you can enjoy this album, for the album has lots of good grooves (check out “Reno,” for example). These guys are good musicians. But if you listen to the lyrics, you’ll appreciate it even more, because this is a band that actually has something to say. Hurrah for that. They mainly tackle the commercialism of society, and these songs are often funny.

By the way, if you hadn’t guessed, the album’s title refers to condoms.

Sold For Prevention Of Disease Only opens with “Pot Of Gold,” a great dose of early 1970s country rock. It’s got a great groove and energy, and some wonderful backing vocals. This is one of many songs that positions its singer on the corner of Sunset and Vine, in its opening lines, “Well if you’re tired of Chicago/And you don’t like Tennessee/Come on out to L.A., California/Take a good long look at me/’Cause I’ve been standing on the corner of Sunset and Vine.” This is the album’s sole cover, written by Alex Harvey.

The rock and roll continues with “Rock Garden.” It has a reference to Crosby, Stills And Nash’s “Woodstock” (a song actually written by Joni Mitchell): “Well, I came upon a child of God playing Crosby, Stills, Nash/I said, hey there man, can you give me a hand/He said, sure if you’ve got the cash.” The song’s title also contains a reference to that song, as CSN sing, “And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” The guitar in the instrumental section toward the end is wonderful.

“A.M.A.” has a great funky edge, plus the nice addition of horns. And I dig these lyrics: “I look like a lady now, but that’s just my style/I got evil on my mind, but I sure know when to smile/You got to go now, oh yeah, just a little further down the road.” (A lot of these songs mention the road.)

The centerpiece of this album is “The Gospel,” which opens with the question, “What key does the good lord sing in?” This song begins as that sort of gospel folk/country, which always seemed tongue in cheek to me, like when the Grateful Dead covered gospel-type songs in the early 1970s. This one is a medley, “The Wilderness Road Gospel Hour,” and includes “just one brief commercial message.” The commercial is great: “Sunday, Sunday… See the twelve apostles driving their own new, brand new, fuel-injected funny cars” (I didn’t know people were making fun of that as far back as 1973 – very cool).  The commercial continues to rave: “See loaves and fishes!” And it all happens at “the Christ Evangelical Church, salvation capital of the world.” There is “just one more commercial message,” and it’s hilarious, particularly the backing vocalists singing about “genuine simulated” leather Bible Belt. This track really rips on the commercialism of religion (particularly Christian radio), as well as the religious air of commercialism. These guys really go for it. This is the track that makes me really appreciate this band. There is another commercial, this time for “Mouth Jive,” “the miracle mouthwash that doubles as a deodorant” which “fights crime, cures cancer, and removes unwanted hair.” That leads directly into the last part of the track, “Heavily Into Jesus,” a trucker country tune about a man finding Jesus. “He’s my wafer when I’m hungry/He’s my wine when my throat is dry/Heavily into Jesus ‘til I die.”  How great is that? He then feels a need to convert other truckers – “I’d help every trucker to find the way/And put Christ back on the dashboard where he belongs.” Yes, I absolutely love this song.

“Reno” is great fun, with a good rhythm to get you dancing, and some excellent work on horns to raise your spirits. The energy is fantastic, particularly in the vocals. Then the song breaks down, for a cool guitar section (yes, with a steady beat on cow bell). And then they just jam, and it sounds excellent.

This album ends with “The Authentic British Blues,” an interesting tune that starts with vocals over strings – singing, with a fake British upper crust accent, “We’re here tonight to sing and play the blues/The boys in the ensemble all have really paid their dues.” It then becomes a blues rocker, poking more than a bit of fun at all those British rockers imitating the blues (particularly Led Zeppelin – listen to their imitation of Robert Plant’s vocals). The lyrics are often absurd. And it ends with the line, “Now wait a minute.” And you hear a clock ticking. The first time I listened to this album, this caught me totally off guard and cracked me up. Sure enough, it goes on for a minute, and then the album ends. I kind of wish the song would kick back in, or there would be another tune after that minute.

CD Track List

  1. Pot Of Gold
  2. Rock Garden
  3. A.M.A.
  4. The Gospel
  5. Reno
  6. Bored
  7. Long Winter
  8. The Authentic British Blues

Wilderness Road is Nate Herman on lead vocals, guitar and keyboard; Warren Leming on vocals, guitar, banjo and moon lute; Andy Haban on bass and vocals; and Tom Haban on drums and vocals.  Joining them on this release are Rick Mann on pedal steel, Jim Horn on saxophone, Don Menza on saxophone, Venetta Fields on vocals, Clydie King on vocals, and Shirlie Matthews on vocals.

Sold For Prevention Of Disease Only is scheduled to be released on April 30, 2013 through Real Gone Music.

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