Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Song A Day: Lazy Smoke, "Under Skys"

MAY 28, 2017



Lazy Smoke, a rock quartet from Massachusetts, recorded only one album, 1969’s Corridor of Faces. The band disappeared immediately into the mist of time and was only rediscovered by record collectors in the 1980s.

Luckily for us, their album has been legitimately re-released both on vinyl and CD.

The band began cutting its record in 1968 at a studio in Methuen, MA, a midsize town on the New Hampshire border. Lead singer and songwriter John Pollano chose to combine electric and unplugged textures in realizing his songs, bringing in contemporary influences as diverse as acoustic folk and Steppenwolf.

The discerning listener to some of Corridor of Faces’ quieter tracks may hear similarities to some of John Lennon’s ‘White Album’ material. Interestingly, Lazy Smoke recorded those tracks months before The Beatles was released.

Despite being a “rock album,” C of F feels hazy, dazed, and lazy. The acoustic numbers are appropriately pastoral, with gentle guitar textures and beguiling melodies that flow effortlessly despite odd shifts in key and tempo. Even the rockers on Corridor of Faces come complete with melancholy lyrics of lost love, thoughts of escape, and nostalgia for better times.

So why isn’t Lazy Smoke on your local “deep tracks” radio show, or netting a big review when their album was re-issued?

Lazy Smoke were a local group with a minuscule following that had its only album released on a tiny label. And nobody at Rolling Stone or SiriusXM—which exist because of the advertising and support of large conglomerates—is going to get excited about a small band on a tiny label that the mainstream missed. Much of the contemporary interpretation of 1960s culture, in fact, is based on the very idea that what was a hit then was the only music that mattered.

The bass playing is rudimentary on several songs, as bassist Bob Dorr was in the process of leaving the group; Lazy Smoke, in fact, were no more by the time the record was finally issued in 1969. But the somewhat tentative four-string work only adds, in my mind, to the LP’s homemade, moment-in-time quality.

Despite the album’s small recording budget, interesting sounds abound, from backward guitars and cymbals to surprising fillips of flute and electric piano. Producer/engineer Pat Costa, who had a long career in Boston-area studios, did a fine job.

Lazy Smoke gets some shade for being derivative. John Pollano has been ripped for singing with an English affectation, and the album undoubtedly has Beatles influence, but such sins are rarely held against other Anglophilic U.S. critical favorites such as The Merry-Go-Round and The Left Banke. And if you want to complain about bands following in the Beatles’ footsteps, you’ll have to call out virtually every rock act after 1963.

As to the idea that Lazy Smoke don’t have enough good songs, I call shenanigans. Unlike some other obscure, high-priced rarities of the era that earned their reputations on one or two good songs, Corridor of Faces has, to these ears, eight solid tracks of ten, only “How Did You Die?” and “Salty People” falling short. Eight of ten is a pretty strong ratio for any album, especially one produced on a shoestring budget.

I’ll say one thing: Corridor of Faces is better than what a lot of classic-rock favorites released in 1969. If you want me to name names, how about The Byrds, Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, and Bob Dylan?

Enough! The track featured here, “Under Skys,” is among the best on the LP. It commemorates the very moment that a relationship is ending, the lyrics consisting of images already embedded in the singer’s mind. But lead guitarist Ralph Mazzota, who co-wrote the track, adds a booming, psychedelic solo—recorded in the studio while the rest of the band actually played outdoors—gives an edge of aggression to the otherwise bucolic, heartbreaking proceedings. And the drumming by Ray Charron is spot-on.

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