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Living Dream - The Best of the Peanut Butter Conspiracy

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Album Review

A late-'60s California quintet with a sound that falls somewhere between the Mamas & the Papas and the Jefferson Airplane — unfortunately without the elegance of the former or the edgy recklessness of the latter — the Peanut Butter Conspiracy's albums now seem like timepieces of the flower power era, and since the group never managed a big radio hit, they don't even generate the easy nostalgia that might bring them a fresh audience in the 21st century. Led by bassist Alan Brackett and guitarist John Merrill, both songwriters, and singer Sandi Robinson, who should have been the marketable centerpiece of the band, but curiously wasn't, the PBC certainly had potential. Columbia Records teamed them with producer Gary Usher, who spotted the 12-string guitars and the careful group harmonies of the band and promptly made them sound like the Byrds, which wasn't necessarily a bad idea, but a better idea might have been to make Robinson's vocals the clear focus of the group, which would have given them a stronger public identity. The closest the PBC came to having a hit was with their first single, the now hopelessly dated "It's a Happening Thing," and if most of the songs on this anthology (drawn from the group's first two albums, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading and The Great Conspiracy) now seem half-written and full of hippie-driven jargon, there are still a few gems here, including Merrill's Byrdsian "Twice Is Life" and "Dark on You Now," as well as Brackett's intriguing "Living Dream." Other songs have strong points, like Brackett's "Living, Loving Life," which has a killer opening line ("Everyone has a bomb in their mind"), or the previously unissued "Peter Pan," which sounds today like a brilliant satire of the late-'60s hippie ethos, but wasn't anything of the sort when PBC recorded it. Maybe the strongest cut is "I'm a Fool," a Brackett song that features an unusually aggressive vocal from Robinson (matched in the arrangement by horn blasts) that suggests an alternate musical path for the group that unfortunately was never followed. This set from Sundazed has all the essentials from the group's 1967 and 1968 albums for Columbia, plus two previously unissued tracks and the single mix of "It's a Happening Thing," making it both an ideal introduction to the Peanut Butter Conspiracy and probably all that most listeners will ever really need.

Biography

Formed: 1966

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s

Los Angeles psychedelic band the Peanut Butter Conspiracy emerged in 1966 from the remains of the Ashes, formed the previous year by singer Pat Taylor, guitarist John Merrill, bassist Alan Brackett, and drummer Spencer Dryden (who soon left the group to replace Skip Spence in the Jefferson Airplane). Adding drummer Jim Voigt as Dryden's replacement, the Ashes recorded a self-titled LP for the Vault label before disbanding, with Merrill, Brackett, and Voight recruiting singer Sandi Robison and harpist/guitarist...
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Living Dream - The Best of the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy
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