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Album Review

The self-titled debut from the East Bay groovers Stoneground is a solid effort blending accomplished straight-ahead rock & roll with a distinct bluesy vibe similar to many of the group's San Fran contemporaries. The band's revolving-door personnel centered on a Concord, CA, trio featuring Luther Bildt (guitar), Tim Barnes (guitar), and Mike Mau (drums). Through Bay Area music mogul Tom Donohue, the trio hooked up with former Beau Brummels leader Sal Valentino (vocals). In turn, John Blakely (guitar/bass) arrived via Donohue, and by the time that both Valentino and Blakely had settled in, Stoneground was also sporting a quartet of female vocalists. While Annie Sampson, Lydia Phillips, and Deirdre LaPorte were virtually unknown, Lynne Hughes had been in a seminal version of Dan Hicks' Hot Licks as well as in the short-lived Tongue and Groove. The band continued to expand when it toured England in the Medicine Ball Caravan (1970) tour, picking up future Jefferson Starship and Hot Tuna member Pete Sears (keyboards) in the process. With occasional help from former Mystery Trend member Ron Nagle (keyboards/percussion/inspiration), the sprawling combo that would contribute to Stoneground (1971) was intact. Part of the band's quaintly indefinable sound can be attributed to the inclusion of more than half a dozen different lead vocalists on the album's ten tracks. While Valentino supplied a majority of the originals, the disc is highlighted by some truly exemplary cover tunes as well. These include a gospel-rock reading of Rev. Gary Davis' "Great Change Since I Have Been Born" and the refined East Bay funk rendition of the Kinks' "Rainy Day in June," as well as the slide guitar blues of John D. Loudermilk's "Bad News." Arguably, best of all is the rousing "Don't Waste My Time," which shows off the full force of Stoneground's cohesiveness. The power ballad "Brand New Start" is masterfully driven by the gospel inflections of Sampson. The Valentino compositions — "Looking for You," the quirky "Added Attraction (Come and See Me)," and "Stroke Stand" (which is notable for an ensemble vocal) — bear repeated listens and hint at this group's truly great potential.

Stoneground, Stoneground
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