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Moby Grape (Bonus Track Version)

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Album Review

Moby Grape's career was a long, sad series of minor disasters, in which nearly anything that could have gone wrong did (poor handling by their record company, a variety of legal problems, a truly regrettable deal with their manager, creative and personal differences among the bandmembers, and the tragic breakdown of guitarist and songwriter Skip Spence), but their self-titled debut album was their one moment of unqualified triumph. Moby Grape is one of the finest albums to come out of the San Francisco psychedelic scene (perhaps the finest), brimming with great songs and fresh ideas while blessedly avoiding the pitfalls that pockmarked the work of their contemporaries — no long, unfocused jams, no self-indulgent philosophy, and no attempts to sonically re-create the sound of an acid trip. Instead, Moby Grape built their sound around the brilliantly interwoven guitar work of Jerry Miller, Peter Lewis, and Skip Spence, and the clear, bright harmonies of all five members (drummer Don Stevenson and bassist Bob Mosley sang just as well as they held down the backbeat). As songwriters, Moby Grape blended straight-ahead rock & roll, smart pop, blues, country, and folk accents into a flavorful brew that was all their own, with a clever melodic sense that reflected the lysergic energy surrounding them without drowning in it. And producer David Rubinson got it all on tape in a manner that captured the band's infectious energy and soaring melodies with uncluttered clarity, while subtly exploring the possibilities of the stereo mixing process. "Omaha," "Fall on You," "Hey Grandma" and "8:05" sound like obvious hits (and might have been if Columbia hadn't released them as singles all at once), but the truth is there isn't a dud track to be found here, and time has been extremely kind to this record. Moby Grape is as refreshing today as it was upon first release, and if fate prevented the group from making a follow-up that was as consistently strong, for one brief shining moment Moby Grape proved to the world they were one of America's great bands. While history remembers the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane as being more important, the truth is neither group ever made an album quite this good; however, while both of those bands have been reasonably well served on compact disc, San Francisco Sound's out-of-print CD edition of Moby Grape's debut was sonically flawed, and for a long time the best way to hear it in digital form was on Columbia/Legacy's 1993 anthology Vintage (also out of print), which featured all thirteen songs from the first album in proper sequence (albeit interrupted by studio chatter and an instrumental outtake). Sundazed's 2007 reissue finally give this album the re-mastered presentation it has long deserved; while the audio on Vintage emphasized the album's sharp high end, Bob Irwin's mastering is richer and better balanced, not to mention better detailed, with the guitars and vocals much improved in this version. The Sundazed edition also includes five relevant bonus tracks, including "Rounder" (the instrumental which appeared on the Vintage compilation), two songs from Moby Grape's first demo tape ("Looper" and "Indifference," which show the band was already a force to be reckoned with), an early take of "Bitter Wind" (which the band would re-record for their second album, Wow) and an unedited version of the non-LP cut "Sweet Ride," here expended to nearly six minutes. Sundazed's new edition of Moby Grape, complete with fine packaging and new liner notes by Gene Sculatti, treats this album like the treasure it truly is, and anyone interested in this band would do well to pick this up. [Moby Grape was reissued in 2007 with five bonus tracks.]


Formed: September, 1966 in San Francisco, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '00s, '10s

One of the best '60s San Francisco bands, Moby Grape were also one of the most versatile. Although they are most often identified with the psychedelic scene, their specialty was combining all sorts of roots music -- folk, blues, country, and classic rock & roll -- with some Summer of Love vibes and multi-layered, triple-guitar arrangements. All of those elements only truly coalesced, however, for their 1967 debut LP. Although subsequent albums had more good moments than many listeners are aware of,...
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Moby Grape (Bonus Track Version), Moby Grape
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