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Album Review

Flower Travellin' Band had followed the seismic proto-prog metal of 1971's career-defining Satori album by allowing themselves to be significantly neutered by a jazz-loving keyboard-playing producer on 1972's inconsistent Made in Japan — which was in fact recorded in Canada. So as they returned to their homeland and attempted to work up new material for their next album, it was Afro-sporting singer Akira "Joe" Yamanaka who emerged as the dominant songwriter, rather than the band's former driving force, guitar Godzilla Hideki Ishima, whose confidence had clearly been shaken by recent events. And when it became apparent that these new songs were neither numerous nor strong enough to fill out a complete album, the band's visionary manager/producer, Yuya Utchida, suggested they record a live album instead. This, as it turned out, would be captured amid a typhoon that wound up compromising most of the recordings, but with a double LP already promised to Atlantic Records, Utchida was forced to go back to the aborted earlier sessions and rescue the better studio and concert material to create Flower Travellin' Band's fourth album (discounting their first foray as simply the Flowers), 1973's Make Up. Not surprisingly, the end results were inconsistent to say the least, ranging from the rambling psych-acoustic hodgepodge of "Look at My Window," to the Zeppelin-like heavy blues of "Shadows of Lost Days," to bassist Jun Kosuki's bizarre romantic ode to all of the strings he'd discarded over the years, obviously named "Broken Strings." Elsewhere, organs contributed by guest keyboardist Nobuhiko Shinohara managed to transform the title track into a powerful but still very derivative Deep Purple-style juggernaut, completed by Ishima's swooping guitar legatos and Joe's Gillan-esque yelps, and the tireless Utchida even joined the group on stage for a few songs, stealing lead vocals for a misplaced romp through his beloved "Blue Suede Shoes" (he'd begun his long career in the late ‘50s as an Elvis acolyte!). Then there was "Hiroshima": a 24-minute jam colossus occupying all of the original vinyl edition's third side that divided opinions into extremes of both pain (the seemingly interminable solo spots) and pleasure (Ishima's glorious bookending guitar theme, steeped in both Middle Eastern exoticism and Hendrixian acid dreams), and put the entire project's rampant confusion into full perspective. So even though some of these issues were deflected upon release by Make Up's peerless packaging inside a leather-bound attaché case, the album's eventual commercial and artistic failures would result — in a tragic twist of fate, or at least of title — in Flower Travellin' Band's breakup.

Biography

Formed: 1969 in Tokyo, Japan

Genre: Rock

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

Originally envisioned as a female-fronted Japanese heavy rock cover act called the Flowers by entertainer and "entrepreneur" Yuya Uchida, the Flower Travellin' Band would eventually chart their own course, becoming an underground influence on later metal acts, and counting one Julian Cope as a disciple. As the Flowers, (original) vocalist Remi Aso, guitarist Hideki Ishima, bassist Jun Kowzuki, and drummer Joji Wada released their debut, Challenge, in 1969. Consisting entirely of cover versions of...
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Make Up, Flower Travellin' Band
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