Steve Miller Band - 'Children Of The Future' / 'Sailor' / 'Brave New World' / 'Your Saving Grace' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     November 22, 2012    
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Little pieces of history of a formative period in music that contributed to where we are today.

At a time when the first five albums by many bands dating back to a similar timeframe to these releases from the Steve Miller Band are appearing as cheap ‘Original Album Classics’ box sets, Edsel Records approach has been somewhat different. Re-mastered and re-issued as six panel digipacks, featuring the original artwork plus booklets with rare photos from Miller’s personal archives, all the lyrics and new notes written by Joel Selvin of the San Francisco Chronicle and based upon recent interviews with Miller, these editions of his 1968 to 1970 albums certainly look good, and courtesy of the re-mastering sound good too.

So far so good. But as one who still has his original vinyl copies of these five albums in very good order, I was really seeking significant contemporary bonus material here, as all are quite short as originally released, and especially ‘Brave New World’ which plays for rather less than 30 minutes. But there is only one bonus track across this entire re-issue programme: ‘Sittin’ In Circles’, the non-album single issued contemporaneously with ‘Children Of The Future’ and now added to that album. Whether the lack of any other additional material points to there being none available, or alternatively if there is some, will appear in due course in some form or other, I know not. This is the only negative comment that I need to make in my review, because this canon of five albums finds Miller and his cohorts in absolutely fine fettle, and for lovers of music from the San Fransisco scene of the period constitutes a no-brainer of a purchase, although for those of you raised more on the music of the 80s, it is – perhaps - less likely to have instant (or, possibly, any) appeal. So, my following comments are designed for the aficionado.

‘Children Of The Future’ and (my favourite of the five) ‘Sailor’ were both released in 1968 (in April and October respectively) and at this time the band was a quintet, with Miller (guitar, vox) supported by Boz Scaggs (also guitar, vox), Lonnie Turner (bass), Jim Peterman (keyboards) and Tim Davies (drums). These had the most consistently psychedelic leanings of any of Miller’s albums and the first side of the original vinyl release of ‘COTF’ was a suite of linked psychedelic songs, as the gloriously titled fifth song of the suite ‘The Beauty Of Time Is That It’s Snowing’ might immediately suggest! ‘Sailor’ sets out its stall with the magnificent, moody and yet gloomily atmospheric instrumental ‘Song For Our Ancestors’ with Peterman’s Hammond organ playing a quintessential part in creating the abiding imagery. There are so many great songs to follow this, and ‘Gangster Of Love’ is a stand out.

1969’s ‘Brave New World’ and ‘Your Saving Grace’ appeared in June and November respectively. On the former, the trio of songs ‘Kow Kow’, ‘Seasons’ and ‘Space Cowboy’ perfectly highlight the stylistic variety found on any of these five releases. The band had now become a trio, following the departure of Scaggs and Peterman, but included guest contributions by keyboardists Ben Sidran and Nicky Hopkins not only on both of these releases, but also the following year’s ‘Number 5’. For those of you who collect obscure facts, Paul Ramon credited with co-writing and appearing on ‘My Dark Hour’ the closing track on ‘Brave New World’ was actually Paul McCartney! Of the three (classic) tracks I’ve highlighted from this album, ‘Space Cowboy’ neatly links backwards to his previous album…”I’ve told you ‘bout ‘Living In The U.S.A.’ don’t you know that I’m a ‘Gangster Of Love’: let me tell you people that I’ve found a new way…..I’m a ‘Space Cowboy’: bet you weren’t ready for that…..I’m sure you know where it’s at…” and of course this themed link follows right through to his seminal number ‘The Joker’ and title track of his most successful album released in 1973. Great stuff!

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As with the previous three albums, ‘YSG’ was produced by Glyn Johns and this continuity of working relationship between band and producer was clearly evident, even though the location for the recordings (respectively London, Los Angeles, Hollywood and San Francisco) changed each time. Stand out tracks this time around were opener ‘Little Girl’, the lengthy ‘Baby’s House’ featuring wonderful contributions from the two guest keyboardists - and especially Nicky Hopkins on piano - plus one of (in my opinion) Miller’s greatest vocal performances, and the soulful ‘Feel So Glad’ whose sophistication nodded more to Miller’s future direction than to his past stylings, despite its slightly psychedelic end.

‘Number Five’ was released in July 1970, was recorded in Nashville and included contributions from Buddy Spicher, Wayne Moss and Charlie McCoy from the band Area Code 615. Bassist Lonnie Turner had departed and was replaced by Bobby Winkelman (from Frumious Bandersnatch) – yes, really! – who also took lead vocals on confusing album opener ‘Good Morning’. No wonder this album has a different feel from its predecessors, and it was also the first without the magic dust of Glyn Johns as producer. Although there is some excellent material with a more countrified vibe (including ‘I Love You’, ‘Going To The Country’ and ‘Tokin’s’). The Mexicali influence on ‘Hot Chili’ and ‘Steve Miller’s Midnight Tango’ was less successful, from my perspective. Two key tracks here, however, are the disturbing and rather stark ‘Jackson-Kent Blues’ and the following ‘Never Kill Another Man’. Kent State and Jackson State universities (like many across America at that time) had witnessed massive student protests. At Kent, it was against American action in Vietnam and Cambodia. The Mayor called in the National Guard to quell the unrest. On 4th May 1970 the guardsmen fired upon the students, wounding nine and killing four. Ten days later, at Jackson, the protest was against racism and civil rights, but this time the carnage inflicted by the guardsmen and police was even greater. These two concluding songs on ‘Number 5’ registers Miller’s disgust and anguish: “Just like Kow Kow, you've heard it before, get back gangster, don't you open that door; Space Cowboy's back to tell you the score - nothing any good has ever come of a war.” As a University student myself at that time, I remember proudly buying this album on the day of its release…

Seminal albums of the period, these five re-releases are to be welcomed for what they are: little pieces of history of a formative period in music that contributed to where we are today, and I commend them for investigation by any reader of this magazine broad-minded enough to want to know more…

Paul Jerome Smith

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