Ptarmigan - ST (re-re-issue)

Format: CD
Label: Lion Productions 609
Year: 2006
Origin: Vancouver, British Columbia
Genre: folk, prog
Value of Original Title: $20.00
Make Inquiry/purchase: email ryder@robertwilliston.com
Release Type: Albums
Websites:  No


Track Name
Go Dancing - The Island
(pt 1) intro
(pt 2) preamble
(pt 3) main theme - Vancouver
(pt 1) reflections
(pt 2) on the wind - A Hymn to the Ocean & a Great Northern Lake
(pt 1) ocean song
(pt 2) afternoon rain
Bonus Track: Midsummer Affair
Chimborazo (Nordstrom)
Chimborazo - studio tag



ST (re-re-issue)


No Video


To put this album in historical context it’s kind of interesting to note that it was recorded at Mushroom Studios in Vancouver around the same time Terry Jacks mastered his one-hit single “Seasons in the Sun” and Bachman Turner Overdrive was “Takin’ Care of Business”, and a couple years before the Wilson sisters made the studio really famous when they recorded the Heart album ‘Dreamboat Annie’ there. But like the Jacks and BTO records this one sat on the shelf for a while, then was eventually released by Columbia of Canada in 1974. Unfortunately neither the band nor the album lasted very long, and until the guitar half of this duo remastered the album and reissued it on his Groovedigger Records label in 1999 the only way to get this was in the form of pirated copies of an eighties German bootleg version.

The remastering was apparently a success, but then again how would one know for sure unless they were one of the very few who holds an original vinyl copy? Anyway there are no noticeable flaws in the quality of this CD reissue, and there are even a couple of bonus tracks at the end.

This is very difficult music to classify, especially since it basically consists of a 12-string acoustic guitar, a recorder, and a couple guys singing. There are a handful of studio musicians who add drums, bass and percussion, but that’s about it. The rhythms here are mostly of a jazz nature with faint Eastern sensibilities, probably due to the production by jazz flautist Paul Horn. While some think the band was influenced by North American native Indian music, I think it’s more likely that Horn had an impact on the band. They had spent time touring with him even before these studio sessions, and Horn had spent some time in the late sixties in India, Kashmir and Egypt absorbing those sounds and releasing some eclectic jazz recordings from that period. The duo had also spent a summer touring Canada with mysterious guitarist the late Lenny Breau, whose Spanish-influenced acoustic picking was an influence on the complex style of Chet Atkins. This is kind of interesting because one of my sons is a guitarist and a huge Atkins fan, and I have heard some of the same type of introspective, noodling picking coming out of his room from time to time.

There’s a mix of styles here, beginning with the opening “Go Dancing” that reminds me quite a bit of pre- Tractor album ‘The Way We Live’. Harmonizing duos, soft but lumbering acoustic guitar, and vaguely spiritual lyrics. This is more folk than progressive, but a very pleasant period piece from the early seventies that’s easy on the ears.

The three-part “The Island” mixes multiple overdubbed recorders with hand drums and strumming guitar rather than picking for the most part. This one is quite dated-sounding and mildly psychedelic, and here the Eastern influence is most obvious in the finger-cymbal percussion and brooding acoustic bass. The vocals are surprising like the In the Labyrinth, a longstanding project from the Swedish Peter Lindahl, a guy who himself has spent considerable time in India and the Middle East absorbing the complex and irregular tempos of those regions. The lyrics are again somewhat spiritual; although mystic might be a better term. Like I said this is a dated sound, but those of us who seek out these old forgotten gems will find it very tasty indeed.

And I don’t know what it is about the city of Vancouver, but it seems like an awful lot of the music that comes from that area is very subdued, quietly meditative, and far removed from traditional rock sounds. The two-part tribute “Vancouver” fits that description, although the second part picks up the pace and seems to explore the seedier side of the town’s inhabitants. Again there are multiple recorder tracks, and an alternating picking/strumming style on guitar that could be compared a little bit to Robbie Basho.

The two-part “Night of the Gulls” is all about the 12-string, with Nordstrom vacillating between picking and almost imperceptible improvisational wandering that was undoubtedly encouraged and influenced by Horn.

Finally the two-part “An Hymn to the Ocean & the Great Northern Lake” is pure Northwestern Canadian airy folk with a hint of psychedelica and again very jazz-influenced tempos and percussion.

“Coquihalla” is the last track from the original album and I guess this lengthy instrumental is a tribute to the British Columbian highway of the same name that winds its way through the Cascade Mountains and was a major hub of activity during the boom of oil exploration in the North during the sixties and beyond. If the music is meant to evoke the serene mood and natural beauty of the country through which that highway runs then I would say the group hit the nail squarely, as one can get lost in this song and lose track of time and space altogether while listening to it. Easily the best composition on the album.

The CD bonus tracks are a bit rougher mix than the remastered CD, and include saxophone, mandolin and what sounds like some electric guitar. These are rather forgettable but may be of interest to fans of the band or those interested in obscure bonus tracks that often get included on reissues such as this. The overall arrangement of these tracks is more like an almost-scat freeform jazz, and doesn’t really fit with the rest of the tracks.

Overall this is quite an interesting album to listen to for the first few times as one doesn’t really know what to expect of these guys, and their history and the liner notes don’t shed much light. But the reissue makes this more accessible than it would have been a few years ago, and for prog folk fans this one is worth checking out. Four stars and well recommended.

-Bob Moore

Glen Dias: lead vocal, alto, tenor & bass recorder, incidental percussion.
Monte Nordstrom: vocals, 12 string guitar (lead vocals on "A great northern Lake")
Kat Hendrikse: drums
Dave Field: acoustic bass
Richard Mayer: electric bass (on "The Island")
Peter Wheeler: hand drums

Produced by Paul Horn
Engineering by Keith Stein
Mixed by Paul Hom & Kelth Stein
Poster Art: G.R. Shankaruk
Cover Art & Photo: Glen Dies
Ptarmigan Logo: James Norquay
All songs composed by: Glen Dias & Monte Nordstrom

Album was recorded at CanBase (Mushroom) Studios in Vancouver, Canada.

buy the album here: http://www.montenordstrom.com/A_Ptarmi.htm


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