Baby Grandmothers - Baby Grandmothers (Subliminal Sounds CD)
I first heard Sweden's Baby Grandmothers on the great "Psychedelic Phinland" compilation, with their excellent "Being is More Than Life" tune. I guess a bit of an explanation is in order: Baby Grandmothers' first and only single (and indeed only recorded studio artifact they ever put out) was recorded and released in Finland, hence the Swedish band's appearance on a Finnish compilation. Subliminal Sounds, who have been responsible in the past for excellent reissues/compilations of Trad Gras Och Stenar, Parson Sound, and more, have collected that single and a host of live cuts dating from 1967 and 1968 to put together this excellent, long overdue tribute to Sweden's unsung psychedelic rock warlords.
The trio, featuring guitarist Kenny Hakansson, bassist Bengt "Bella" Linnarsson, and drummer Pelle Ekman, started out as an R&B band in Stockholm circa 1965, going by the name of T-Boones, with a couple of other members. In a couple years time they "turned on" as so many other R&B bands of the era did, slimmed down to the power trio format, and were the house band at the psychedelic club FILIPS, something akin to Sweden's answer to London's UFO Club. M.A. Numminen of Finland caught a Baby Grandmothers set at FILIPS and asked the band to record a single for his Eteenpan! ("Forward!") label, hence the Finland connection. The single was limited to 300 copies and scarcely distributed outside of Finland, and not long afterwards they welcomed new member Mecki Bodemark into the fold, eventually changing their name to Mecki Mark Men where they enjoy a degree nowadays as being Jimi Hendrix's favorite Swedish band. MMM split in 1971 with various members forming the excellent Kebnekajse (readying a new album, with Pelle Ekman still behind the kit!) and others drifting off into the great unknown. For now though, with the aide of this compilation, we go back to a simpler time. A better time. At least, that's what they tell me, because I was still in my dad's balls when it occured. Hiyooo!
The opening two tracks are from their aforementioned single, the (nine minute! A-side of "Somebody Keeps Calling My Name" and the flip, "Being is More Than Life". The former opens with a chiming, haunting guitar line, a softly pulsing bass rhythm and Ekman's insistent drumming...Hakansson intones the title a few times (one of the rare spots featuring vocals on the entire album) before sending the rest of the track off into a loose, Grateful Dead-style jaunt propelled by and centered around searing, jagged guitar solos from Hakansson. "Being" opens with more isolationist guitar notes and sparse cymbal skitter before taking on the kind of blues-mangling psych improvisation along the lines of Les Rallizes Denudes. The two longest tracks on the compilation come from a single show at FILIPS in October of 1967. The 16-minute "Bergakungen" is a hulking slab of snaking psych/prog moves flowing thick and heavy via Linnarsson's moody bass lines and Hakansson's restrained approach to the guitar - rather than lay waste to the stage and its surroundings with feedback-soaked shredding, he remains content to eke out only slight hints of that kind of ground-zero destruction, while also playing fluid, R&B-informed monologues. The other track is a 20-minute meditation on "Being is More Than Life", starting out almost exactly like the single version, then ratcheting up the speed and intensity, and then coming down and playing out the remaining half in a fashion reminiscent of Quicksilver Messenger Service's takes on "Smokestack Lightning" and "Mona" or Pink Floyd during their "Ummagumma" and "Atom Heart Mother" stages. Unfortunately it's not entirely captivating 100% of the time and probably could have been trimmed down some, but I guess it was the age of excess after all. The remainder of the album sees two versions of "St. George's Dragon" - one the full version of the song and the other a truncated, minute-long intro to album closer "Raw Diamond". "Dragon" is a high-energy rock number bolstered by racing percussion from Pelle Ekman, over which Hakansson's guitar pushes out fast-burning fireworks and electric shards before everything comes to a standstill...only to lurch back with a great pre-metal Hawkwind/Blue Cheer type assault led by Hakansson at his most frantic. The second version of the track and "Raw Diamond" are both taken from a Finland date, March 1968. With both tracks totally about two and a half minutes, it's hard to get a bite on where the band was at, but there's a meaner, dirtier, super-charged feel to them, and it's more than just the production talking (which is excellent on the whole, excluding a few sketchy jumps here and there).
Safe to say that if you're a big fan of the International Harvester/Trad Gras Och Stenar/Parson Sound lineage (and Kebnekajse, of course), this set is a must-own. I know I am, and I know it was for me. Baby Grandmothers aren't quite as freaked out as Parson or Harvester, but still incredibly enjoyable nonetheless, especially if you like your psychedelia barebones and driven by diamond-cutting guitar riffs. Subliminal Sounds releases don't usually come cheap, but they sure make em worth owning - in addition to the fine music you get here (cleaned up masterfully as well, considering) the CD booklet is packed with rare photos and extensively researched liner notes (in English, don't worry) from Dungen guitarist Reine Friske.
Click here to listen to MP3 samples from the above album