Monday, January 14, 2013
Bargain Bin Treasure - Snail - S/T 1978
For some reason, I'd been avoiding buying this album, despite finding it in my dollar bin dives nearly every week. See, when I was a neophyte dumpster diver, back in high school, this album was already a regular flip in the bins on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. Since Snail were a local band (sort of, they're from Santa Cruz which is loosely a part of the SF Bay Area) they've always been around the local record shops. And Cream Records was notoriously awful at promoting rock bands, like Legs Diamond, that really should've hit a bigger audience. Consequently, Snail made it's way from the factory's directly to the dollar bins. A brief glint at the charts and a run of popularity in LA, then gone.
Which really is a crying shame, cause what I'm hearing right now deserved a much better fate than that.
My hesitation on buying it was from a faulty memory that they were a slick 70's pop rock band, a la Pablo Cruise or Player, and I just wasn't feeling it. But recently digging through the underbins in the stocked-to-the-rafters Grooveyard Records, I stumbled upon it again. And since I was in a buying mood, it found it's way into my stack.
As with many lost Bargain Bin Treasure bands, there's not a ton of info available on these guys, but as I said, they were from Santa Cruz, California, a normally laid-back, hippie-surfer town. Jim Norris sat in the drum stool, Jack Register provided the low end, and the secret weapons were Bob O'Neil and Ken Kraft who both provided vocals and some exquisite guitar.
On one hand, it's easy to see why the band never made it. Coming along in 1978, they weren't disco, weren't hard rocking enough, and certainly weren't punk. Also, there's no clear single on this album. No, in it's truest sense of the word, this is a classic '70's album oriented rock releases. And that's about as big a compliment as it gets. "The Joker" starts off with a bass line reminiscent of Argent's "Hold Your Head Up" but quickly we see that Snail aren't gonna sound quite like anyone else. If you do enough research, you'll find some references to The Eagles or Firefall, but those are lazy. At their heart, Snail were more of a rock band than Firefall and more of a jam band than The Eagles. Sure, their music explored a rather laid back vein of '70's rock, but it only takes one listen to the extended funky yet searing guitar solo that splits the middle of "The Joker" to hear that these guys were different. They had a country-California rock vibe to them like The Eagles, and could bring on the harmony vocals when they wanted, but simply wanted to rock more. Perhaps Peter Frampton in his peak would be a better reference point. Jamming, rocky, yet fiercely melodic. And at 5:08, the boys take their time to let the song breathe.
I'd go so far as to say that "The Joker" may be one of the great lost '70's tracks. It simply has it all. Great vocals and melodies, a pretty darn heavy bottom end, and enough guitar work to light up the ears of any 70's rock fan. "Catch Me," brings on a more acoustic-vibe, but again, don't go thinking The Eagles. This isn't sunshine-y, happy 70's fluff. A darkness hangs over the whole affair, kinda like Pure Praire Leagues "Falling in and Out of Love," another great 70's track. The interweaving guitar work is perfect, and with strings rising and falling in the background, the boys manage to avoid any 70's smaltz. With that chorus, this is probably the song I would've pushed as a single if I'd been the record label.
"Music is My Mistress" is a darkened, groovy, moody piece that is about as close as the band gets to sounding like Player, or another lost favorite, Rock Rose. But still, they do some descending bass runs that bring on a deepened heaviness that keeps this song from ever becoming fluff. And that guitar solo is a touch more fierce than a band like Pablo Cruise would've considered. "Childhood Dreams" wraps up side one-- it's 5:14 extended jamming and near prog-rock use of strings makes this cut the epic centerpiece of the album. Mid tempo, but not without rock. This song demonstrates that despite the gorgeous harmony vocals and tender melody, Snail were at their heart a rock band. The vibe grooves along and theirs some fierce dueling guitar work. Not metal, but not afraid to rock.
Snail went on to release a second album "Flow" which included their flirtation with the bottom of the FM charts before the band split up. I understand that Ken Kraft is still active and works with the charity Guitars Not Guns, which is an intimate part of the Ripple.
Looking back, I'd hope he's proud of what he and his bandmates accomplished here. Snail's debut is a tasty slice of moody, introspective 70's rock that manages to be a perfect, mellow Sunday morning listen while never abandoning the rock.
For the pop culture trivia fans, a very obscure Snail reference can be found in the old '70's Mork and Mindy television shows, where this album cover is framed and hanging by Mindy's staircase. Perhaps the greatest exposure the band ever got. They deserved better.
Definitely worth searching for.