Graded on a Curve:
Paul Major: Feel the Music Vol. 1

Best known today as the frontman for Endless Boogie, Paul Major’s also been a record hound of uncommon diligence and discernment for decades. Earlier this year, Anthology Editions released a book detailing his experiences as a music lover, and particularly his passion for the subterranean fringe; unearthing private-press artifacts by outsiders and “real people” became his specialty. Joining that hardcover volume is Paul Major: Feel the Music Vol. 1, a far-out but focused curation of the guy’s sweet discoveries. It’s available on vinyl, compact disc, and digital October 27 through Mexican Summer.

As the publishing arm of Anthology Recordings, Anthology Editions is dedicated to disseminating “cultural narratives” toward the establishment of a “new canon,” meticulously digging into assorted subjects, from underground filmmakers to the Brit punk scene to skateboarding to the written and visual manifestation of the belief in UFOs, all with the intent to solidify importance.

In short, it’s a valuable undertaking. Earlier this year the imprint unveiled Feel the Music: The Psychedelic Worlds of Paul Major, a 272-page tome dedicated to one man’s labyrinthine journey from rock ‘n’ roll loving ’60s teen to crate digger and record dealer extraordinaire to vocalist-guitarist for one of the current scene’s most expansive heavy rock acts. It’s loaded with photos, gig flyer reproductions, anecdotes, essays from fellow music nuts, and even a split 7-inch featuring Endless Boogie and Major’s early ‘80s “proto speed-metal” band The Sorcerers.

I’ve yet to soak up its charms, but coverage indicates it’s an enlightening hoot of a read. I have spent time with Mexican Summer’s compilation offshoot however, and it’s such a pleasurable ride that purchase of the book now seems all but inevitable. A big part of the album’s success derives from a disinterest in simply offering a hodgepodge of extremes, though in its cohesiveness there is still ample range.

Outsider private press obscurities often survey oddness spanning from fascinating to perfectly enjoyable to uncomfortable to, well, kinda boring, but Feel the Music doesn’t dwell on the broken, strained, outlandish, or even the especially whacked-out, instead putting the real in “real people.” Make no mistake, the artists collected here, most in solo mode with a few duos and bands, are a study in different, yet the songs benefit from a togetherness that increases the potency of the individualism; combined with Major’s interest in rock with psych and folk leanings, the LP flows exceptionally well.

There are also numerous surprises in store, and right off the bat. The title of Tom Lonergan & Buddy Kelly’s opener portended a plunge into strung-out loner emotionalism, but “The Travesty of My Life” rocks up a storm, its energy sharpening the lyrical sentiments, and with a psychedelic edge, especially in the guitar, that’s not easily attributed to one influence.

Happily, this lack of direct stylistic knock-offs persists throughout the album. “Run” by Ray Harlowe & Gyp Fox practically screams late ‘60s, its blues-rock root contrasting with the poppish disposition of Harlowe’s lead vocal and the tense urgency of the backing singers, while loosely handled changes in tempo and a nicely druggy guitar solo contribute to an atmosphere of bentness.

The LP it’s taken from, First Rays, wasn’t released until ’78. That likely just means it took a while for the tapes to make it to the pressing plant, or perhaps for the bill to get paid. In his fun notes for this set, Major describes Harlow & Gyp Fox as a zonked bar band and tags The Yays & Nays as a lounge act; consisting of three guy and three gals, their “Let It All Hang Out” comes off like Tony Joe White fronting a garage-pop group delivering a slow build rave-up released by Lee Hazlewood Industries.

Between Harlow & Gyp Fox and The Yays & Nays sits Justyn Rees’ “Behold,” which is gently gliding sun-dappled expansiveness emanating mystical Christian vibes. Residing in a similar secular neighborhood is Canada’s Sebastian, though his “Passages” (released up north by MCA) is ultimately nearer to Scott Walker-ish folk-pop with, again, psych inclinations. It closes side one, but not before Utah’s Merkin deliver a slice of melodic rock solidly undercutting the notion of private press outfits lacking adeptness.

“Blue Lightning” from Joint Effort kicks off side two in the acoustic zone. Featuring ample strum, harmonica, and deft vocal harmonies, it’s swell acid-folk that I would’ve guessed as a West Coast specimen, but no, the locale is Detroit. Bob Edmund’s “Saturday Thought” follows, starting out with more-than-slightly dusted late ’60s deepness (on the concept of “time”), but then perking up and diving into the psych-folk end of the Nuggets pond.

Jerry Solomon’s “Denied,” basically a long quavering slow chant accented by xylophone and maracas, is considerably more bizarre than anything on the album up to this point, and in a Songs in the Key of Z or Incredibly Strange Music kinda way; Major’s mention of an appearance The Tonight Show might’ve helped trigger thoughts of Timothy Carey, and for that, I am grateful.

Major calls Pacific Northwester Dave Porter a one-man band, but it’s not what you’re thinking. Combining early ’70s mainstream vocals to vaguely soft-rock backing, the classification of lounge-psych effectively hammers some nails. From there, Marcus’ “Captain Zella Queen” channels pop-focused yet authentic ’60s psych so productively that it’s easy to overlook the synthesizer; the song derives from ’79.

Yes, a whole bunch of one-named mofos are found up in here, and Darius adds one more. Alongside Sebastian, Major tags Darius as a national king (in this case the USA) of “blow-dried hair psychedelia”; complete with sitar and a sensitive yet strapping croon, his “I Feel the Need to Carry On” sounds finely-coiffed indeed. If Solomon’s “Denied” forecasted a deep turn into weirdsville, Major eschews the predictable, the album culminating with a purely comprehensible pop turn.

Those hoping for a raucous bang of a finale might be disappointed, but the easygoing finish is well-suited to the LP’s titular directive; Feel the Music is designed for multiple spins and long-term enjoyment. Now, about that book…

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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