- Album name: City of Gold
- Group name: Pearls Before Swine
- Artist name: Thos. Rapp
- Year: 1971
- Number of discs: one
- Label: Reprise Records
- Collection: Brenner / Gessner
- Distinguishing characteristics:
- “DMG” written in the top right corner of the back of the album, indicating that my father owned it
- PROMOTION and NOT FOR SALE printed on both sides of the LP
- Buy it on Amazon: $15.00
Level of familiarity before listening
I’ve never listened to this record before, but it will be the fifth by Pearls Before Swine that I review. The previous four were:
- One Nation Underground (1967): 4/5
- Balaklava (1968): 3/5
- These Things Too (1969): 2/5
- The Use of Ashes (1970): 4/5
What I expected
More psychedelic folk.
What it was actually like
This was my favorite of my father’s five Pearls Before Swine records (which probably comprise the most complete Pearls Before Swine collection on vinyl anywhere in the world), but also the most different from the others, despite being unmistakably Rapp – because of his voice, but also his vocal style and his compositions.
The main difference between this record and the previous four were that this one was much heavier on country, though mostly on the first side.
Thos. Rapp doing country was a bit like Bob Dylan doing country (though both were similar and dissimilar to Gram Parsons doing country), and as soon as Sonnet #65 started rolling, I thought that it was the most country thing that I had ever heard from Pearls Before Swine. Unfortunately, it lasted just about 40 seconds, which was way too short, but here are the lyrics, which are the first four lines of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
The title track City of Gold had some fantastic country style fiddle that was complemented very nicely by Rapp’s normal vocals, but on Once upon a Time he ventured into more of a country vocal style that was even a bit yodely at times. There was also a lot happening musically on that song, which was the record’s best, including a lot of harmonica and horns, that vibrating piece of metal from The Best of Buffy Sainte-Marie, some touch of doo wop, trumpet and drums. It was complex in the best way.
There were also a bunch of songs that would have been right at home on the earlier Pearls Before Swine records: Wedding, which was also too short; Did You Dream Of; and Casablanca, which added some flute.
Raindrops was also a more typical psychedlic folk style song, with violin (or viola), but not country style, in a duet between Rapp and his wife Elisabeth.
The Man, while definitely not a soul song, did kind of sound like it was exploring a soul style with piano and flute, and every time he repeated the lyric “I want to see his face,” I kept thinking that it was going to turn into the Monkees song I’m a Believer. That was weird.
My least favorite song on the record was My Father, a Judy Collins cover, which was mostly Elisabeth’s vocals with horns. Another that I didn’t love as much as the rest was the cover of Nancy, a Leonard Cohen song. It was slower, less country and more boring, with extensive autoharp (I think).
His cover of the Jacques Brel song Seasons in the Sun, however, was great. It had lots of piano and lots of flute, and every time he sang, “We had joy, we had fun,” I kept laughing beause he sounded like he was grimacing, which was kind of how he always sounded. In any case, it was undeniably a great version of a great song, and was more rhythmic and structured by far than other Pearls Before Swine songs. And of course, the best/worst cover of that song is Nirvana’s.
4/5: would listen again
|↑1||Seriously though, has anyone else even heard of this group?|
|↑2||And if you’re into mid-XX century American country-folk musical adaptations of poetry, I can not recommend the Fugs (whom I previously mentioned when reviewing Fairytale by Donovan) highly enough. Their preference was for the Romantics, especially William Blake – here is their Ah! Sun-flower and their Song: How sweet I roam’d from field to field – but they also did others: here are their interpretations of Algernon Charles Swinburne and of Charles Olson.|