Friday, November 03, 2006

Kaplan Brothers "Nightbird" (US Prog-Psych 1978)

Bad Cat Records:
Wow, even without playing this album the overwrought liner notes ("Nightbird a desperate nocturnal Spirit seeking any fragment of warmth and compassion it can find. Nursing the broken wings of love, rage and fury. Nesting anywhere it can find comfort and strength t restore a song from the wounds of its love so that once again the Spirit can pursue the relentless and dedicated search for the love of life and the life of its love") let you know that this is going to be something different ... It also poses a major problem in trying to give it a fair grade. Unless you're a 'real person' fan, or willing to give the Kaplan Brothers credit for their sheer bravery in recording this set, then you probably won't get it. On the other hand, if your tastes include the bizarre and weird, the four star rating will probably make sense. Fair warning, this ain't going to be for everyone !!!

The third Kaplan Brothers album, 1978's "Nightbird: An Electric Symphony" is in fact one of the holy grails in 'real people' collecting. Having listened to this album dozens of times, It's simply hard to know where to start ... If you can imagine actor Richard Harris (of 'McArthur Park' infamy') having consumed a case of burbon and then deciding to stumble into a recording studio to cut a concept album, you'll get the general feel for this collection. Oh, I forgot to mention that the nine tracks come wrapped in some of the most hysterical mellotron moves you'll ever hear. The fact the Kaplans were clearly intent on making a big statement makes the results even more bewildering ... just check out the 'la la la' lyrics that open up 'Vodka and Caviare' (their spelling, not mine). Barely in-tune (but pompous) vocals, world class lounge act arrangements, way too much whistling, scattered goofy sound effects and those dreadful mellotrons make for an album that can only be described as 'special'. I'll also tell you that picking the standout track is tough. Their stab at King Crimson's 'Epitaph' is pretty much beyond description (talk about gumption). Also in the running is their stone faced cover of The Cascades' 'Listen to the Falling Rain'. How anyone could turn this piece of pop fluff into a dark and depressing epic is beyond me. The Kaplans some manage to do it. Opening with a cheesy rain sound effect, their cover version manages to included nursery rhyme lyrics, a thunder storm segment, a ten second snatch of Edvard Grieg's 'Hall of the Mountain King' and what sounds like a snippet of Yes' 'Roundabout'. Another possibility for best of show, the spaghetti western-influenced 'Life and Me'. Regardless, trying to picture the reaction of a Holiday Inn happy hour crowd to this epic (especially if they ever tried to play it live), is truly mind boggling. 'Honey, let's go up and buy a copy of the album during the intermission ...' (PS - The album includes a signed black and white publicity photo, but if you look at the bottom of the photo, their name is misspelled as 'The Kapan Brothers'.)

Planet Mellotron:
The Kaplan Brothers were apparently a Chicago-based lounge act, effectively, who freaked out completely and recorded this bizarre attempt at a concept album. I'm, well... really quite lost for words over Nightbird; cheesy easy listening music shoehorned into a pseudo-progressive format just makes it sound like the progenitors of this piece of lunacy ingested far too much brown acid at Woodstock, and never quite got over it. The weirdest part of the album is track three. Yes, it's that Epitaph; if you've ever had a yearning to hear King Crimson played in a lounge stylee, well, here's your chance. Listen To The Falling Rain mixes nursery-rhyme lyrics with a brief burst of Grieg's Hall Of The Mountain King, although the rest of the album is outstanding only in its mediocrity.

I've no idea who played the Mellotron on the album, but he/she deserves a medal; it's splattered all over the place, played expertly and frequently at speed. Opener Ode To Life features strings, oboe (?) and female choir, with more strings, including a relatively speedy arpeggiated part on Vodka And Caviare, with one of the quickest 'Tron parts I've ever heard on their bizarre take on Epitaph. Most of the rest of the use is strings, although those choirs rear their ugly heads again on a couple of tracks.

I'm torn between giving this album one star for being complete rubbish, or the full five for its sheer chutzpah, so I've compromised on a rather measly two. This is possibly the weirdest album I've sat through over the last few years, although as listening experiences go, I've encountered an awful lot worse. At least Nightbird made me laugh in places, which is more than I can say for a few things I've run into... I can't honestly recommend this on musical grounds, but should you run into a copy cheap, it's probably worth it for the laugh and for its well over the top Mellotron.

1. Ode to Life
2. Vodka and Caviare
3. Epitaph (King Crimson cover)
4. Listen to the Falling Rain
5. Life and Me
6. Love is Life
7. Night Bird
8. Happy
9. He


Anonymous Anonymous said...

where's the link? kindly repost w/ universal sound. thanks

12 January, 2010 09:11  
Blogger Jerry said...

That's NOT a cover of the Cascades hit - it's a totally different piece of garbage that only the Kaplans could conceive...

19 January, 2010 23:55  

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