With a new rarities collection, the West Coast
psychedelic pioneers and Americana
godfathers are afforded a fresh look.
BY STEVEN ROSEN
Ever since 1993’s Vintage:
The Very Best of Moby Grape, various unissued tracks from the San Francisco band’s late
1960s/early 1970s heyday on Columbia Records have been tacked onto reissues as
bonus cuts. Then some of those reissues, like Vintage, get discontinued
themselves, orphaning the rare material. So Sundazed has put all of those
“extra” tracks on one album, The Place and the Time.
These come from Moby
Grape, Wow, Moby Grape ‘69 and Truly Fine Citizen – audition and
demo recordings, instrumental outtakes, live recordings, alternate versions.
With its often-rugged takes, it’s certainly not a replacement for a good
greatest-hits package or the group’s sublime first album; it’s basically for
those so into the Grape they want to have multiple versions of tracks. But for
Sundazed, Place is a valiant attempt to try to salvage a problem. The
label had reissued the first four Grape studio albums on CD in 2007 with
extras, but was forced to discontinue the first two (plus Wow’s companion, Live Grape), when
a legal problem over the recordings arose. Now, though, apparently Sundazed has
finally been able to free the bonus tracks.
Moby Grape is so revered
because the original quintet was filled with good singers and songwriters, plus
had three guitarists – Skip Spence, Peter Lewis and Jerry Miller – capable of
piercingly melodic inventiveness. Spence, beset with mental problems, left
after Wow, so it’s good to have anything at all additional by him made
available. This has the audition recording of “Indifference” and an alternate
version of “Seeing.” But Moby Grape’s bassist Bob Mosley, who stuck around for
three albums before joining the Marines, was a flat-out great soul singer and
sharp, smart songwriter. The acoustic demo version of his “It’s a Beautiful Day
Today” is this album’s hands-down standout, and a demo of his “Bitter Wind” is
a close second.
The whole saga of the Grape
is one of rock’s most tangled and, by some measures, tragic, involving
genius-like talent offset by drugs and madness, record label and marketing
ineptitude, shady managerial goings-on, and no shortage of comebacks and
reunions. (At certain points the members had to operate as, variously, Fine
Wine or The Melvilles because they didn’t have the legal right to perform or
record under the name Moby Grape!) All the while, though, the stature of the
band steadily rose and nowadays Moby Grape is revered by critics and fans alike
as one of the great U.S.
rock bands, a pioneer of the West Coast psychedelic sound and a godfather of
modern-day Americana. Co-founders Mosley, Jerry Miller and Peter
Lewis continue to perform on occasion as Moby Grape, and reportedly there’s an
album cut in 2008 during a series of reunion shows currently awaiting release.