The Upshot: Remarkably engaging underground hippie rock from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s by a now-obscure Cleveland band that actually came close to grabbing the brass ring.
BY FRED MILLS
Anyone interested in a sampling of late ‘60s/early ‘70s underground band The Damnation of Adam Blessing while reading this review is encouraged to pop over to Spotify, where there’s a digital album called The Best of The Damnation of Adam Blessing. With 13 tracks, it has selections from all four of the band’s LPs, heavily weighted towards the first two discussed here.
Begins 1969-spawned The Damnation of Adam Blessing, tellingly, “You take your Technicolor daydream/ Aww, let your mind and soul unwind/ You walk a mile into a mirror/ Yeah, travel sideways into time…” This eponymous debut from the Cleveland-based quintet is impressive as hell, although sadly, the band’s fortunes would ebb and flow across a quartet of albums; their steadily diminishing returns, commercially speaking, would ultimately doom the group by the time ’73 rolled around.
It wasn’t for lack of talent or trying, however, and on multiple fronts (particularly since the band was signed to United Artists, at the time a moderately significant label with an eclectic roster). But despite some promising flirtation with the national charts, TDOAB failed to get much traction beyond the Midwest touring circuit of the day.
Instrumentally, the band had the chops to deliver sonic tableaux that, while in retrospect were clearly of the era, should’ve powered any number of their songs onto the playlists of freeform radio stations of the day across the country. These were dark, dramatic numbers of metaphysical intent and wah-wah-fueled delivery, and they also boasted the potentially starmaking vocal charisma of frontman Bill Constable (aka the titular Adam), whose pipes were supple enough to make him a potential understudy to Ian Gillan or even Rod Stewart — check his performance in the group’s notable version of the Jeff Beck Group’s version of “Morning Dew.”
Yours truly was fortunate enough to be turned on back in the day to The Damnation of Adam Blessing by an older mentor, and several years later, after the group was no longer, I came across the first two LPs in a used bin. I never was able to locate their third or fourth albums, 1971’s Which Is the Justice, Which Is the Thief?, and 1972’s Glory, although most accounts suggest that neither record was exactly mind-blowing. But LP Numbers One (the aforementioned self-titler) and Two (The Second Damnation, from 1970) remain crucial artifacts, and the ever-diligent archivists at the Exit Stencil label have just rescued both platters from relative obscurity as fully-licensed reissues. Neither are nostalgia trips; period pieces, perhaps, but still churning with hirsute, hippie bravado ‘n’ passion.
The Damnation of Adam Blessing is perhaps the stronger of the two releases, should you have to choose between them. From the aforementioned “Cookbook,” which wouldn’t have been out of place on an early Free album, and moody, meditative ballad “Lonely,” a showcase for Constable’s estimable croon; to the baroque pop of “Strings and Things,” a lengthy (5:45) excursion that deliberately ventures into Jefferson Airplane psychedelia, what with its overtones of the Volunteers album, and a surprisingly rousing take of the Monkees (!) “Last Train to Clarksville”—this is a diverse, layered album that repays multiple spins with fresh sonic revelations each time around. And The Second Damnation doesn’t exactly fare poorly either, what with tuneful garage workouts like “Death of a Virgin,” full-on hard rocker “Driver” (somewhere there’s an unreconstructed Grand Funk fan who heard this once and to this day swears it was from a GFR bootleg), the lust-fueled, six-minute 12-bar blooze of “New York City Woman,” and the group’s unabashed pop anthem “Back to the River,” sensual and sinewy, and one of those “coulda-shoulda” radio hits that never was. (In fact, it almost made it to the Billboard Top 100 when United Artists release an edited version as a single, but for some reason it stalled at #102, taking with it any momentum the album itself might have been building.)
Pressed up on heavyweight vinyl and boasting sharp reproductions of the original sleeve artwork plus bonus inserts depicting photos of the original master tape reel boxes on one side and detailed liner notes by Ugly Things writer Doug Sheppard on the other, both LPs are essential listening for anyone even remotely interested in probing the less-explored corners of the era. I can feel my mind and soul expanding just writing about ‘em—somebody pass me my mirror, I’m ready to travel sideways…
DOWNLOAD: “Back to the River,” “Morning Dew,” “Cookbook,” “Strings and Things,” “New York City Woman”