BY FRED MILLS
About 15 years ago David Del Conte—stage name Damon—wrote me about a new album he was releasing, Gypsy Eyes. Included in the package was a copy of his 1968 record Song of a Gypsy, and with research I learned it was one of the most sought-after psych-folk artifacts ever, a private-press LP (500 copies originally) commanding thousands of dollars among collectors. Both CDs became immediate favorites, but it has to be said that the earlier album had such an otherwordly, patchouli-scented ambiance and blissful vibe, it drew out my inner flower child. (Yes, I came of age in the ‘60s, so sue me.)
Song of a Gypsy is now resurrected as a two-disc set assembled from acetate and vinyl sources as the master tapes were lost long ago, and in an intriguing twist, this new version, overseen by Now-Again label head Eothen “Egon” Alapatt, has been speed/pitch-corrected to more accurately reflect the artist’s original intent; apparently when the album was originally cut to lacquer, all but one of the tracks were slightly speeded up. (An A-B listening comparison between the new version and the record I’d been listening to all these years confirms the difference.) And the music itself? Awash in modal melodies, fuzzy-droning guitars and resonant, sonorous vocals suggesting a marriage of Jefferson Airplane and The Doors, it fully justifies its crate-digger rep.
The title tune and “Poor Poor Genie” alone swirl around your ears like so much sonic incense, and aficionados of the album are additionally rewarded with demo versions of both tracks added to Disc 1 as bonus tracks. For a change of pace, there’s the appropriately titled “Funky Funky Blues”; it suggests a Beats-era coffeehouse combo, what with the jazzy percussion, overlapping vocals overdubbed by Damon, and guitarist Charlie Carey’s decidedly, er, funky licks. Another left-field delight: “The Road of Life,” a philosophical meditation featuring ethereal sonics backing up Damon’s spoken word observations. And closing track “Oh What A Good Boy Am I” ultimately seals the deal, a subtle Middle Eastern vibe permeating this psychedelic excursion rife with vocal effects and, once again, secret weapon Carey’s slippery fretwork.
Disc 2 comprises 16 songs making their CD debut, a brace of pre-Gypsy 45s that Damon cut from 1959-1967 under his given name and as “Damon Lane,” releasing them as private pressings and via several small indies. Notably there’s “The Lonely Surfer” (featuring a pre-Turtles backing band, The Castaways), a Beach Boys/Jan & Dean pastiche; and an odd but serviceable Vietnam-era take on “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” replete with marching band flourishes. There’s also a slammin’ slice of R&B (“I Lie”) and some barroom boogie (“Seems Like I Traveled”), although nothing that remotely approaches the brilliance of the Gypsy album proper. Still, for anyone fascinated by that record and intrigued by Damon’s story—which involves youthful folly, drugs and the occasional flirtation with crime, quests for personal enlightenment and even a fortuitous brush with George Harrison and the Maharishi; all of which is outlined in Egon’s exhaustive liner notes and a detailed interview with the artist himself—the early material helps fill out the man’s CV and provides a sense of his musical evolution.
In the end, Song of a Gypsy becomes, once again, an artifact with a timeless quality suitable for any era.
DOWNLOAD: “Song of a Gypsy,” “Funky Funky Blues,” “Oh What A Good Boy Am I”
An edited version of this review appears in BLURT #14. Below: YouTube audio stream of the title track; the artwork is the earlier version.