Stunning Dutch classic 1972 gets its proper reissue at last! Review of “Cargo” Pseudonym Records #CDP1104 Release date:18 November 2012
Between July 1970 and August 1971 the Dutch band September released three singles on the Imperial label. None of them drew much attention from music buyers or listeners, although in general they were given positive reviews by critics. There were, however, sufficient sales to land the band a contract with EMI Records calling for the release of one album. In a marketing ploy, the band’s management convinced them to issue the LP under the moniker Cargo, with no indication given on the album itself or in promotional releases by EMI, as to who the members of Cargo were. In sharp contrast to the three minute run time restriction instituted on the 45s, the album consisted of four long tracks, ranging in length from a bit over 5 minutes to more than 15 minutes.
Some 20 years after its initial release, in 1993, Dutch reissue specialty label, Pseudonym Records, reissued “Cargo” with the album’s four original tracks supplemented by the six September single sides as well as demo versions of two unreleased songs. Ironically, the 1993 cd reissue sold 2,500 units, 1000 more than the 1972 LP. A vinyl reissue in 2000 by Pseudonym did respectably well selling 1,000 copies, showing the interest and respect given “Cargo” among record collectors around the world.
Fast forward to 2012, the fortieth anniversary of the LPs original release. On 18 November, Pseudonym Records released a lavish 2 CD, 24 track deluxe package with a running time exceeding 146 minutes, featuring a 16 page booklet with liner notes by respected Ugly Things Records contributor Doug Sheppard, complete track annotations and mastering in the 24 bit domain from the original analog master tapes by FineTune Sounds. Release of the compilation in the US and UK is slated for 21 January, 2013.
This set is without question the “definitive” release of “Cargo,” doubling the number of tracks released and more than doubling the run time available to collectors. I applaud Pseudonym on this comprehensive release. However, be aware that this set amplifies both the strengths and weaknesses of the Cargo, and September, catalog. First, an inventory of this release’s contents:. The 24 tracks found here include: the four tracks released on the 1972 album; four demo versions of album tracks, including two of “Summerfair,” both previously unreleased; the six single sides released in 1970 and 1971; a demo of a single side; and nine previously unreleased songs.
The songs are arranged chronologically with sessions recorded by all four incarnations of the band. Disc one opens with two sessions by September Mark I, consisting of guitarist Jan de Hont and bassist Willem de Vries, both members of the band throughout its tenure; drummer Frans Smit, and organist Ador Otting, with de Vries handling lead vocals. The first recording is a cover of the Bacharach/David pop standard “Walk On By (With Thanks To Elise) owing heavily to Steppenwolf with the heavy Hammond M3 organ of Otting leading the way as it does on their cover “Flower King Of Flies” which features a tasty solo by de Hont yet is quite forgettable. “How Can We Forget,” an instrumental with excellent performances by de Hont and Otting is by far the most successful effort of this March 1970 session, none of which was released at the time.
The same lineup gathered in April 1970 and recorded the two sides which comprised September’s first single. “Little Sister” owing heavily to Love Sculpture’s “In The Land Of The Few” has nice but restrained lead lines by de Hont and is an obvious attempt at creating a hit single which does not fit the band’s strengths at all. The b-side of the single, an alternate take of “Walk On By” has Otting’s organ and de Hont’s guitar much further back in the mix. Taken as a whole, a very average recording session at best.
A November, 1970, session by September Mark II resulted in three more unreleased tracks. The revamped lineup had Smit replaced by Frans Snuffel on drums, de Vries remaining on bass and lead vocals, and Otting departing, replaced by Jan de Hont’s brother Ad, giving the band its familiar dual lead guitar sound. Unfortunately the session’s results are disappointing. Jan de Hont’s “One More Chance” has some nice guitar riffs, but suffers in its forced attempt at making a hit. A cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” follows. The song doesn’t work very well, an average pop sound at best. Ad de Hont’s “Run Away” completes the session and is a harbinger of things to come, with the dual guitar sound beginning to appear, but still restrained in favor of a more gentle, commercial sound.
The next session, in February, 1971, produced the band’s second single and was performed by September Mark III, with drummer Snuffel replaced by Jerry Gobbel and lead vocal duties taken over by Hessel de Vries (no relation to Willem) who also contributed Fender Rhodes electric piano, with Willem de Vries contributing bass only and the de Hont brothers returning on guitar. The a-side, Hessel de Vries’ “Yelly Rose” did not play to any of the band’s strengths, dominated instead by de Vries’ electric piano and an ill fittingly snail like pace. The b-side, Jan de Hont’s “If Mr. Right Comes Along” suffers from a stifling slow tempo and a rather plodding electric piano. The lead guitar lines of the de Honts are unable to rescue the song.
An August, 1971 session by September Mark IV produced the band’s third and final single. Dennis Whitbread took over the drum kit from Gobbel, while Hessel de Vries exited the band, with Willem de Vries once again handling lead vocals. The de Hont brothers dual lead guitars completed the band’s final lineup. The a-side “Lydia Purple,” a cover tune, is another failed attempt at commercial success. The b-side “Choker” an original composition is an improvement with a nice guitar solo and lead lines, but is plagued by its rather plodding pace.
A November, 1971 session resulted in two tracks which finally began to exploit the strengths of the band. Gone was the truncated running time and the forced effort to create a hit song. The band original “Summerfair” was an up tempo rocker, reminiscent of Led Zeppelin. The band sounds relaxed, with the guitars pushing the sound into new, hitherto unexplored areas. The second track “I Who Have Nothing” a cover best known as a hit for pop artist Tom Jones, had gorgeous vocals by de Vries and stinging guitars from the de Honts, but lacked energy.
An April, 1972 session resulted in two demos, both songs which would land on their LP. No longer searching for the elusive single, the now stable lineup laid down two originals, the energetic, spacey “Cross Talking,” replete with wah wah pedals and weaving dual lead guitars. Lyrics and vocals were foregone in favor of the instrumental style that served the band much better. The ten minute “Sail Inside” finds the band in full stride. The intuitive work of the de Hont brothers now dominated the sound. The fusing of rock with jazz influenced improvisation fit the band perfectly.
The band’s final recording sessions on April 13 and 14, 1972 resulted in eight recordings, four of which comprise the finished LP “Cargo.” The band’s second take on “Summerfair” runs a full 17 minutes. Tempo changes are precise well chosen. The work of the de Honts is fluid and haunting, with echo and wah wah effects mixed perfectly with their stinging lead lines. The bass of de Vries romps to and fro with Whitbread’s drums joining precisely. The second song recorded, “The Last Time I Saw Dennis” credited to the entire band is another up tempo instrumental rocker driven by the de Honts Gibson SGs while the aptly titled “Strings On Fire” is 8 minutes of the de Hont brothers probing and exploring sonic space with de Vries and Whitbread comfortably performing as the band’s metronome. This is an outtake? Hard to believe anything from those two magical days in April of 1972 would be left withering in the vaults for 40 years. Clocking in at only 2 minutes 36 seconds, “We Didn’t Know” credited to the entire band is so short and sweet, relaxing guitars gently floating, lofting over a rhythm section keeping perfect time.
The four final recordings from these sessions comprise the released album. “Sail Inside” clocks in at nearly eleven minutes. The de Hont brothers guitars explore the sonic universe aided by subtle doses of echo and Cream like (“Tales Of Brave Ulysses”) wah wah, while de Vries and Whitbread hold the beat and control the rhythm. Add the gentle vocals of de Vries and the lilting melody takes your mind away, all perspective of time disappearing. “Cross Talking” follows, with de Vries and Whitbread gently opening the door, setting the stage for the guitar interchanges of the de Honts which give the song its title, the delicate notes of their SGs filling the air. The instrumental prowess of the quartet is on display, crying out for a set of headphones and perhaps a bit of the herb or acid (for those so inclined) to allow the listeners’ senses full access to the song’s melodic journey. “Finding Out” makes its first appearance, opening side two of the album. Funk fills the air as de Vries’ bass and vocals set the tone. The guitars lead you to and fro with Whitbread pounding out the beat. The song’s five minutes are up before you even think to check the run time. In retrospect this track exemplifies the versatility of the band and makes one wonder what might have been had the quartet carried on. The album closes with the band’s tour de force, the fifteen minute plus opus “Summerfair.” The tune opens with the de Honts’ guitars taking you on a race, then changes pace as de Vries’ voice subtly enters the mix. As with Spirit in their prime, the guitars take you by the hand and the vocals gently lead you. The rhythm section fits so perfectly it goes nearly unnoticed as the guitars hypnotize you. Tempo changes and volume levels occur to change the mood, but the guitars are your guide with de Vries’ voice becoming an instrument to alter the soundscape, notes not lyrics being its purpose. The albums closing number takes you up and down, to and fro, chunky rhythms and lilting notes seeking, searching, gently guiding. Then de Vries’ voice pulls you back in as the de Honts’ guitars bring the journey to a close.
The finished product, four tracks, a tad over forty minutes run time, was released in mid-1972 on EMI’s Harvest subsidiary, catalog#5C052-24582 under the moniker Cargo, as their sole self-titled LP. Neither the quality of the music nor the marketing scheme of the band’s management proved to be commercially successful, with the album selling only 1,500 copies. September was never able to play any of the album’s songs live, nor were they ever to perform as Cargo. By the end of 1972, the band was no more.
Today, forty years after the initial release of “Cargo” Pseudonym Records has made available this 2 cd set, titled simply “Cargo” was catalog#CDP1104. In the end, what grade does this collection rate? If one is to rate it solely on the quality of music presented, on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, the set certainly rates no more than 4 stars at best, due to the lackluster singles and unreleased recordings made under the moniker September. Three of the tracks on disc one and the entirety of disc two, while recorded as September, are comprised of tracks which were released as Cargo, or are outtakes or alternate takes of songs from the album’s sessions. These tracks performed as the band preferred and by the Mark IV lineup arguably rate 5 stars, with the album proper certainly deserving this highest rating. Thus, Pseudonym’s newest release of “Cargo” defies conventional critique standards and in this reviewer’s opinion must be rated based not only on the quality of the music but also the historic documentation of the band’s sessions. By this standard the package most assuredly rates a solid 5 stars and that is the rating I assign the release along with thanks to the kind folks at Pseudonym Records for presenting the recordings of Cargo, rather September, as that is indeed the moniker under which all of the recordings were done and it was only by will of the band’s management that the LP was released as “Cargo.” This set represents the fate of many bands who are coerced into recording and releasing material that they would prefer to not perform at all and likewise not being allowed to perform the music of their preference. In the end, Cargo or September, or both if you like, serve as prime examples of the manipulation of artists by labels and management in the music business. Luckily, in this case we are left with one of the best early 1970s psychedelic rock albums and many related alternate takes and outtakes which in the scheme of things far outweigh the weaker material forced upon the band by its label and management in pursuit of the ever elusive “big hit.”
Review made by Kevin Rathert / 2013
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