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Mystic Siva - Mystic Siva (1970/2014) review

Mystic Siva "Mystic Siva" (World In Sound, 1970/2014)

Formed in 1967 in Detroit, Michigan by four teenagers, none more than 15 years of age, Mystic Siva recorded only one, self-titled album.  The album was recorded in one day, in 1970, at V.O. Studios by the band, consisting of Dave Mascarin on drums and lead vocals, chief songwriter and creator the album’s distinct cover artwork;   Al Tozzi on guitar, who co-wrote five of the eleven tracks with Mascarin; Marc Heckert on Hammond B-3 organ and vocals; and Art Thienel on bass and vocals. 

Unfortunately, the folks at V.O. were not familiar with recording rock and roll, and recorded the bands instruments directly into the recording equipment, giving the album, according to the band “a sterile sound rather than a more natural sound with the distortion and feedback.”  The band was disappointed with the final mix as Al Tozzi’s guitar solos were leveled down to the point of nearly disappearing.  Tozzi overdubbed new solos on three of the albums tracks.  However, the new guitar solos overpowered the rest of the band, and the LP which was released on the V.O. label in 1970 still was not to the band’s liking. 

In 2013 Tozzi visited the studio and miraculously located the 43 year old first generation mixdown tape without the overdubbed guitar solos, and the original recordings were handed over to World In Sound sound engineer Winnie Leyh.  On 31 January, 2014, the good folks at World In Sound Records, Germany,  reissued “Mystic Siva” so that for the first time the band’s intention of floating beats, swirling Hammond B-3 grooves and massive lead guitar work, was fully realized. Okay, that is the back story of this release, but what about the music?

The needle drops on the opening track “Keeper of the Keys” and the listener is greeted by Al Tozzi’s gently wafting guitar and Marc Heckert’s Hammond B-3 organ.  However, it isn’t long before Tozzi stomps on his wah wah pedal, and takes off on the album’s first of many memorable solos.  This track brings to mind fellow Michigan rockers, SRC, with Heckert’s organ and Tozzi’s guitar reminiscent of Glenn and Gary Quackenbush respectively.  This similarity in sound is no accident as Mystic Siva performed SRC’s classic “Black Sheep” regularly and the song was included on World In Sound’s 2003 release “Under The Influence” consisting of live recordings of Mystic Siva before the studio album was recorded.  This release, WIS-1017 is highly recommended.

Marc Heckert’s organ intro to “And When You Go” brings to mind Keith Emerson’s work with The Nice and ELP, visions of sitting in a large Cathedral filling my mind before Tozzi’s jangling guitar joins in.  Mascarin’s tripped out, deeply echoed, Alvin Lee (Ten Years After) like vocals, are typical of the day, but are just as apropos in 2014 as in 1970.  In fact, Mascarin’s voice becomes an instrument in and of itself, and on first listen the lyrics completely escaped me.  My loss.  At the three minute mark Tozzi’s slide guitar changes the song’s texture, but just as quickly he steps back and Dave’s vocals return to the fore.

Tozzi’s guitar finds a groove on “Eyes Have Seen Me” while Heckert’s B-3 fills your mind with swirling visions of Steve Winwood with Traffic.  The songs driving beat is complemented by Tozzi’s restrained lead guitar and the sound is tight as Mascarin and Thienel have the bottom end locked down tight as always.  The song has a beautiful, breezy feel, evidence of the band’s versatility. Evidence of Tozzi’s personal versatility is found on “Come On Closer,” this time featuring a John Fogerty style lead line and solo which climbs just above Heckert’s Goldy McJohn (Steppenwolf) like sound found here.  The call and response vocals of Mascarin and company work very well.  Tozzi keeps his guitar restrained throughout the tune, before putting the pedal to the metal, dashing to the finish.

“Sunshine Is Too Long” is a mid-tempo rocker, with Tozzi’s wah wah and Mascarin’s percussion pushing the beat.   Much funkier than the previous songs, it is Al’s Hendrix (“Voodoo Chile”) influenced guitar that carries this track, with his fuzzed out solo featured.  But the funky feel of the band’s effort on this one is not to be underestimated.  Special recognition is due bassist Art Thienel and drummer Mascarin who formed a rock solid rhythm section as evidenced here.

 Heckert’s keyboard, sounding rather like Alan Price (The Animals), swirls throughout the intro to “Spinning A Spell.”  Tozzi enters gently, but halfway through the track he again puts his wah wah pedal to good use, his guitar soaring higher and higher before returning to the song’s gentle groove.  This tune, sounding very much like a Mickie Most produced recording by The Animals brings side one of the LP to an end.
Side two opens with Heckert’s ever present Hammond organ and dissonant guitar by Tozzi introducing “Supernatural Mind.”  Mascarin’s insistent drums break in but Tozzi’s guitar drives the band as he turns up the fuzz for a full minute and a half solo.  Mascarin sings “I’m like a devil in disguise with my supernatural mind” and “I’ll keep you in a trance there’s nothing you can do,” typical of the trippy lyrics throughout the album. 

“Find Out Why” begins with a gentle guitar and organ intro and is the most delicate track to be found here.  It would be right at home on either of SRC’s first two albums with lyrics like “when I look at the sky it seems to turn away and hide” and “as I’m walking the birds seem to come down and talk to me, people don’t seem to be reality.”  But Dave’s plaintive “I have to find out why?” puts it all in perspective. 
“Magic Luv” opens with a groove sounding much like early John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers and featuring Keith Relf (Yardbirds) like vocals.  Al’s guitar and Marc’s organ lead the listener to and fro with their driving R&B beat.  Tozzi’s guitar is restrained, but firmly in control, while Heckert’s Hammond rhythmically enters and exits the soundscape.

Mystic Siva’s Michigan roots are quite apparent on “Touch The Sky,” another track that would be right at home on an album by SRC as Heckert’s organ and Tozzi’s guitar again resemble the Quackenbush brothers.  Tozzi holds back to the one minute mark, then rips through a solo running a full two minutes, never sounding forced or overplayed. 

The gorgeous “In A Room” again features Steve Winwood style organ work by Heckert and could easily be a Traffic cover, but as with all the tracks on “Mystic Siva” it is an original, in this case penned by Dave and Al.  Tozzi’s solo on this track would have made Erik Braun of Iron Butterfly proud, his guitar driving the song.  Vocals imitating air raid sirens add to the trippy mood, and Al’s wah wah fueled guitar guides the song and the album to a close, eleven tracks, 46 minutes and 24 seconds after its beginning.

Okay, there are the songs, but what about the rest of the package.  The CD edition comes with a 16 page booklet, full of photos, handwritten musings by Dave Mascarin, and short essays by Al Tozzi and Wolf, the owner of World In Sound Records.  The LP is being issued in a limited edition of 500 180 gram marble orange LPs as well as black vinyl.  Both the CD and LP versions feature the incredible sound of the new mix and mastering by World In Sound’s Leyh.

My rating for this newly remixed and remastered reissue?  Five stars.  An absolute must (truly) have for all fans of heavy psych, especially the Michigan (SRC, Rationals, etc.) variety.  Incredible songs played incredibly well and at long last sounding incredibly good!

Review made by Kevin Rathert/2014
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