Merrell Fankhauser And H.M.S. Bounty – “Things” (1968) review
“The continuing saga of a most talented artist!”
Merrell Fankhauser And H.M.S. Bounty “Things” (Gear Fab Records, 1968/2017 reissue)
Following the breakup of Fapardokly, guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Merrell Fankhauser and guitarist/vocalist Bill Dodd of the band set off for Los Angeles to pursue a record deal, while band members John Oliver and Dick Lee chose not to follow and were replaced by basssist/vocalist Jack Jordan and drummer Larry Meyers. After a name change to H.M.S. Bounty the group did indeed land a contract with UNI/Shamley Records, the end result being the November, 1968 release of an LP titled simply Things. The album, wonderful as it is, containing two tracks that appeared on the national charts, “Things” and “Girl I’m Waiting For You”, received virtually no support from the label due to its recent signing of Neil Diamond, and despite gigging with such national acts as Canned Heat, CTA (later Chicago) and The Blues Image, among others, achieved only moderate sales. These facts, however, belie the continued musical evolution of Fankhauser’s songwriting, vocal and guitar talents, made obvious by the twelve tracks composing Things which are reviewed here , joined by the group’s final recording “I’m Flyin’ Home” (as a bonus track) from the quite recent reissue by Roger Maglio’s fine Gear Fab Records label.
The LP’s opening and title track “Things (Goin’ Round In My Mind)” is an mid-tempo number reminiscent of The Byrds at their very best, with its jangling guitar, tight rhythm section and gorgeous vocal harmonies. The tune’s steady groove is filled with delicious percussion and a wonderfully restrained lead line. A nice tempo change at the two minute mark leads to a most relaxed outro. Though the song did dent the national charts and receives radio airplay to this day, it never received its due sales wise sadly. “Girl I’m Waitin’ For You” has an acoustic guitar intro and gorgeous vocals, once again bringing The Byrds to mind, especially the subdued guitar work by Fankhauser. Larry Meyers’ drum rolls spice the tune delightfully, the rhythm section again rock solid. The folk rockish track displays the band’s vocal harmonies and as with “Things” deserved a much kinder fate in the sales and airplay departments. The more uptempo “What Does She See In You” features heavier guitar and a driving beat, with a short but soaring, Eastern influenced, solo by Merrell, a most invited addition to the track, his lead line shining throughout. Orbinesque vocals are followed by another short, restrained solo, more lovely vocal harmonies and a gentle playout. “Lost In The City” is a hot little rocker, with its revved up, driving beat and soaring lead line. Fankhauser’s guitar growls, with vocals matching his relentless lead line. The vocals, though elevated and louder, are as gorgeous as ever. But it is the lead guitar that makes this tune, along with more wonderful percussion by Meyers. A gem of a tune indeed. “Your Painted Lives” opens with jangling acoustic guitar joined quickly by Fankhauser’s gorgeous vocals and most deceptive fuzz guitar. The ever present vocal harmonies are here but it is the fuzzed out guitar that rules the day. A stepping, paced bass interlude is most welcome but the fuzz and echoed vocals drive this tune home ever so pleasantly. Side one close with “Driving Sideways (On A One Way Street)” another up-tempo, guitar and drum driven rocker. The tunes’ trippy lyrics are delivered gorgeously accompanied by soaring, fuzzed out guitar and a roaring lead line. A tempo change, handled nicely by Jordan and Meyers, gives way to the relentless guitar and vocals of Fankhauser, his guitar roaring ever loudening. The reverberated guitar adds texture to this enjoyable rocker. Fankhauser’s guitar and vocals provide a tasty outro the this wonderful side closer.
Side two opens with “In A Minute Not Too Soon” with its fuzzy guitar intro and bouncing beat, supplemented by gorgeous vocals and nice drum rolls. The fuzz and vocals rule this tune, Fankhauser’s lead line pushing the beat. A nice mid-tune tempo change opens the door for more incredible drum rolls and chugging guitars, ending in a shouted vocal outro. Perhaps the highlight of this magnificent album is the Eastern influenced, “A Visit With Ashiya” a three and a half minute raga, filled with ethereal vocals and ringing sitar tones and percussion, Meyers once again adding incredible texture leading into Merrell’s solo a bit over a minute in. Absolutely breathtaking, yet ever restrained, the interlude lasts nearly a minute, taking the listener’s mind into another realm. The plaintive vocals and tablaesque percussive fills of Meyers lead into another sitar sonic interlude at the 2:45 mark that plays the tune to its short fuzzy finale. A true psychedelic classic, certainly one of the strongest, most gorgeous and heavenly tune I’ve ever heard. I can only describe it with a resounding “Wow”! “The Big Grey Sky” by contrast, returns to vocal harmonies, gentle guitars and a bounding beat courtesy of Meyers and Jordan. A fine folk rocker in its own right, Fankhauser again displays his versatility with his gentle, restrained lead line accompanying Meyers’ great drumming. This shorter, a bit over two minutes, number is a real toe tapper and head nodder. “Rich Man’s Fable” brings back Byrds’ style guitars filled with gentle, subtle fuzz tones. Meyers’ clicking drum beat and Fankhauser’s vocals are to the fore, with drum rolls from Meyers adding flavor. Suddenly the guitar soars above and probes to and fro, before Meyers’ drum rolls bring the tune back to Earth. A tempo change, more drum rolls and fuzzed guitar join plaintive vocals as the song plays out. A real gem, to be certain. “Ice Cube Island” opens with acoustic guitars, gorgeous vocals and an ever so gentle drum beat. Fankhauser’s other worldly vocals are complemented by Jordan’s bounding bass. At the one minute mark, the tempo builds before the bass returns to a loping beat, and tap tap tapping drums fill the air. Delicate vocals take hold as the tempo quickens and ethereal vocals and gorgeous harmonies bring the tune to a close. The uptempo rocker, “Madame Silky” with its lush, echoed vocals mark the beginning of the album’s close. Fankhauser’s guitar roars and soars, Meyers’ heavy drumming driving the beat, delicate vocals deceptively slow the tune, then fuzzed guitar and pounding drums drive the tune, interrupted only momentarily by gentle vocals, till a fuzz filled solo roars the tune and the album to a momentous end. As an extra added attraction, “Im Flyin’ Home” the band’s final recording opens with bounding bass, pounding drums and searing guitar by Merrell, the reverberating lead guitar drawing the listener ever closer to the tune. A hot rocker filled with great drum rolls and astonishingly quivering guitar, this tune is reminiscent of Quicksilver at its peak. Fankhauser coaxes stunning tones from his guitar, Meyers takes a short drum solo and more luscious rolls, before Merrrell brings it home with his lead guitar. This track would have fit the album perfectly, and as such is an absolute delight as a bonus track.
In typical Gear Fab Records fashion, Things comes in a digipak, with introductory comments from Maglio and an informative essay. The package is rounded out by gorgeous photos of the band and wonderful sound quality, as one would expect from Gear Fab. In sharp contrast to Fankhauser’s “Fapardokly” this album rocks much harder and displays his incredible songwriting versatility. Things takes the listener through many mood and tempo changes, but always holds your attention, be it ever so subtly at times. This is a true folk psych rock classic and certainly belongs in the collection of anyone who enjoys music of the genre. I only hope my words bring to life the amazing sounds of H.M.S. Bounty. This may indeed be the best reissue I’ve heard from 2017!
– Kevin Rathert
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