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Shadrock Chameleon - “Shadrock Chameleon” (1973) review


Shadrock Chameleon - Shadrock Chameleon (Out-Sider Records, 1973/2017 reissue) 

Iowa may be known for several things (farms, the American Pickers TV show, corn fields, and local artist Grant Wood’s famous American Gothic painting), but psychedelia doesn’t immediately come to mind. Back in the early ‘70s, several young musicians from various bands combined to record one of the great cult psychedelic albums of the ‘70s, Shadrack Chameleon. Released on IGL (i.e., Iowa Great Lakes) Records in a limited edition of 300, the 1973 album has intrigued collectors over the years and Guersson’s Out-Sider speciality imprint offers a remastered vinyl edition. Essentially a solo project of main songwriter, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Steve Fox, the short (six tracks in a half hour) album is a pleasant, mostly acoustic affair not unlike Neil Young’s contemporary releases (cf., Harvest).

     The band’s name comes from the opening track ‘Chameleon (I Love You)’, which seems to be (awkwardly) spliced together from two separate recordings/songs. The minimalist, basement vibe adds to its charms, which tend towards laidback folk. ‘Long Road To Ole’ Miss’ breaks out the distortion pedals and rides Jon Porter’s wailing organ runs for a fuller “band” sound that still owes more than a passing resemblance to Neil’s Crazy Horse collaborations, although there’s a surprising presaging of the Meat Puppets’ desert folk (e.g., ‘Lake of Fire’) lurking within.
     Air guitarists may enjoy John Brandsgard’s electrifying solo on ‘Granite Feast’, and ‘That’s The Way It’s Gotta Be’ is another solo acoustic downer from Fox, with typically morose teenage lyrics in the “Why did you leave me, baby?” vein. Depressing, somber, and introspective, with another tasty Brandsgard solo. ‘Don’t Let It Get You Down’ is the album highlight for me, but it suffers from its spit-and-chewing gum production. There’s another bluesy moper lurking within, and Porter adds some dirgy organ work (a la ‘House Of The Rising Sun’). The set concludes with the slight ‘Beyond Eternity’, with Fox’s vocals veering out of tune, sounding more like a sick cow in heat than a lovesick teenager. Overall, I’ve heard worse “private pressings”, and this is certainly worth a few spins. Just don’t get hoodwinked into spending a fortune for an original. Out-Sider’s revamp will do just fine.

- Jeff Penczak
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