…a pattern soon emerges of a melodic sound with great vocal harmonies and a bed of acoustic 12-string guitars, married to an often effectively prog-rock approach
Another discovery unearthed by Esoteric here – but in this case, even if you haven’t heard of the band in question, they didn’t arrive from nowhere. On the contrary, the nucleus of Open Road, drummer ‘Candy’ John Carr and bassist/guitarist Mike Thomson were, with a couple of additional musicians, the backing band for Donovan, appearing on an album he released called, by no coincidence whatsoever, Open Road. As well as backing him on the album, Open Road (for by now that was what they were christened) toured with Donovan and were planned to be his permanent band. Sadly that didn’t happen, as for whatever reason he elected to stop working with them, but he did give them permission to carry on independently using the Open Road name. Two more musicians were brought in to add to the duo (lead guitarist Barry Husband and keyboard man Simon Lanzon), and Open Road released the album Windy Daze in 1971. The only member to take part in this release (Lanzon and Thomson are deceased with Husband missing without trace), Carr has no recollection why the album was given such an odd title! The other notable things about the band are that the album was produced by Colosseum / Greenslade man Tony Reeves, and they were managed by Doug Smith, immortalised as ‘Drugless Smith’ during his long association with Hawkwind and Motorhead. Plenty of credentials then.
It’s always a concern whether these blink-and-you’ll-miss-them bands will turn out to actually be hopeless, but in this case the exact opposite is true – the album reveals a distinctive and very strong band who definitely deserved to go further than they did. Unlike many second or third division bands of the time who simply failed to produce a focused and coherent sound, this is far from the case with Windy Daze, as a pattern soon emerges of a melodic sound with great vocal harmonies and a bed of acoustic 12-string guitars, married to an often effectively prog-rock approach. The opening track Mother Earth is a fine example of this, and probably the best thing on the album. You know that slightly jazzy, airy prog sound which Yes had on their first two albums, before the massed keyboards and walls of sound entered a year or two later – things such as Astral Traveller, Survival or Then? That sort of sound is all over this track, sending the verses of this ahead-of-its-time eco-friendly piece skittering along, while the big melodic chorus rivals the sort of harmony vocal hook perfected by Fairport Convention on albums like Liege And Lief and Full House. By any criteria this is a great song.
Other highlights abound – I remain utterly convinced that if Mystic Woman had been recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young rather than Open Road, it would be regularly cited as a standout performance. It has the perfect harmonies of a song like Our House, but much more substance to it. Closer Shimmers Of Sound takes a slightly psychedelic feel and stretches it out nicely, while Waterwheel marries another great melodic chorus with tricky instrumentation calling to mind Gentle Giant. You can pick out influences like that all over the record, but in the end it simply sounds like Open Road. There is only one real misstep, in the shape of Secret Of Life. You see, all four members contribute lead vocals, and this nearly always works well, except on this occasion when Barry Husband steps up to the microphone for this, his own composition. Described by Carr in the booklet as having a voice ‘not necessarily always fully in tune’, Husband bizarrely attacks the song with a series of alternately growling and high-pitched yelps, something like Glenn Hughes being attacked by a swarm of bees. The song isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s hard to tell! I can forgive that one song, however, given the quality around it – and if he does any other lead vocals, they are clearly much better! There are also both sides of a single, of which Lost And Found is another song full of merit.
That was Open Road’s sole album release, as their record company, the Decca-distributed Greenwich Gramophone Company, folded in 1972. However, in a tremendous find for those in the know about this excellent artefact, there is a second disc containing a complete second album, thought to be lost, which was fully recorded but never released. In actual fact, it isn’t as good, as the mercurial blend of pastoral folk, tricky prog and immaculate West Coast harmonies has somehow lost its indefinable magic, leaving a decent enough record which just somehow fails to inspire. With more electric guitar than acoustic, and some still-high quality vocals, it’s mostly in a sort of soft-rock vein, albeit with a couple of unsuccessful attempts at heavier rock which they can’t really carry off. It’s a little like John Lennon and Al Stewart collaborating with The Eagles – which I realise actually looks pretty good written down! – and certainly isn’t bad, but is more of a pleasant curio.
No, the reason to get this is that great first album. It’s a genuine find from an era which one would think might has been getting to the point of being picked clean, yet somehow keeps throwing up nuggets like this one. When a band’s only album, which flopped and now commands high prices as a rarity, can sound this good and this professional, it leaves no doubt as to why the 1970s are still remembered by so many listeners and musicians as a truly special decade. Granted, the title is clumsy and the cover photo almost toe-curling with the token acoustic guitar being brandished pointlessly in a field, but those things only go to help explain why this might have flopped so unfairly. The 1970s’ loss is now, happily, our gain!