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Music Reviews: Smack – Smack and Cerebrum – Eagle Death

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At first glance, one might wonder why this review is focused on two seemingly very different albums. The self-titled Smack features nine cover songs recorded by a quartet of American college kids in 1968. Eagle Death by Cerebrum is also a nine-song affair, all of which are originals and were recorded in Madrid in 1969. What ties them together is the reissue label they appear on, Shadoks Music.

In listening to a variety of Shadoks releases over the past couple of years, I have been consistently amazed at the amount of dedication and work they have put into releasing some of the most obscure psychedelic music ever recorded. By combining reviews of two of their latest releases, I am hoping to shed a little light on the label itself, as well as the albums in question.

The four members of Smack came together as music and art students of Kansas University in the summer of 1968. For all intents and purposes, they were a garage band, playing the hits of the day at parties and dances. They were especially fond of Hendrix and Cream. Although the exact details are a little unclear, it appears that a university advisor helped them secure studio time to record their album. According to the liner notes, 2,000 copies were pressed, retailing for the then exorbitant cost of $6.00 apiece. The band reported that they were so naïve that they actually had to pony up the six bucks for their own copies!

There are two things about the Smack album that make it such a find. One is the incredible rarity of the original. There are only two copies known to exist today. This fact adds quite a level of mystique to it, but the real attraction is the music itself.

There is a magic to Smack’s versions of these well-known songs that is indescribable. Most people have seen their fair share of cover bands. You go to a party, or a bar, and they are just sort of a human jukebox. No big deal. Something very special happened in the case of Smack though. While guitarist Jim Uhl is not exactly an undiscovered Hendrix or Clapton, he is very good. It is the way the four members of the band have managed to make each of these very famous songs their own which is so impressive.

Smack’s arrangements, their backing vocals, and overall sound is absolutely unique. It surprised the hell out of me to hear them take classics such as “Sunshine of Your Love” and “Manic Depression” and make them their own. I really did not think they could pull it off, but they do.

If Shadoks scored a coup with the CD release of an album of which only two copies are known to exist, their achievement with Cerebrum’s Eagle Death is even more astonishing. Until now, the only releases from this band had been two 45 rpm singles. These were issued on the Barcelona-based Dimension-Ekipo label in 1970. As far as mega-rare psych singles go, they are at the top of many collectors’ lists. For whatever reason, the song “Eagle Death” was not even the full version, but a “radio-friendly” edit. The full 6:18 cut has never even been available until now.

It is an example of what makes this label so amazing. Not only are those four songs present, but five more tracks (recorded in 1969), have been added. The work in getting all nine cuts cleaned up enough for commercial release after all these years must have been staggering.

Was it worth it? For those of us who like the heavy, psyched-up, fuzzed-out music of bands like Blue Cheer, or early Stooges, the answer is simply and absolutely “Yes!” Listening to this material is like finding some sort of psychedelic/garage band Holy Grail (hidden in Spain for 43-odd years). Eagle Death is as heavy as this music ever got.

Besides that unedited version of the title track, there are plenty of other great moments. From the previously unreleased 1969 sessions, try “One Kind Favor” (7:26), or “Amphetamine Annie” (4:50). Then if you want to go for the jugular, give a listen to “Murder in My Heart for the Judge” (3:02).

As I had never heard any of these songs before, my expectations were low. To be honest, I sort of thought that the 1969 material would probably be little more than filler. Why else would it have remained “in the can” for all these years? This is not the case at all though. There is no filler, if anything I am partial to those earlier recordings over the (briefly) released tunes. The sound quality is uniformly great, albeit intentionally fuzzed-out and effects-laden. This one and only album from Cerebrum is a monster.

Shadoks Music have been around since 1989, and have been doing an outstanding job of tracking down and reissuing some of the rarest psychedelic albums in the world. It has been my good fortune to have previously reviewed earlier Shadoks releases from Moses, Bump, Captain Marryat, Trubrot, and Kaleidoscope, among others. Discussing the label itself seemed long overdue.

These two discs from Smack and Cerebrum are excellent additions to the catalog. For more information, I suggest checking out the German-based Shadoks site, or their North American distributor Forced Exposure.

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