RetRotation #2 - Leaf Hound
I first heard this album five years ago on a warm summer night of degenerate drinking in the park. After Black Sabbath 'Sabotage' had finished playing we wondered what to listen to next. I had this one album I hadn't heard yet by a group called Leaf Hound. They were a band I'd taken a flyer on after hearing the song "Growers of Mushroom", an unabashedl Cream pastiche. I wasn't expecting much, maybe some stereotypical British blues noodling or some out there prog meanderings, along the lines of Soft Machine or even "Blue Condition" or some such. I wasn't prepared for what blared out of my buddy's crappy little portable speakers. As each song ended we kept finding ourselves stopping and saying "that was a great song." By the time "Stray" blasted through the speakers the conversation was over and Leaf Hound owned the night.
The riffs are absolutely perfect, weaving simplistic tapestries of filth funk and headbanging grooves. They are the stuff that stoner rock dreams are made of, every bit as seminal to the genre as Sabbath's are to doom metal. Riffs such as "Freelance Fiend" and "Stray" are what the stoner rock fan is always hoping to hear. Without argument these are two of the best songs of all time.
By now the lore is familiar: 1 the band had already broken up at the time of this album's original release, 2 Peter French (vocalist) bounced from band to band never finding the stardom he so richly deserved, 3 original pressings of the LP sell for upwards of £2000, etc. But 1+2 do not necessarily make 3, logically speaking. What happened between 2 & 3?
Someone must have finally heard the damn thing.
"Freelance Fiend" is about as fine an opening statement as one will find on a hard rock album, it has all the classic ingredients of the band in full flight with a Hendrix-like guitar intro that cowbells its way into a power groove the likes of which one can only marvel at. The chorus rings out in a very Zeppelinian fashion, cutting out and allowing vocalist Peter French the spotlight that was (according to lore) so unjustly denied him. Add some phasing for the outro and you've got yourself one hell of a classic.
"Stray" is just simply put one of the best goddamn songs I've ever heard. After a quick two measure solo guitar intro, the power groove stutters and struts in with dark and heavy footsteps. The guitar sounds like danger coming and the drums are very Bill Ward inspired, especially during the chorus. The funkiest white boy music one can ever hope to hear. Peter French adds a ton of urgency to the song with his strained vocal delivery.
As mentioned above, the very Cream-y "Growers of Mushroom" was the first song I heard (I also discovered "Hot Smoke & Sassafrass" by Bubble Puppy at around the same time. Check it out.) and it really didn't prepare me for what was to come on the rest of the album. The song sticks out like a sore thumb when taken with the rest of the album, making you wonder not only why the shortest track on the album buried in the middle of side B became the title track, but why it was even included on the album in the first place. It's structurally, stylistically and technically different from anything else found on the album. It's a very good song, it's just curious and is symbolic of the kind of decision making that clouded this album and its posthumous issuance like a haze of stale dopesmoke. "Sad Road to the Sea" and "Sawdust Caesar" also puts the band's Cream influences on display, particularly in the drums on the latter, the former track utilizes a Jack Bruce-like vocal melody and sounds like something off of 'Wheels of Fire'. They're both great songs.
"Stagnant Pool" is a perfect example of the kind of riff and the kind of song that one might expect to hear from a stoner rock album released today. This track in particular seems to presage the sound of Kyuss with its driving riff, sudden tempo changes and urgent vocals. Just another in a number of all-time classics.
This would be a perfect five album if not for "Work My Body" and "With a Minute To Go", two slower numbers that were pretty standard fare at the time for this kind of album. "Work My Body" in particular proves that as good as the band were at crafting heavy blues funk, they weren't as capable as, say, a Led Zeppelin when handling the larger, slower compositions. "With a Minute To Go" isn't really a bad song but it goes against the grain on this album, sandwiched between high energy "Stray" and the title track, this song doesn't make for a good follow up to "Stray". It's like having desert first, what follows, though good, just won't measure up. Maybe this would have worked better as a closing track.
Reminds me of: Cream, The Faces, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin
My Rating: 4.5/5
1). Freelance Fiend (3:11)
2). Sad Road to the Sea (4:16)
3). Drowned My Life in Fear (3:00)
4). Work My Body (8:12)
5). Stray (3:48)
6). With a Minute To Go (4:19)
7). Growers of Mushroom (2:17)
8). Stagnant Pool (3:59)
9). Sawdust Caesar (4:30)
Total Run Time: 37:28
From: Battersea, South London, UK
Genre: Stoner Rock (with hindsight), Heavy Metal (at the time), Hard Rock, Psychedelic, Southern Rock
Released: November 1971
Interview w/ Peter French
Suggested Listening Activity for fellow non-stoners: This is beer drinkin' music.