I like Country Joe McDonald.
He is like a more strident, less lyrical Arlo Guthrie.
He is also more experimental than Arlo.
Not that "experimental" is a necessity in folk, folk rock and Americana circles.
McDonald was a product of the 1960s California Berkeley University scene … and with that DNA there is a "anything goes" attitude.
Accordingly, Country Joe's music has rarely been "straight".
Not surprisingly, outside of the more open-minded mainstream music of the 60s, McDonald's career has been marginal. He has a devout small following, a career and a presence but you are not likely to hear him in on radio, read about him in music papers or see him on television.
On this album he uses something he calls ‘Sound Environments’ which is a technique of placing in each song some kind of context by the use of stereo sound effects. On “Not In A Chinese Restaurant” there is background chatter from people in a restaurant (and the odd bomb dropping) for example.
I'm not sure of the wisdom of this. The purpose is to create mood and on some songs it works but on others it merely intrudes and distracts from the merits of the song. Either way it probably kills any likelihood of commercial airplay, not that he would have received any anyway.
Other artists have introduced done this over the years and the use of the same has to be used judiciously.
I'm not sure when the music was recorded. There is a suggestion that Childs Play contained mostly out-takes from the Fantasy era. Certainly the sleeve indicates that the songs were "recorded over a period of time at Fantasy studios, Berkeley, California with some recording at Crystal Sound Studios. Los Angeles, California".
Perhaps the "sound environments "were added to the unreleased tracks recorded whilst Country Joe was at Fantasy records, roughly between 1975 – 1979?
There certainly is a feel that the songs come from different sessions … perhaps the "sound environments" were also used as practical tool to make everything sound more like a cohesive whole (which they do in part)
Check out my other comments for biographical detail on Country Joe.
Produced by Joe McDonald & Bruce Walford, Trevor Lawrence & Bill Belmont
Tracks (best in italics)
- Not In A Chinese Restaurant – a good example of the sound effects interfering with a good song.
- Power Plant Blues – this on the other hand is an electric blues song (with a topical theme) which isn't as good and where the sound effects don't intrude
- Picks And Lasers – A story of miners, on Mars! WTF? And it goes for nine minutes! Actually the song has a nice bounce to it but it is more than a bit ridiculous. Martian workers you have nothing to lose but your chains!
- Ice Pack – an instrumental with just acoustic guitar and bass. This is pleasant but sound like it could have been a backing track for a vocal that was never recorded.
- One More Year Of Good Times – This is good old school Joe McDonald. Political folk with biting lyrics and simple arrangements. Excellent.
- Vietnam Never Again – Lyrically this, also, is old style Country Joe. The instruments though (especially the electric guitar) have that late 70s/early 80s sound which can be a bit dated. This isn't dissimilar to what Neil Young was doing about the same time.
- America My Home – another topical song and one that may be relevant to the US now … a song that illustrates that America is made up of people of many nations. (It seems like everyone but the Croatians get name checked)
- Star Yeck: Voyage of the Good Ship Undersize – (Joe McDonald, Trevor Lawrence & Jay Graydon) – What the hell? This is amusing but it isn't music. A spoken satire (with funky backing music) using "Star Trek" as the basis ( the "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" film was big news in 1979) … here the crew deal with intergalactic trash created by humans, andd an angry Space Garbage Monster. With Country Joe (Capt. James P. Jerk), actor Gary Goodrow (Mr. Spot and Lt. Ungawa), actor Howard Hesseman (Mr. Jeckoff, The Computer), actor Jim Cranna (Spitty) and Dr Don Rose (Space Garbage Monster)
- Mi Corazon – a Spanish language funky rag. Not too bad.
Very, very patchy and if you aren't into Country Joe you would have other words to describe the album … I like Country Joe so I'm keeping it for completeness.
Nothing no where.
Power Plant Blues
Picks And Lasers
One More Year Of Good Times
Country Joe & The Fish