THE MASTER'S APPRENTICES - The Master's Apprentices (Aztec Music)
Recently the subject of a typically exhaustive feature in Ugly Things, these guys are probably best known for “Wars Or Hands of Time” – maybe not the greatest Orstralian anti-war song of the Vietnam era (that honour belongs to “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”), but definitely one of ‘em, a garage psych masterpiece replete with rifle-crack snare shots, deft tempo changes, and Zombies-esque harmonies.
What they really were, though, was a raucous R&B outfit, heavily influenced by maraca-shaking Poms like the Stones, Yardbirds (dig the minor key melody and Gregorian chant-inspahrd vocalismo on “But One Day”), and especially the Pretty Things. It’s easy to forget that “Wars” was actually the B-side of “Undecided,” a riff-driven raver worthy of the Pretties or the early Kinks. On “Hot Gully Wind,” the Masters come across like an Aussie version of Them, while “Buried and Dead” anticipates the ‘70s snarl of the Saints and Radio Birdman, with a closing Yardbirdsian rave-up raga. Late ’67 singles like “Living In A Child’s Dream” and “Elevator Driver” find the Masters moving into trippier realms.
Fronted by charismatic Jim Keays and helmed by rhythm guitarist/songwriter Mick Bower (who left the band just a couple of months after the album’s release, following a nervous breakdown while on tour), these Adelaide lads took their craft seriously, banning chicks ‘n’ booze from rehearsals where they’d painstakingly learn to play their songs acoustically before turning on the amplifiers. They projected a flash image, too, crafting their own Antipodean version of Mod style by repurposing cricket uniforms and women’s duds.
Along with the band’s self-titled ’67 album, chronic overachievers Aztec Music give us bonus tracks from singles and an alternate version of their slinky, sexy, slowed-down and bluesed-out take on the Fabs’ “I Feel Fine.” But there’s more: a whole second disc of studio demos and raw garage rehearsals that capture the Masters’ exuberance and energy as effectively as "Five Live Yardbirds" or" A Session With the Remains". An awesome document. - Ken Shimamoto
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Aztec would have to go and re-release this, wouldn't they? Not many legacy labels would have done it justice. As flawed and even casually flung out this album was when it was originally released, it's become a much-loved classic and it merited the right royal treatment Gil Matthews' label has got down to an art form.
There are 39 tracks over two CDs on this lavish set and they show why the early Masters were such a trail-blazing act. Put it down to two factors: The personable and powerful vocals of Jim Keays and the fiery, fragile guitar and song-writing talents of Mick Bower.
Bower, of course, parted ways with his bandmates in 1968 after a nervous breakdown on the road. The Black Dog has been with him for years since, and the frank liner notes suggest he and high-pressure touring were not a great match. In the space of months, Keays would be the only man left standing with a series of new line-ups eventually gelling and setting the new band on the path to national stardom, but when this was recorded and released he thought it would be a swansong.
Many would still contend that the earliest Masters were the best and the band's final recordings really were bloated exercises in excess. You wouldn't get much argument here on the last point. You not only get the album in its entirety, but the second disc reprises in-the-garage recordings that have been available elsewhere but are still genuinely exciting.
"War Or Hands Of Time" was one of Australia's earliest and most touching protest songs, an exploration of the personal that was remarkably profound. "Undecided" is the other high-point, a snarling gate-kicker that's a stone classic of the local garage genre. "Buried And Dead" might have even raised the bar an inch higher. A more unknowing but strident precursor of punk rock you'd be hard pressed to find.
There are a couple of curiosities in the ambivalent cover of Smokey Robinson's "My Girl" and the somnolent, almost narcotic take on the Fab Four's "i Feel Fine". The latter's at odds with the jaunty, sunny feel of the original but that's the rub.
The extra tracks include singles like "Living In a Child's Dream" and "Elevator Driver", themselves fine slices of psych pop by the Doug Ford-Colin Burgess line-up, but it's the cover-heavy second disc of demoes and rehearsals that'll surprise casual listeners. There's the odd clanger but the run-throughs are remarkably on the money and supremely confident. Sonic quality is amazing, too.
"The Master's Apprentices" may have not been an entirely consistent debut but in a time when singles shaped a band's impact that's not entirely crucial. It's gratifying to see this important album back in print, with all the tasty trimmings. Dig in. - The Barman
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