HAYSTACKS BALBOA had a fairly unique start in their career before their demise that resulted in only this one single album that was an eponymous release with the surreal art in the middle of purple thick borders but later appeared a bootlegged CD with the title “Detoxified” in 1997 with a totally different cover of a gas mask in the greenery as explained by founder and guitarist Mark Harrison Mayo.
The band was supposed to open at the Powder Ridge Rock Festival in Middlefield, Connecticut on July 31, 1970 which was supposed to be a followup to the famous 1969 Woodstock Festival in New York, however this one was met with opposition by the locals and the whole thing was called off but no one told the fans and they all arrived anyways. The result was a huge drug fueled party only without the music! The whole thing was a mess and although HAYSTACKS BALBOA did attempt to play their gear was confiscated and unfortunately robbed them of their moment in the sun.
The band gained a loyal following while they toured and gained the attention of Polydor Records which signed them for their one and only album. The label did manage to promote the band with some radio airplay but the album did not perform well and the album has since fallen into obscurity. Although the tracks were recorded in a very simple 8 Track Studio, everything sounds quite well produced with the louder guitar parts being recorded through a double Marshall stack produces some of the heaviest music to come out in 1970. Unfortunately this one was only available in the cities where the band toured.
All the tracks are diverse and represent an eclectic palette that takes the listener on a short but sweet wild ride for 1970
“Spoiler” starts things off with a Hendrix inspired heavy rock guitar, a Deep Purple keyboard run and the heavy bluesy vocals of Bruce Scott that fit in perfectly with the sound.
“The Children Of Heaven” has a playful Beatles type of bouncy riff to it without losing its heaviness. A nice melodic development with the forceful lyrics and joker laughing.
“Bruce’s Twist” is a jittery little rocker with heavy organ and has bluesy verses.
“Auburn Queen” starts out as a mellow acoustic track and then jumps into a jittery The Nice type of feel that sounds a lot like the intro of Metallica’s “Don’t Tread On Me” which of course came from the track “America” from West Side Story. It also has a Wishbone Ash / Allman Brothers type of duo lead assault and a killer keyboard solo. This is the most proggy sounding and ties for longest track (with “Ode To The Silken Men” on the album providing a glimpses of how proto-prog was slipping into the fully developed symphonic prog world the same year other bands like Yes were unleashing their magnifying prowess. The ending is the most progressive part as it takes an odd guitar lick, offbeat percussion and a litany of shouted poetry.
“Sticky Finger” has a rather Iron Butterfly meets Cream feel only a bit more energetic. This one is more of straight forward rocker but has an interesting guitar solo and a quirkily timed march kind of feel. Reminds a bit of Led Zeppelin at their hardest as well.
“Ode To The Silken Men” starts out as a nice acoustic number and at 8:55 ties as the longest track with “Auburn Queen.” This has a nice series of melodic developments where it begins as an acoustic guitar track and then ratchets up the energy level. This track brings Led Zeppelin tracks like “Stairway To Heaven” to mind in songwriting but still has late 60s feel to it. The vocal overlay section in the middle doesn’t last long but sounds very similar to the vocal segment at the end of Queen’s “Prophet Song” only five years earlier. It immediately changes into a folky guitar section
“Riverland” is a folky ballad with multiple vocals and all acoustic that ends the album.
What really clicks with me and this album is the nice mix of influences. The bouncy happy-go-lucky Paul McCartney riffs and vocal playfulness accompanied by beautiful melodies, diverse vocals acrobatics, Zeppelin heavy metal riffing alternating with more mellow folky passages all dished out in a semi-proggy manner hit my pleasure zone upon first listen and hasn’t diminished its return value upon repeated listens. The beauty of this is that these guys were doing the things that made bands like Zeppelin and Queen made famous very shortly after this was released and while this does not compete with those bands in quality, this was a true surprise that if taken in the context of the time it was in, this is some pretty stellar early heavy prog rock going on here.
I really wish this band would have stuck around for a while longer because this debut points to myriad directions and all of them would have been interesting. Despite being called typical hard rocker / heavy psyche sound for the era, i find this one to be all over the place which is more diverse than almost any similar band of this year. Highly recommended to early heavy rock lovers with a diverse palette. All musicians on here play together quite well and unlike many heavier bands of this era, i really like the vocals a lot. An interesting snapshot into the transition of late 60s heavy psych into 70s heavy prog with a nice balance of both sides of the equation.