HIGH TIDE — Sea Shanties (review)

HIGH TIDE — Sea Shanties album cover Album · 1969 · Heavy Psych Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
Music history is fickle as there is no rhyme or reason as to why one band will become the hugest thing since sliced bread and another of equal talent is left to fester in the dusty obscurity bins. HIGH TIDE is the perfect example with their debut album SEA SHANTIES which was released the very same month as the extraordinary and hugely popular “In The Court Of The Crimson King” by none other than the legendary King Crimson. HIGH TIDE was pretty much a contemporary to the great KC in not only musical ambitiousness and stylistic extremities but also hails from the very same London scene that was seeing the clock run out on the 60s and ushering in the sobering new reality of the idealisms of peace and free love ceding into pure darkened disillusionment. While the band has received some kudos from the critics over the ensuing decades, HIGH TIDE has unfortunately remained off the radar of the average heavy rock meets prog rock world.

This band was put together by one of the most creatively energetic guitarists of the entire 60s, Tony Hill. After he saw a bit of cult status success with the psychedelic USAmerican rock band The Misunderstood which formed in California in 1963 he moved back to London in 66 (along with his USAmerican bandmates). They would hang around for another three years (although there was a deportation episode for the USAmerican members) and despite well deserved attention from John Peel never really took off into the psychedelic limelight. Square away in early1969 after The Misunderstood ceased to be, Hill formed HIGH TIDE and managed to release the first release SEA SHANTIES out on Liberty Records in October mostly due to a connection with Apple Records that got them noticed fairly quickly. After a few gigs with the Groundhogs, Edgar Broughton Band and Sweet Slag, the band quickly gained attention for their unique amalgamation of psychedelic folk, heavy driving hard rock guitar riffs and most of all the totally sizzling hot violin abuse of Simon House who sounded as if Paganini time traveled to join a psychedelic porto-metal band in the 20th century. He would become better known after he joined Hawkwind as well as albums with David Bowie, Thomas Dolby and countless others.

SEA SHANTIES truly remains the heaviest album that the 60s had to offer. HIGH TIDE took the ponderosity of the fuzzed out heaviness of Blue Cheer, Cream and Hendrix and turned everything up a few notches. “Futilist’s Lament” begins the album with a fuzzed-out heft that’s strong enough to blow the doors down as the guitar riffs are on high tempo matched with an equal fury of Peter Pavli’s bass and Roger Hadden’s drum abuse. Hill simply sounds like he has lightning up his ass with his frenetic fingers whizzing up and down the guitar scales. “Death Warmed Up” is equally heavy only sans Hill’s Jim Morrison inspired poetic prose and dead ringer as a singer vocals. This nine minute rocker is the perhaps the most frenetic rocker of all 1969 only matched by the single track “Communication Breakdown” by Led Zeppelin, only with ripping intense trade off’s between Hill’s guitar gymnastics and House’s virtuosic violin prowess that egg each other in some sort of insider’s competition or maybe just a pact with the devil. Their over-the-top jamming style exudes an atmosphere with equally compelling Eastern European scales that add ing a flair for the exotica.

Hardly a one trick pony, SEA SHANTIES dazzles with its diverse elements as it deviates from two distinctly different heavy rockers to the King Crimson sounding “Pushed, But Not Forgotten” pretty much following Crimson’s own approach of alternating heavier and lighter tracks. This one reminds a lot of KC’s “I Talk To The Wind” and sounds like something that really could have been on the Crimson album that came out the very same month only HIGH TIDE weren’t content to merely record a ballad but rather bust into heavier segments complete with the fuzzed out blues inspired solos and off-the-chart violin sweeps so sizzling hot that i’m waiting to hear a string or two break! “Walking Down Their Outlook” brings back the Jim Morrison vocal style only backed up by complex progressive rock time signature changes, alternating passages all peppered with ambitious dynamics and interesting compositional chord changes. “Missing Out” perhaps the most tied to traditional blues rock may be the least challenging but displays how HIGH TIDE can blow away the competition by taking a simple catchy blues melody and adding progressive touches along with a violin part that sounds like a soundtrack to a demented Irish jig rehearsal. “Nowhere” displays the remarkable playful interchange between Hill and House as they trade off their virtuosic string skills around a groovy bass line punctuated by jazzy drumming workouts.

It is of my humble opinion and perhaps adventurous tastes that i feel HIGH TIDE put out a veritable masterpiece equal in scope to KC’s beloved “In The Court” and in many ways upped them at their own game. Perhaps at first the Morrison vocal comparisons are a little too starkly derivative and the cacophonous nature of the restless guitar and violin vying for domination can be a little disorienting but after several spins this grower imbues an indelible charm that has me craving repeated listens as the unique approach of SEA SHANTIES has a morphinic effect that keeps the off-kilter ear worms digging deeper. Of all the woefully underlooked nuggets of gold let loose at the tail end of the 60s with a bang, none pleases me more than HIGH TIDE’s debut album that successful fits the bill of that transitory period like no other as it captures the psychedelic zeitgeist of the hippie era just a couple years removed while unapologetically looking towards the future and in the process unifying two trends simultaneously, those two being the progressive rock explosion as heard by their contemporaries King Crimson as well as prognosticating the inevitable big bang of heavy rock turned metal slightly before Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple really took off. SEA SHANTIES is a bona fide masterpiece in my book.

While the original album track list is worth the price of admission alone, i highly recommend the 2010 remastered Esoteric edition with bonus tracks. This contains three bonus tracks that were unreleased but from the same sessions as well as two demos. The demos are ok but not essential but the bonus tracks are well worth the extra effort to track this edition down. The most important of these bonus tracks is the extremely heavy and progressive behemoth “The Great Universal Protection Racket” clocking in at over 11 minutes and was a much loved highlight of their early live shows. This is a track so heavy and so complex in its style that it actually makes “21st Century Schizoid Man” seem a little tame in comparison. It is basically a sprawling composition that contains periods of heavy metal guitar riffing, schizophrenic proggy guitar licks, bluesy segments with all of the band members performing extremely tight unison between the instruments as they navigate through complex time signature workouts run amok. The track meanders through several different guitar riff styles but each one makes a reprise and even includes violin led segments as well. I actually love this track more than any of the other tracks on the album! The other two bonus tracks are also excellent but not as OMG amazing as the first one. “Dilemma” revisits territory heard on “Walking Down Their Outlook” and “Time Gauges” is another instrumental workout of complex prog laden freneticism trading off with mellow chilled out violin led melodic passages.
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