4 stars. Synanthesia’s lone album is one of those forgotten psych folk minor recordings from the late sixties that managed to get released only because of the wide-open landscape of musical expression that existed at the time, but which was fast changing as that decade came to a close. One has to wonder if the band would have had more success if they had released this a couple years prior, or if RCA had gone to any expense at all in promoting the group.
That said, the music here is quite good and will be instantly appealing to most prog folk fans. The trio of Dennis Homes, Jim Fraser and Les Cook with their completely acoustic instrumentation calls to mind similar acts like the Incredible String Band, Comus, and even Amazing Blondel to a certain extent, but also Simon & Garfunkel before they hit it big, and even other obscure acts like Gentle Soul, Mortimer and Ant Trip Ceremony. The main difference here is that the band did not employ drums aside from Cook’s bongos, but they did prominently feature saxophone, oboe and especially a variety of flutes including the slightly nauseating nose flute.
The album was recorded without overdubs and pretty quickly – two days in the studio with obviously a fairly rudimentary mixing job. No matter, that version is impossible to find today, but the remastered Sunbeam release is clear and well-produced. Probably not all that hard to pull off considering this is all acoustic, but still a decent job.
These are all pretty short tracks, which was not all that unusual for folk acts of that day. Only “Morpheus” and the tribute to the mother of Greek muses “Mnemosyne” run more than five minutes, and these just barely that. The themes range from Greek and Roman mythology (“Mnemosyne”, “Morpheus”, “Minerva”, “Fates”, “Vesta”) to middle-age folklore (“The Tale of the Spider and the Fly”, “Peck Strangely and Worried Evening”) to British history (“Trafalgar Square”). The instrumentation is primarily anchored by acoustic guitar finger picking, the numerous flutes, and Homes’ vibraphone which he manages to make sound like a soft piano in some places and more typically like a xylophone in others. Some tracks like “Minerva” have a solid rhythm courtesy of the bongos, while on others the guitar sets the tone with little or no percussive accompaniment.
The closing “Just as the Curtain Finally Falls” is the last the band would record although they probably didn’t know it at the time, and it does sound like a swan-song with the sad, lazy saxophone and introspective soft vocals. The Sunbeam reissue features a bonus track “Shifting Sands” which interestingly is the most dated-sounding on the record, with harmonizing vocals that are clearly Beatles-inspired.
This is a very ear-pleasing album to enjoy on a quiet evening, and although it never made a splash when it released nearly forty years ago and won’t now, it is worth seeking out for fans of older light psych and especially progressive folk. Four stars and recommended to those people I just described.
(Review by ClemofNazareth
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Prog Folk Researcher)
Studio Album, released in 1969
Songs / Tracks Listing
1. Minerva (Homes)
2. Peek Strangely And Worried Evening (Cook)
3. Morpheus (Homes)
4. Trafalgar Square (Cook/Carlton)
5. Fates (Homes)
6. The Tale Of The Spider And The Fly (Cook)
7. Vesta (Homes)
8. Rolling And Tumbling (Cook/Carlton)
9. Mnemosyne (Homes)
10. Aurora (Homes)
11. Just As The Curtain Finally Falls (Cook)
12. Shifting Sands (Homes) - bonus track on 2006,Sunbeam reissue.
Line-up / Musicians
Dennis Homes - vibes, guitar, vocals
Jim Fraser - alto/soprano saxophone, oboe, alto/nose/concert flute
Les Cook - guitar, bongos, violin, mandolin, vocals