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Monday, 15 February 2016

Master's Apprentices - 1971 - Choice Cuts


Rio De Camero/Michael/Easy To Lie/Because I Love You/Catty/Our Friend Owsley Stanley III/Death Of A King/Song For A Lost Gypsy/I'm Your Satisfier/Song For Joey - Part II



 If you are not yet familiar with The Masters Apprentices, I should direct you to the fabulous anthology "Hands Of Time-1966-1972" on the Raven label. This faultless collection was compiled by Australian rock historian Glenn A. Baker, and provides and excellent introduction to this great Australian group, who along with The Easybeats were the two top acts down under in the late 60's early 70's.


 The Masters started life in 1966 as a primal R&B garage outfit that specialized in ultra primitive rock and roll in the style of The Pretty Things and Van Morrison's early group Them. Their early sides were penned by the group's guitarist, a gifted writer named Mick Bower, but their obvious focal point was lead singer Jim Keays. Keays had both style and talent, and possessed a wailing vocal range that would rival Pretty Things lead singer Phil May.

 Early Masters recordings such as "Undecided", "Buried And Dead" & "Hot Gully Wind" are top drawer, freakbeat ravers that take a back seat to no-one. As time went on Mick Bower's songwriting became more sophisticated and reflective, tracks such as "Wars Or Hands Of Time", "Theme For A Social Climber" & "Tired Of Just Wandering" showed tremendous maturity. Sadly Bower suffered something of a nervous breakdown and was advised by his doctor to leave the pop business, which he eventually did. 


This could have spelled the end for the Masters, but Jim Keays picked up the pieces and weathered the group through the flower-power era. This era of the group was resonsible for the classic "Elevator Driver" 45 and also "But One Day" (which was a Mick Bower holdover.) The Masters entered their next phase leaning towards a harder, more progressive sound which was first introduced with the 1969 album "Masterpiece." All the while the Masters were incredibly popular in Australia regardless of their several lineup shifts. Jim Keays was the one constant that kept the group's head above water. However as 1969 turned into 1970 the group felt they were stagnating in Australia and decided to take a shot at global acceptance and relocated to England.



The Masters arrived in England in the spring of 1970 and signed with the EMI progressive label Regal Zonophone (home to The Move, The Tickle, Procol Harum & others.) This lineup featured Jim Keays on lead vocals, guitarist Doug Ford (previously with The Missing Links & Running, Jumping, Standing Still), Glenn Wheatley-bass and Colin Burgess on drums. This lineup would prove to be group's finest since the Mick Bower days.


 The Masters managed to book Abbey Road Studios to record their first album on UK soil. "Choice Cuts" (which was issued in the UK simply as "Masters Apprentices" or the "chair album") was nothing short of a revelation and a quantum leap artistically for the group. This album is just a drop dead classic from the word go. Released in 1970 "Choice Cuts" is the equal of any great record you care to mention from that year. The Masters prove to be just that, masters of any style they chose to attempt, pop, folk, progressive and full tilt, heavy rock. It's all there and it's all good!

"Rio De Camero" is a vibrant opener which combines a latin, shuffle beat with Glenn Wheatley's fluid, upfront bass lines and funky minor chords played by Doug Ford. Keays interjects with his shrieking, double-tracked vocals, the whole thing ends with a rush of guitar muscle (this track was included on the "Hands Of Time" collection.) "Michael" begins as a plaintive acoustic ballad that quickly evolves into an all out heavy guitar blitz that simply never lets up. 


  "Easy To Lie" is absolutely threatening! It begins with Wheatley's throbbing bass line and leaps right into a massive acid guitar frenzy, Keays has his vocals treated to where he sounds like Ozzy Osbourne. Doug Ford hammers at his axe with the savage intenisty of T.S. McPhee of The Groundhogs, while the rhythm section lays down a sinister, gorilla beat that would have made the Hogs proud. Then comes an absolute curveball in "Because I Love You" which reminds me of Peter Frampton's melodic contributions to Humble Pie, the song employs bright acoustic guitar patterns to a rousing chorus which fades in the manner of The Beatles "Hey Jude" & Donovan's "Atlantis." I'm sure the female fans of the group dug this romantic tune all the way.

"Catty" returns to the blistering hard rock of "Easy To Lie", the spare, punishing guitar chords remind one of Free's late, great guitarist Paul Kossoff. While the overall feel of the number is that of a funky Black Sabbath. "Our Friend Owsley Stanley III" is also in Black Sabbath territory with an equal measure of "Stand Up" era Jethro Tull. Obviously the song is an ode to the US acid kingpin, perhaps acid got to Australia a bit late, as most groups were more into singing about granola and ecology flags in 1970.

"Death Of A King" is another Groundhogs style pissed off heavy ballad which concerns itself with the tragic death of Martin Luther King. This song addresses the subject in a much more convincing fashion than U2's self-serving "Pride" anthem. "Song For A Lost Gypsy" goes for the heavy thud of Blue Cheer with positive results. "I'm Your Satisfier" is a down and dirty, funky number that once again draws a Free comparison. The final piece "Song For Joey Part 2" begins with some lovely acoustic guitar work from Doug Ford before hurling another curveball at the listener, this piece quickly shifts into the greatest Van Morrison copy since the USA garage band Things To Come's "Sweetgina", however this one goes for Morrison's "Astral Weeks" style and Keays and Co. pull it off perfectly. 


  "Choice Cuts" was greeted by glowing reviews in the UK press but somehow the record failed to attract much action at the shops or on radio and sank into obscurity until being re-discovered by collectors in the 1980's. The record now changes hands for $150+ but it lives up to that lofty price tag with room to spare. There have been a few legal and semi-legal CD re-issues of it down the years, but it seems to be out of print at the moment. Hopefully this will change very soon. "Choice Cuts" is a dazzling blend of folk, heavy and progressive styles that should be in every serious record library. The good news is that the Masters would actually up the ante with "Choice Cuts" brilliant follow-up "A Toast To Panama Red" (more on that one in a bit.)

The Masters Apprentices were one of the great groups of the late 60's early 70's and it's about time their name starts getting mentioned next to the MC5, Pretty Things, Stooges, Groundhogs etc. because they no doubt belong in that company.  (Reviewed by Dave Furgess)



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