Gary Malcolm Wright (born April 26, 1943), or better known as Gary Wright is an American singer, songwriter and musician, best known for his 1976 hit songs Dream Weaver and Love Is Alive, and for his role in helping establish the synthesizer as a leading instrument in rock and pop music. Wright's breakthrough album, The Dream Weaver (1975), came after he had spent seven years in London as, alternately, a member of the British heavy rock band Spooky Tooth and a solo artist on A&M Records. While in England, he played keyboards on former Beatles member George Harrison's solo album All Things Must Pass (1970). So beginning a friendship that inspired the Indian religious themes and spirituality inherent in Wright's subsequent song writing. His work since the late 1980s has embraced world music and the new age genre, although none of his post-1976 releases has matched the popularity of The Dream Weaver. A lot of people however do not know that he and his band Gary Wright & Wonderwheel recorded an album in the seventies which never did see the light of day. Until recently it was shelved in the vaults of probably his former record label. Thanks to the labels Universal Music and Esoteric Recordings it can be heard now for the very first time in more than forty years.
After Gary Wright released three albums with Spooky Tooth, he began a solo career, signing at A & M and released the albums Extraction (1970) and Footprint (1971). These two discs did not break through, despite the notable presence of the ex-Beatle George Harrison on the second album. People at his label advised him to form a band to promote his solo album. So to promote Extraction, Wright formed the band Wonderwheel in April 1971. Consisting of Mick Jones (guitar, former musical director of Johnny Hallyday and future founder of the legendary band Foreigner), Archie Legget (bass) and Bryson Graham (drums). In 1972, Wright moved to Devon with Wonderwheel to work on songs for a new album, titled Ring Of Changes. With Tommy Duffy (bass, Lindisfarne) having replaced Leggett on bass, the band recorded the songs at Olympic and Apple studios in London. Again his good friend George Harrison was asked to participate. After issuing I Know as an advance single, A&M chose to cancel the album. Wright's disappointment at A&M's rejection of Ring of Changes did lead him to reform Spooky Tooth.
So the main question is: was it worth the wait? My answer is an unqualified 'yes'. To fairly assess this work, it should be considered more musically akin to Gary Wright's first two solo albums, Extraction and Footprint. Some of the musicians he used to form Wonderwheel played on those albums, and the music is closer to those two albums than either the keyboard-dominated Spooky Tooth sound or his later hit albums, Dream Weaver and The Light Of Smiles, which were all keyboards, except for a real drummer. There are several very strong tunes on this album. While that is a subjective assessment, and others may disagree, having given the disc a few listens now, I would say it would certainly find its place in the CD collection of some lovers of progressive rock. For me, the best material on this disc are those songs that are more upbeat and rocking. For example Lovemaker, the first track, is a pulsing rocker reminiscent of material on his earlier solo releases. Although sounding a bit dated, it holds up pretty well even today. Also Something For Us All is a fine mid-tempo song that swings, but again, it could have been on Footprint and not been out-of-place. On the other hand a track such as Set On You has a slightly countrified feel, with some soulful vocals. The inclusion of the single tracks I Know and Somebody adds value, as they are both really good and deserve to be heard along with the other Wonderwheel songs.
I am really delighted that this record has finally been released! This is a solid record with several excellent tracks that should have been released by A&M Records as scheduled in 1972. For anyone who likes his earlier solo albums Footprint and Extraction and certainly for most Spooky Tooth fans I think, this record is a definite buy. The sound and feel is quite different though from Wright's later Dream Weaver period so if you only like that this isn't such a clear choice. However it's great to finally have this pre-Dream Weaver recording from Gary Wright remastered and released on CD!
*** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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