In 1973 the American progressive rock band Maelstrom released a small number of copies of their debut album. At the time it was called On The Gulf, the only album this band ever recorded. Maelstrom are one of those many overlooked American bands that remained in the margin of the progressive rock history. Just like their fellow-countrymen of Touch, who released only one eponymous album in 1968 (see review), they deserved much more attention.
The music on this album is certainly worthwhile listening to. In 1997 Black Moon Records already noticed this and reissued the album on an eponymous CD and they added two bonus tracks well. In 2013 Black Widow Records once again re-released the album with the same tracks as on the first CD release and with the same title. Maybe we should be thankful to BWR that they dared to release this forgotten gem once more, because it certainly adds something to today's records.
For those who have never heard of Maelstrom it may be wise to tell something about the line-up that recorded the eight tracks in 1973 at Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Back then the band consisted of Paul Klotzbier (bass), Mark Knox (organ, harpsichord, Mellotron), James Larner (flute, vibraphone, piano, marimbas, harmonica), Jeff McMullen (lead vocals, electric guitar), Jim Miller (percussion) and Robert Owen (acoustic guitar, saxophone, piano, Mellotron, vocals). Together they made music in the vein of the upcoming British bands as Gentle Giant, Yes and Genesis that made their appearances on the American stages at the time. They were probably also inspired by the Canterbury scene with bands like Caravan and Soft Machine and by the kind of progressive rock that fellow American bands like Ethos and Cathedral produced on their few albums.
The eight pieces show strong musicianship. The lead and harmony vocals are a delight to listen to and this can also be said about the fine keyboard parts with a leading role for the Mellotron. As I said before this album doesn't only contain the music recorded in 1973, but also two bonus tracks. Opus One and Genesis To Genova were recorded live in 1980 at The Three Rivers Festival in Fort Wayne, Indiana. However, you can't hear that these are recordings from a live concert because of the lack of applause and the shouting of an audience. These songs probably have been recorded directly from the PA system.
The line-up of the early seventies wasn't yet completed at the time of the live recordings and therefore you only hear Robert Owen and Paul Klotzbier on stage assisted by D. Kent Overholser (organ, synths, Mellotron) and Rollin Wood (percussion). These recordings are more dominated by keyboards. Opus One contains a strong ELP vibe with lots of organs, synths and Mellotrons, while Genesis To Genova is mellower and darker of texture and shifts towards the musical style of King Crimson.
People who love the progressive rock of the seventies are advised to check out this sole album by Maelstrom. Listen for yourself and wonder why they never made it to the top at the time. Was there any special reason for it or was it just bad luck?
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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