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Purple’s Mark-I is often forgotten behind the crushing success of the Gillan years, also relegated behind the brilliance of the group’s third incarnation Mark-III, maybe because it didn’t feature the characteristic nature and identity these guys achieved in the early 70’s with classic heavy metal masterpieces as Deep Purple In Rock or Machine Head particularly. However, back in the late 60’s, the days of flower power, acid psychedelic rock and the tremendous impact of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the band managed to make a difference from the rest, proving they were a promising no 5 minute wonder progressive group. Their second splendid record made it even clearer.
The album starts with the straight hard rockin’ “Listen, Learn, Read On”, pretty fierce and loose, mostly vocal-based featuring a solid organ-guitar background basis which follows Rod’s lines discreetly, though the track includes as well a tender short bridge, a sweet prelude to one of Ritchie’s most outrageous violent solos ever. Although that direct composition is an exception here, that energetic Neil Diamond cover offers a simple execution too, giving attention to lyrics over the instruments, getting so catchy with that insistent chorus but the general record pattern is putting emphasis on complication. Instrumentally, numbers like “Exposition” and “Wring That Neck” are immaculately constructed, including accurate arrangements and certain bluesy improvised parts, generally controlled and precise. Lord & Blackmore jam so casual at times, introducing dynamic alternative sequences that break the tempo stability, designing rich instrumental series that prove their stunning talent and musicianship, certainly. That cover of The Beatles classic “We Can Work It Out” might affect the continuity of all that progression, although those refined arrangements keep it from being just an exact copy of what McCartney and co. did already. Simplicity is denied even more on the Ike & Tina Turner cover “River Deep, Mountain High”, which has a lengthy elaborated introduction deprived of vocals with Lord improvising superbly, even interpolating that unforgettable Richard Strauss “Also Sprach Zarathustra” excerpt to his rich solo. So it starts quietly, then goes in crescendo to introduce the vigor of Ike & Tina’s tune to which Purple add several distinct arrangements and greater technique. Once again, they push simplicity away to incorporate their own nature to those covers.
Well, Purple still embraced the current sounds of the 60’s that might be old-fashioned nowadays. Titles as “Shield” or “Anthem” will definitely surprise those who are only familiar with the Mark-II stuff, actually both cuts have nothing to do with the aggression and ferocity that was yet to come, but they reflect the remarkable skills and potential of these guys making technically superior songs with each member’s talent so remarkable. You can even find sentimental orchestral arrangements, a mellow backing choir in the style of their admired The Beatles and acoustic guitar lines Blackmore wouldn’t use in a long long time, elements the band would get rid of completely shortly afterwards. So Purple’s vintage methodology didn’t give riffs much attention yet, it didn’t offer anything peculiar from what other bands by that time like Cream, Blue Cheer, Status Quo, Donovan or Vanilla Fudge were doing, it was all more bluesy and melodic. If we refer to the level of complexity and difficulty of these tunes instrumentally, then Deep Purple undoubtedly made a big difference. Hand in hand with that new wave of British prog rock groups of the late 60’s, they made mighty lengthy instrumental passages, diverse structures and intricate arrangements popular, exploring new horizons and textures. However, Purple didn’t deny the accessible nature of 3 minute pop songs yet; they combine all that complication and technique with clearly commercial numbers in contrast with the nearly impossible material of other late 60’s symphonic rock acts. The addition of songs originally performed by people like Neil Diamond, the Turners or Lennon and co. were the part of a commercial attempt to reach the charts, so these guys weren’t exclusively trying to be progressive and experimental. Evan’s presence and seductive voice specially kept them from making something like Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma or King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King.
Deep Purple still had a long way to go, a truly distinctive sound to achieve and a definitive original identity to define, but that doesn’t mean this material should be ignored. Actually, The Book Of Taliesyn has some of the finest instrumental performances from the group and some of the catchiest tunes of their discography. There are obviously too many covers here, though just like Led Zeppelin did with those Willie Dixon, Ben E. King, John Lee Hooker and Eddie Cochran originals, Purple added their own arrangements and style to them, not only making vain copies. After so many years, this till sounds so fresh and amusing, but it was inevitable this line-up broke-up as the 60’s came to an end. This record preserves the magic and talent of that usually forgotten formation.
The second album from Deep Purple is also one of their most underrated albums. Like 'Shades Of Deep Purple', fans look back on this record and dismiss it, in no small part due to the fact that it features more cover tracks. Although there is a greater wealth of original material here, it is hoped that a band would have started focusing solely on their own material by this point, but in any case, 'The Book Of Taliesyn' is a small step in the right direction for this archetypal hard rock ensemble. Another psychedelic-tinged, organ driven slice of hard rock, Deep Purple's music may still not have been golden at this point, but contrary to the disdain that the album has received, there is some great stuff to behold here.
All things considered, the album is fairly diverse for its time. 'Listen, Learn, Read On' has a few psychedelic effects on the vocals to make things sound a little spacier, and the lyrical themes revolve around medieval, fantasy based topics that really add to the charm of the band. 'Wring That Neck' is an instrumental that shows the heaviness of the band, as well as the great talent of their keyboardist (and brightest shining star at this point) Jon Lord. Richie Blackmore has some nice solos on this album finally, but it would be a while before he started really coming onto his own as the guitar hero he is considered today. 'Shield' and 'Anthem' are two strong tracks that aptly describe the band's sound at the time, even bringing sounds of classical music into the mix; something that was not heard much at the time. Deep Purple even bring their own unique sound to the Beatles cover 'We Can Work It Out', adding a long proggy instrumental introduction that really makes the track their own.
A problem that 'The Book Of Taliesyn' really does struggle with is the production, which often feels a little too ambitious given the technology at the time. While Deep Purple can't be put down for wanting to incorporate alot of sounds into their album, 'Taliesyn' does tend to get a little muddy and too distorted at times, especially with the dense organ sounds. Deep Purple's sophomore is a very good album, but this is a problem that does tend to take away from the ferocity of the performance, and there were parts where the production really felt as if it got in the way of enjoyment. Deep Purple would keep getting better from here, taking this potential and running with it a little more on their self-titled follow-up to this album. 'The Book Of Taliesyn' is a good album on its own merit though, and while it is not excellent or particularly engaging, Deep Purple does deserve more credit for this album than what they get.
Deep Purple is one of the best examples of a band who transformed from the very pinnacle of excellence (i.e. their early work) to the blackest, deepest pit of suck when they decided to start writing mainstream rock in the 80s. Stormbringer was pretty much the cutoff for me, and I try to envision a world in which the band ceased to exist after that. Conversely, I feel the band has been criminally underrated during its first decade, aside from "Smoke on the Water" and maybe "Highway Star", there are a lot of empty stares and blank check faces when it comes to this band. An unbearable travesty, seeing that they released an impressive list of albums in the 70s. The Book of Taliesyn is their second, named for the Welsh poet.
One of the fascinating things about this album was that a large chunk of it consists of covers. Neil Diamond's "Kentucky Woman" is given a groovy rocking spin with some nice organ solos. Ike & Tina Turners' "River Deep Mountain High" is recreated with love, in fact I'd consider this the de facto version, Rod Evans' vocals do it a dirty psychedelic justice. The other cover here is the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out" which comes in after the original "Exposition". This is likewise given the Purple treatment with a soulful but harder rocking style, full of 'freak out'.
As for the originals, each is a memorable slice of psychedelic rock with a dash DP's prototypical heavy metal leanings. "Listen, Learn, Read On" has some fuzzy, deep guitar grooves as it meanders between funk soul and searing rock & roll. Not far from The Doors, really, a vibe that persists throughout the album. Instrumental "Wring That Neck" steps in with a dual organ/guitar blues over a stepping bassline, it proceeds to burn through some solos and has a very live, raw feeling to it. "Exposition" is another instrumental, with more of an epic, shuffling soundtrack vibe. Killer organs and driving percussion define its thundering scope. "Shield" is one of my favorites, a mellow song with some percussive guitar picking simmered in pianos and moody vocal lines, lifting up slightly for its chorus. The final original track "Anthem" is highly bluesy and atmospheric, but possessing a majestic chorus. Sounds like the Doors and Beatles jamming with a really cool keyboard and violin bridge. Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord are all over this album.
And that's really the gist of it. If you fancy 60s-70s psychedelic rock which would help lay the foundation for the harder and heavier styles to come, you will find it worthwhile to track down just about anything Deep Purple previous to 1980. The Book of Taliesyn succeeds despite a rather large percentage of cover material, which was fairy common practice for an album in those days. It does share some similarities to other popular rock bands of its era: The Who, The Doors, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin. If you have a natural attraction to this style, but missed Purple (they were never quite as popular), you should seriously think about tracking this down, as well as Shades of Deep Purple, In Rock, Fireball, Machine Head and the amazing Concerto for Group and Orchestra. Despite their age, they all sound great to this day.
When most people think of Deep purple, they think of the pounding '70s hard rock onslaught of "Machine Head" and other albums, so influential to Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate and others in the metal genre. Yet the band did not start out playing within that style. This, their second album, would probably come as a surprise to those expecting crunchy riffs and bluesy guitar pyrotechnics from Ritchie Blackmore, or Ian Gillan's distinctive wails. What we have here is a very solid piece of folk rock, with Jon Lord's organ taking centre stage for much of the proceedings, and Rod Evans doing a much more understated and subtle vocal performance than his successor. It all fits the music beautifully, and though noone could really call this music heavy, even for 1968, it does stand as a halmark of Deep Purple's creativity, even in their more humble beginnings. I've had this album for years, but only now seem to have discovered how wonderful it really is...in fact, I can't stop listening to the damn thing. It has a very evident magical, fantastic feel to it, like the whole thing is being performed by a group of mystical bards or something. In fact, whilst listening to this last night under the heavy influence of THC, I came up for a term for this type of music, that being "wizard rock" (yes, I'm rather proud of that, so shut up.).
The magic is really evident in the first track, which is a fast (for this album) rocking number with a heavy dose of experimental wailings and ambience, in which Rod Evans exorts us to "listen...learn...read on" from the great Book of Taliesyn. The production is just odd...sort of tinny, but very very clear, with a great deal of echo and reverb slathered over everything half the time. It works, somehow, and I really appreciate how full and well defined the bass sounds when you crank the volume. "Ring That Neck" is an instrumental showcasing Jon Lord's overwhelming keyboard talent...and if you are going to argue that this guy isn't the best keyboardist in any rock/metal band, you'll be completely wrong. This is probably the heaviest track on the album, actually, because the organ sounds pretty ballsy and dirty if you know what I mean...really loud and in your face. Next, we have one of a series of covers...this one being "Kentucky Woman", done by..Neil Diamond, I believe, though I could be mistaken. The covers here aren't just covers, though....they take the original melodies and chord structures, and turn the songs into huge and powerful epics that the original artists would never have dreamed of. This one isn't too adventurous, and is probably the weakest track on here, though it's still quite excellent. Rod Evans has a pretty inoffensive voice, but it sounds quite good all the same, with its deep crooning tones calling to mind, occasionally, some pop singers of the early '50s. "Exposition/We Can Work it Out" is, of course, a cover of the Beatles tune from a scant three years earlier, and this one is really spiced up with a host of new ideas and interwoven with some melodic and lyrical ideas of Deep Purple's own. And then we have "Shield"...fucking hell, this song is just awesome. The mystical vibe of the album culminates here folks, and the album is worth owning for this track alone. "So trust in your love, and Lucy of above / And let light pass like a wheel / Don't take the chance of life's hectic dance / Kiss the strength of the shield". Oh yess, this is definitely music of a very hippy nature, but who gives a damn. The original use of percussion, the intelligent counterpoint of organ and bass, and an utterly great harmonized vocal chorus make this song a totally forgotten classic. THe almost latin styled percussion is something that Deep Purple would experiment with again on the following album, but it's more subtle here and therefore better executed to my ears. "Anthem" is a wistful song with the vocals taking centre stage for the most part. It's probably the "oldest" sounding tune here as it has an almost rock/country sound to it, and the "ooooo woooo wooooooooo" backing vocals really reinforce this...but damn me if it still doesn't sound great. Finally, "River Deep, Mountain High", definitely a cover, though I've no idea from whence the original came, is a lengthy epic that's sort of a precursor, I guess, to the "Concerto for Group and Orchestra". It's quite experimental, and features some sudden and almost random sounding string flourishes which manage to sound quite out of place, yet because this album has so successfully established an atmosphere and run with it in a remarkable way, this doesn't come across as awkward as it normally would.
So whether this album had any sort of baring or influence on the metal scene is doubtful. I was rather mislead when I actually started my Deep Purple collection with this disc. I'm not really convinced that most fans of the '70s Purple will enjoy this, but do investigate it if you have an appreciation for some of the folkier, more experimental late '60s rock bands. Jon Lord's keyboards do of course set this apart from most of the other bands of that time, and they, if anything, are a reminder of what this band would turn into in a few years. Anyway, if you don't enjoy "The Shield", you're no friend of mine.