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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.