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Michele - Saturn Rings

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Artist: Michele

Album: Saturn Rings

Label: Fallout

Review date: Aug. 6, 2006

Saturn Rings, the one and only album by Michele (nee O’Malley), was released, ostensibly, to cut-out bins by ABC Records in 1969, the product of an ongoing, commercially-stalled dalliance with cult-figure producer/arranger/songwriter Curt Boettcher. O’Malley was a vocalist for the Ballroom, the pre-Millenium/Sagittarius project on Boettcher’s resume, and it seemed that Saturn Rings would be the sure-shot to get both the recognition they sought. The list of session players and studio magicians with their hands in this thing is fairly compelling, as well: witness Lowell George, pre-Little Feat; Elliot Ingber, Zappa/Beefheart collaborator; Bobby Notkoff, pre-Rockets and Neil Young sideman; Gordon Alexander (The Association); and Bobby Jameson (a.k.a. Chris Lucey, of Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest infamy). Said list in 2006 is as much a dream session for psych-pop heads as could be assembled, but in its proper moment, nobody knew.

A shame, then, as this is as mature and adventurous as hippy-dippy “lost” albums get. Michele’s vocal arrangements come straight from Boettcher, as do five of the album’s songs, either as writer or co-writer (“Spinning, Spinning, Spinning” was originally recorded as the A-side of the Ballroom’s lone single, as were two other tracks in here: “Musty Dusty” and “Would You Like to Go”). Given the recycling of earlier material, the new arrangements and recordings here give even the sappiest, folkiest material a much-needed facelift, with George’s trilling flute and Ingber’s roaming bluegrass-inflected guitar skirting all around the harpsichord and traps charts on “Spinning.” These tracks frame Michele’s versatile voice and respectable range, able to hollow out for soulful, Laura Nyro-esque readings, go plaintive a la Karen Carpenter, or sharpen into Anglophilic meringue peaks a la early Parliament protégé Ruth Copeland, or Buffy Sainte-Marie.

How’s the music? Very respectable, with strong showings throughout over Eastern-flecked tracks (check the galvanizing tablas on “Fallen Angel”), haunting balladry (“White Linen,” comparable to the Poppy Family) and baroque R&B (the gorgeous “Song to the Magic Frog”). Nowhere does this group’s strengths make themselves more prevalent than on “Lament of the Astro Cowboy,” a sprawling, eight-minute opus lost in a tonk of bass groove, ripping violin screech and explosive guitar distortion. As this track rolls out, it becomes painfully obvious that Saturn Rings is a very clued-in flipside to Sainte-Marie circa Illuminations, not as possessed and blessed with more robust songcraft and an offhanded mastery of the studio environment, lysergically kissed and eternally blissed out.

By Doug Mosurock

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