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Flower Travellin’ Band - Made in Japan

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Artist: Flower Travellin’ Band

Album: Made in Japan

Label: Phoenix

Review date: Sep. 21, 2011

Formed in 1970 from the remnants of the cover band Yuya Uchida and the Flowers, Flower Travellin’ Band lasted only three years and released as many albums. The second, Satori, is a bona-fide classic, one of Japan’s great ‘70s rock albums whose blend of psychedelic atmosphere and prog-rock power remains astoundingly compelling.

Following Satori, then, was going to be a difficult act. Made in Japan — ironically named since it was recorded in Canada and sung in English — turned out to be a mighty strong contender even if it doesn’t quite reach the same peak. Thanks to Phoenix Records, it’s now possible to find the album in stores instead of on obscure mp3 blogs.

While certainly possessed of a psychedelic flavor, Flower Travellin’ Band was above all a rock band, with definite prog-rock tendencies that thankfully add to the proceedings without detracting from the riffs. Don’t be fooled by the opening "Unaware,” which is a slow, deep bluesy piece; from there the band turns up the fuzz and gets heavier. The center trio — "Kamikaze,” "Hiroshima” and "Spasms" — are where it’s at.

Hideki Ishima’s sharp guitar work and Joe Yamanaka’s soaring vocals form the backbone of these songs. For some, Yamanaka’s falsetto might be a bit too much, but it’s part and parcel of the band’s emotional punch. On the album’s centerpiece, "Hiroshima,” his voice bears a strong Ozzy flavor that fits perfectly with Ishima’s fuzzed-out guitar. The latter floats in the back during the verses, but eventually takes off for a marvelous middle eastern-tinged solo. The band’s ability to float one moment and stab the next is one of the tricks that made Flower Travellin’ Band special, and it’s where the group’s prog-rock attitude benefits them most. When everyone turns as a unit and suddenly hits on all cylinders, it’s exhilarating. Sadly, Yamanaka passed away in August due to cancer.

Phoenix Records is, by all accounts, a bootleg label, meaning that they likely reissued this album without the permission of the band and without any plans to pay royalties. Given that the CD packaging sports illegibly small cover art and contains no additional liner notes, you needn’t feel bad about downloading it from your preferred file-sharing service. We can only hope some legit label will eventually reissue the complete Flower Travellin’ Band discography in the future.

By Mason Jones

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