The 1970s' was a very active period for American progressive rock bands, even though only a handful - like Styx and Kansas - managed to breakthrough the regional barrier and attain nation-wide success on a footing with their UK counterparts. Yet throughout these regional pockets of the United States some phenomenal progressive rock bands were toiling in virtual anonymity, delighting loyal followers and new-found fans with virtuoso performances and well crafted compositions in bars, clubs and as back-up bands at local concert venues. And many of these aspiring unsigned artists spent considerable time and resources recording polished studio demos that rivaled the music dominating FM radio.
Over the years independent record companies like Ken Golden's Laser's Edge and Greg Walker's Syn-Phonic Records have made available for the first time archival and unreleased recordings, as well as re-issues from many such 70s' progressive rock bands as Cathedral, Yezda Urfa, Babylon, Pentwater, Quill, Lift, and Mirthrandir (Syn-Phonic) and Atlantic Philharmonic and The Load (Laser's Edge) to name a few.
And a few of those regionally successful bands did manage to snag a major label deal: Fireballet (Passport), Starcastle (Sony, Epic), Pavlov's Dog (Columbia), Happy The Man (Arista), and Ethos (Capitol).
Yet studio sessions and demo recordings from a great many regional artists from that Golden Age of American Prog/Rock have yet to see the light of day.
ShroomAngel Records, a Houston based independent label founded by Richard S. Patz, is casting a spotlight on these unheralded and unsigned Texas artists from the past and finally making their music available on CD. 70s' Texas artists like Hooker, Heyoka, Blown Free, Hands, Aurora, Prism, and the band I'll be reviewing Chameleon are but a few.
"Rising" is a compilation of demo recordings produced between 1972 and 1979, featuring Spenser Clark (guitars, vocals), Mike Huey (drums), Craig Gysler (keys, vocals), and Rick Huey (bass). Marty Naul (Oz Knozz) manned the skins in 1978.
Although the band boasts the catchy tag 'British Prog Rock - Texas Style'; and their influences may have been British bands like Genesis, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, and Yes, to my ears this is 'All American 70s' Prog/Rock' at it finest, with far more similarities to U.S. bands like Zazu, Pentwater, Cathedral, Hands, Lift, Prism, Ethos, Citadel, The Load, and Dixie Dreggs.
The music on "Rising" is evenly divided between good old fashion high energy rock & roll and more complex 70s' progressive rock with brilliant instrumental passages and hook laden melodies.
Within these progressive rock compositions are examples of the pastoral symphonic prog associated with Genesis and Camel as well as the complex modernist chamber music of Gentle Giant, the quirkiness of Van Der Graaf Generator, and Canterbury bands like Caravan and Family.
The highlights for me were the more progressive tracks.
"Texas Cyclone" is their best example of 'British Prog Rock - Texas Style', capturing the very essence of early Genesis, as well as the U.S. band Starcastle, yet putting their own spin on it.
"Milkwood Forest" features some inspired interplay between keyboard and guitar, sounding at times like Happy The Man and Yezda Urfa.
Other proggy moments include "Pass Thru The Columbian Mountains" and "Life Positions" which has a Gentle Giant, Dixie Dregg, Genesis vibe to it. The vocals come closest to Gabriel or Phil Collins on this track.
"Pilot Thoughts" and "Midnight Matinee" should delight Supertramp fans. These tracks bring back memories of the early Supertramp albums "Crime Of The Century" and "Crisis? What Crisis?".
And rounding out the proggier tracks is "In My Own Way" which has the Canterbury flavor of Caravan or Family.
Elements of rock bands like Bloodrock, Atomic Rooster, Captain Beyond, Allman Brothers Band, and Spirit can be detected on the hard driving numbers that populate the other half of the album with tracks like "Brave New Way", "Drool Away", and "In The Heart". While "Saturate" should appeal to those with an affinity for Wishbone Ash.
Whether you're a students of the early American progressive rock scene looking to complete your collection, or an ardent Texan fan who fondly recalls Chameleon backing up artists like MC5, Captain Beefheart, or The Amboy Dukes back in the day ... Chameleon's "Rising" deserves a spot in your music library.
The band has reformed as Chameleon Rising and is currently working on a new album for ShroomAngel Records.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on February 20th, 2014