❉ This cohesive document of the latter years of Randy California’s career show how much more he still had to give the world.
“There are some fantastic tracks on here, showing that Randy has lost none of his musical prowess or song-writing skills – it’s a shame that California’s status as a genuine guitar hero hadn’t been cemented in the public eye and that Spirit had been passed over by tastemakers by the early ‘90s.”
Continuing their expansive remastering of the Spirit back catalogue, Esoteric Recordings follow the recent Euro-American Years box with the latest reissue Son of America, a two-disc compilation of 44 unreleased tracks originally released back in 2005 after Spirit frontman Randy California’s tragic death. Compiled by Spirit archivist Mick Skidmore, this triple disc set augments the original double album released back in 2005 with a third disc, consisting of a complete concert recorded for Radio-KPFK in April 1993 featuring the Randy California, Ed Cassidy and Scott Monahan line-up in full flight.
Skidmore’s in-depth sleeve notes discuss the history of the Randy California archive and where the tracks originated. It’s obvious that he takes his work curating Randy’s legacy very seriously. Mick also puts together a track listing for a proposed, unfinished Randy California solo album from the songs found in the archive.
The first two discs are assorted recordings made by Randy and numerous collaborators for various projects that never came to fruition and so they don’t necessarily flow like an album. However, as an archive collection they are perfect additions to the catalogue, showing the methodology and intent behind Randy’s composition skills.
There are some fantastic tracks on here, showing that Randy has lost none of his musical prowess or song-writing skills, and it’s a shame that California’s status as a genuine guitar hero hadn’t been cemented in the public eye. As a result, he was somewhat flying under the radar, despite the fact that the Spirit trio of California (guitar/vocals), Cassady (drums) and Monahan (keyboards, bass and vocals) were as fine a band as any that operated under that auspicious name.
The storming title track is a tribute to Vietnam war veterans and shows that Randy has lost none of his musical. prowess and songwriting skills, and is as powerful a piece of work as anything he recorded and released. Elsewhere, the Indian-influenced Gopal predates what Kula Shaker were doing by several years, and as Mick points out, had it been a George Harrison song would have got far greater recognition.
Heavily influenced during this period by Indian mythology and Guru Sai Baba some of the tracks on here reflect that spiritualism like the individual tracks Sai Jam #1, #2& #3, whilst California also revisits the music of his youth in sublime, soaring cover versions of The Times They Are A-Changin’ and Let it Be with superb vocals from an unnamed vocalist who (as Mick points out in the sleeve notes) no-one connected with the band during this period has been able to identify! The first disc also includes outtakes from the final Spirit album California Blues, including Shock Values, written by Steve ‘Liberty’ Loria, the band’s bassist at the time, and California and Cassady’s social commentary still stands up today.
Disc two had its origins in the first Spirit/Randy California archive album Cosmic Smile, included because that album was still being distributed and sold by labels whose licensing deal had expired (sadly this is a story as old as time in the music industry) so Mick decided the money should go to where it belonged. Fair play to Skidmore for doing this – after all, the archive own the rights. This is a well-deserved addition, and includes some lengthy originals like the wonderful One by One and Living on Love.
Other notable tracks include the great River of Love and The River. Having them all collated here pulls together a cohesive archive document of the latter years of Randy’s career and show how much more he still had to give the world musically, despite not having much record label or financial backing at the time.
The final disc, here for the first time is an incendiary live performance, interspersed with inter-song commentary and questions from the radio presenter, and it shows the band relaxed and on fine form. The Spirit power trio of founder members California, Cassidy and Monahan are on fire in the live performances, with cuts like Elijah, Fresh Garbage, Mr Skin, 12,000 Miles and a superb cover of Red House. California’s guitar soars throughout, and he’s perfectly in sync with his musical foil and collaborator Cassady, whilst Monahan was a perfect addition to the band and they trio gel so well, bouncing off each other and bringing the songs to live in a contemporary fashion, without losing any of the magic.
It’s such a shame, when you listen to the power and proficiency that the band put into this performance, that Spirit had dropped off the radar and been passed over by tastemakers in the early ‘90s, despite the fact that California/Cassidy/Monahan were as fine a band as any that operated under the Spirit moniker. Because of the archive nature of the show, the quality (taken from 8-track reel-to-reel) isn’t that of as a polished official live album, but it’s a darn site better than a bootleg and doesn’t take away from the performance. Sometimes you have to make compromises on sound quality to get gigs like this out into the open.
Randy California was one of the legendary guitarists to emerge from the late ‘60s, and for those who know, this set is a welcome addition to the superbly curated collections already available on Esoteric. For those who don’t know, this is a perfect introduction to his latter years where he was still honing his craft and continuing his musical and spiritual development.
As this set proves, during these last few years of Randy’s life he was still writing brilliant tracks, expanding and evolving his sound, and constantly questing to improve his songwriting and reflect the times he was living in. This is another fine addition to the Cherry Red Spirit series, and honours Randy’s musical legacy.
❉ Spirit: ‘Son Of America’ 3CD Remastered & Expanded Edition (Esoteric Recording ECLEC32755) was released March 26, 2021 by Cherry Red Records, RRP £17.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ James R. Turner is a music and media journalist. Over the last 25 years he has contributed to the Classic Rock Society magazine, BBC online, Albion Online, The Digital Fix, DPRP, Progarchy, ProgRadar and more. James’ debut book is out in September and he is head of PR for Bad Elephant Music. He lives in North Somerset with his fiancee Charlotte, their Westie Dilys & Ridgeback Freja, three cats and too many CDs, records & Blu-Rays.