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14 Feb 2017

The Asylum Choir "Look Inside The Asylum Choir" 1968 Canada Psych Rock

The Asylum Choir  "Look Inside The Asylum Choir" 1968 Canada Psych Rock
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Digitally remastered reissue of this long-lost Psychedelic album from 1968 by this duo featuring Leon Russell. Poised between his past as a top Wrecking Crew session man (Phil Spector, The Byrds, Sonny And Cher) and assistant to Liberty A&R head Snuff Garret, and his future as a '70s Rock superstar, Russell teamed up with his Texas Psych buddy Marc Benno to work with Gene Clark, Harpers Bizarre and Gary Lewis in their new studio. In between sessions, they created this unusual and breathtaking album. Here once more is this amazing lost gem, intensified in Rev-Ola style, and ready to work it's magic! A great lost nugget by one of the major Rock superstars! 11 tracks. Rev-Ola. 2007........ 

Long before Leon Russell became the albescent bearded high-priest of gritty rock’n’soul, he was a session musician in Phil Spector’s LA stable backing acts as diverse as The Byrds and Herb Alpert. Around this time Russell met the young Marc Benno, a talented blues guitarist just up from Austin, Texas who had moved to LA to also take up session work. Benno had been crashing in a closet at Russell’s place where a veritable who’s who of the 60’s rock scene would hang out and jam. It was here that Benno met Eric Clapton and many of the other famous musicians with whom he would collaborate later in his career. Benno described it as being “in the right place at the right time.” Russell and Benno decided to formally join forces as “Asylum Choir” and released the first of two LP’s in 1968, Look Inside the Asylum Choir, on the Smash imprint. 

Look Inside the Asylum Choir rightly earns the oft overused label “psychedelic” for tracks such as “Icicle Star Tree” or “Death of the Flowers” which are psychedelic pop in the classical late 60’s sense, however musicians as diversely talented as Russell and Benno couldn’t help but include R&B, soul, ragtime and jazz elements along with numerous diegetic sound-bites and ironic lyrics into an eclectic musical collage that assumes a psychedelia of a higher order. The lofty words of 40+ years worth of hindsight don’t change the fact that the album was a commercial flop, despite favorable reviews from the groovy critics of the time. Perhaps the greatest commercial misstep was a marketing one: the album was originally released with a closeup photograph of a roll of toilet paper on the front cover. While perfectly in line with the deeply tongue-in-cheek lyrical irony of the album, the ablutional image offended the much more delicate sensibilities of the day. 

It is this pervasive irony that both sets this album apart as a smart if gentle critique of the contemporary 60’s culture and dates much of the lyrical content. Despite this the album is quite enjoyable and musically delightful. The jaunty opener, “Welcome to Hollywood”, with its punchy horns and bouncy beat lyrically sticks a pin in Tinseltown’s balloon in jubilant vocal harmony. This is followed by the relatively straight honkey tonk ode to “Soul Food” and is a strong hint at the musical direction Russell would take later in his career. With the third track, “Icicle Star Tree”, the album takes a left turn into the sunshiny technicolor terain of psychedelic pop. The dreamy melody complete with abstruse and surreal lyrics floats over alternating cascades of shimmering keyboard and soulful telecaster for an overall heavily lysergic vibe. The album keeps this mood with the elegiac “Death of the Flowers” which tells the poignant story of Elaine “who is visibly moved by the death all around her…” The first side of the album closes with “Indian Style” that opens with a sound collage of tribal drumming eventually giving way to the sounds of cavalry, machine gun fire and war. This wordless statement abruptly ends as the upbeat honkey tonk song proper kicks in, evolving the initial statement with ironic lyrics about the mis-appropriation and commodification of indian culture by the flower children. 

The second side opens with a six minute musical hodgepodge entitled “Episode Containing 3 Songs: N.Y. Op. Land of Dog Mr. Henri the Clown” that has a number of memorable moments such as a 30 second bit of “Mr. Henri the Clown” that is reminiscent of Beck’s “The New Pollution” off of Odelay, and witty lyrics about a flea who has a “little flea-osophy on organized insanity.” The heavy theme of the next track, “Thieves in the Choir”, is anticipated by the dolorous peal of church bells. The song warns of “Magic policemen who don’t need a reason to color your eye.” In deliberate contrast to this subject matter the song ironically borders on ebullient as Russell sings about how he “figured out, good guys with bullets are really quite bad.” The swinging blues closer “Black Sheep Boogaloo” rips it up pretty thoroughly, punctuated by Zappa/Beefheart-esque interludes of self-referential weirdness. 

Despite its poor sales at the time, Inside the Asylum Choir remains an enjoyable listen both as a period piece and as an interesting insight into the future directions of two musicians of the highest caliber....Rising Storm review.......... 

Although this album remains overlooked, the Los Angeles duo of keyboardist Leon Russell and guitarist Marc Benno did all right for themselves anyway. Russell eventually matured into a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, becoming one of music's best session musicians and songwriters thanks to cuts like "A Song for You" and "Superstar" (made famous by the Carpenters). In 2010, Russell's collaborative LP with Elton John, The Union, was voted Number Three on Rolling Stone's Best Albums of 2010. While not seeing the same level of fame, Benno's worked with the Doors, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. 

What We Said Then: "It is vital, freaky and exciting… The music is good-times rock; it has the same funky joy that Spoonful used to… The Asylum Choir's is a well-produced album, but it has not lost presence; you can feel the music as well as hear it… The Choir hasn't been receiving a lot of attention, but they are already well developed and together. If they survive the second-album temptation to go through changes, they may prove to be a major force in rock." By David Gancher, November 23rd, 1969....Rolling Stone review........ 

In the late 1960's Marc Benno and Leon Russell were working as Los Angeles based sessions musicians. Having recorded an unsuccessful solo single, Russell used the resulting earnings to build a recording studio, working with the likes of Gene Clark, Harpers Bizarre and Gary Lewis. The duo's initial collaboration resulted in the release of 1968's "Look Inside the Asylum Choir." Intended as a state-of-the- art, quasi-psychedlic rock effort, the album had it's moment, including the lead-off 'Welcome To Hollywood' and Russell's blue-eyed soul 'Soul Food'. Unfortunately, much of the collection was given over to topical (if inferior) material such as the psychedelic 'Icicle Star Tree', 'Indian Style' and 'Episode Containing 3 Songs, N/Y. Op., Land of Dog, Mr. Henri the Clown' which did little for the collection's accessibility. While the album attracted rave reviews from hip critics, it proved a commercial non-entity.(Originally released with toilet roll artwork, the cover quickly offended then-delicate public sensibilities. Smash quickly re-released the album with a more sedate cover featuring a photo of the duo. ...Bad Cat...... 

"This delightful psychedelic artifact is an eclectic, ironic romp through musical styles and show business references, starting with "Welcome to Hollywood." It does show you what Leon Russell was up to before he became a Southwest superstar, and it is also a curiosity in its own right." (AllMusic) ......... 

"20 Albums Rolling Stone Loved in the Sixties That You've Never Heard: Although this album remains overlooked, the Los Angeles duo of keyboardist Leon Russell and guitarist Marc Benno did all right for themselves anyway ... vital, freaky and exciting." (Rolling Stone Magazine)............ 

The Asylum Choir was the late-'60s duo of session keyboard player Leon Russell (b. April 2, 1942) and guitarist Marc Benno (b.July 1, 1947). They made two albums, 1968's Look Inside the Asylum Choir and Asylum Choir II. Though the latter was recorded in April 1969, it was not released until November 1971, due to contractual difficulties. By that time, Russell was an established solo star.............. 

- Marc Benno -- vocals, guitar, keyboards 
- Leon Russell -- vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards 

(side 1) 
1.) Welcome To Hollywood (Leon Russell - Marc Benno) 
2.) Soul Food (Leon Russell - Marc Benno - Boatman - Markham) 
3.) Icicle Star Tree (Leon Russell - Marc Benno - Wilson) 
4.) Death of the Flowers (Leon Russell - Marc Benno - Dempsey) 
5.) Indian Style (Leon Russell - Marc Benno) 
(side 2) 
1.) Episode Containing Three Songs (Leon Russell - Marc Benno) 
2.) N.Y. Op (Leon Russell - Marc Benno) 
3.) Land of Dog (Leon Russell - Marc Benno) 
4.) Mr. Henry the Clown (Leon Russell - Marc Benno) 
5.) Thieves In the Choir (Leon Russell - Marc Benno - Riopell) 
6.) Black Sheep Boogaloo (Leon Russell - Marc Benno) 

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