The Flower Travellin’ Band, Anywhere, The Netherlands, Philips, LP FX-8507 (1970)
While these guys’ first original album “Satori” is the better and much heavier album, this debut release composed almost entirely of cover versions of other bands’ songs is interesting in itself. The interpretations are very individual and quirky, and at the very least demonstrate the FTB musicians’ good taste in other folks’ music. First up on the ronin samurais’ chopping block is Muddy Waters’ “Louisiana Blues” which has a steady driving rhythm at a pace where the wind is whipping through these guys’ hair but is not too cold, given that on the front cover of the album the band members are riding their motorcycles down the highway with no helmets and scarcely much other protection. The song is dominated by a very long and spirited lead guitar solo instrumental that actually goes faster as the track progresses, pulling along a continuously revving rhythm section. There’s a fair amount to savour in the long proto-metal blues rock jam, Hideki Ishima’s guitar work showing a strong Eric Clapton influence in its light sound but later revealing darker fuzzier tones.
A big surprise, given that this album came out in 1970, is FTB’s cover version of “Black Sabbath” from the British band’s first self-titled album which itself was released a few months before “Anywhere”. (Incidentally both the Sabs and FTB were signed to the same record label at the time.) FTB’s cover lacks the sinister tension and sense of dread of the original but the song is otherwise a fairly straightforward and minimally styled interpretation with still a lot of dark space and atmosphere. Our roamin’ ronin turn their attention to the famous “House of the Rising Sun” which they despatch adequately enough though singer Joe Yamanaka nearly ruins the song with an overly theatrical high-pitched performance.
The highlight of the album is the cover of UK prog rockers King Crimson’s “21st Schizoid Man” which FTB try to deliver in a straightforward manner, at least until Ishima forgets his manners and goes bounding off on a personal freak-out voyage of guitar self-discovery, the other members doing their best to keep up with him.
The best moments of the recording are where Ishima is let off his leash and allowed to fly where he will, the other members happy to tag along in his wake. While I think Yamanaka overdoes the heroic falsetto tenor act, at least he puts his heart and soul into what he does. The album does have its patchy moments and parts of it could have been edited for length but after nearly 50 years it’s still fresh and still full of fire.