Sound — 8
Michael Lee Yonkers, using a steel string, going acoustic and starting to make folk albums, this being the first after the heavy and avant-garde proto-noise rock/punk rock debut "Microminiature Love." It is definitely a more mellow approach and quite a contrast from the loud and heavy psych sounds and unique strange loud noises he could produce from his fender he customized, using his own equipment.
The music is brilliant and has a subtle genuine quality and beauty to it, but some of the tracks are a more lo-fi sounding quality similar to the much later Neutral Milk Hotel's bootleg lo-fi indie folk album "Beauty" whether the recordings that have that certain grainy quality to them intentionally or not is uncertain but he was using his home equipment and bought his own reel tape recorder along with the magnetic tape so these are pretty raw. This album was actually recorded in 1969 after "Microminiature Love" in 1968 but not released until 1974, and his debut wasn't released until recently on CD in fact. Michael Yonkers actually hailed from Minneapolis Minnesota and has been largely undiscovered and obscure until recently within the past few years or so, this album alone was only released as a private pressing and there were only a limited number, he has said in interviews that his albums actually failed to make sales, but now these pressings are priceless.
All of the recording situations are understandable and even if some of the tracks have a bit of a "lo-fi" sound to them it is alright because they are still lovely sounding songs all on their own, in my opinion it gives the album a retro feel. Putting all the background recording aside and looking past that, this is a beautiful sounding album, even though Michael Yonkers only sings and plays guitar he has another man who sings along with him and some other female voices appear on the title track "Grimwood." Yonkers himself has a very deep and a bit throaty of a voice but nonetheless a nice set of vocals and he conveys every concept and aura to each song that he wants to portray and perfectly along with his playing skills. Only going solo, and making simple folk, but with his own little riffs and note progressions here and there that sound quite pleasing. There is the use of a bugle on "When the Day Is Through" and a recorder on "Your Angel," also a sea shanty accordion on "Sand Castle" fitting the whole theme perfectly. I would say there is some electric guitar on this, particularly low-droning sounds on "Lonely Fog" and more louder of a buzzing sound on "162," and the wah wah pedal on "Tripping Through the Rose Gardens" which is a dark and heavy track, the real heavy psych/folk of this album. The sound to this whole album is definitely a loner-folk sound and a bit of an outsider feel, this album is definitely not mainstream and has no commercial value. This whole album seems to be acid tinged, but mixes different styles of folk, and has a somewhat medieval feel to it, for example the title itself along with the song "Grimwood" and "Damsel Fair," giving it that older medieval folk feel with an acid sensation. Really unique and a different, yet lovely fusion. Remaining to be a masterpiece of a type of folk that is very uncommon but yet similar to the elements of the predecessors it borrows from sounding a bit like Leonard Cohen even at times.
It may be more of a difficult listen for some but overall this album remains to be a true work of creativity and wonderful playing from an artist that was really an eccentric personality, and all in a good sense indubitably. The songs are quite simple and basic as a plain folk type arrangement but the songs have great creativeness and imagination.
Lyrics — 8
The lyrics are sometimes a bit undecipherable but none of this is ever beyond the point of non-recognition and the same goes for the music itself. Even though they are somewhat simple, lyrically, this is definitely the creative work of a very illustrious and imaginative man. Quite melancholy and serious stories that end in despair like "Sand Castle," where two lovers are murdered by sand crabs yet somehow has a fun and upbeat sense to it, maybe not on that track but on most of them, but I guess throughout the album you could say the lyrics have an underlying sorrow and in some cases childhood innocence somehow incorporated possibly to portray a concept. Yonkers' vocals are able to be consistent and so you have the constant guitar and vocals in low key ruminations. It has a bit of a British folk sound to it at times and the compositions are skilfully orchestrated to be quite different in a really good sense.
Overall Impression — 9
I would never try to compare this to anything else, it's in another league of it's own, it is just so different and it feels like it doesn't even fit in with the era that it is from, I don't even feel like it is from the '60s, it feels medieval old time European folk and yet has other settings and places that the listener imagines and it also has a more contemporary but sound yet so unlike most everything you'll hear. This is definitely for someone who likes something different and goes against the norm of conventional, standard, and mainstream music as a whole.
Song highlights are:
"Grimwood" - feels like you are in another strange psychedelic wonderland on some other planet, with this traditional folk feel.
"The Day Is Through" - scat vocals soloing, but the horn used in here is interesting, it wasn't common during this era for standard solo folk artists to use much of them and in this specific style it is used, it reminds me of indie-folk later to come using horn arrangements, maybe totally different then the quirky horn on here but the idea and first time usage of such a creative stroke of genius.
"162" - it has a strange drone in the background that sounds like an electronic buzzing, and it really sounds ahead of its time with this quality to it.
"Tripping Through the Rose Gardens" - crazy dark acid feel to it, I feel like I am tripping through rose gardens with it, the sound of the electric guitar wah parts sounds like haunted wraiths flying around and wailing. I imagine gigantic pink roses going by me towering as I walk, just an insane track for its time too, the real highlight of the album and song of great significance, I mean this is truly innovative for its time.