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Album Review

SPACE OPERA
Safe At Home

The youth are getting tired of us Boomers telling them about the good ol' days--- the glory of Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles and Led Zeppelin and how it will never be repeated. They have tired of the glorification of something which, according to us old farts, we all shared.

We didn't, you know. Not everyone listened to The Beatles all the time nor was Led Zeppelin a godlike entity sent to save music, though it may have seemed like it to many. When I was in college, you could hardly walk down the hall of any dorm without hearing Rubber Soul or Revolver or Sgt. Pepper, but it only seems that way in retrospect. The myth has largely been created in the aftermath. Children of America, don't even think it was that way. The “Summer of Love” and Woodstock had their impact, no doubt, but mainly as aftershock. What do they say? If you hear it often enough it becomes true? In this case, it became bigger.

What I remember is that whilst the world was enraptured by artists-soon-to-be-known-as-superstars, I went underground, listening to music which it appeared only a handful seemed to want. While there, I developed a penchant for the oddities of rock music--- The Help Yourselfs and the Cowboys and the Feet In Coldwater--- okay, they were A Foot In Coldwater but who was paying attention down here in The States, anyway? I began to really love the oddballs because, for one thing, you didn't have to hear them everywhere and all the time. The Beatles? You would have played hell to have avoided their music. Hey, I liked it fine, but there is a limit, you know.....

After going underground, I discovered Space Opera. One station in Eugene hopped on their single when it was first released back in, what? 1973? I remember hearing Country Max on KEED radio and made it my station of choice for a short while. I figured, hey, if those guys are playing stuff like this, I'm in! They didn't play it long, however--- maybe it was two weeks--- and I moved on. Those two weeks were enough, though. It gave me hope.

I grabbed the album and played it and in fact became almost obsessed with it (Okay, I did become obsessed with it) along with a handful of other treasures of the time. I knew little about the band but assumed they were Canadian because the only information on the jacket relating to geography (besides New York, where Epic Records was embedded) was Toronto, the home of Manta Studios where the album was recorded. Years later I found out that they were in fact from Fort Worth, Texas and quite proud of it and that three of the members had worked with T-Bone Burnett on an album which was released as Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit & Greenhill/The Unwritten Works of and that they had evolved out of a band calling themselves The Mods. I found out that they had shopped recordings after Chaucer--- that they recorded a complete album before their one epic album (on Epic, no less). In conversations amongst themselves, they would refer to it as the Exit 4 album for the studio at which it was recorded. I found out that a couple of songs from those sessions or maybe even other sessions were leaked to radio station KFAD in Dallas and were, in fact, added to that station's playlist. That they received a decent amount of airplay even without physical product to sell. I found out a lot of things and, if you're interested, you can read the band's full story here.

That album--- the one referred to as Exit 4--- is the core of what you get with Safe At Home, but more. The first nine tracks are those exact recordings, cleaned up for digital release. A moment in time was captured at that time and after fielding a lot of inquiries, Space Opera's David Bullock decided to finally release the recordings after decades. Not as recorded, exactly. What he did was take those nine tracks and add a handful recorded later, in the mid- to late-seventies. Music history, right? Yes and no. Yes because these recordings are definitely period pieces and reflect the period in which they were created. No because they sound as fresh today as they must have back then. Maybe even fresher, for all of their time capsule incarceration.

On the album, you're getting three different phases of Space Opera--- the post-Chaucer pre-Epic album band, the post-Epic band when both Bullock and Scott Fraser were toying with classical music influences, and the band from the late-seventies which tried once again to score a major label deal before closing in on themselves and from that point playing only for themselves. All three periods are viable, but you can't argue that all three are phases of one period. Looking at the various timespans during which each phase was recorded, you have a vast span of musical styles from Exit 4 to the end of the seventies. If you take that into account, you begin to hear the genius behind this group of four musicians who lived as much as played their music. You begin to hear the spark beneath it all.

Front to back, this work is amazing. No, I take that back. The fact that it even saw the light of day is amazing. You don't know the lengths I had to go to to even get them to talk. These days, David Bullock does their talking for them, for three have tripped off this mortal coil. Scott Fraser, Brett Owen Wilson and Phil White have all left us. It is a sad thing, but they left their music behind. It is only part of who they were and are, but it is a huge part.

And that huge part should count for something. Sure, my generation spends a lot of its time praising our past and the majority seem to look at the past through rose-colored glasses at mainly the big moments. But there are a few of us for whom the big moments were only moments among other moments. Safe At Home is but a moment, but it's my moment. You will never hear about The Beatles or Led Zeppelin from me. The Beatles and The Stones? Yeah, they were there, but they didn't exist in a vacuum. There were hundreds of bands there too, all of them fighting the same fight. Without them, I would get a little tired of hearing the old farts' stories too. Thank the gods I don't have to.

Now, about them snowdrifts I had to walk through to get to school.....

Frank O. Gutch Jr.


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