The Youngbloods - Elephant Mountain - Review
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critics' view

Elephant Mountain (1969) is the Youngbloods' third long-player and marks their debut as a trio — featuring Jesse Colin Young (bass/guitar/vocals), Joe Bauer (drums), and Lowell "Banana" Levinger (keyboards) — after the departure of co-founder Jerry Corbitt (guitar/vocals). Although the band initially formed out of the early '60s Northeast folk scene, by the time this set was issued they had relocated to the pastoral Northern California county of Marin. Blending affective pop/rock melodies and lyrics with their good time jug band roots, the Youngbloods were instantly embraced by the already blossoming Bay Area music community. This effort contains some of the band's strongest material to date, building on the considerable momentum of their 1967 self-titled release and further enhanced by their remarkable instrumental capabilities. Young's contributions are particularly notable as he vacillates between the edgy and electric "Darkness, Darkness" to the light and earthy "Sunlight" and "Ride the Wind," or the bouncy tales "Smug" and "Beautiful." Banana honors his new surroundings with the gorgeous and catchy instrumental "On Sir Francis Drake" (named after a heavily traveled Bay Area motorway). On this cut the textural combination of electric piano and harpsichord provides a jazzy counterbalance to Young's propulsive basslines and Bauer's nimble drumming. The "Rain Song (Don't Let the Rain Bring You Down)" is left over from Corbitt's tenure and recalls the earlier Youngbloods' sound which was more akin to the Sopwith Camel or the Lovin' Spoonful than the trio's then-current folk-rock leanings. "Trillium" is a hidden gem of a jam that examines the band's remarkably strong improvisational interaction. "Sham" is perhaps the most straightforward rocker on the album and recalls Bay Area acts like the Sal Valentino-led Stoneground. The disc concludes with the sublime "Ride the Wind" which sports a very sophisticated and slightly Latin-flavored melody.

Lindsay Planer
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