PENNY ARKADE: NOT THE FREEZE reviews

Chris Ducey and Craig Smith met in 1965 on an audition for an ABC television pilot about a Greenwich Village folk-rock trio, and the rest should have been history. The show was cancelled before it ever got started because executives were afraid it wouldn't be able to compete with NBC's The Monkees, but Chris and Craig stayed together. They performed and recorded as a duo and later, with the help of the Monkees' own Mike Nesmith, put together a band called the Penny Arkade. The group was together from 1967 to 1968 and recorded a complete album with Nesmith acting as their producer. Elektra wanted to release their record, but Nesmith refused to allow the company to make any changes to the tapes so the deal fell through and no other offers ever came their way. The Penny Arkade disbanded after that. Chris Ducey went on to a successful songwriting career and Craig Smith disappeared in Asia for a couple of years and returned calling himself Maitreya Kali. He released a pair of private-press LPs called Apache and Inca, which included seven of the songs from the Penny Arkade sessions as well as lots of other stuff he'd recorded in the years before and after. Those records have been available on CD for a while now, but none of the Penny Arkade's recordings have ever been released under their own name before now. This new disc from Sundazed is a complete and remastered collection of their work, including all 19 songs Nesmith produced for them (five of them are alternate takes) and four tracks they recorded on their own. If you're into the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield you will probably adore this band. Ducey wrote jangly and upbeat pop songs that perfectly contrasted with Smith's hazy and meandering Southern California psychedelia, and their vocal harmonies were incredible. Among the album's many highlights are the epic 12-minute long "Not the Freeze" and the previously unissued "Year Of The Monkey," which sounds remarkably like some of the new material that Animal Collective have been playing at their recent shows. Not The Freeze is truly fantastic psych reissue, don't miss this one. [RH]

-- OTHER MUSIC


You've heard this before: "lost, unreleased '60s psych gem discovered and finally released after 30-some years!" Many cds have made that claim...and, well, most of 'em simply demonstrate *why* the record wasn't released back when (and furthermore, why it shouldn't get released now, either). However, although skepticism is warranted, once in a while a genuine gem IS unearthed. Penny Arkade's 1967-1968 recordings, we're happy to say, fall into that glad catagory. While not as mind-blowing as, say, the Public Nuisance release two years ago, it's definitely gonna be a treat for fans of '60s California psych-pop. The Penny Arkade apparently were a popular act on LA's Sunset Strip, they were hip and cool, but while big in the LA scene -- and having "Talented Monkee" Michael Nesmith as their producer -- never ever actually "made it". And none of the music they recorded was ever released under their own name until now (more on that later). The liner notes (penned with detail and verve by Ugly Things editor Mike Stax) give the mundane reasons, but listening to their music you'll still wonder... These guys indeed sound kinda like the Monkees, with some Byrds and Buffalo Springfield in 'em too, and their material ranges from folky, countryish pop to kaleidoscopic psych (like the 12 minute title track) with some moments of bliss for you fuzz fanatics. (To make a non-'60s comparison, we'd have to say that some of this reminds us a bit of Olivia Tremor Control.)
     Now, here's the weird part: ever hear of an obscure acid-casualty hippy singer-songwriter from the early '70s named Maitreya Kali? He issued two privately-pressed LPs, Apache and Inca, both of which were reissued a while back on cd, and interested many collectors of things psych...well Mr. Kali is actually Craig Smith, one of the singers and songwriters in the Penny Arkade, who dropped out of the band to travel the world and, presumably, do lot of drugs.
     Apparently quite a few of the (really good) tracks on those Apache and Inca albums were really Penny Arkade recordings. One of those songs, the wonderful "Country Girl", was compliled on a comp called Yee-Haw! The Other Side of Country which we reviewed a few years back, and when I first heard this Penny Arkade disc I was like, hey, I know that song. Turns out Glen Campbell also covered it at one point, but what we were familiar with was the original, by way of Maitreya Kali. So if you were ever intrigued by Maitreya Kali, you need to check out this, the real deal (with better sound).

--AQUARIUS RECORDS


This is a treat for anyone who digs the late '60s psychedelic folk-rock sound. Penny Arkade captured the essence of that sound and this disc is the first chance for many people to hear them. While some of the tracks aren't quite as good as others, they're all surprisingly listenable and a couple really stand out. "Lights of Dawn", for example, should have been on the radio. "Country Girl" is another one I particularly like, and it's here that you can really feel the folk-country crossover influence of Mike Nesmith.

Anyone with a fondness for Byrds/Donovan/etc. (and the later Nesmith-influenced Monkees songs) should give this disc a try. It's a shame the world never knew of the potential this group had. 

-- PERRY STOCKBRIDGE


Chris and Craig were Chris Ducey and Craig Smith  before they worked with The Monkee's Mike Nesmith as The Penny Arkade (a Penny Arkade disc was just released on Sundazed in September, 2004). Craig Smith wrote a handful of tunes for the likes of Andy Williams, Glen Campbell and the Monkees before he became known as Maitreya Kali and released two of the weirder self released albums (Apache and Inca) from the 1960s and early 1970s. Oddly, his albums included some of the Penny Arkade Not the Freeze tunes along with solo odds and ends. Chris Ducey (not Bobby Jameson, who recorded an album with Chris Ducey's song titles *only* under the name Chris Ducey/Chris Lucey without the real Chris Ducey's involvement) ended up later working with Chad of Chad and Jeremy. 

-- GULLBUY


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