Phil Dirt - Reverb Central - PO Box 1609, Felton, CA 95018-1609 USA
Harvey Mandel - The Mercury Yearsdotdot
artworkHarvey Mandel recorded several albums for Phillips in the late sixties. He came from the upper Midwest before settling into the Haight-Ashbury psychedelic scene. His guitar work was heavily jazz based, blues influenced, and highly fluid. Mandel's playing was widely quoted as an inspiration by his contemporaries.

He was a players' player.

Harvey Mandel's early inspirations were the Ventures and Chicago blues masters, like B. B. King. He was a fixture on the emerging white blues scene with his friends Barry Goldberg and Charlie Musselwhite. Mandel was the lead guitarist in Musselwhite's fledgeling Southside Band, which signed with Vanguard in 1966. Bob Anderson - bass, and veteran Chess blues session drummer Fred Below (Bo Diddley / Chuck Berry) completed the band. They band relocated to San Francisco in 1966.

Harvey Mandel's work was produced by legendary KSAN DJ Abe "Voko" Kesh, who also produced Blue Cheer, and inspired the naming of the nineties band Vokokesh. Kesh urged Mandel to venture out on his own after a successful showcase at the Fillmore. He left Musselwhite's band, and set about writing and developing arrangements of material for his first solo project.

Where the San Francisco scene was all about vocals and psychedelic swirl by then, Mandel focused on instrumentals. Mandel employed various session players, including Musselwhite, Steve Miller (of Linn County), Pete Drake, and Barry Goldberg. His second album includes work from Duane Hutchings (Buddy Miles Express / Cactus), New Orleans percussion wizard Earl Palmer (Piltdown Men, Mar-Kets, etc.), and others. The third album expanded to include a couple of vocals, with Russ Dashiel (Kinsmen) and Larry Taylor (Canned Heat).

Harvey Mandel later joined Canned Heat, then played with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, before forming the legendary Pure Food and Drug Act (PF&DA), Mandel's group with electric violin magician Don "Sugarcane" Harris (Don and Dewey) added to round it out.

Mandel employed a lot of natural chamber reverb, often used wet tones, and played with such a fluid style that it is easy to bridge the gap between surf and Mandel, especially in today's experimental environment where jazz is a natural part of the new surf sound from artists like the Chris Shahin Band and GT Stringer.

Vocals include "Love Of Life," the groovy "Leavin' Trunk," the totally infectious "I Don't Need No Doctor," and "Dry Your Eyes."

This album is reviewed here because of it's roots and the surfability of some of the tracks. By surfability, I mean they are ripe for the reverb, not that they are necessarily already in-genre.
Picks: Cristo Redentor, Before Six, The Lark, Shake, Long Wait, Wade In The Water, Lights Out, Bradley's Barn, You Can't Tell Me, Nashville 1 A.M., Righteous, Jive Samba, Poontang, Just A Hair More, Summer Sequence, Short's Stuff, Boo-Bee-Doo, Campus Blues, Honky Tonk, Ridin' High, Caa Purange, Senior Blues, Games People Play

Track by Track Review


Cristo Redentor dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

With a melody that suggests "Secret Agent Man," but isn't really, this is a nice track, with a thumpy solid beat, and an intense thickness. Club targeted higher register surfitis.

Before Six dotdotdot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

"Before Six" rides a blues riff into the light of the brass knockers. Horns and chunk, like if Chicago had been a blues band. Interesting track.

The Lark dotdotdot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

Harmonica focused, with grunts and puffs simulating the driving wheels of the steam locomotive. A very infectious blues based instro. While it's all about rhythm and not melody at all, it's a cross-country trip you can't resist.

Shake dotdotdot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

"Shake" moves very slowly at first, but evolves into an undulating blues number. No melody, but a thoroughly cool blues groove to sip a Bud® to. I'm not sure why it's called "Shake," 'cuz it surely doesn't.

Long Wait dotdotdot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

Slow blues with the guitar and keys in duet against a fine harmonica. It has shimmer and panache, but little melody.

Wade In The Water dotdotdot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

This is a long and funky interpretation of Ramsey Lewis' jazz classic "Wade In The Water." The electric violin and low fuzz guitar give it an ominous edge, while the relentless theme displays better days ahead.

Lights Out dotdotdot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

This is a blues based piece, slow and careful, with electric violin and soft jazz guitar. It has drama and pomp, but only subtle melody. Think of it as Percy Faith at the blues bar.

Bradley's Barn dotdotdot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

Named for big guitarist Owen Bradley's famous studio, "Bradley's Barn" features backwards wah wah guitar meandering through the ridges and grooves on the surface of your brain. Interesting and fluid, but not at all melodic.

You Can't Tell Me dotdot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

Lap steel and blues guitar, country ethics and funky fun, combined with bounce and flair equals fun. It's a blues jam, not a song.

Nashville 1 A.M. dotdotdot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

Backwards and forward lap steel, funky bass, country drums, and Chicago blues guitar. The combination is interesting for it's uniqueness, but does not complete the mission because of the jam focus of the piece.

Righteous dotdot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

Lumbering light weight MOR blues, with excellent musicianship, but shallow non-melodic writing.

Jive Samba dotdot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

Cannonball Adderley's astoundingly cool "The Jive Samba" is softened and demystified here. It lacks all the infectious energy of the original, replacing it with blues jam noodling.

Poontang dot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

A lofty name for a "Tramp" (Lowell Fulsom) knockoff. Not very interesting.

Just A Hair More dot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

Slow tortured blues, cryin' the oh-poor-me refrain. The guitar's distant volume knob faded sound is about all that's interesting here, and it's not enough to save it.

Summer Sequence dot
Lounge (Instrumental)

Soft and jazzy, "Summer Sequence" sounds like a late fifties lounge piece, complete with orchestra.

Short's Stuff dot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

Tuff and edgy blues rockisms abound, and while it's smooth and saucy, it's far from melodic.

Boo-Bee-Doo dot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

A noodling exercise on guitar over a basic backtrack. Blues and even a little jazzy, but completely dismissible.

Campus Blues dot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

Hoping against hope that the Berkeley politicos will seize upon the title and anthemize it, "Campus Blues" is just a grodie blues of no particular consequence.

Honky Tonk dotdotdot
Blues Rock (Instrumental)

Bill Dogget's often covered "Honky Tonk" is smoothly redone, with a restrained feel that adds to the groove, and a sense of the liquid blues. Very tasteful.

Ridin' High dotdotdot
Psychedelic (Instrumental)

"Ridin' High" floats on a sea of backwards licks, driven by a fluid guitar line. It's a psychedelic whiz, with an inverted brain sound and light at the end of the tunnel feel.

Caa Purange dotdotdotdot
Psychedelic (Instrumental)

This is a stunning track. It lumbers slowly through a meander of variations on a simple and undulating theme. "Caa Purange" goes right for the soul, and sounds like something out of the Latin scene morphed into the Fillmore.

Senior Blues dotdotdotdot
Latin Blues (Instrumental)

The mix of Latin and blues in this song is magical. Liquid, almost Paul Johnson like, Harvey Mandel plays with emotional freedom and precision. Horace Silver's amazing composition is hard to put down in this format. Great track.

Games People Play dotdot
Latin Blues (Instrumental)

Joe South's cutesy hit "Games People Play" gets even cuter with the wah wah and pretentious arrangement.