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Once Upon a Dream seems to have no certain direction except to state that The Rascals were not a common pop band ... no more 'Young' in the band name, and the album's cover has shifted from carefree cartoon to art collage.

The album's title is certainly a reference to the then-late Martin Luther King Jr., and the title track and "Singin' the Blues Too Long" (with King Curtis on sax, no less) both deal with equality, unlike many of the band's peers.

Predominantly though, the band continued the approach of Groovin' - laid-back R&B/soul combined with psychedelic/pop. The end product features slower tempos, more session players, high-pitched backing vocals, lyrics of vision and experience, and intermittent sound effects, most of which are typified by "It's Wonderful", the album's strongest track.

The band are however trying to please a wider audience, so they wind up falling for some of psychedelia's more dated techniques, things like between-song noises and introductions, although as they're on the first side only, they make the album as a whole seem poorly conceived.

Cavaliere and Brigati's songs tend to have two different gears musically - either their traditional piano soul is matched with contemporary trends, such as the tripped-out vocal sections of "It's Wonderful", or the sitar/tabla half of "Sattva", else they have guests dropping in Jazz solo sections like on "Please Love Me". Both methods are effective as ways of compensating for the band's playing limitations, and the latter approach is pretty novel.

The band members' individual interests come into play here too, and since Cavaliere sang on the hits, the others get their own spotlights. Brigati has his elaborate contemporary crooner numbers in "Rainy Day" and "My Hawaii", where I can easily picture him with a tux and microphone, nothing new there.

Cornish always has a song or two as well, and the one here is his best yet - "I'm Gonna Love You" - a lurching Dixieland number, and his singing is far more aggressive.

The album's title track is a curiosity - it has the mass of backing and slow tempo of a typical Brigati showcase, the catch is that his brother David sings it. His voice is of a light tenor rather than Brigati's showman voice, and while he does a passable job, one of The Rascal's strengths were the strong vocals.

Although "It's Wonderful" is fine, the album lacks stand-out tracks, making for a pop mess with some strong whiffs of social consciousness.

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Posted: Thursday 14th Mar 2019 8:35 AM

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album review
For once, The Rascals do almost everything right - they ditched the Brigati crooner material, most of the psychedelia, and the gimmicks. Instead, this album is one soul track after another, often with themes concerning equality, as typified by the hit "People Got to Be Free".

Sure, most of this stuff sounds like Motown, but that isn't a bad thing, it's just that there's not much by way of innovation - Cavaliere and Brigati do an interesting reworking of "America the Beautiful", and "Of Course" features something like a wah-wah electric piano - but the band's focus is a decent trade-off after Once Upon a Dream.

If the band had restricted this to just one LP instead of a double, Freedom Suite may've been their strongest album - a socially conscious soul release with mass appeal. But the second LP, subtitled Music Music, cashes up some of that goodwill - it's consists of either the band playing around and keeping the results, or it's an attempt to demonstrate their technical skills for critics ...

The second LP's first side has a bluesy jam, entitled "Adrian's Birthday" (for engineer Adrian Barber), and has a Super Session-lite feel. Danelli's "Boom" occupies the rest of the side, and - listener beware - it's a drum solo. A long drum solo. Aside from Cavaliere, Danelli was The Rascals' strongest musician, and he could probably outplay almost any other East Coast drummer from his era, without being flashy. Still, a drum solo is a trial of patience, and the best that can be said is this one is not corrosive.

Side Two of the second LP is an instrumental called "Cute". Again, included for a lark, or to demonstrate the band's ability to actually play their instruments (*cough* Monkees *cough* Raiders)? Either way, it's a jam that unravels, and then re-integrates. There's nothing bad about it - Cornish doesn't drop a brick when soloing, he even uses feedback, and the only annoying part is Brigati's bongo solo (well, what else is he supposed to do during an instrumental?).

Freedom Suite would've seemed adventurous had it been released a few years earlier, but by 1969 it was just superfluous. The addition of Music Music prevents the album from taking off, even if it did have commercial success (the double-LP made the Top 20, but with the band's lowest placement yet, though "People Gotta Be Free" topped the charts).

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Posted: Sunday 17th Mar 2019 9:40 AM

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