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CARMEN – THE ALBUMS 1973- 1975 (Cherry Red/ Esoteric) (2024).

Release date: 31st May, 2024

 

CARMEN was formed as a septet in Los Angeles by guitarist David Clark Allen and his sister Angela in 1970. Angela was a Flamenco dancer and keyboard player. They moved to London in 1973 and caught the eyes and ears of DAVID BOWIE, and then TONY VISCONTI produced a debut album “Fandangos in Space” (1973) which, in my view, is their best album. Opening track ‘Bulerias’ is a perfect example of their powerful, tricky rhythms and somewhat quirky approach in boldly attempting to combine Flamenco music with Prog. ‘Bullfighter’ realises the initial promise in a remarkable piece of prog with cultured vocal harmonies; it’s about a lady watching her lover and wondering if he will survive, not dissimilar to JETHRO TULL in style, with shouts of ‘Olé!’ (of course). ‘Sailor Song’ shows the acoustic, more folk-based side of the band while ‘Lonely House’ is both evocative and visceral, again demarcated by strong vocal harmonisation.

 

Second album “Dancing in a Cold Wind” (1974) starts with an intoxicating piece called ‘Viva Mi Sevilla’ with flamenco guitar and castanets undergoing a sudden metamorphosis into fuzz bass driven rock complete with electric guitar break. ‘Drifting Along’ is another nice piece with mellotron and high-pitched vocals that made me think of VANILLA FUDGE. ‘The Horseman’ later in the album is a good example of their storytelling folk-orientated music. However, the album is somewhat disjointed with some insubstantial short pieces and overall, a rather melodramatic way of trying to sustain a thin story line. (The love songs become somewhat cloying after a while!) The best way I can describe it is like a patchwork quilt that is a bit frayed at the edges!

 

The third album ‘The Gypsies’ was more commercially orientated and did not provide a solid direction forward. Bassist John Glascock went on to join JETHRO TULL after the band folded.

 

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