If you understand that a meridian is a hypothetical line criss-crossing the globe, or in this instance, the stratified epochs of the ’60s and ’70s, then Meridian 1970 will make some sense. From somewhere across the Menai Straits, Jon ‘England’s Dreaming’ Savage has pecked himself a split-genre nook in the ever-expanding trunk of Official Rock History with this dusty-fingered compilation.
A shooting star reaching its zenith between Meredith Hunter and School’s Out, between Yippies and Elvis Dads, between Music From Big Pink and Hotel California, between Easy Rider and Smokey And The Bandit, Savage posits a vertiginous moment in Pop Culture. A cusp that eventually bleeds into energy crises, inflation, and a life of uncertain employment that made the less-affluent participants of the ’60s party face up to the fact that the fun was going to continue largely without them. So much for jingle-jangle mornings.
Together with a few knowledgeable chums in the biz, Savage attempts to look beyond the official signposting (the ones that lead to After The Goldrush Avenue and Tapestry Boulevard), and take the road less travelled. Ditching revisionism for the real-time listening requirements for turn-of-the-decade hipsters, Savage has fashioned thematic density from seemingly intangibly disparate forces.
Gram Parsons once spoke of creating ‘Cosmic American Music’, but there is much on Meridian 1970 that fulfils that starry ambition, whether the work of home-grown talents or of those gazing dreamily across the Atlantic through the filters of English folkery. Free‘s Mouthful Of Grass (unbelievably the B-Side to All Right Now), with its sunset shades of sustained wonder, is an inspired choice for an opener while Little Feat‘s Hamburger Midnight is bug-eyed proof that Lowell George‘s combo could cook up a bewitching Southern brew in the studio with the surety that they were reputed to live.
Some of the best ‘cuts’ (as they used to say back in the Rolling Stone day) are from those whom received wisdom pigeonholes their best days into earlier times and climes. Texan Doug Sahm’s Sir Douglas Quintet were keen Anglophiles after the first Brit invasion, yet Catch The Man On The Rise is state-of-the-art Americana circa 1970.
Dropping the more familiar acid-noodling and overblown anarchic posturing, Jefferson Airplane‘s reading of Good Shepherd, is an astute exercise on tradition’s role in building platforms to the future. And to think nobody believed them when they claimed to have built ‘this city on rock ‘n’ roll’. Somebody should tell Norman Foster.Then again, perhaps not.
For those who think singers should it mean it, maan, there’s Rod-The-Post-Mod coming on all exposed-prairie and dustbowl-blasted on Man Of Constant Sorrow. No isolated example, Archway’s finest managed similar feats of alchemy for at least six solo albums before deciding that he’d just have more fun with blondes than parlaying with his incredulous muse. Go figure.
Much of this set speaks of a distrust of the metropolitan centre, driving a pick-up to somewhere other than L.A. And so what if the frontier truckin’ and the pastoral bonhomie would lead to Dr Hook, Every Which Way But Loose, and Good Ole-Boyism? So what if it is, roughly speaking, number 3006 in The Reasons Why Punk Happened (now into six figures)?
Meridian 1970 is brim-full with final flowerings (Skip Spence‘s Cripple Creek), wired, grim prophecy (Loudon Wainwright III‘s Black Uncle Remus), and a sample work from an acknowledged saint (Nick Drake and Three Hours). With the exception of Donovan‘s prize-winning entry in the Bert Jansch special of Stars In Their Eyes, posy ramblings are in thankfully short supply, and there is creditable little in the way of filler and flim-flam (and that’s not an easy thing to say).
If there’s enough here to justify Savage’s linking of these pieces to an unvoiced rejection of bullish foreign policies and military expenditure (sound familiar?), then it works well as a fearful, ivory-tinged companion piece to Harmless Records’ Stand Up And Be Counted collections. Either that, or the uptown (or is that up river?) cousin of Casual’s Country Got Soul series. Regardless, this is a Pharaoh’s tomb’s worth of jewels and binoculars. Only one question remains: Can we have some more please, Mr Savage?