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The Paupers

 The Paupers - Ellis Island

Ellis Island
Verve Forecast - 1968

Michael Panontin
Following the tepid response to their 1967 debut LP Magic People, and the near-mythical meltdown at the Monterrey Pop Festival that followed it, the Paupers went back to Toronto to regroup. Essentially broke, travel-weary, and on the verge of break-up - bassist Denny Gerrard was given the boot for his constant drug use and errant absenteeism, and co-leader Skip Prokop even considered bailing - the band played an impressive set at CNE Stadium in support of the Soft Machine and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. After shelving three tracks cut in Nashville, the lads headed to New York in early May to record that "difficult second album" as it were, with producer Elliot Mazer bringing in Al Kooper on keyboards for the sessions.

The result, despite the former Blood Sweat and Tears member's best efforts, was an unfocused, patchy affair that lacked the occasional brilliance of their first. The menacing acid guitar of opener 'Southdown Road' seems to portend great things to come, but from there Ellis Island fragments into a bit of an incoherent mess. The choice of Adam Mitchell's folksy ballad 'Cairo Hotel' as the single is baffling to say the least. Ditto for the inclusion of flimsy ballads like 'Another Man's Hair on My Razor' and the country-tinged 'Can't Go On'. Still, when the Paupers choose to rock, as on the aforementioned lead-off track and the frighteningly electric 'Numbers', the results are occasionally gripping, if not exactly stellar. But pair that with the cheesy AM-fare of 'Juliana' and the lethargic 'Ask Her Again', where drummer Prokop curiously plucks the Japanese koto (a gift from Peter, Paul and Mary after a tour of Japan), and it is easy to see how Ellis Island would ultimately sound the band's death knell.

Prokop left soon after, while guitarists Mitchell and Chuck Beal, saddled with $40,000 in debts, dutifully carried on for a year or so before jumping ship themselves. As for the talented Prokop, he would emerge the following year stronger than ever, later leading his soul-brass behemoth Lighthouse into the charts on both sides of the border with the likes of 'One Fine Morning' and 'Sunny Days'.

(Original releases of Ellis Island came with an insert that could be cut up to make a flick book. But for those looking for a more updated treatment, Pacemaker stamped Ellis Island onto CD, along with crucial bonus tracks from the band's early catalogue, back in 2008.)

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