Front Side Back Side
Trend - 1969
Merv Buchanan originally started up his now-sought-after Trend label in 1965 in a crusty old studio out in the wilds of suburban east Toronto. The enterprising dee jay and producer half-flippantly recalls, "The studio did mostly demo work and an album by Dutch immigrant Guido Smit, which sold 200 copies, mostly to his relatives back in Holland." A few years later, however, Buchanan had converted an old schoolhouse over in nearby West Hill and fitted it with a pair of high-tech Ampex real-to-real decks. ("The bank manager was pretty understanding, (but) he was amazed that a tape recorder could cost more than a car.") By 1969, the fledgling indie was firing on all four, kicking out a string of totally obscure psych singles by the likes of Sedum Shadows, the Uncertain and the Ultimate Image.
Though none of those records had sold more than two or three hundred copies each, Buchanan signed up a youthful jazz-rock combo from the neighbouring suburbs and set out recording the label's first full-length disc. And for a record made by four boys who look barely out of high school, Cargo's Front Side Back Side is a revelation. The squeaky clean kids (guitarist Bruce Oxley, bass player Garth Vagan, Mike Proudfoot on guitar and piano and Norm Foster behind the drum kit) may have looked like extras from the set of My Three Sons, but their spacy noodling had an unintentional lysergic edge to it, and could probably have given the Grateful Dead a good run for their money.
Even more curious is the record's live, almost muffled feel - one song, the upbeat 'Only Best Friends Can Tell', actually splices in some random nightclub din midway through. In an interview with Robert Williston over at The Museum of Canadian Music Foster recalled, "We were all in one room. We played most of (the songs) live and then maybe added in the backing vocals and a couple of instruments later on." That amateurish sound just adds to the mysterious, almost otherworldly effect. Songs like the languid 'Black Widow' and the nearly comatose 'Child of the Playroom' are pure stoned delights, while the dreamy instrumental 'Talk with Us' cruises avenues the Doors might have ventured down had Robbie Krieger been given more of a say.
Cargo added a more polished and better-recorded album to their resume the following year, but the self-conscious blues jams on Simple Things (Ringside) pale next to the acid-tinged naivete of Front Side Back Side. Barely a few hundred copies of Front Side Back Side were pressed up, so tracking a copy down will be a tough - and expensive! - slog, especially with mint copies scraping the four-figure mark. Buchanan, meanwhile, has reformed the label with plans to reissue "all Trend albums and singles, in fully re-mastered form"!!! Better stayed tuned.
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