With an 2021 oversight album behind me today, let's launch into 2022 with something utterly wild, appropriately enough given that a merrow is a type of mermaid (or merman) in Celtic mythology. Just as such creatures swim free in the vast oceans, though bizarrely have to wear a special hat, a cochaillín draíochta, to ensure they can stay in the water, rather like a selkie skin in Scotland, this band swim free through the ocean of seventies rock genres. I wonder if the musicians each wear a little magic cap of their own on stage to stay with the mythology.
If it wasn't for the punchy 21st century production that's agreeably simple but very effective, this would sound like one of those hidden seventies gems that get turned up every once in a while in a backwoods town thrift store that doesn't look like it's opened for the past thirty years. If you're a crate digger, you'll know the sort of album. It would have a nondescript cover that prompts you to pick it up anyway for no reason you can place. You've never heard of the band or anyone in it but it might be worth the fifty cents they're asking to give it a listen. Then you slap it on your deck and it simply blows you away.
I certainly couldn't stop listening to it, even though part of that has to do with trying to figure out what the band is actually trying to do. I know next to nothing about them. They're Galician, from a province called Pontevedra. This is their debut album, even if it feels like they've all been playing music, and music together, for decades. Their Instagram says they play psychedelic hard rock and I can go along with that, but it doesn't remotely address everything that they do.
There are five musicians in the band though I had to translate a news article from the Spanish to find out who they are. The lead vocalist is Damián Garrido, who also plays percussion because I'd expected from the opener to find that he didn't only have a single role in the line-up. The insanely talented guitarist is Ángel Olañeta and I'm sure we're all going to hear a lot about him soon. The keyboardist and organist is Ángel Vejo, who's prominent on this album. That leaves Diego Hernán Ruiz on bass and Alberto Cid on drums.
Initially they sound prog rock. Uncle Tom opens up the album with an extended keyboard note that suggests something deep and purple, but it builds with melodies more reminiscent of Uriah Heep. It's all in that seventies heavy organ style and, when the drums and then the vocals join in, we find that it's all firmly prog, albeit very lively prog with accented vocals that are loose in a psychedelic fashion, prominent keyboards and a delightful guitar.
And then, two and a half minutes into the song, it suddenly turns into a rocking blues number. It's suddenly all about Rory Gallagher and Albert King and Alvin Lee. What's telling is that, whenever the vocalist chimes in with a few lines, he ends with a gleeful laugh and hands over to the band to just have some fun for a while, which they promptly do with abandon. It's quite the jam and it's an entirely joyous one, as if everyone involved has nothing they'd rather be doing with ther lives.
Blue Merrow is the epic of the album, at just over ten minutes, and it's a prog rock number again as it starts out, with water effects and vocalising from Garrido, playing a siren. Instruments show up and it's prog story time, children, but halfway it all gets down and funky, like Carlos Santana is suddenly jamming with Sly Stone. There's a solid heavy riff to get the second half into motion and I'm hearing Focus in where the song goes and plenty of Pink Floyd too—early seventies Floyd that is, pre-Alan Parsons tape manipulations.
Much of what follows mixes up those sounds. Three Ways to Say Goodbye plays like that early Pink Floyd style, psychedelia and originality blended into a fine rock song, but with some truly searing guitarwork from Olañeta. He sears the sky early in The Utopist and I could just see him playing in a sort of trance, with his eyes closed and his face contorted into the sort of unwieldy shapes that Gary Moore found when he wasn't merely playing an instrument but acting as a conduit through which magical sounds flow into our world. It's not just the guitar, with organ tones as gorgeously warm as those that Vejo conjures up here, but it's so often the guitar.
Images wraps up the album in a completely different fashion, given that it's a ballad that entirely strips away both guitar and organ, so that Garrido can shine over a singer/songwriter style piano. The band provide neat vocal harmonies rather than searing jams and solos, leaving this one a bit out of place on this album, but it's also a good song and it helps to highlight just how versatile this band is. Where have they been to conjure up sounds like these? Were they all born in 1955 and fell into a portal in time in 1971 that dumped them out in Galicia half a century later?
Whatever the answers to those questions happen to be, this is an absolute gem of a debut album and I can't believe, given that I only give out a few 9/10s every year, that I'm kicking off 2022 with one on my very first day of reviews.