Drag City’s latest re-discovery salvages the late 1960s and early ‘70s work of Illinois-based band Spur, pairing highlights from its album Spur of the Moments with other recently unearthed material from its earlier years. A vinyl-and-digital only release, its rather short 40-minute running time leaves something to be desired as an anthology, but it likewise falls short as a coherent album. If anything, a desire to give a full sense of Spur’s range in a scant 11 tracks ends up working in the band’s disfavor: while it’s clear that these guys could (and did) do pretty much anything, one doesn’t come away from Spur of the Moments with the sense that they had any particular musical vision or any unique qualities to set them apart from the scores of other late ‘60s psych-rock outfits.
The problem with Spur of the Moments has a lot to do with its sequencing: if one were to take the excellent first five tracks in isolation, the case could be made for Spur’s election to the highest (or at least second or third highest) tier of American ‘60s rock bands: the upbeat “Mr. Creep” is the perfect punchy psych-rock single, capable of holding its own with the best of Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets, and finds a fitting partner in the more melancholy Modern Era. The largely instrumental 14-minute “Strange Gathering/We Don’t Want to Know,” meanwhile, suggests a band capable of holding the stage with the most instrumentally-proficient SF rock outfits of the day. In sum, they could cover all the bases for a first-rate California-based psych group.
This evidence, however, isn’t quite enough to close the case, and the music that follows raises serious doubts. In contrast to the well-polished, impeccably-arranged, and pointedly catchy tracks on the album’s first half, the remainder feel rather anonymous, derivative and bland. “You Could Help Me” and “All Over the World” are limply performed British invasion knockoffs, while the country cover of the Beatles’ “Eight Days a Week” is an out-of-left-field throwaway. Indeed, one has little sense that all of these tracks are even performed by the same band (let alone the one responsible for the songs on the first half).
It may be that the weaker tracks here simply come from earlier in the band’s career (the lack of liner notes leaves this up in the air), but if so, than why not just give us the whole original album of Spur of the Moment instead of wasting space with them? Spur cover a lot of ground, delving into country, rock, jazz and psych, and seemingly stirring up all the same ingredients that went into the sound of so many California-based acts (The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service), but only in fleeting moments (“Strange Gathering/We Don’t Want to Know” probably being the best of these) do they manage to fuse them together in a compelling way. With only a handful of strong tracks, it’s hard to see Spur holding its own with its better-known contemporaries. Even so, this handful is nothing to be ashamed of, and it proves that there’s still good (if unessential) undiscovered music out there, even from the vein of ‘60s American rock that one would expect to have run dry long ago.