The THIRD MIND – ” The Third Mind ” Best Albums Of 2020

Posted: December 6, 2020 in MUSIC

This side project for ex-Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin and members of Counting Crows and other bands features psychedelic covers of tunes by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Grateful Dead, the 13th Floor Elevators, Fred Neil and more. Who ever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, has never met Dave Alvin. The Californian singer-songwriter from the L.A. working-class suburb of Downey, has re-invented himself many times over since emerging in the late 70s, fronting punkabilly band The Blasters with his older brother Phil. Forty-odd years on, the younger Alvin has surrounded himself with an array of amazing improvisers for a psychedelic wig-out of gigantean proportions, that would’ve made Jimi Hendrix blush, then gush. Alvin is calling this first foray into late sixties-inspired jamming, as The Third Mind (which is also the name of a book by Beat Generation novelists William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin.

The September issue of Vintage Guitar magazine has a very nice in depth, full page review of The Third Mind album. Written by the expert music journalist, Dan Forte, the piece goes into great detail on the melding of the two distinct guitar styles featured on the LP. David Immergluck’s amazing, abstract yet melodic psychedelic musings (delving in to all the interesting equipment he’s mastered for his unique sound) mixed with my blues drenched, Neo-raga, semi-barroom approach to free improvisation.

The Third Mind’s First Edition kicks off with Alice Coltrane’s visionary modal trip, “Journey In Satchidananda”; John Coltrane’s widow’s Indian-sounding dreamscape is given more of a bluesy treatment here. The original’s lead lines were played by tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, who Alvin emulates rather than apes. The mood and spirit of the original is present, and the simple, throbbing bass-line too, but the rest of it is very much a rapt passage into uncharted territory.

“The Dolphins” is the old Fred Neil song, that’s been recorded by many including Tim Buckley and Linda Ronstadt; the message is as timely now as it was in the mid-60s. Alvin’s singing has a deep, resonant tone like Neil’s, who trails his voice at the end of each line, adding instant gravitas to the ecological warning within. Sykes adds a lilting lift with her high harmony. It is pure sonic bliss, even if the message is starkly serious.

“Claudia Cardinale” takes its name from the sultry late 60s actress. The song was created on the spot, when Alvin told the band, “Just imagine you’re on the beach in the 1960s with Claudia Cardinale.” Engineer Craig Parker reportedly flashed images of her on several screens in the studio to inspire the musicians. It has a hazy, lazy spaghetti-western vibe, with Alvin channeling his perfect imitation of Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cipollina and original Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green. It is that good.

“Morning Dew” was tailor-made for The Third Mind. They took cues from the Dead’s arrangement of the anti-war ballad; it was written by Bonnie Dobson, who re-enacted some of the plot of the movie “On The Beach”. Jesse Sykes was brought in especially for this song—and her aching vocal pulls you right into the drama of two shell-shocked survivors of an atomic holocaust, discussing what the hell happened. Alvin handles the solo—which soars as high as Garcia’s did on “Europe ‘72”.

The other vocal performance is “Reverberation”, written by Roky Erickson of famed Texan psychedelic rangers, The 13th Floor Elevators. It is a thrashy, garage-rock thumper, the loudest track here.

What follows are three vaguely Eastern-sounding yet remarkably different takes of “East West” (of five versions recorded); it is a highly influential modal workout recorded in 1966 by the multi-racial Butterfield Blues Band, which featured duelling guitars by Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield’s wailing harp. That original quivering 13-minute track influenced a whole generation of players including Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana, Duane Allman, Neil Young, and more recently, Tom Verlaine of Television, Lenny Kaye of The Patti Smith Group and Derek Trucks of the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, among scores of others.

For me, these long modal explorations of “East West” are where The Third Mind shines the brightest. On the jazz front, think Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew” or John Coltrane’s “Love Supreme”; on the rockier side, think The Dead’s “Dark Star”, “The End” by The Doors, the Donovan/Shawn Phillips classic “Season of the Witch”, the Al Kooper-Mike Bloomfield 1968 excursion “His Holy Modal Majesty”, even Jefferson Airplane’s psych-pop hit “White Rabbit”.

Back in the days when The Blasters first began recording, initially for the punk label Slash Records, Alvin favoured short, punchy tunes of both blues, R&B and early rock n’ roll covers along with his own compositions based on those traditional styles (you may even have heard some of Alvin’s early originals like “Marie, Marie”, “American Music” and “Border Radio”, which he still sometimes plays at his shows). The Blasters weren’t alone trading roots-rock to punk crowds in the late 70s— so too were The Clash, Joe Ely, Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, Dave Edmunds & Nick Lowe with Rockpile, Dire Straits, and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. None of these acts were even remotely aligned with acid-fuelled long-form experimenters like Hendrix, Grateful Dead or Quicksilver Messenger Service. In those days, lean was mean, tight was right. Alvin’s solos were as concise and crystalline as those by Robbie Robertson, who squeezed out spunky sparks between verses and choruses in his songs for The Band.

Here’s a quote:” As Alvin sets the scene, ‘David is playing a lot of the truly psychedelic, noise making stuff while I’m the guy who sounds like Magic Sam stumbled in to a Quicksilver Messenger Service session.’ The improvisational program recalls that creative era without ever lapsing into nostalgia. “I know The Third Mind is not to everyone’s taste but I’m pretty proud of the album and hope that some of you who haven’t checked it out yet will be inspired by the article to do so. You just might be surprised and happy that you did. – Dave Alvin

It is no surprise then, that deep in the liner notes, you will find this collection is dedicated to the aforementioned Mike Bloomfield, Roky Erickson and Quicksilver guitarists Gary Duncan and John Cipollina. Being a First Edition, it does make you wonder if a Second Edition is already in the can or at least in the offing. Alvin is planning on touring the record, utilizing other guitarists like Kim Thayil of Soundgarden. I could see future Third Mind melds too, with like-minded souls like Richard Thompson, Albert Lee or Robben Ford joining in. So if you are in need of a timeless sonic escape, strap yourself in for a rollicking ride into the inner cosmos of The Third Mind.

“I had a crazy idea and was looking for musicians who perhaps didn’t think it was so insane…” – Dave Alvin ‘The Third Mind’

The Third Mind Personnel:
Dave Alvin: Guitar, vocals
David Immergluck: Guitar, keyboards, vocals
Victor Krummenacher: Bass, vocals
Michael Jerome: Drums, percussion
Jesse Sykes: Guitar, vocals
D.J. Bonebrake: Vibes
Jack Rudy: Harmonica

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