GOLD: 50 Years of The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion

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The Incredible String Band – The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion

Released July, 1967 on Elektra Records

Incredible String Band were a couple of Scottish folkies who got their start wanting to be Donovan and Bob Dylan and ended up being mainstays of the lysergic road of the Hippie Trail.  Their 1966 self-titled debut showed the former as being big influences; this follow-up included a number of then-exotic instruments (sitar, gimbri, mandolin, etc.) that were incorporated in such a blissful way that “psychedelic folk” leads it’s long, bizarre trail directly back to it.  If 1967 was indeed the fabled Summer Of Love, then The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion is the most Love-y album of that summer.  This is meant in two senses.  In the first sense, 5000 Spirits is pretty much the epitome of psych-folk, which was the driving soundtrack of the naked, wild, flower-dancing hippie children of 1967.  In the second sense, it is also the epitome of the more teeth-grinding aspects of that era; it’s overly fey in spots, cutesy beyond credibility (“The Hedgehog’s Song”), incorporates blues music without really understanding the grinding poverty that underpinned the blues (“No Sleep Blues”, “Blues For The Muse”), and plays fast and loose with the era’s regrettable love for freewheeling, womanizing men (“The First Girl I Loved”). There’s little wonder, then, that Paul McCartney called it his favourite album of 1967.  Still, as far as documents of a decade’s music go, there’s few records that sum up the 1960s quite as well as 5000 Spirits.

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