“Sometimes when we come together we just sit quietly, sometimes we talk, and sometimes we make music, but what we come together for is communion.”-Stephen Gaskin.
In Tennessee there exists a community known as The Farm. Started by a man named Stephen Gaskin in the early 70s as way of incorporating principles of nonviolence and conservation, this self-sustaining commune has maintained non-profits to help people recovering from natural disasters to educating others in solar energy, bio fuels, and eco-friendly construction. Founded by Gaskin and a caravan of spiritual seekers from the fabled counterculture scene of the Haight-Ashbury, this group of “hippies” eventually got around to making some pretty great music as well.
Taking cues from their desire to reach for spiritual enlightenment and the musical culture of 1960s San Francisco, The Farm Band recorded and self-produced four albums during the 1970s. Though obscure, and having their recordings out of print, this band deserves some attention. I don’t recall how I came across this group specifically, messing around randomly on the internet. I was intrigued by the band name. It seemed so simple and conjured up images of rural living and perhaps a country-rock sound that would accompany it. As I ventured to do some research on them, I became aware that the only way to hear this music was to get lucky via a streaming service or long out-of-print vinyl. Being a collector of vinyl, I was up to the task of tracking these artifacts down. Through private dealers I was able to acquire copies of their four albums. Fortunately, I was able to obtain a remastered reissue of their self-titled debut on vinyl and CD from Italian reissue label Akarma.
Their debut kicks off with a track titled ‘Om.’ Om, a sacred symbol, a sound signifying the essence of consciousness. The sound of the Universe. It has deeply religious importance and The Farm Band treat it as such. The nine-membered band chant the sound with reverence and its intensity is simply amazing. The track functions not only as an introduction to the album, but also as an underlying thesis of the music contained within. It almost cleanses the palate of the mind to help it open like a flower and receive sunlight. To hear their chanting blossom and bloom from a good set of speakers is incredibly moving. This is not some “New Age” soundscape meant to trick Westerners with some ethnic novelty item, this is real.
Taking a sharp 180-degree turn from the lead off track is ‘Loving You.’ A galloping, up-tempo rhythm sets the stage for what The Farm Band sound could be defined as. The roots-rock genre of the times as a reaction to the sometimes overly acid-soaked psychedelic-rock of the late 1960s is not lost here. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some good druggy-sounding psych-rock, but The Farm Band don’t rely too heavily on overt substance-wielding musicianship to drive the sound, the sound becomes the conduit for mind-expanding internal experiences. The Farm Band utilizes flute and violin during the ten minute plus track and the melding of those instruments with the guitars, bass, and drums through the extended jam is very well-executed. The music evokes memories of landscapes as the band takes the listener on a journey through their own mind. For a group of people whose impetus was seemingly not music-based, these guys and gals are quite accomplished musicians.
The next two tracks ‘Lord’s Work’ and ‘Keep Your Head Up High,’ while both shorter in length than other tracks off the album, both are excellent country-rock and at times gospel-tinged songs with positive messages for the listener. Themes of getting along with one another, staying positive and positive rewards will come your way are so telling of the time they were written that one thinks of peace signs, flower power, and other hippie platitudes. In no way is that a bad thing. The songs aren’t preachy in their message, but they’re simple. Through modest acts of getting along with one another and maintaining a positive outlook on life, the lyrics intend to aid the listener in thinking about being a peacemaker and helping oneself see the light through our darkest hours.
Almost sounding like an outtake from a Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young album, ‘Being Here With You’ comes a-blowin’ in with a broom sweeping main riff and quaint lyrics about love and not wanting to be anywhere else but with that one love. The song opens up to an intense guitar-driven jam. Lead and rhythm guitar bouncing off each in some kind of wah-wah pedal-hued psychedelic ballet. The violinist joins the fray with notes screeching and accentuating above and below the guitar battle. This is music your mind wanders through and gets lost in. The band crafts an environment for the listener to subconsciously play around in and amongst as the jam ebbs, flows, blossoms, and grows like rapidly changing seasons. It intensifies and softens before quietly stepping away to let the listener catch their breath. Did nearly twelve minutes just pass? Whoa.
‘Let It Ride,’ the next track in this journey and just plain ol’ good advice: let it ride. The track is positive and uplifting like the best sunrise you’ve even shed a tear waking up to see. It’s a very outdoor festival danceable head-bopping kind of tune. The Farm Band formula at it once again with optimistic lyrics giving way to a jam that allows the musicians to communicate through their instruments. While this might come across as repetitive to the average listener, this is the kind of stuff that composers intend: communicating through their music. Each of the musicians is given a chance to paint with their own color. Together they weave a kaleidoscopic tapestry. They’re so tight as an ensemble in their abilities as they pilot their way from tempo to tempo. The music seems so loose yet so very deliberate and well-rehearsed. These extended workouts are symphonic in structure and loose as a jazz band improvising within the space they’re given.
A breath of fresh air comes our way with ‘Prayer.’ The quietest and most acoustic moment on the album. Is it a ballad, a love song, a message to the listener with lyrics like “you give us the love we make”? It’s a short, sweet and touching moment amongst the heavy caravan of extended jamming throughout the rest of the album. As with all interludes, intermissions, or set breaks, the band shall return as a newly recharged force.
The nine-membered squadron of peace freaks concludes the album with the side-long vinyl LP cut ‘I Believe It.’ This is the album’s epic. At just over 17 minutes, it may seem intimidating or a burden for one to listen to, this is not the case. The band is not making a long song for the sake of making a song that seems to last forever, it’s as long as it needs to be. Or, perhaps all that a side of vinyl would allow. I’m sure live renditions of this track extended well over the 20-minute mark. This song was intended to be a send-off for the listener. It’s a groove you really don’t want to end; you’ll want to get up and shout along to the call-and-response lyrics. You’ll feel the soul in the lead guitar playing. You’ll dance with the band as they fill the room with energy. You’ll listen, feel, and become lost in the electric hymn.
The music on this album is brain food. It’s meant to be uplifting, inspiring, and give you hope. Like a great book you’ve read, this is absolutely a banquet for the mind. Fans of jam bands, obscure music, or other off-the-beaten-path audio adventures will absolutely get on board with this album. Hopefully you’ll be kicking yourself saying, “why didn’t I know about this band sooner?!” The Farm Band is an hour’s-worth of joy born from the hearts of those who want the best for those around them and those they’ll never meet. A musical equivalent of fresh, country air, this music is an absolute gift. Let it become a part of your life.