No one except psychedelic Renaissance man Alexander "Skip" Spence could have created an album such as Oar. Alternately heralded as a "soundtrack to schizophrenia" and a "visionary solo effort," Oar became delegated to cut out and bargain bins shortly after its release in the spring of 1969. However those who did hear it were instantly drawn into Spence's inimitable sonic surrealism. As his illustrious past in the Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Moby Grape would suggest, this album is a pastiche of folk and rock. In reality, however, while these original compositions may draw from those genres, each song has the individuality of a fingerprint. As a solo recording, Oar is paramount as Spence performed and produced every sound on the album himself at Columbia Records studios in Nashville in the space of less than two weeks.
There have been countless attempts to counteract the inherently boring nature of the CD as an artefact and the approach adopted by Feral shapes up better than some on the strength of this first release, which takes some excellent music by saxophonist Iain Ballamy (in the company of three young Norwegian musicians) and packages it with a set of intriguing print artworks by Dave McKean in an elegant library case. On the other hand, we may now be so accustomed to the blandness of the format that any attempt to escape it seems like a distraction. While debating this, it's important not to forget to play the disc, which is quite remarkable and a far cry from Ballamy's formative years in the sprawling bloke-jazz outfit Loose Tubes. Recorded live at the Molde Jazz Festival in 1998, it's astounding that this music seems to date from the very beginning of Ballamy's association with these musicians, given their obvious level of empathy.