Reviewing a record by the now-defunct, relatively unknown band Spur is kind of a weird exercise. With only two albums and a handful of singles' worth of material, there's little to do in the way of situating this album in the context of the band's career. Plus, you can't speculate on new artistic direction or musical growth. And while it makes perfect sense to debate the consequences of a historical event, it's unlikely that seldom-heard songs released by an obscure band created much of a musical butterfly effect to trace. Nonetheless, Spur deserves your attention. It's a shoulda-been band getting a well-deserved second look three decades after the fact.
Spur's history follows a familiar trajectory for talented bands that never happened to get a lucky break. In the late '60s and early '70s, the Belleville, Ill.-based band (then known as the Unknowns) jumped from label to label, releasing several singles of both original material and covers and two albums: Spur of the Moment and Prayers For A Noonday Church. And although they played shows with the Grateful Dead, the Byrds, Cream, Bob Seeger, and Steve Miller, they never made the leap from obscurity. Drag City's nicely edited compilation Spur of the Moments endeavors to help Spur finally make that leap, pairing material from the original Spur of the Moment LP with additional, previously unreleased songs to create a tight 40-minute introduction to this especially rare Artyfact.
True to the late 1960s-early 1970s origins for most of this material on this compilation, the songs do an accomplished turn at baroque-tinged garage rock, brushing up against psychedelia and flirting with power-pop reminiscent of Badfinger and Big Star. On the whole, the songwriting and arrangements are really strong, if not producing anything vastly original in sound or scope. This is probably at least partially attributable to being a '60s band resurfacing in 2010, after years of various attributes from this era in music being recycled and reinterpreted. However, this doesn't always affect how adeptly Spur fuses various '60s rock tropes together, especially on opener "Mind Odyssey," which pits the paranoia and isolation of psychedelia against a major-key Rubber Soul-esque chorus.
In more blatant Rubber Soul aping, "Mr. Creep" features a "tit-tit-tit-tit" chorus pretty much directly swiped from the Beatles' "Girl." It may work in the context of the song, but tight, radio-ready tracks like "Be Tender, My Love" and "Yield Not" indicate that Spur didn't need to rely on borrowing Beatles tricks to write good songs. So it's not entirely coincidental that Spur's honky-tonk cover of "Eight Days A Week" is nice but sounds too polite and lackluster paired against some of their own material.
Although my personal preference for rock from this era is pretty firmly rooted in the garage and less so in the jam-band arena, "Tribal Gathering/We Don't Want To Know" proves to be an excellent showcase of Spur's musicianship and songcraft. Although extended jam sessions are the kinds of things that can easily turn into a self-indulgent, directionless jumble, "Tribal"'s seamless transitions between "movements" and judicious use of the elongating, loping 5/4 time signature keep the track interesting and engaging. And by the time the loping jam yields way to power-pop stomper "We Don't Want To Know" and its shout-along chorus, the members of Spur at long last secure their spot in the '60s rock pantheon.
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