Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
Album assigned by: Syd Spence
It’s 1972, and an Australian band called The Master’s Apprentices fully justifies its name by releasing this album that sounds like a bit of everything from that era – a bit of prog, a bit of hard-rock, a bit of folk-pop, a bit of late 60s psychedelia… Atomic Rooster meets Black Sabbath meets Caravan meets Blue Oyster Cult? Yes, that would pretty much sum up what A Toast to Panama Red sounds like. Don’t get me wrong – these guys were obviously talented and could even come up with some catchy hooks (the chanting coda that closes “Beneath the Sun”), some cool hard-rock riffs (“The Lesson So Listen”), several fine bluesy guitar solos (“Southern Cross”), some “medieval-style” acoustic strumming here and there, plus they could definitely play their instruments really well, but… There is still something missing in all of this, and this something is called originality.
Indeed, there are few things on this album that you haven’t heard before if you’re familiar enough with all the rock and prog classics from the 1967-1972 era. It is pretty much the definition of “by the book” hard/prog rock. The worst offenders are, of course, passages that bear a bit too much resemblance to Black Sabbath (see the beginning of “Games We Play I”). Other tracks – such as “Melodies of St. Kilda” may not strike you as much with “this is clearly a rip-off of this” kind of feeling, but instead they sound like a bunch of influences thrown in a melting pot with only a half-assed attempt at weaving them together into actual songs.
Yeah, songwriting is another weak point of the album, as most of these tracks feel half-baked, and the sudden instrumental solos in the middle of the songs certainly don’t help – they are good on their own but they break the flow of these songs, ultimately messing them up and leading them nowhere.
However, this isn’t such a murky mess of an album as my above evaluation of it would make you believe. There are still a couple of good songs – the ones where everything worked, seemingly against the odds. “Love Is” is a great psychedelic anthem that’s catchy, memorable, well-constructed and bombastic without being too cheesy. The background horns appearing in the chorus midway through the song are a very nice touch, too. Another one that really worked for me was the album closer – “Thyme to Rhyme”. This one is all about production – that amazing acoustic guitar tone and all the bleeping and whistling sounds in the background create a unique psychedelic atmosphere. These two songs are where the Apprentices become the Masters for a short while, and, of course, if the whole album was like this, it would be a great lost gem of the classic rock era. As it is, though, it’s a very flawed and rather derivative but occasionally interesting historic artifact.
P.S.: After completing this review, I look at the title of the album again and realize that they are saluting to a cultivar of cannabis… HEY, MAYBE THAT IS THE KEY TO ENJOYING THIS RECORD! I guess I’ll have to get some hemp then, and listen again, and write a proper review… See you then, I guess.