Mark Fry, Dreaming with Alice (Sunbeam Records, 2006 re-issue, originally released 1972)

About a month ago I reviewed Shooting the Moon, the second album by the intriguing English musician Mark Fry. Part of what makes Mark Fry so intriguing is that his sophomore effort followed a mere thirty-six years after his debut, Dreaming with Alice. Fry was studying art in Italy in 1972, and a friend set him up in a recoding studio in Rome to cut an album with a handful of musician friends whose names Fry has long since forgotten. The original LP never got released outside of Italy, but somehow the album's reputation spread by word of mouth, and for fans of psychedelic folk the album is considered a classic. Bootleg versions popped up all over the place, and copies of the original release have sold for over $2000 at auction. Fry, meanwhile, tried unsuccessfully to get a record deal back home in England, and has spent most of his life between traveling and making a living selling his paintings in France. While he had long stopped pursuing music professionally, he enthusiastically lent his support and participation when Sunbeam Records re-issued Dreaming with Alice in 2006. Thirty-four years after its recording, it was officially released outside of Italy for the very first time.

After listening to Dreaming with Alice, it's not hard to figure out why the album appeals so strongly to a specific group of music listeners. Fry's style on this recording evokes performers like Donovan and Syd Barrett, with all the hippie mysticism and other accessories (legal and otherwise) which that implies. But if you're into psychedelic music, especially with acoustic guitars, then you'll find much to like on Dreaming with Alice. The music is as dreamlike and trance-inducing as the album's title implies, but it is also quite melodic. The title song is unique in that its nine verses are not played together, but with one verse at a time prefacing each of the other tracks. The playing, considering it was done in an inferior studio (the soundproofing was so poor they couldn't use drums), is remarkably solid and tight as well. The highlight for me is a six-minute song called "The Witch," a steady, determined jam that makes as good a use of the sitar in a rock context as any song outside of "Norwegian Wood."

Dreaming with Alice probably won't please everybody. For reasons both good and bad, hippie music doesn't quite have universal appeal, or even as broad an audience it had when this album was made. But this album is an excellent example of its genre, worthy of the cult reputation it has garnered. As for Mark Fry, he has as remarkable a story as any singer I'm aware of, and his copious liner notes are as fascinating as the music is. I have no idea how often he goes back to Wonderland to visit Alice these days, but as long as he brings some good music back with him I'm OK with it.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

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