Michele Saturn Rings

[Fallout; 1969]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: psych-pop, baroque pop
Others: The Millennium, Sagittarius, The Byrds

Before home-recording or private-pressing became feasible for most musicians, the best way for artists to get their most indulgent, least commercially viable jams out of their garages and into the public's hands was to be a session player. Honing your chops and developing into a versatile craftsman was a sure way to land gigs playing on hit records, which guaranteed that there'd always be food on the table and beer in the fridge, and you could also have access to top-shelf equipment and studio space. So if you played your cards right and built friendships with those label people and producers you were always hanging around, you could get big money to finance your most harebrained schemes and big talent to produce them. End result: artistic freedom and financial security.

Of course, having the means to disseminate your music doesn't mean that listeners will bite — just look at Saturn Rings. The players, on this 1969 album's credits, connect directly and tangentially to some of the era's most influential and progressive acts. Cult icon Curt Boettcher, best known for his work with Sagittarius and The Millennium, arranged the vocals and wrote many of the tracks. Little Feat main man Lowell George fills in on flute and harmonica, Association member Gordon Alexander makes an appearance, and Beefheart compatriot Elliot Ingber also lends his talents. Leading lady Michele O'Malley performed with Ballroom, a key under-the-radar pop group, and pitched in on Sagittarius's Present Tense. It's not surprising that ABC Records would find this cast of characters fit to catapult Michele to stardom; the results of the musicians' time together, though, are anything but chart-topping material.

That's not to say that Saturn Rings isn't a good album — it's very good actually, dealing in the same brand of soft-psych as Boettcher's other projects. What relegates this recording to obscurity is its lack of polish. The melodies are melodic and the hooks hook ya, but the songs don't hang together very well. "Fallen Angel" gives The Byrds' Fifth Dimension an Orientalist twist, "Know Yourself" smacks of Nashville with its slide guitar, and "Spinning, Spinning, Spinning" recalls Sagittarius's most baroque, twee moments. Minimal, childlike ditty "Musty Dusty" sits right next to sprawling, searing space rocker "Lament of the Astro Cowboy." If the musicians were younger and less experience, you could call Saturn Rings an identity crisis. Given the band members' pedigrees, though, it would be more accurate to think of the album as a glorified demo session. Lots of great ideas find their way to tape, but each song sounds like it's by a different band. This sort of inconsistency will always keep this record off of rock rag Top Albums of the ______-type lists, but should intrigue those who seek obscure pleasures all the more.

1. Would You Like to Go
2. Blind As You Are
3. Song to the Magic Frog
4. Fallen Angel
5. Spinning, Spinning, Spinning
6. Know Yourself
7. Musty Dusty
8. Lament of the Astro Cowboy
9. White Linen
10. Misty Mirage
11. Believe You