I first heard the Bubble Puppys "Hot Smoke and Sassafras" in 1969 on a Chicago AM station that was many miles from my house in central Pennsylvania. The tune was a strange blast of feedback, fuzz-toned guitar, and soaring vocal harmonies that, I found out as the song ended, came from a band with an innocuous name. The bands sole long-player, A Gathering of Promises, was finally released on CD in a definitive version in 2004 by Fuel 2000/Varese Sarabande. Sundazed has now reissued the original LP, and while original copies go for $100 or more, Id be surprised if they sound as good as this 180-gram pressing.
A Gathering of Promises is a lost gem of the psychedelic era. The band had two very strong songwriters in guitarist Rod Prince and bassist Roy Cox, and its use of the twin lead guitars of Prince and Todd Potter matched the skill and innovation of the Allman Brothers, who were using some of the same ideas just a few states away from this Austin-based band. The bands songcraft and tight harmonies should have put them on the map, but neither "Hot Smoke and Sassafras" nor the LP ever got the exposure they deserved, perhaps because they were on International Records, the regional label that also gave us the Thirteenth Floor Elevators.
The phase shifting that is a hallmark of late-'60s psych recordings sounds more organic and spacious on the Sundazed LP than on CD, and the guitars sound more natural. The drums have more snap on the CD, but overall I preferred the analog warmth and depth of the LP. Any fan of the Bubble Puppy will want to own the CD, which is well mastered and contains a generous helping of bonus material. Old psych heads like me will want to also pick up Sundazeds great pressing, which nicely reproduces the original cover art.
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