Label: Columbia Records of Canada
How do you follow up an unexpected hit single? In the case of Montreal-based Mashmakhan, the answer lay in a less polished approach combining the group's jazz, R&B, and rock and roll roots with an uncontrived hippie aesthetic. Despite label and management pressures for the gang to replicate their international breakthrough ("As The Years Go By", taken from their 1970 self-titled Columbia LP), the quartette's raw sophomore album, The Family (1971), quickly fell off the radar, even with Neil Young co-producer David Briggs at the helm. Industry powerhouse CKLW from Windsor, Ontario, wouldn't play follow-up singles stating that they didn't sound like their sole pop smash.
Not surprisingly, external and internal forces caused the band to splinter shortly thereafter. Organ player, flautist, and principal songwriter Pierre Senecal soldiered on under the Mashmakhan banner while drummer Jerry Mercer joined Canadian rock mainstays April Wine. In contrast, guitarist Rayburn Blake decided to form a new unit with female vocalist/musician Frankie Hart (Freedom North) and Mashmakhan's talented singing bass man Brian Edwards.
Blake, who had retreated to Quebec's Lake of Two Mountains region with Edwards to escape the mad city scene of Montreal, named the band Riverson, a nod to their nature-infused surroundings. Reconnecting with Columbia Records of Canada, they entered Toronto's Manta Studios with Hart, engineer/producer Lee De Carlo, and timekeeper Graham Lear to capture 11 tightly rehearsed songs inspired in parts by the aforementioned Young, CSNY's Déjà Vu, and musical lessons gleamed from high school dance band beginnings right up to Mashmakhan's slot on the notorious Festival Express tour of 1970 with The Band, Janis Joplin, and The Grateful Dead.
Released in 1973 and resplendent in an artfully designed gatefold jacket, Riverson offers a slow burning sensibility that shows itself on well-crafted originals like "Empty Sky", "Stoney Day", and a progressive take on "Eleanor Rigby". Elsewhere, engaging guitar leads spring from the grooves along with perfect male/female vocal harmonies, hypnotic bass lines, banjo picking, subtle piano, haunting recorder, and precise drums. Lead off single "Clear Night" was the closest thing the group had to a hit, but regardless of the song's anthemic quality, it barely dented Canadian charts.
With sales trickling in, Riverson focused their attention on performance, gigging in-and-around Ontario and Quebec, as well as opening up for John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. It was here that Lear decided to pursue a fusion-based direction, working with Gino Vannelli and later Santana. While Riverson cut one more non-LP single, Blake, Edwards, and Hart eventually pulled the plug themselves after growing weary of unreceptive bar audiences who only wanted to hear the latest chart toppers.Ah, those pesky hits. Can't live with them, hard to survive without them. Still, music fans lucky enough to have been exposed to Riverson's many charms are sure to keep its message flowing as the years go by.
*VIN note: over the years, i've written a couple of pieces for US music journal wax poetics. the above is one i'm very proud of (issue #30, the rock issue). gotta shout out the legendary ty scammell (RIP) for turning me onto this album many moons ago in his east van crib. hope to do more work w/ the fine riverson folks in the not too distant future. keep your eyes peeled...