Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#838 in the Series) is Jimmy Spheeris, Isle of View
For today’s album review I wanted to pick someone out that has been overlooked for the most part. Jimmie Spheeris had all of the makings to go down as one of the quintessential singer-songwriters of the 70s. He had a poetic lyrical sense, a unique voice, and an intriguing history. His poetry conjures up vivid imagery and his voice fits perfectly within the scenery he has laid out. Part of the reason for such an uncanny ability to describe such vibrant settings is probably from his childhood. Jimmie was born into a traveling carnival family. This unique upbringing would be referenced in later albums such as the song “Lost in the Midway.”
Part of the reason not many people have heard of or remember Jimmie Spheeris is due to a few factors. Spheeris recorded six albums between 1971 and 1984. When he finished recording the album Spheeris in 1984 he was killed by a drunk driver later that night. The album wasn’t released until 2000. This meant four albums were released between 1971 and 1976 followed by 24 years of no additional albums being released. On top of the delayed release of his final album, the prior albums were not released on CD until 1998. Due to licensing contracts the CD production was stopped in 2001. All of these obstructions have caused some of the Spheeris catalog to become somewhat of a collector’s item. CD production began again for select albums, including Isle of View.
There are some very good things going for this album before you even sit down to listen to it. Spheeris was introduced to Columbia Records by friend Richie Havens. Who is listed on the liner notes in the ‘Than You’ section. Surprisingly he is the eighth person listed to thank. In addition to knowing Richie Havens, the producer of Isle of View was Paul Leka. The songwriter of “(Na Na Hey Hey) Kiss Him Goodbye” and produced Harry Chapin’s Verities and Balderdash. So far we have a folk singer friend and a producer who will later produce Chapin’s highest charting single “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Oh and in case that isn’t enough, Spheeris was good friends with Jackson Browne.
Isle of View is the closest to the singer-songwriter sound that Spheeris created. His later albums would move more towards a jazz influence and eventually a dabble into new wave. I ran across Isle of View in a record store and was impressed by the album cover. The medieval look of a knight riding a giant eagle was a pretty grandiose idea. But the coloring was all just shades of yellow a brown, which understates the flying knight through the forest. I didn’t really care what kind of music it was I had to try this album out.
If you say the name of this album quickly you will get the theme. The majority of the songs involve a love interest. I can get so caught up in the landscape of the music that I often lose the lyrics as the singing just blends into the sound. Luckily all of the lyrics are printed on the back of the album. It was like listening to the album for the first time again when I read along with the music. The poetic sensibility somehow blends the modern with the old. Singing about going to the marshes to meet the gatekeeper usually doesn’t show up in too many pop songs. The CD cover art cropped much tighter onto the flying knight. While this is the most standout image of the album, it removes part of the overall feel that was conveyed on the vinyl record. I liked the similarity between the vivid lyrics getting easily lost with the music compared to the incredible sight of a knight riding a bird and it blending in with its surroundings. It was just being part of the overall landscape, much like the lyrics.
The entire album is very cohesive and although singer-songwriter is the best description for the sound this is not a James Taylor imitation. Some of the more memorable tracks are “The Nest” and “I am the Mercury.” Many of the songs are laid back and aren’t really oriented to towards that single sound. The follow up album The Original Tap Dancing Kid has a much more pop and catchy sound. One of my favorite things about listening to Isle of View is that it becomes more and more rewarding each time I listen to it. You can get lost in the sound or appreciate the poetry. Either way it is worth a listen just to get to know Jimmie Spheeris a little better.
– Jay Kretchmar, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma USA
- Long Way Down
- Let It Flow
- Seven Virgins
- Come Back
- Jimmie Spheeris – guitar, piano, vocals
- Geoff Levin – guitars
- David Campbell – violin, viola
- Lee Calvin Nicolai – flute, bass, backing vocals
- David Harowitz – piano
- Emil Latimer – conga
- Buddy Salzman – drums
- Bill La Vorna – drums