Album Review

Spirit – Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus: Album Review

Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus by Spirit, is their 1970 masterpiece, and is now available in a newly expanded and remastered deluxe edition.

Release date: 25 February 2022

Label: Esoteric Recordings/Cherry Red Records

Format: CD 

Spirit was formed in Los Angeles, California, in 1967, and the Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus was their fourth album. It was produced by David Briggs, well known for his work with Neil Young and Crazy Horse. 

The band consisted of Randy California (guitar and vocals), Ed Cassidy (drums), Jay Ferguson (vocals and percussion), John Locke (keyboards) and Mark Andes (bass and vocals). The final concert with this original lineup was in 1971, after the band had toured the album, though there were later reunions. The second great phase of the band, this time initially built around Randy California and Ed Cassidy, with Barry Keane on bass, began in 1975, with the classic Spirit of ’76 album.

The Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus is a musically wide-ranging collection, bringing together rock, psychedelia, jazz, and at points a genius pop sensibility. It is also an album in many ways ahead of its time, with environmental concerns woven into a number of the songs.

The introductory sequence of Prelude – Nothing To Hide, written by Randy California, is a primary example of many of these elements coming together, in perfect harmony. A gentle acoustic melody accompanies Randy singing these very prophetic words:

“You have the world at your fingertips. 

But see what you done to the rain and the sun. 

So many changes have all just begun to reap.

I know you are asleep”.

Wake up….” is then sung in unison as a call to action, before the band burst in with the full-on attack of a modern rock anthem. A heart-stopping instrumental section has Randy’s California’s slide guitar shift into psychedelic overdrive, panning furiously between the speakers, as he and co-vocalist Jay Ferguson whoop over the top of the music. John Locke’s piano phrases provide an arresting musical counterpoint throughout the piece, and a final fade-out has a short burst of brass playing in the style of the Beatle’s Sgt. Pepper.

Nature’s Way, another Randy California composition, is a beautiful heartfelt ballad. A particularly striking line in the song is:

 “It’s nature’s way of telling you, soon we’ll freeze. It’s nature’s way of telling you, dying trees”. 

This edition of the album also includes, on the first disc, a bonus live recording of Nature’s Way, at the Filmore West in 1970. Randy introduces it, “I would like to do a song that I wrote this afternoon”. It is the very first performance of the song and has a grace and fragility that speaks volumes to Randy’s songwriting and delivery talents.

Other album highlights include John Locke’s Space Child, with its jazzy piano and synthesiser, and Ed Cassidy’s syncopated drum figures. It actually has the acid jazz feel of the band Galliano, which is a signifier of how forward-looking this music is. 

Street Worm, written by Jay Ferguson, has a funky pop feel, as well as being a vehicle for some of Randy California’s most lyrical lead guitar soloing. This is followed by Randy’s lovely acoustic, Life Has Just Begun, which has a country music ambience, resonant of the Grateful Dead at their country roots best. This is an album, in fact, that draws on an expansive musical palette, that repeatedly offers one musical gem after another. It is an absolute classic.

This edition of the album also includes a second disc, Live At The Filmore West , San Francisco, May 16, 1970. Bringing this live recording to disc seems to have been a significant technical challenge, so considerable thanks are due to Mick Skidmore, who produced, compiled and mastered for CD this deluxe edition, as well as writing the very informative sleeve notes. There are many standout live moments on the second disc, including the Spirit classic Fresh-Garbage from the 1968 self-titled debut album, where the jazz-based instrumental break has the band playing in complete sympathy with each other. The guitar and piano weave the most intricate of melodies, as Ed Cassidy splashes the cymbals and brushes his drums in the most nuanced of ways, as if holding the soloists in a warm embrace. Simply sublime musicianship.

The live version of Mechanical World, from the same album (though from an earlier 1969 gig), is here stretched out to over twelve minutes, into a space rock epic. An inventive drum solo, a marching beat, guitar soloing full of sustain, and lilting keyboards, all add to an intriguing version. 

To conclude, well done to Esoteric Recordings and Cherry Red Records for releasing this excellent expanded edition of a 1970s masterpiece, from a much-loved band.

If you begin your discovery of Spirit with this great album, you might want to graduate on to Spirit of ‘76.  It has perhaps a more Rock/Americana musical direction, and is an album that is an absolute joy to get acquainted with. It is another classic, and also has some simply magnificent cover versions, including the sublime sequencing of America The Beautiful with Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing. 

You can view a gorgeous live version of Nature’s Way recorded in New York in 1990 here:

For more information about Cherry Red Records releases: Website / Facebook

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