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Country Lane -  Substratum  CD (album) cover

SUBSTRATUM

Country Lane

 

Heavy Prog

3.15 | 28 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 'Substratum' - Country Lane (64/100)

It would be a tough sell to convince anyone that Country Lane were doing anything new on their first (and last) LP, but they did it with enough panache to deserve attention from fans of heavy psych rock. Certainly enough, at least, to have warranted a spot opening for Daevid Allen's Gong back in the day. Their workmanly collision of German psychedaelia and British hard rock is far too common and average to give Substratum the hopeful status of 'obscure gem', but Country Lane had a good sound going for them- fans of Uriah Heep and early Deep Purple are sure to agree.

By 1973, progressive rock was already on the latter-end of its golden age. Such a concentrated evolution had taken place; the proto-proggy blues and psych foundations had given away to prog as a far more distinctive and confident organism. Although they earn a mild distinction as one of the few Swiss prog acts I've ever come across (really, Switzerland's significant prog exports start and end with Patrick Moraz) but their style sounds drawn out of a more primitive era of prog rock. The space of a few years probably means little by current standards, but considering what the genre had grown into in the space between 1970-73, Country Lane sounded a little behind the times. The organ-heavy rock approach had been done to death; there wasn't quite the sophistication nor the energy needed for the album to have struck a chord. A thousand bands threw their lot with this subset of progressive rock, and there are only a handful that managed to make it their own.

With an organ and fuzz-rich sound that should be familiar to anyone with a Rod Evans-era Deep Purple LP in their collection, it falls upon the songwriting and small nuances of personality to distinguish Substratum. For what it's worth, "With a Sweet Whistle to My Ears" is a fine tune in the tradition of classic Uriah Heep. Though the rest of the LP's first side passes as a series of short and seemingly half-baked compositions, the small snippets are largely promising (with the exception of the vaudevillian "Good Old Time" which, though the most memorable moment of the first, isn't necessarily so for the right reasons.) The second side is where Country Lane really hit their mark. "The Disgusting Story of the Captain Bloom" racks up an entire album side; and even if that sort of thing appears to be a go-to calling card in prog rock, it shouldn't diminish the weight of the ambition it takes to accomplish one. As composers, Country Lane weren't tactful enough to make the would-be epic come together in a satisfying way, but it is home to most of their best ideas. The titular "Captain Bloom" segment is a vocal gem on an album that sometimes struggles with integrating the vocals. Raymond Amey is a capable-enough frontman, but the occasional off-center inflection gives the impression of an amateur. Country Lane sound tight enough to suit the style, but compared to a lot of the progressive rock that better-stood the test of time, Substratum comes off a little on the pedestrian side of things.

Ultimately, I think most of the gripes I have with the album would have been smoothened out with some more experience; experience Country Lane did not have at the time of recording the album, and would never have, following their break-up soon after. Country Lane were barely out of their teens when they made Substratum. With that in mind, it doesn't come as a shock that their style was impressionable and a little rough around the edges. With so many one-shot bands from the golden era now all but lost and forgotten, it's tempting to imagine where a band like Country Lane might have gone in a decades- spanning career akin to their more successful counterparts. I'll withhold going too much into 'what if' territory, but given the sort of ambition it takes to tackle a multi-part suite on a debut, the experience of added years could very well have resulted in something great. However, speculation is ultimately just speculation, and as they stood here, there were still a few miles to tread before Country Lane could have manifested into something truly memorable.

Conor Fynes | 3/5 |

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