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Review: Anonymous, “Inside the Shadow”

Anonymous emerged from a group of friends who played at each other’s houses in and around Indianapolis in the early ‘70s. They recorded their debut and sole album in a garage in Milwaukee in 1976, the same year that the Ramones and Blondie released their debuts. They pressed approximately 300 copies, but never played a gig, never promoted the album, and released only one follow-up, albeit under a different name and with a different lineup. That one record is remarkable though, a private press gem with excellent musicianship, beautiful vocal harmonies, and imaginative songwriting from their front man, Ron Matelic.

Inside the Shadow was recorded in just a couple of days, but it sounds like it should have taken much longer. Matelic’s songs are lithe, unpredictable things that jump from one time signature and one style to another seamlessly. He juxtaposes colorful choruses with tricky rhythmic patterns and contrasts lilting vocal harmonies with hard edged guitar solos, hiding the seams as he goes. The band’s performances match Matelic’s nimble writing with energy and precision, sounding equally at ease whether they’re drawing out a slow, bluesy chorus or riding on the wave of an electric 12-string’s melody.

As it turns out, Shadow’s eight songs were written over a period of several years; starting perhaps as early as 1972, when Matelic befriended bassist Glenn Weaver. Vocalist Marsha Rollings and drummer John Medvescek were old friends who shared a mutual love for Buffalo Springfield, the Beatles, and groups like Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane, so there was a rapport between them all before they ever rehearsed a song or stepped into the studio.

Their long friendship translated into magic on record. Marsha and Ron’s harmonizing and singing are two obvious highlights, but Medvescek and Weaver make for an impressive rhythm combo. They rarely just keep time, and Ron’s songs give them plenty of room to show off their virtuosity. When Matelic takes off on longer solos or rips into his 12-string, they drive the music forward, accenting it with snappy about faces, big crescendos, and sudden left turns. On the slower songs, they anchor Ron and Marsha’s lighter moments with heavier material, whether that means hitting the skins harder or laying down an extra layer of melody on the thicker strings.

Stylistically Anonymous may wear their influences on their sleeves—Matelic admits to borrowing ideas and melodies from The Byrds and the Mamas and the Papas—but the band integrates everything they borrow so completely that I can’t boil the record down to a particular style or a single source.Inside the Shadow sounds of its time, is maybe even a little anachronistic, but it isn’t just another psychedelic record or rock ‘n’ roll curiosity.

So maybe Anonymous weren’t following the trends of ’76 when they recorded Inside the Shadow, but they weren’t living in the past either.

Inside the Shadow is available on Machu Picchu
Review originally published at Brainwashed.com

Listen to “Pick Up and Run”:

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The Monthly List: April’s Top 10

photograph by Kevin Baird

Solar Eclipse – “Ring of Fire” – photograph by Kevin Baird

The only new album on the list this month comes from the Phil Minton/Audrey Chen Quintet on Sub Rosa. Everything else is a reissue or a new collection of older music.

Impulse’s release of John Coltrane’s complete Sun Ship sessions snuck in right at the end of April, but didn’t make the list because I was too busy listening to MeditationsCrescent, and Interstellar Space to notice. Coltrane has been almost the only thing I’ve wanted to hear for the last two weeks and I don’t see any sign of that streak ending. Repeat plays of Crescent and Meditations were broken only by Human Ear’s reissue of Michael Pisaro’s Tombstones and Machu Picchu’s re-release of Inside the Shadow. Both are essential and I highly recommend seeking them out.

The first half of the month was also dominated by reissues. Recollection GRM’s Xenakis LP is outstanding, as is MCR’s treatment of Where’s My Towel/Industry Standard from Austin’s Big Boys.

As always, formats posted are the ones I own. Others may be available. If you like any of the samples I link to, please buy the album. You can find numerous retailers carrying these titles at the bottom of this page.


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Reissued and Recommended : Anonymous, “Inside the Shadow”

anonymous_inside_the_shadow_bannerWith just a few exceptions, I’ve not spent much time exploring the rocky world of private press records. Numero Group is responsible for a lot of what I know—the rest has come to me by word of mouth, various blogs, or through work. I’m not even sure I know what qualifies a record as “private press,” but I guess that isn’t important. The point is that this stuff doesn’t usually catch my attention.

But Light in the Attic, the label partially responsible for reintroducing Rodriguez to the world and for several popular private press reissues, is now distributing music from Portland based Machu Picchu, and their first release, an officially licensed and remastered reissue of Anonymous’s Inside the Shadow, definitely has me impressed.

A Major Label first released the record in 1976, in an edition of just 300 copies. Two vinyl reissues followed in 1997 and 2001, one of which might have been a bootleg. A CD version, coupled with the band’s second album No Longer Anonymous, was released in 2000 by Aether Archives. Even with the vinyl reissue imminent, original copies of the vinyl record sell for over $200 and have gone for over $600 in the past. The reissues were very popular too and, as far as I can tell, are hard to find.

The descriptions I’ve read everywhere are pretty accurate: there’s a bit of The Byrds and Jefferson Airplane in what they do, but CSNY and The Hollies come through just as strongly for me, thanks mostly to Ron Matelic, Marsha Rollings, and Glenn Weaver’s vocal harmonies. Absolutely beautiful stuff and highly recommended.

Acid Archives author Patrick Lundborg is enthusiastic about it too, calling it “close to the perfect album.” You can read Lundborg’s interview with Ron Matelic by clicking here and you can listen to “Pick Up and Run” below.

Machu Picchu’s website says Inside the Shadow will start shipping on both CD and LP starting April 30th. You can expect to see both online and in record stores shortly thereafter.