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Articles Home » 1972 Articles » Ursa Major - 1972 Ursa Major
 
Ursa Major - 1972 Ursa Major



ARTIST: Ursa Major
ALBUM: Ursa Major
LABEL: RCA
SERIAL: LSP-4777
YEAR: 1972
CD REISSUE: 2000, Collectibles (BMG), COL-CD-6423

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

LINEUP: Greg Arama - vocals, bass * Dick Wagner - vocals, guitars * Ricky Mangone - drums

TRACK LISTING: 01 Sinner * 02 In My Darkest Hour * 03 Silverspoon * 04 Stage Door Queen * 05 Back To The Land * 06 Lay Me Down * 07 Liberty And Justice


Background
It's sometimes strange where the inspiration comes from to put pen to paper. While doing the endless job of sorting out my record room, which consisted off crates of uncherished cds, unappreciated vinyl, repeated questions been asked like 'haven't you got enough already?' and 'how many magazines do you buy each month?'.. well, while flicking through one of those magazines, an early edition of Mega Metal Kerrang, a spin off from the weekly edition, which largely concentrated on Thrash Metal but did do two excellent editions, one on Glam and the other on AOR. Does anyone remember the predecessor, Extra Kerrang? Anyway included in Issue 1 and like other early editions, they had a feature of the roots of metal. This section always sparked my interest which included the likes of Derringer -'Sweet Evil', Marcus - 'Marcus' and The Rods - 'Rock Hard' plus one review of this 1972 platter by the name of Ursa Major. The issue contained a very enlightened review of this album so I would stress you also try to locate a copy, I make no apology to say that a lot of the background of the group I have used from that said review. First the drummer Ricky Mangone was one of Neil Merryweather Space Kadets, while Gregg Arama spent time with Ted Nugent's Amboy Dukes. Which leaves, Dick Wagner, well to me he is not a household name (which is just plain stupid as I have many albums in my collection that he appeared on!) but really his songs and connections are. These include mainly early Alice Cooper albums, song credits like 'Only Woman Bleed', I suppose it's bit hard to outdo someone like Alice, but this guy has been treading the boards all his life. Add to his resume Lou Reed and Mark Farner. In fact he is still recording, I've heard snippets of a 2009 release, 'Full Meltdown' which is worthy of a high placing on my wants list, even contains a version of 'My Darkest Hour'. All I can add, is that I seem to be becoming more interested in this era, which could be commonly known as the 'Eric' era, as Eric being the main GD writer investigating this time period. On the back of this album I have been discovered the 1969 Christopher album, in a similar style to Neil Merryweather, not surprising being that Mangone spent time here. Ursa Major was made available in CD format, either official, or not so official or subject to a professional re-issue, although my copy meets the second of these options with the original cover, while a new issue appeared during 2000 with a new cover and as part of the Metal Works, Headbangers Series of all things, this new colourful picture of the 'bear' definitely lacks the darkness of the original which I much prefer. I would imagine the original black vinyl copies were very prone to ring wear, but it would give it some character.



The Songs
Just seven songs appeared on this album, with the opening having the somewhat unimaginative title of 'Sinner', but with no lack of excitement as it's a bruising acceleration of power and in true Queen 'Keep Yourself Alive' fashion; it takes a while before the vocals kick in. Primitive drumming (not in a derogatory manner either) is effective and evil sounding, giving way to some crashing riffs. Vocals are tuneful, even melodic not gruff or rough by any means, even the background vocals are well done and provide some competition to Uriah Heep and early Judas Priest without those piercing Halford style vocals. The bass is used to inject colour rather than provide a background.

With 'My Darkest Hour' we found them mixing Led Zeppelin with a southern twang, they seemed to have spent time making music in wooden huts in deepest North Wales without electricity nor running water - with the result being a quite controlled ballad. But don't be fooled when the violin appears as this is just a warning because by this stage they have relocated premises mid song to a steaming thundering electric attack, blasting through the barriers with another onslaught. There's a real live feel to this one, a clever catchy riff is used to hypnotise your senses and you begin to get dragged into the song faster than competitors of the TT Isle of Man races, ridden by a machine built on early Triumph and Trapeze. For some godforsaken reason the opening reminds me more of AOR super group, Sheriff!

The Trapeze connection neatly leads into my favourite track 'Silverspoon', especially with the flamboyant nature of the vocal delivery, which sometimes reminds me of Glenn Hughes. Also this may have been the sound if Marc Bolan had gone more metal, rather than glam. All you potential guitarists throw away those guitar tabs for 'Enter Sandman' and listen to this one, I dare you. BTW, does that riff at the end, sound similar to the acoustic driven part in Warrant's 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'?

'Stage Door Queen', this isn't just a song, but a great exhibition of how a trio of musicians can perform individually and as a team, each of the guys have the chance to shine. Ricky Mangone using the full drum kit, spinning around more times than Tommy Lee has had video appearance downloads requests. Ricky has done this without the technology of modern times. The song portrays not only the use of horsepower but a couple of heavy horses', last seen on the cover of a Jethro Tull album. Vocals, well the vocalist has got pipes that are bigger than the Victorian sewage system under the streets of London and cleaner too! This is slap bang in the middle of a Black Country Communion!

'Back To The Land' shows Ursa Major's more gentle side and quite capable of mixing it up a bit, with some gentle keyboard accompanied by yet another fine vocal display. A possible breeding ground for Blackfoot without the rattlesnake, hard rock entrenched quality, but sometimes they spray just enough melody on the tunes to broaden up the listening experience to a wider spectrum. This becomes an AOR version of 'Planet Caravan', the Black Sabbath tune. A dash of violin to arrive at Triumph again plus early Styx in terms of the song structure. Excellent, this is not a short journey but a tour around all parts of North America.

Again the pace varies with 'Lay Me Down' as they never seem contented to play the easy game, of verse, chorus, verse etc, just seem to add another melody, another change when the song hints of becoming pedestrian. Here they seem to have entered into a disintegrator-integrator chamber that they have borrowed from the film 'The Fly' and out come as a hybrid of poppy Blue Oyster Cult and Boston.

We finish up with 'Liberty and Justice', which sounds like a Molly Hatchet album title doesn't it? It's an acoustic led slice of storytelling.. melodic bliss. With a style not a lot different from what Company Of Wolves and Beggars And Thieves produced decades later. Vocals strong as ever, fall easy into the song, no over competing here, no hysterical screaming, just a melodic forming success story.

Just as Rock Candy are gaining new ground on releasing new recordings on their new label, maybe it's time also to take a step backwards and look at early 70's hard rock and issue this along with other gems, as this genre has already been highlighted in a recent Record Collector as becoming more appreciated and collectable.



In Summary
It's easy to see such older albums with rose tinted glasses when in the cold light of day they often sound too raw, even basic and are disadvantaged with old technology and lose out to the clean lines of the modern recording studio. Many groups like the aforementioned Black Country Communion, The Answer, Black Stone Cherry look to re-invent the 70's by trying to achieve that 'raw' feeling. Some manage it amazingly well and some don't. To me, this 'raw' sound that took place in the 70's, like The Stooges, suggested to me a certain lack of melody and lack of musicianship. Just some young bucks with minimal talent banging away, speakers and feedback buzzing and distorting and we are expected to appreciate these effects and call it classic rock? Well with this release in 1972, I was expecting more of the same. Well gladly to say, despite the many years since passed, this need not be an excuse, because this album sounds as fresh today as if it was recorded minutes ago. It's professionally written, contains a high level of musicianship, excellent vocals, and there is melody in abundance. The songs are polished and vary across the album, never getting boring. This album is nearly approaching its 40th year, it's well worth investigating today so don't leave it any longer, because believe me from my experience life doesn't always start at 40.It's easy to see such older albums with rose tinted glasses when in the cold light of day they often sound too raw, even basic and are disadvantaged with old technology and lose out to the clean lines of the modern recording studio. Many groups like the aforementioned Black Country Communion, The Answer, Black Stone Cherry look to re-invent the 70's by trying to achieve that 'raw' feeling. Some manage it amazingly well and some don't. To me, this 'raw' sound that took place in the 70's, like The Stooges, suggested to me a certain lack of melody and lack of musicianship. Just some young bucks with minimal talent banging away, speakers and feedback buzzing and distorting and we are expected to appreciate these effects and call it classic rock? Well with this release in 1972, I was expecting more of the same. Well gladly to say, despite the many years since passed, this need not be an excuse, because this album sounds as fresh today as if it was recorded minutes ago. It's professionally written, contains a high level of musicianship, excellent vocals, and there is melody in abundance. The songs are polished and vary across the album, never getting boring. This album is nearly approaching its 40th year, it's well worth investigating today so don't leave it any longer, because believe me from my experience life doesn't always start at 40.


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Comments
#1 | gdazegod on August 14 2011 04:54:58
Greg Arama passed away in 1979 unfortunately.. This album has excellent vocals for its time.. pretty damn hot LP from 1972.
#2 | reyno-roxx on August 14 2011 10:03:50
First time I heard this was in a Swedish record store in 1995. It was a bootleg CD. Had to have a copy there and then. Great album!
#3 | Carl Noonan on August 14 2011 11:51:14
It's fantastic album. I haven't listened to it for a while but I was surprised by how good it was when I got it. I expected it to sound really dated but it wasn't at all. Interestingly one of the musical sections was later reworked on one of Alice Coopers mid 70's albums. Can't remember which (Might be it's Hot Tonight off Lace and Whiskey). Need to dig these out and listen again.
#4 | sabace on August 19 2011 14:24:29
one of my all time fave lps, featuring the amazing guitar work of dick wagner!
#5 | super80boy on November 27 2013 21:19:46
Big time melodic hard rock album with killer guitar licks and riffs. The vocals are excellent as well. Some longer songs here, but they have such top notch guitar work it doesn't matter if they keep going and going. A key early 70's hard rock album indeed.
#6 | aaasreg on August 11 2014 23:05:15
Seems to say a big thanks to Bob Ezrin for this wonderful production job.
 
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