JOHN BRAHENY “Some Kind of Change”

John Braheny’s rare “Some Kind Of Change” LP issued on the small Pete label out of Los Angeles in 1968 has the unusual distinction of existing like a psychedelic skeleton in his closet. He never made another record, this one is still largely under the radar even for long time deep divers into buried treasure from the vintage ‘60s era. He actually became quite famous behind-the-scenes in the songwriting and music biz as the top dog LA songwriting coach for people like Lindsay Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Warren Zevon, Janis Ian, Stephen Bishop and countless others including one of the most successful hit songwriters of all time, Diane Warren, for whom he critiqued 150 songs when she was 15 years old.


You gotta wonder if he played his LP for any of them back in the day or hid it away since it is pretty far out underground stuff, perhaps too far out if your life’s work is steering budding songwriters towards the top of the charts. It is a full on psychedelic classic to my ears. every track a winner, with an unusual blend of earthy folk rock veering off into otherworldly atmospheres. Though not a concept album it hangs together like a journey, the psychedelia peaking with an epic extended final track in classic late ‘60s underground mind expansion style.

John Braheny was born in Iowa on December 9, 1938, first appearing on the early ‘60s LA folk scene and gigging around the folk circuit out west, there is easily findable video of him on the internet performing live in Vancouver in 1965 if you wanna hear him before the psychedelics kicked in. One of the remarkable things about the LP is that he also produced it, indicating no compromise in getting what was in his head captured on tape the way he wanted it. His arrangements are elaborate, bursting with creativity without losing focus, the songs are warm and human at the core with his innovative use of electronics and effects taking them to uncanny places. He’s a proto singer-songwriter foreshadowing the emergence of that LA scene via a side trip through the Twilight Zone. Familiar and mysterious simultaneously. This psychedelic skeleton in John’s closet is in my personal pantheon of the best late ‘60s LA solo artist mind blowers right along with very different sounding but astonishing LPs by Darius, Arthur Lee Harper, Damon and the likes.

The players on the album include Rick Cunha on guitar and help with production, he made some LPs of his own. Lisa Kindred on backing vocals came out of the folk scene and is best known for the LP she made with notorious cult leader Mel Lyman in 1969 on Reprise Records titled ‘The Lyman Family with Lisa Kindred – American Avatar’. Bass, drums, trombone, trumpet are provided by session musicians with backgrounds in west coast jazz… Don Waldron on tuba is an unusual credit for a psychedelic LP but he also appears on albums by Frank Zappa, Dr. John, and It’s A Beautiful Day. One of the two bassists is Colin Cameron who also appears on the rare psychedelic Richard Twice LP on Philips Records. John Braheny plays guitar, violin, does the lead vocals and the way out experimental electronics that kick this record into a higher key.

John’s first visibility as a songwriter in the world at large came with his song “December Dream” which is the opening track on the Stone Poneys with Linda Ronstadt LP ‘Evergreen Vol. 2’ also issued in 1968. Soon after he founded the Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase with Len Chandler, published the Songwriters Musepaper, did radio on Pacifica flagship station KPFK, and wrote what is considered the ‘songwriter’s bible’ the book ‘The Craft And Business Of Songwriting’ in 1988 for which he is best known. It is still in print.

He was known around the biz as “the songwriter’s best friend” and the ‘Some Kind Of Change’ LP merely a footnote in his career. For us psych heads, however, it is one helluva dosed footnote! Several promo 45s were issued at the time so the label did try to work it, without success. The arc is long but this arrow flies higher than ever 56 years on! GREY DAY opens the LP with warm unassuming transitional acoustic folk rock into singer-songwriter territory. You can hear echoes of later ‘60s Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark in the vocal but with a more world weary resignation perfect for the relaxed existential vibe of a grey day where you just wanna sleep your life away. Delicious female backup vocals and a few serene French horn lines give no clue that this trip is gonna leave the laid back porch behind soon… it’s a severe grower as well…DECEMBER DREAM organically moves towards a more psychy atmosphere, delicate acoustic finger picking and voice reminiscent of early Tim Buckley utilizing spacious drone moves for the verses and vibrant but melancholy full sound on the refrains.

The female backup vocals shine again unobtrusively. The lyrics are poignant and complex reflections about a woman and how she affects his mind. Bittersweet, introspective. DON’T CRY FOR ME shifts gears completely using a tuff bluesy stalker outlaw groove to convey where his head is at as far as society at large goes. It has the same message Jimi Hendrix presented in “If 6 Was 9”, addressed to a straight world left far behind by a deeper way of living free. “I been through so many changes, I know I’m not the same… if I’m not the way that you want me, you can’t make me feel ashamed… I’m free”. The swaggering confidence in the vocal verges on effortless sneering with lines like “I don’t expect you to understand, don’t even care if you’re tryin’, you had your time and now it’s my time”. Spooky backup vocal moves, we are psychedelic now. TOUR LINE LADIES is where the tuba and horns come in and on one level the most experimental track on the LP despite having no use of electronics or effects. It opens with people recorded inside one of those Hollywood tour buses as they make their way past famous landmarks, movie star homes, etc. and ends on Sunset Strip with the tourists gawking at the hippies.

This field recording runs through the entire 5:19 ride as the music alternates between a surreal carnival old timey brass band waltz and a backwoods funk roots rock groove with freaky vocals above both. I have seen vintage footage of ‘60s tour busses amongst the hippies, this the only song I know about it. SOME KIND OF CHANGE ends side one with full blown psychedelic moves right from the start, effects, oscillators, backwards drums and anger back at the system for messing up the world. Terrific tuff stalker groove again, alienated pissed off attitude with lyrics like “Afraid to lose your power, afraid to lose your face, kill to keep your manhood, keep me in my place”. 5:47 of heavy psychedelic bliss here with fuzz outro… LONG WAY HOME opens side two with a straightforward relaxed folk rock pop ambience and can’t go home and have things be the way they used to be lyric. It’s heartfelt and clearly resides at the start of side two for its radio friendly appeal. WARM is just that, in a haunted way. It’s a positive song yearning to turn on the listener to the peace of mind the singer has found. Subtle use of tremolo and leslie effects and a sparse use of electronics add poignance to the proceedings. Warm. REASON FOR LEAVING has the classic cadence and chord changes of early folk rock with sparse to the point backup and another vocal that brings to mind the earnestness and sincerity of early Tim Buckley. Delicate and assured, resigned to the end of a relationship, an ever growing silence between them, no drama, faded love.

FREE FALL is an ‘acid-folk’ masterpiece coming as the penultimate track on the album. It resides in a space akin to the most psychedelic folk moves Pentangle made circa their “Basket Of Light” LP.  Hypnotic eerie trance folk with brilliant use of medieval vibed choral colorings. The words match the sound, brilliantly arranged. SILVER CORD is the 8:55 long epic closer, opens with electronics and slips into a late night after hours jam atmosphere. Sparse but inventive interplay between guitar, bass and drums are shot through with ethereal psychedelic wind effects. There are several movements, a bluesy jazzy groove, raga trance, some lyrical fingerpicking in the middle. There are no vocals, the electronics do the talking here. The tight-but-loose feel in this relaxed jam never gets old for me, the sort of track that could go on for hours and not take one wrong step. Never boring as it is loaded with uncluttered detail. The blend of west coast rock combo and electronics feels like a long lost Fifty Foot Hose basement improvisation… way after hours!

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