This is the Elevator's swan song, recorded under incredibly difficult circumstances. Only the absence of Roky's manic energy makes the 13th Floor Elevators Bull of the Woods a bit of a letdown compared to the previous two albums. If anything, Bull... has the weirdest songs and trippiest-sounding production of the three albums.
Ghostly background vocals, bizarre horn arrangements (yes, horns!) and somberly mystical lyrics make this set a must-own for connoisseurs of the psychedelic genre. The audio quality is pretty miserable, but oddly enough, the thin, grungy sound seems to work with this material, producing a proto-Flying Saucer Attack effect.
The material speaks for itself. While it's true that this doesn't have the cohesion that "Easter Everywhere" does, there are some good reasons: the Elevators were descending when this LP was made, Roky was in Rusk State Mental Hospital, and so it consists of outtakes from the Easter Everywhere LP (with only 2 or 3 cuts with Roky Erikson) and the rest being outtakes from an unrealized project to be titled "Beauty and the Beast." It *still* beats just about anything that was happening in Frisco those days, except maybe for Moby Grape.
Taking the needle and the mantle was the late lead guitarist Stacy Sutherland, truly an unsung guitar hero if I ever heard one. His playing is just enough country and Syd, not sounding overly slick, and a bit of laid-back Jerry Garcia. Sutherland's lyrics are a more accessible bridge abutting conventional songwriting and Hall's metaphors for the psychedelic journey to self-enlightenment. Sutherland is more grounded, down to earth and stark. Despite his dark nature, band members regard him affectionately.
Sutherland's sprawling acid-drenched, wet-as-hell guitar work is pretty incomparable as far as I've heard. The Elevators can still work that echo like they did on "Psychedelic Sounds...” while their subtle feedback and distortion almost has sexual intercourse with the distinct, strange and damn catchy falsetto chants, like "Till Then".
This band's Texan roots are reflected in the 'Gulf' sound; the immaculate guitars and dark but spiritual vocals of singer Roky Erikson. One aural glimpse into this album and visions of Mexican and Aztec civilizations rise in the mind's eye. The songs are all of a mythical quality, each one embroidering a rich vein of human and Godlike enchantment on the eardrum.
The first track, 'Livin' On', comes at you like psychedelic rollin' thunder, with a heavy, well-timed drum and a spanglingly proficient guitar backdrop. It's all up, up and away from there on. True, classic hallucinogenic tunes, played like you dreamed about long before you ever knew what you were gonna be when you grew up.
The galloping heavy psych-folk and tight harmonies of "With You" and "Down by the River" conjure up the Dead, in more ways than one. And Cream couldn't come up with better trippy-ass blues-raunchy than "Livin' On" and "Barnyard Blues" even if they had Robert Johnson stand in for Clapton and plugged a wah-pedal to his guitar.
Around this time the band was beginning to feel the effects of the constant pressure from the police and deviating from their ideals of drug use. They were in constant argument with each other and the music does more than show all of those situations perfectly.
"May the Circle Remain Unbroken" ironically ends the album as the last collectively written and studio recorded song they would ever record as a band. It’s less rock-n-roll driven, less musically technical, and a bit more advanced for the one-eyed/two-eyed folks who want something to sound like a good song more than they want mantras and awareness guides.
If there were ever to be a Great Pyramid of music, then “Bull of the Woods” is a brick. It's bluesy, spiritual, heavy, psychedelia. Not for amateurs, but definitely for anyone with a real appreciation for good music, whatever the genre. One of the best albums I have ever listened to. For me, this one says it all. Everyone else eat your hearts out.