The Flock deserve more than a footnote, but not the full-fleged treatment that an entry in The Anal Annals of American Progressive Rock would surely give them. They released three separate albums all of which had separate ideas behind them, and with steadily decreasing results. Their first album focuses on classical violinist Jerry Goodman, with counter-point done by a horn section (this was a Chicago band, after all) and guitarist Fred Glickstein. Shifting between styles within songs was the key to their success, as was letting Goodman stretch out as much as possible. The second album, Dinosaur Swamps reigned Goodman in, hampered itself by changing styles too much, and was way over-produced. But both of these albums are certainly a different form of progressive rock - sort of Chicago with Seatrain's violin. But Goodman then left for John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra and the band fell apart in 1971. It was revived by Glickstein and the rhythm section in the mid-70s without horns, but with a token violinist and a synth-loving keyboardist. The final Flock album was self-consciously "progressive" and laid claim to being one of the first "progressive" bands while stumbling all over themselves to imitate crappy popular "progressive" music like Styx (another Chicago band). In short, a deserved, obnoxious flop.
Dinosaur Swamp shows that band more at home with their prog and jazz sensibilities. This is even more progressive than their self titled debut, and completely bewildering - right down to the intricate gatefold artwork which almost indecipherable. This is a very dense sounding album - usually Glickstein (using both guitar and keyboards) and Goodman are playing at the same time, and frequently with the horns (who get a larger role). Either the group or producer John McClure is fascinated with sound effects that have already become passé for the beginning or endings of songs, like making foghorn noises (the opening of the Steve Miller Band's Sailor anyone?), speeding up the track, or hideous laughing/calliope from hell noises. The songs aren't much better, because the band has too many musical ideas. You have psychedelia ("Hornshmeyer's Island" which alternates between quiet versus and loud, helium-voiced choruses), blues ("Crabfoot" with percussion solos, backwards noises, a strange horn noise section that's not quite a John Zorn wet dream), a romantic folk ballad with Salvation Army style horns ("Mermaid") and even a strong country feel on "Big Bird". The biggest surprise is that the group almost completely fails to capitalize on Goodman. Sure, he's playing, but he doesn't have any lengthy solos, only spots now and again, and a couple of interesting tones (wah-wah on "Crabfoot", and an underwater tone that makes it sound like a mellotron on "Hornschmeyer's Island"). The last track, "Uranian Sircus" has ridiculous spoken versus, a chorus of "Uranian Sircus is on it's way to town!" and fun production tricks like reverb and slightly phased vocals. Repetitive, annoying, but sort-of interesting in a grotesque manner. Actually, there's quite a bit of nice playing within these tracks when they get a chance to stretch out, but there's so many ideas to wade through that frequently the band doesn't get there. Because they never get around to playing, or are changing too much the weak nature of their lyrics (Hornschmeyer's Island" has a few 'gems') and the inter-song filler (the intro to "Big Bird", Glickstein's guitar lines in "Lighthouse") shines through. While their debut provided ample space for each person in the band (apportioned by talents, of course) with almost everyone going at once it's neither overly structured or organized chaos, but like an large object made out of Legos - done in stages, fun for the assemblers, perhaps interesting to look at for a short while, but with a utility approaching zero. In trying to do everything the Flock amply demonstrate they are not the musical equivalent of an uncollapsed wave function, but instead a band that had too much time on their hands, too little quality control, and little knowledge about their strengths.
Jerry Goodman fans, if you don't already have a copy of this recording, what are you waiting for?
Rick Canoff (sax)
Fred Glickstein (guitar, keyboards, vocals)
Jerry Goodman (violin, guitar, vocals)
Ron Karpman (drums)
Frank Posa (trumpet)
Jerry Smith (bass)
Tom Webb (sax)