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Pearls Before Swine

+ {Tom Rapp}

Formed 1965 in Eau Gallie/Melbourne, Florida, USA by singer-songwriter, Tom Rapp (whose only claim to fame was finishing above DYLAN in a local talent contest), PBS were the East Coast’s answer to acid-folkies JEFFERSON AIRPLANE. The name PEARLS BEFORE SWINE derives from a passage in the Bible taken from Matthew 7:6 KJV.
Signing to New York’s avant-garde ESP-Disk label (also home to the FUGS), Rapp and his surf-friendly high school chums, Wayne Harley, Lane Lederer and Roger Crissinger found growing cult status through the release of their low-key debut LP, ONE NATION UNDERGROUND (1967) {*8}.
Highly unusual in the fact that Rapp was hampered/characterised by a lisp, the set – with its eerie “Hell Panel” art sleeve from Hieronymous Bosch’s “Garden Of Earthly Delights” – nevertheless sold out its initial copies in the space of months; it’s since achieved sales of over 200,000. The record opened with the classy `Another Time’, probably Rapp’s best three minutes, while follow-on cut is a cover of Anne-Rachel “Saxie” Dowell’s Farfisa-led `Playmate’; the impersonation of DYLAN throughout is inspiring. Penned by Rapp & Crissinger, `Ballad To An Amber Lady’, is another highlight, but big Victorian hippie marks go to `(Oh Dear) Miss Morse’; the Morse code in question spells out F-U-C-K. Inspired by the aforementioned FUGS, flop 45 `Drop Out!’ has all the psychedelic traits of the 60s – ditto The DOORS for `Morning Song’ and `Uncle John’. Utilizing words from Roman tombs, Rapp’s historical rapport shines out beyond the grave through `I Shall Not Care’, while Crissinger & Lederer’s Floyd-ian piece, `The Surrealist Waltz’, closes the set in fine style; the former departed shortly afterwards.
Equally surreal, sophomore LP BALAKLAVA (1968) {*7} delved even further into historic times, the 1854-56 Crimean War (and Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade) used as an ironic parallel protest to the day’s Vietnam War. Combining the odd chirp and delicate flute, Rapp’s `Images Of April’ was one of the “folk” cues on show here, others being the Biblical `There Was A Man’ and a 5-minute cover of LEONARD COHEN’s `Suzanne’; the PITNEY/SEDAKA-esque `I Saw The World’ was the Brill Building-bubblegum in the pack. No doubt influenced by TIM BUCKLEY, `Lepers And Roses’ was a stunning acid-folk number. The same could be said for the Celtic/Tolkien-themed finale, `Ring Thing’, coming as it did after a short `Florence Nightingale’-voxed interlude curiosity (and some more words from `Trumpeter Landfrey…’).
Switching to Reprise Records the following year, an all-new PEARLS BEFORE SWINE (only Rapp and Harley remained) hit the high spot of No.200 with their third album, THESE THINGS TOO (1969) {*4}. Disappointing and borrowing from The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND’s self-indulgence and good-time approach, the few choice cuts came through `Wizard Of Is’ and a reading of DYLAN’s `I Shall Be Released’. The group subsequently recorded two above/below-par albums from Nashville (1970’s THE USE OF ASHES {*6} and 1971’s CITY OF GOLD {*4}) with session men from AREA CODE 615, the latter seeing two covers: JUDY COLLINS’ `My Father’ and ROD McKUEN/JACQUES BREL’s `Seasons In The Sun’ (a chart-topper a few years later for TERRY JACKS).
A second TOM RAPP/PEARLS BEFORE SWINE joint effort, …BEAUTIFUL LIES YOU COULD LIVE IN (1971) {*7}, returned the set-up to more familiar folk-rock standing; his wife Elisabeth Noyes afforded the odd vocal or harmony piece, while other help came via Billy Mundi and Grady Tate (drums), Amos Garrett and Stu Scharf (guitars) and Bob Dorough (piano). Renewing his DYLAN country-folk mannerisms once again (with of course his own succinct styling), his gospel-tinged revamp of COHEN’s `Bird On The Wire’ and other highlights like `Island Lady’, `Snow Queen’ and `Epitaph’ were worth the admission price.
With only Elisabeth on board for TOM RAPP’s solo debut, FAMILIAR SONGS (1972) {*4}, Reprise released the LP without the sanction of Tom himself, the result being a hotchpotch of experimental try-outs of old cuts that should’ve stayed “unfamiliar”.
Coming across as some disparate hippie trying to make it in the country-rock scene, TOM RAPP’s solo album proper (his first of two for Blue Thumb Records), STARDANCER (1973) {*4}, found the slick mix of Nashville and protest-folk (all but his anti-war `Fourth Day In July’) hard musical partners to match up. 1973’s SUNFOREST {*6} improved things by leaps and bounds, but it’d all come a bit late in the day; it was clear RAPP wasn’t making the grade and he “dropped out”.
Emerging from his home in Scandinavia after a good 25 years, RAPP (alongside long-time fan, Nick Saloman of The BEVIS FROND), got together for one last psych-folk solo effort, A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR (1999) {*7}, a record which was also produced by Damon Krukowski (of DAMON & NAOMI fame) and Ade Shaw; they also sessioned in the studio. Two tracks that stand out from the pack paid respective homage, the first `The Swimmer (For Kurt Cobain)’, the second `Silver Apples II (For Simeon)’, while the 10-minute closing collage `Shoebox Symphony’, was literally found lying in a shoebox from his PBS days.
It was indeed a sad day on February 11, 2018, that saw the passing of TOM RAPP, age 70.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Apr2015-Feb2018

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