Brinsley Schwarz: Brinsley Schwarz (1970)
Brinsley Schwarz are best remembered as either (a) the band fronted by Nick Lowe, who would go on to a solo career of legendary proportions, or (b) the band that later evolved into the Rumour, Graham Parker's backing band. For most of their run through the early half of the 70s, they were one of the key players in the UK "pub rock" scene, recording and performing middle-of-the-road R&B and blue-eyed soul and largely unobjectionable pop songs you might hear in a small bar while grabbing a pint. Though the band had some really solid work, not much of it is what you'd call wholly essential (aside from the initial recording of Lowe's "What's So Funny 'bout Peace, Love & Understanding," a tremendous jangly pop song that might be more fondly recalled today if it wasn't so clearly surpassed by Elvis Costello's superior cover (produced by Lowe)).
But the band's self-titled 1970 debut sounds dramatically different from the pub rock of their later albums. Instead, it's full of harmony-drenched Americana, fitting in nicely alongside the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album and American Beauty-era Grateful Dead. It's a lovely record, and sounds surprisingly authentic as rural or West Coast American music rather than as the work of a wholly British act.
The opening track, "Hymn To Me," is the clear highlight, an individual declaration of independence with a hypnotic backwoods feel bathed in glorious harmonies. But nearly as good are the perky, bubbly "Shining Brightly"; Lowe's sweetly acoustic, almost bluegrassy "Rock And Roll Women"; and the CSN-worthy psychedelic jams of "Lady Constant" and "Mayfly." The closer, "Ballad of a Has Been Beauty Queen," starts off loud and rocking, a Mott the Hoople dead ringer, before slipping into an extended opus, mellow and understated before again finding the band in full-on jam-band mode.
The album doesn't stream on Spotify, but it really is worth tracking down by anyone with a hankering for some CSN and Dead-like 70s vibes.
Here's an audio rip of "Hymn To Me":
I'm also partial to the follow-up from later the same year, Despite It All, which retained some of the Americana elements of the debut while moving in the direction of the (blander) pub rock of later albums. Which isn't to say most of their albums aren't good, and don't have a few nice tracks apiece, but it's the first one that I find strays into the territory of the truly great. And while I can't vouch for the quality, Amazon lists a box set which has the band's first 5 albums for less than $20, which seems totally crazy; check it out.