McDonald and Giles: McDonald and Giles (1971)

Heading back into my high school prog years for one of the great lost art rock classics -- essentially the alternative second King Crimson album (and arguably as good as or better than the "real" second King Crimson album).

Following the release of the spellbinding debut, In The Court of the Crimson King, the band splintered.  Guitarist Robert Fripp kept the name, continuing to record King Crimson albums with a rotating cast of colleagues (both through the first half of the 70s, and then in its later reconfigurations in the 80s and right on up to the present).  But the band's co-founders, multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald and drummer/vocalist Michael Giles, split off and recorded their own album.  Alas, it turned out to be a one-off, McDonald going on to presumably make a shit-ton of money with (yecch) Foreigner, Giles to a long career as a session musician.

But McDonald and Giles is a terrific little one-off.  It lacks Court's heavier aspects (i.e. "20th Century Schizoid Man") and darker psychedelia, but retains the extended jazzy free-form experiments, while adding some catchy pop hooks.  In addition to its namesakes, Giles' brother Peter played bass, as he had on Court, and King Crimson lyricist Peter Sinfield provided lyrics for a couple of the tunes, arguably making this a more fulsome successor to Court than Crimson's own contemporaneously-released In The Wake of Poseidon.  Indeed, Wake highlight "Cadence and Cascade" is essentially the same song as this album's "Flight Of The Ibis," albeit with different lyrics.

The album's highlight is opening track "Suite In C," which starts and ends with a jazzy little pop jaunt, studio-tweaked vocals and a catchy hook, with a long instrumental break in the center.  It's a great example of prog in all its glory and excess, as good as anything the post-Court Crimson would record.  Equally great is "Tomorrow's People," offering another terrific guitar & woodwind hook in the main section, as well as another enthralling instrumental jam.

The album isn't perfect.  As a vocalist, Giles isn't on the same plane as Greg Lake (though Lake was no longer part of King Crimson after the first album either, heading off into the wasteland of ELP).  And the side two extended "Birdman" suite is a little aimless, at times venturing into the more twee Brittania of the fun but dated pre-Crimson Giles, Giles & Fripp album.  Still, this is as worthy an entry in the Crimson canon as Fripp's far-better-known 70s work.

Here's a fantastic (after a long lead-in) live version of "Tomorrow's People" from a later McDonald/Giles reunion (performing as the 21st Century Schizoid Band):


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