As Beatles covers go, “A Day in the Life” is a doozy, and Rain’s Norsk Suite boldly opens with it. By track three they’re on to “Strawberry Fields Forever”, and when they finally hit “Isolation” later on, it’s clear these guys have a thing for John Lennon. At least two of those three are among the finest songs ever written, so just how well do the remaining original compositions hold up? And who exactly are these guys?
Rain is one of those impossibly obscure psychedelic era groups who never released a proper LP in their day, but are eventually given a shot at redemption in hindsight through archival labels like Germany’s Shadoks. Turns out this Norwegian outfit recorded an entire album at the tail end of the ‘60s that never saw the light of day. What a shame. Norsk Suite is an experimental, immersive set that holds its own with like-minded bands like Vanilla Fudge, with whom they might well have been contemporaries had things turned out differently.
Borrowing just as much from modern classical and improvisational jazz forms as from rock, Rain were really out on a limb and taking chances. The material is far enough out that, interspersed as they are, the Beatles songs could have made for a wild unevenness depending on how straight they played them. Well, the good news is they don’t. Stylistically they’re swallowed into the already widely varying whole while also bolstering the album with their inherently more succinct structure and tangibility. All three are treated to explosive arrangements at once formidable and impressively original. Taking the primal scream origins of Lennon’s solo “Isolation” seriously, Rain also imbues the song with a rollicking start-and-stop electric squall that fits like a glove, and seamlessly gives way to the album’s finale.
The bilingual vocals are hit or miss, so it’s good that elsewhere the group’s wide array of instrumental prowess is provided plenty of broad expanses to shine on its own. Take the supreme “Whine and Wail”, which lays into a top-notch groove and fills out with free-form sax, a sweet wah-wah breakdown and brass accompaniment ala Herbie Hancock, only relenting after five minutes plus in time for “Strawberry Fields Forever”. From there it’s onto the musique concrete of the title track, and the dreamy, occasionally exasperating mid-album stretch that results in the extended meet-the-band variety hour of “Sveins Vise”.
Rather than try to make the hard sell of marketing themselves to an international audience or even finding a label, the band came under the employ of Norway’s National Theatre around the time they were recording the tracks heard here. In what must have seemed a natural outlet, they continued to apply their intricate, highly practiced proclivities in service of musical theatre and television throughout the 1970s, at the expense of maintaining their momentum as an autonomous act.
Finally now we can hear what might have been. Rain was tight, anchored by impeccable drumming, precise guitar work and lucid Hammond organ, courtesy of Carl Jorgen Kionig, Asmund Feidje and Knut Heljar Hagen respectively. Whether for better or worse (and it does go both ways), this is attention-demanding music with its fair share of inspired moments.
// Notes from the Road
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