It seems rather tragic that F.J. McMahon has been reduced to a footnote in musical history. Indeed, try to find him on Wikipedia, and all you are met with is a page of fifty or so artists previously having been given exposure by Rev-Ola Records, a Creation imprint specialising in re-issues. Of the many acts listed, McMahon is one of very few whose name is still “in red”, and hence with no further information on the world’s biggest online encyclopaedia.
Granted, as the press release tells me, Spirit Of The Golden Juice was only “originally pressed in a small quantity and scattered along the California coastline in 1969“, but listening to it now, it’s hard to make sense of how this wasn’t picked up and forever revered as one of the greatest records of the sixties. Because, you know, it IS.
You thought Troubadour was the ultimate in soul-soothing albums? That JJ Cale was king of the kickbacks? Well think again. From the easy strains of opener ‘Sister Brother‘ – which features an acoustic guitar so chilled out that it sounds like it’s being massaged, simple no frills drum beats and a vocal not too far removed from Scott Walker – right through to the curtain closing title track, this time containing some finger-picking that Ry Cooder would have been proud of, Spirit Of The Golden Juice is simply a masterclass in melancholia.
For all its dreamy posturing though, there is clearly a tortured soul in there somewhere. Take, as Exhibit A, the wistful ‘Early Blue‘, once again a work of sublime beauty, but pay attention to the lyrics and you suddenly notice lines like “In the mornings light I try to hide from people“, or “How does it feel to feel free? Don’t ask me, my friend.” Much of this undoubtedly stems from McMahon’s time serving in Vietnam, which was so patently a crushing experience that it was always going to seep into his one and only long player. “I feed my wife and my children too / they wear good clothes and got education dues / I don’t see no reason for killing some family man / I never knew what they meant by duty / I don’t understand.” – If that doesn’t say it all, I don’t know what does; it’s both poignant and devastating.
‘Enough It Is Done‘, conversely, has a touch of The Lovin’ Spoonful‘s ‘Summer In The City‘ about it, while ‘The Learned Man‘ proves that, despite its darker undertones, Spirit Of The Golden Juice is not without wit: “I stood there gazing at the trees and the ocean / wondering why he wouldn’t speak / then it came to me in one quick motion / and I apologised for disturbing his peace.”
If you haven’t heard this wonderful album before, I urge you to seek it out, and, next time you see a list of the “Greatest Albums Of The Sixties” being featured in whichever music monthly is running with it this time, have a quick flick through to make sure McMahon’s masterpiece is in there. If it isn’t, tear the damn thing into tiny pieces there and then. And if any irate shopkeepers approach you, hold your hand in the air to gesture silence, and merely say “Enough. It is done.”
Spirit Of The Golden Juice is re-issued through Anthology on 11th August.