Former Peter & The Prophets garage rocker from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bixby was frustrated that the band ignored his original compositions, so he walked away and started playing acoustic guitar at neighborhood coffeehouses. Spending most of 1967 in an LCD-induced haze, he felt “emptied out” and started “looking for a way of recovering myself.” His journey led him to frustrating encounters with the local Night Watch ministry and an enlightening communication at a local church with what he took to be the voice of God. A second confrontation led to an independent study of the Bible, particularly the stories of other visionaries. Suitably inspired, Bixby sat down and composed the entire album (along with most of his second album, Harbinger’s “Second Coming” – reviewed elsewhere this issue) in six weeks in 1969. Thus was born one of the rarest and most highly prized Christian folk albums, a classic of the loner/downer folk genre that trades for four figures in the collectors’ market.
Recorded across three evenings in a friend’s living room using just a four-track recorder and an echo-laden Roberts reel-to-reel, Bixby is occasionally accompanied by Brian MacInnes on guitar, but it’s mostly just him and his harmonica, flute, and acoustic guitar. Opening with the stage-setting “Drug Song,” Bixby empties his soul with lyrics about “losing his mind,” and “destroying his temple” and it’s all downhill from there! There’s a peaceful air of early Donovan (“Young Girl Blues” springs immediately to mind) mixed with Jackson C. Frank, so this is not exactly the stuff you’ll toss on at parties. Rather, it’s perfect if you’re in a mournful, reflective Nick Drake mood – perfect for navel-gazing and inner contemplation.
The lyrics are very autobiographical, but his experiences are so universal that anyone can relate to similar events in their own lives, thus making the songs timeless. Admittedly, there is a bit of a depressing, pity party atmosphere the deeper you get into the record and the message gets a little worn out by the time you reach the end of Side 1, but if you’re in a lonely place, looking for solace and comfort, just listening to another tortured soul fighting through the darkness can only help to recenter your thoughts. Just listen to the lyrics of tracks like “I Have Seen Him,” “Prayer,” or “Open Doors,” and the light may start to shine on an otherwise dark and dreary existence. It’s a soul-searching album that resulted in Bixby’s epiphany and ultimately put him in a more spiritual, even happy place. Perhaps it will do the same for you.
Dave’s follow up, the recently discovered “Second Coming” was written and recorded around the same time, but the presence of additional musicians and a professional studio resulted in the moniker Harbinger, perhaps a not-so-subtle pun when coupled with the album title! Once again, the liner notes by Matvei Procak, the man who tracked down Bixby and helped arranged both reissues, include an extensive interview with Bixby that puts the entire process into perspective. There’s a clear sense of antagonism towards producer Don DeGraaf, the cult leader of “The Group” that Bixby and his friends joined, but Bixby still seems content that at least their contact led to the albums which allowed him to share his inner turmoil and ultimate spiritual resurrection. Thus, Second Coming presents itself more as a warning of the dangers of false prophets – “a cautionary example of the conneciton between falsehood and hope and also a quest into human spiritual potential.
The album’s production qualities may also make it more accessible than the debut, although the melodies are still pretty rudimentary and the vinyl transfer is pretty rough going at times – there’s a lot of distortion and overamplification, but it’s hard to tell if that was on the original recording or a result of the transfer. Sandy Johnson’s backing vocals on a number of tracks lighten’s the load somewhat, and there’s some nice dual guitar interplay between Bixby and MacInnes on opener, “Cosmic Energy,” which loses steam about halfway through for an introspective middle eight that’s closer to the mood of the debut before segueing back into the CSNY-styled acoustic stomper that it started out as. Perhaps by the time he got to recording these tracks, Bixby may have started to run out of original tunes to hang his confessional lyrics on, as “Control” appropriates lyrics and melodies straight off of Bowie’s “Space Odyssey,” and the druggy, 7½-minute “Circus Mind” seems to owe more than a passing resemblance to The Beatles “You Won’t See Me” and the rest of the melodies seem interchangeable and get tired pretty quickly. It’s still quite mellow and, at times, a bit twee, but it certainly is sincere and might just take the edge off a rough day at the office. 7/10 -- Jeff Penczak (15 July, 2009)