Brainbox

Reviews

Brainbox

Brainbox
1969

The music of Brainbox is best described as progressive blues rock with a psychedelic vibe. The main attraction is of course the guitar playing of Jan Akkerman, but the soulful vocals of Kaz Lux are very distinctive for the music as well. Added with the powerful bass of Andre Reynen and the creative, jazzy drumming of Pierre van der Linden this is a great album.

It opens with one of their most progressive tracks, Dark Rose. This is a sort of proto-Hocus Pocus (the Focus hit). There are some very fast and furious guitar breaks by Akkerman and a wonderful flute solo played by Solution member Tom Barlage. It takes some time to recover from this one, so the next song is a not so interesting cover of a Tim Hardin song. This is followed by a nice blues tune with some typical Akkerman chords. The adaptation of Scarborough Fair has again a progressive flavour. Akkerman plays acoustic guitar and Barlage again adds his beautiful flute. On the album is also a version of the classic Summertime. This is one of the better versions, with again a brilliant guitar solo. Sinner's Prayer is another typical blues song. The b-side of the album is occupied by the psychedelic Sea of Delight with long guitar, bass and drum solos. It starts and ends as an ordinary rock song, but the long middle part is truly a psychedelic trip. The best moments are occupied by Akkerman's guitarwork, but there a also some tedious moments with the inevitable drum and bass solos. Overall a good track though.

On the CD release you can also find the a- and b-sides of their first two 45s. Down Man is a good original song, Woman's Gone is a sad blues song with the piano played by Rob Hoeke and bass by Akkerman, because at that time they didn't have a bass player. The second single is an edit of the long Sea of Delight, paired with a rock song with a wah-wah drenched guitar. This is as good as an interesting album, because soon after this release Akkerman and van der Linden became Focus members and went on for great musical fortune.

(Agemo, Dutch Progressive Rock of the Seventies)

Holland's Brainbox was part of the Benelux Invasion consisting of Stockholm's ABBA, Shocking Blue from the Netherlands, Denmark's the Savage Rose, and, of course, Blue Swede, a convergence a bit more subtle than the British Invasion and spanning over a decade. While H.P. Lovecraft kept changing members around the drummer, this band would release a record with totally new people in 1972, that work entitled Parts. Yet the original Brainbox does have qualities somewhat resembling the earlier H.P. Lovecraft, and is a worthwhile collection of musically diverse and eclectic performances. The decent liner notes call this "progressive pop," and in some respects it is, though they shift gears from the Simon & Garfunkel classic "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" to the 17-minute plus original "Sea of Delight," and take lots of other directions in between. The Damned had a song called "New Rose," which is where the French record label got its name, and there was the aforementioned Savage Rose, but Brainbox start the album with "Dark Rose," a blend of Jethro Tull meets the Mothers of Invention. Brainbox ups the ante by sliding into Tim Hardin and a very credible cover of "Reason to Believe" a full two years before Rod Stewart would get a B-side hit with it (the original A-side of the "Maggie Mae" single), they pull off a chameleon-like change on this to become folk rockers. Casimirz Lux has a very appealing voice with a bit of Stewart's rasp, making "Reason to Believe" a highlight of the album. The liner notes credit Jimmy Smith for writing "Baby, What You Want Me to Do," but the tracking properly gives it to Jimmy Reed, and his Top 40 1960 hit is as bluesy as you can get here, the band changing styles yet again and showing their grasp and appreciation of American music. From progressive rock to folk-rock to blues-rock to the folk-pop of Simon & Garfunkel, who is to say they weren't rewriting Blind Faith's lengthy "Do What You Like" by way of "Sea of Joy" for their epic "Sea of Delight"? The album is a dense amalgam of sounds and themes from England and America, but is reverent in its borrowing and presentation. Brainbox's rendition of "Summertime" sounds like Deep Purple adding heavy keyboard sounds and slowing up the Billy Stewart 1966 hit reinvention of the Gershwin tune from Porgy & Bess. Of course, Janis Joplin did it two years earlier than Brainbox and psychedelicized it with an immortal performance — but a good song is a good song, and this is Jan Akkerman before he would give us "Hocus Pocus" from Focus, and that fact makes the album more than just a curiosity. Since these gents were so enamoured of American music, it seems credible that they took the Vanilla Fudge sound — famous in Europe a year before it hit in America — and put it on a Janis Joplin favorite. Released with five bonus tracks on CD, including additional versions of "Sea of Delight," this is much more than the "bargain bin" item many American record buyers passed it off as. It's a real diamond in the rough.

(Joe Viglione, All Music Guide)

Have you ever wondered how the beginning of fabulous Dutch Progband FOCUS sounded? Well, here's the answer (somehow) Dutch pop/progband: Brainbox, with the ever fantastic and great Jan Akkerman (guitar) and Pierre van Der Linden (later of Trace) on drums and Kaz Lux, vocals. This album (much like the first Jethro tull) are blues orientated, still both of mentioned bands grew further into the musical excursions and ended up with a fine (each on their own) progressive approach.
Though both of them with the main solo instrument: Flute! And yet another comparison: Amazing guitar, in other words they both had an amazing guitarplayer later to emerge as a So called "guitar hero" but let me stay with this Dutch outfit. Jan Akkerman, are just about the most supreme guitarplayer you can hear, when talking about soulful fills and runs (unlike the Vai, Satriani school), superb feeling & diversity.
First track on this 1969 outlet are: "Dark Rose" with the singer sounding uncanny like Rory gallagher, as a matter of fact, were it not for the flute intervention, you'd think is was Rory and band. Both in presentation and guitarsound.
"Reason to believe" are a folk like tune, originally by Tim Hardin. They even do renditions of "Scarborough fair" and Gershwin's "Summertime".
In fact the only track (including the bonus tracks) that comes close to progressive, are the 16:58 min. long: "Sea of Delight". But for guitar buff's there are plenty of fine moments and yes Akkerman was allready good at that point of his career.
So a mixed bag, but Focus completists will wanna own it!! Others, well if you feel curious and adventurous, try it!

(Tonny Larsen, Progplanet)

The Best (1971)

The Best
(1971)

Not really a "best of" album per say but a stop-gap 2nd LP from Dutch blues-rockers Brainbox. Plagued with personel problems throughout their short 3½ year existence this album features a collection of singles featuring 3 different line-ups with vocalist Kaz Lux being the central component during the 1969-71 period which is featured here. Howling and crying the blues as well as incorporating folk- rock stylings from the UK Lux`s soul drenched vocals don`t immediately give the impression of an Amsterdam pop band emerging from the tail end of the sixties. Mostly song structured music, the fan of progressive rock nonetheless might find some music here worthy of note. Particularily from the other player of interest here, future Focus axe man Jan Akkerman. Akkerman certainly let`s the listener know that this is definitely a nod towards the future with his less straightforward guitar playing on 5 of the 12 tracks presented here. Unfortunately he was kicked out of the group as a result by their manager who had control of the Brainbox name. Because of Akkerman`s distinctive mor ecclectic style this album has the tendancy to sound like a Kaz Lux solo album with various musicians. The other guitarists, Herman Meyer, Rudy deQueljoe and John Schuurmsa also heard here have a much more "standard" approach and play it safer than Akkerman, although they do have their moments.

The dominant pieces for prog afficiados here are without question are the guitar- laden Dark Rose with Akkerman at the helm in addition to one of the best covers of George Gershwin`s "Summertime". Although Janis Joplin beat Brainbox in psyching it out the version here does the piece justice with Akkerman`s superior guitar treatments as well as his Hammond organ work. The only other cover that beats the Brainbox rendition that I`ve heard is perhaps the Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong collaboration! All the other tracks feature Lux`s emotive lyrics ( with the exception of "To You" and "Doomsday Train" which were penned by temporary guitarist Herman Meyer ) and for the most part it is Lux who is the real centerpiece on all the tracks. Shortly after the release of this album Lux recorded a few more singles with the band in the same blues/rock vein and then hit the road with a solo career, often playing with ex-members of Brainbox including a couple of solo collaborations with Akkerman.

"The Best Of Brainbox" has never been released in CD format and this is not likely to occur as all tracks have been made available by EMI Holland on the more recent 2002 CD compilation " The Very Best Brainbox Album Ever ". But for hunters of rock music artifacts it is signifigant both for the excellent cover artwork ( which actually has something to do with the band! ) and as a classic rock document from the fledgling early seventies rock scene from continental Europe. Definitely worth tracking down if you are a connoissuer of seventies vintage vinyl and haven`t dug up this treasure yet.

(Vibrationbaby, Progarchives)

Being an avid Focus fan during the 70's (Focus At The Rainbow is for me one of the best live albums ever) I was familiar with Dutch band Brainbox, albeit in name only. They figure in the Focus family tree due to the presence of the great Jan Akkerman on guitar and the equally fine Pierre van der Linden on drums who both feature on this 1969 self titled debut release along with singer Kazimierz (Kaz) Lux and bassist Andre Reijnen.

Expecting to hear traces of the sound that would define Focus, I was a little surprised by much of the musical style by this Dutch quartet. They produce a variant of British blues rock as popularised by exponents like Rory Gallagher and The Groundhogs with a touch of earthy American blues thrown in for good measure.

After the band began rehearsing in early 1969 much of the songs including Dark Rose and Woman's Gone seem to have originated from jam sessions, and it shows.

For example the lengthy Sea Of Delight (which took up most of side 2 on the original vinyl release) seems to be one long bout of spontaneous improvisation sandwiched between Lux's brief opening and closing vocals. Akkerman's playing here is not too dissimilar to Peter Banks' style of soloing with Yes which is not surprising given that Banks was an early admirer of Akkerman's technique. The bass and drum solos are also impressively performed; in fact these guys could hold their own with most any other rhythm partnership from the same era.

The only other song from the original album that isn't a cover version is the opening Dark Rose. In addition to some fast and frantic playing from Akkerman and inspirational drumming from van der Linden, guest Tom Barlage adds some spirited flute soloing of his own. Probably the most striking aspect however is Lux's raunchy, expressive voice which sits somewhere between Robert Plant and Rod Stewart.

The album's cover versions include three well known and two not so well known tunes. In the latter category are two authentic American blues numbers in the shape of Jimmy Reed's Baby, What You Want Me To Do and Lowell Fulson's Sinner's Prayer. The style here perfectly suits Lux's convincingly raw delivery. Of the others, Tim Hardin's poignant Reason To Believe is given a jaunty rhythm and is nicely performed (two years before Rod Stewart made it famous) whilst a reverential version of the George Gershwin standard Summertime features Akkerman on Hammond organ in addition to guitar.

For Paul Simon's wistful Scarborough Fair the guitarist switches to acoustic for some rootsy folk picking. He's assisted here by Barlage's flute which in addition to Ian Anderson ironically evokes Thijs van Leer's playing in Focus.

The remainder of this re-mastered reissue is made up of no less than eleven bonus tracks almost doubling the length of the original album. These songs come courtesy of the string of Dutch single releases the band enjoyed between 1969 and 1970 bringing together the complete output of this line-up. Several of these songs enjoyed commercial success and it's not too difficult to see why. They are mostly fairly catchy, mid-tempo affairs with lead voice to the fore and noticeably less ambitious guitar work as the tracks progress.

The two songs that probably comes the closest to the sound on the album are Woman's Gone and Down Man. In the former Akkerman's bluesy licks echo Eric Clapton (albeit with a harder edge) as well as featuring some fine piano playing from guest Rob Hoeke whilst Kazimierz's husky delivery during the latter this time evokes Steve Marriot.

Of the rest, the memorable ode to the band's home town Amsterdam - The First Days includes some surprisingly funky guitar work whilst the boogie riff driving So Helpless recalls Humble Pie. The mid-tempo rocker Doomsday Train is reminiscent of The Who with a touch of AC/DC in contrast with the laidback country rock feel of The Smile [Old Friends Have A Right To] with a vocal style that pre-empts The Eagles and America. In fact the majority of these latter songs sees the band evolving from there earlier bluesy style into a more laidback soft rock sound.

Jan Akkerman left Brainbox soon after the album's original release although he didn't so much jump as was pushed. By all accounts the band's dictatorial manager wasn't happy with the fact that the guitarist was occasionally moonlighting with other musicians including an organist/flautist by the name of Thijs van Leer. This of course opened the door for the formation of Focus and a year or so later Pierre van der Linden would also jump the Brainbox ship and join them.

In the meantime Brainbox continued with no less than three guitarists appearing in Akkerman's wake as well as a replacing the bassist, drummer and even the vocalist at various points before the band disbanded around 1972. The subsequent years has seen several Brainbox reunions and gatherings for one-off concerts and currently a line-up that includes Kaz Lux and Pierre van der Linden (but no Jan Akkerman) regularly performs in the Netherlands and is also putting together a new album.

To the end, this release does demonstrate another dimension to their playing and overall the musicianship is superb throughout. Lux's singing is also a revelation, possessing one of the best rock voices I've heard for some time. If you remember the band from first time around with affection the wealth of material here makes it highly recommended.

(Geoff Feakes0\, DPRP)

To You

You
(1972)

This double album was released after the original Brainbox ceased to exist, and before the new Brainbox was formed. It consists of the first album complemented with the singles they released during that period.

After the first album the music of Brainbox became more straight forward rock, such as To you and The Flight or the heavy Doomsday Train. The blues wasn't completely gone as can be heard in So Helpless. Mobilea sounds a lot like Albatross by Fleetwood Mac. These are all nice tracks, but not as interesting as on their first album.

(Dutch Progressive Rock of the Seventies)

The Very Best (2002)

The Very Best
(2002)

You get 22 tracks (total time 78:41) of Brainbox here. The tracks are from 1968-1972. The opening track "Virgin" is a mean and very good song from 1971, Akkerman (from FOCUS) plays cool riffs ans steals the scene completely. The next track "Amsterdam, the first days" (1969) is even better. Here the melody is very 'funky' and Akkerman uses some kind of wah-wah effect on his guitar to great 'effect' for this blazing track. One of the reasons that prevented me from giving this solid collection a 5-star rating is the bluessongs that occur here and there. I really dont like blues, and these three-chord songs are only pleasant to listen to because Akkerman plays the guitar and solos on them. But a track like "Sinner's prayer" (1969) will still be appreciated by most people. "Dark rose" (1969) is another slightly bluesy track, it has some flute playing in it. "Down man" from 1968 was Brainbox' debut single, a good and 'groovy' track, reminding of Spooky Tooth or Cream in sound. Track 9 is a cool version of Gershwin's "Summertime" from (1969). Also worth mentioning is a cover of "Scarbrough Fair" (1969) with has some gentle flute playing in it also, and Akkermans great acoustic guitar playing. "Sea of delight" from 1970 is another classic Brainbox track. It is here in the 'edited' version (3:03) than from the Brainbox album, the self titled, that came 1970. All of the tracks from that album is included on this collection except the long version of "Sea of delight" that is 16:58(!). I dont know the bands history that well, because the liner notes in the booklet are all in dutch. Too bad cos it would be nice to get some information about this great band. Guitarist Jan Akkerman later joined Focus and recorded the three masterpieces "Moving Waves", "Focus 3" and "Hamburger Concerto". This is a great collection, and anyone who like bands like Cream, Traffic, Spooky Tooth and early 70's bands with lots of guitar and riffing. But there are not only songs in the slightly harder rock-style here; many songs are also calmer, more melodious which gives the album and the band a sound that spans over many styles and genres. This dutch band deserves more attention, and this comprehensive collection is the perfect introduction to this great band.

(Anglagard, Amazon)

Brainbox were more of a pop band which was part of the Benelux invasion of the late sixties and this is a collection of most of their singles released during their brief existence from 1969 to 1972. Perhaps the biggest misconception surrounding this band is that Jan Akkerman was the guitarist throughout this period when in actual fact he appeared on only 3 singles and one album. Overshadowed by the work that Akkerman contributed to neo-classical rock monolith Focus, Brainbox should be remembered in their own right for their powerful showy blend of rock, folk and electric blues much to the credit of Kaz Lux`s angelic vocals which soar up into the stratosphere. In fact, while including everything Akkerman recorded with the band with the exception of the longer cut of "Sea Of Delight" ( we get to hear the single version here ), the other three guitar players which appear on this anthology with Lux are better suited to his bluesy style and don`t clash as much as Akkerman`s over the top antics which chomp more at the bit as evidenced on Dark Rose which is without question the bands staple. The difference between the guitar players can be clearly discerned on the instrumental Mobilea which has a gentle country feel to it which features Rudy de Queljoe who became the mainstay of the group after Akkerman left along with Hermann Meyer and later John Schuursma. Several exceptionally interpreted cover versions from the Akkerman " era" of well known pieces, most notably George Gershwin`s "Summertime" and Simon and Garfunkel`s "Scarborough Fair" will also surely raise some eyebrows upon first play for listeners with more "progressive" expectations. The final two tracks are performed by a band which was put together by the manager of the band who retained control of the band`s name after Lux departed on a solo career with drummer Frans Smit being the only left over member from the Kaz Lux lineups. Included here are the A sides of two singles taken from the only LP recorded by this lineup entitled " Parts". Perhaps included here to make the package more complete many would argue for the longer version of "Sea Of Delight" with Akkerman from the first album which fortunately is also available in CD format. One can see the predicament the new members were in, and one of the tracks entitled "Dilemma", whether intentionally or not, reflects this sentiment leaning more towards straight-forward rock while the other track the folky ballad, "Part Of Me Is Part Of You" attempts to move closer to the sound of the Lux lineups.

One problem with this compilation ( as with many compilations ) is that the tracks are not presented in chronological order perhaps for reasons of musical flow. However this leads to confusion especially given overlapping personel changes within the band over such a short period of time. One of those big "what ifs" certainly arise here as Akkerman, already with one solo album under his belt at the time this material was released, was literally on fire and at a creative peak with an already established virtuosity on his instrument. Ironically, Akkerman was fired by the band`s manager who wanted a more mainstream sound from the band and it was this that lead ultimately to the downfall of the band in the long run with the art/rock movement taking more precedence for popular music audience ears. Nonetheless the song-oriented music found here is actually superior to a lot of similar bands that appeared during the psychedelic craze of the late sixties. Unfortunately Brainbox arrived just alitle too late at a period where musical tastes were in a transition from music that spoke to the body and emotion to music that spoke more to the intellect. Nonetheless, fans of Bad Company, Spooky Tooth or Rory Gallager who have somehow bypassed Brainbox will have no problem appreciating this exceptional band which seemingly fell victim to changing times with all their important work being rationalized in this excellent anthology.

(Vibrationbaby, Progarchives)

The Last Train (2004)
The Last Train
(2004)

Before the Brainbox reunion started, some members were since 2001 playing in the Dutch bluesband Flavium. The line-up of that formation was Anne Geert Bonder and Rudy de Queljoe on guitar, Eric Bagchus on bass, Pierre van der Linden on drums and Kaz Lux on vocals. They played an exciting combination of Flavium blues and some of the best Brainbox songs.(A mix between blues, psychedelica and powerpop.) At the end of 2002 Kaz Lux introduced singer/blues harp player Jos Veldhuizen on stage, and told the audience about a complete reunion of both groups. Guitarist John Schuursma was willing to play in Brainbox again and Bonders continued Flavium with Veldhuizen and Rob Geboers on piano. Bagchus and van der Linden kept playing in both bands and did two shows the same evening, 'cause they did a tour with each other. Easter 2003 was their first concert. Kaz Lux kicked off the show with a solo act of half a hour, followed by Flavium and Brainbox as headliner. The last train is a valuable live recording which shows what a delightful band Brainbox was at that time. The cd opens with the bluesrock of Baby,with as special guest Rob Geboers on piano. To you and Cruel train belong to the best songs they made without Akkerman and are played longer than the original version.It contains fascinating guitarwork from Schuursma and de Queljoe. Another bluessong is Sinner's prayer, with Jos Veldhuizen on the blues harp. Doomsday train is a faster,more heavy song with Kaz Lux as extra guitarplayer. It's made a little longer and mostly they played it again at the end of the evening. Sea of delight is called a song about makin'love by Kaz Lux and has a jazzy guitarsection and a short drumsolo by masterdrummer van der Linden. Summertime is less powerful than the version with Akkerman.It sounds tame and is not something to call a highlight. The instrumental Mobilea is very pleasant and a pause for the voice of Kaz Lux. Dark rose is a song the audience likes to hear. A faster song with the second drumsolo from van der Linden. Between Alpha and Omega is a restful one with an extra long psychedelic guitarpart by Rudy de Queljoe. The end of the evening is almost reached. Time for a strong version of the all-time favourite Down man. That song really rocks! The last song Gloria is a favourite of Lux and was written by Van Morrison for his band Them. The last train was recorded in july 2004. In september of that year they did their last show. Brainbox was disbanded because Kaz Lux had hearing damage. Still he has, but armed with special hearing protection he decided to re-form Brainbox again. Since january 2010 they appear on stage again with Kees van der Laarsse on bass. Pierre van der Linden is member of Focus and Brainbox. I saw them in january and it was sold out.

(Rolf Bos, Progarchives)

Dark Rose (2012)

Dark Rose / Their 45s
(2012)

The persuasive buzz of 'Down Man' and the sublime rendering of Gershwin's perennial 'Summertime' from their eponymous debut are but two offerings that should make people acutely aware of the greatness of Dutch masters Brainbox. And if you've never copped an ear to the group before, then Pseudonym's recent release of Dark Rose, a compilation of their 45s and more… is the ideal place to begin.

Jan Akkermans (pre-Focus) fiery-riffing that can be heard throughout the title cut is utterly superb, and will have you heaping high praise onto these guys instantly; it appears twice too, once in much shorter, delightfully crunchy demo form, while the other is a much lengthier interpretation, but with less of that particularly primal, guttural feel spewing from the guitar, that won't be everyone's cup of cocoa. There's also two variations of 'Sea Of Delight' on offer; the brevity, sharpness and sustained vibrancy of the first is, for me anyway, one of the standout tracks here, and indeed across the complete Brainbox canon.

Also highly impressive, and supremely melodic is 'The Flight', a compelling, and quite astounding piece of work that seems to want to push things - atypically for Brainbox - in the direction of the later Byrds. While I'm not overly keen on a lot of McGuinn and Co's post-60s material, I love this track to bits and wanted to play it over and over again when I first heard it, but didn't cos I didn't want to disturb the record's fine momentum. One of the group's most thunderingly propulsive prog-psych slanted outings is 'Virgin', built around a heady dose of whirlwind guitar and battering-ram drums, of which the longer demo version has ex-Dragonfly man Rudy De Queljoe, and Frans Smit duelling for all their worth; not unlike the sounds frequently made by Can's Michael Karoli and Jaki Liebezeit.

There's also a 23 minute plus demo of 'Sea Of Delight' that can, and does, get a trifle boring sometimes, but, fear not, as it also contains some seriously wiggy, and highly experimental passages. A wonderful set of photographs has been included, and informative sleevenote information flows from Mike Stax's pen. Altogether this is a fantastic and very welcome release that you'll need if you want to experience more of the Netherlands' out-there sounds from the mad 60s and early 70s.

(Lenny Helsing, Psychedelic Baby)