Mike Heron - Smiling Men with Bad Reputations [Talking Elephant Records - 2015]
Smiling Men with Bad Reputations was the first solo album from Mike Heron- one of the main songwriters behind highly respected & distinct sounding progressive folk/ genre mixing Scottish project The Incredible String Band. And here we have a 2015 CD reissue of the album.
It’s fair to say I’m somewhat of a fan of pretty much all of ISB back catalogue, and even find some worth in the bands later less thought after albums-such as 1972’s EarthSpan , and 1973 No Ruinous Feud, which saw them move onto more formal, conventional & structured blend of light prog rock, singer-songwriter fare, and folk. Up until getting this release through I’d never heard any of Mr Heron’s Solo work, so I was quite looking forward to the proposition as I’d been such a fan of ISB.
The album was originally released back in 1971, and saw Heron teaming up with a whole host of respected & known musical figures of the time, such as John Cale, Richard Thompson, Pete Townsheand, Ronnie Lane, Elton John, and Jimmy Page. On the whole the album leaned more towards conventional & structured sound of later ISB work, and much like later ISB it's decidedly mixed. Opening up the whole thing we have “Call Me Diamond”, which is very much horn heavy & soulful British R& B of the Van Morrison vein- it’s certainly not my cup of tea, but I guess if you enjoy Mr Morrison’s work then you’ll enjoy this. To my ears the first truly worthy moment doesn't come until track three "Audrey"- which finds Heron( on acoustic guitar & vocals) been joined by John Cale ( on harmonium & bass) for a quirky yet fragile stop-start number. Other highlights included the up-beat & punchy viola & female back vocal swooned singer-songwriter vibe of “Feast Of Stephen”. Or the moody “Beautiful Stranger”, which blends together off- colour strumming, noise ebbs from VCS 3 Synth, & up-beat horn edged chorus.
All in all this isn’t the most consistent, or risky of solo albums, as mostly Heron is playing it fairly save both instrumentally & structure wise, with clearly a eye on the more mainstream 70’s market. I’m certainly glad I got to hear the album, and would advise fans of later day ISB to give this a look too- just don’t expect too much.Roger Batty