Public Foot the Roman - Public Foot the Roman (1973 prog jazz prog uk)
I probably shouldn't admit it, but the truth of the matter is I bought this album based entirely on the bizarro band name, the label (Capitol's short-lived Sovereign imprint had some interesting acts on its roster), and the interesting Hipgnosis cover (a bunch of folks standing in the middle of a Chelsea's soccer stadium looking up at what appears to be a UFO).
These guys actually had an interesting background. Irish-born singer/guitarist Sean Byrne had been a member the California-based The Count Five who had a classic one-shot single with 'Psychotic Reaction'. When that band fell apart Byrne eventually returned to Ireland where in the early 1970s he ended up as a member of Public Foot the Roman along with lead guitarist Greg Knowles, drummer Jaime Lane, keyboardist Dag Small, and bassist Ward (guess he couldn't afford a last name). Produced by Derek Lawrence who handled a bunch of the Wishbone Ash catalog, 1973's oddly titled "Public Foot the Roman" was kind of an odd hybrid of AOR and progressive moves - occasionally blended together in the same song ('When You Lay It Down'). With Byrne responsible for all eight tracks on the surface that wouldn't sound particularly promising (I can see folks thinking along the lines of a second tier Genesis or Gentle Giant). The fact of the matter is that while there wasn't a great deal of originality here, the band played with considerable energy and with one of two exceptions (the country-tinged 'King for a Day'), this album was a lot of fun to hear. Byrne, Lane, and Small all handled lea vocals, though Byrne seemed to be the most prominent of the three. All of them had decent if slightly anonymous voices that managed to cover the band's entire catalog. For his part Knowles was a truly overlooked guitarist who turned in some first-rate performances on this overlooked set.. That said, the band's secret weapon (well I guess he really wasn't much of a secret) was keyboardist Small who managed to salvage virtually everything he touched.
- 'Land Owner' opened the album with a fairly conventional slice of AOR. The highlight came in the form of a nice Byrne and Knowles double lead guitar solo that sounded like it had been borrowed from an early Allman Brothers track. Small kicked in some nice Supertramp-styled keyboards. rating: *** stars
- In contrast to the first track, 'When You Lay It Down' found the band diving headlong into progressive rock. Mind you the results were still fairly mainstream with a recognizable and enjoyable melody and some tasty lead guitar and keyboards from Knowles and Small. The album also showcased some very nice harmony vocal work from the band. rating: **** stars
- Completely unlike the rest of their catalog 'King for a Day' sounded like a cross between Commander Cody and early UK pub-rockers like Brinsley Schwartz. Once you got over the initial shock, the song kind of grew on you with Knowles turning in a simply blistering Telecaster solo. Very commercial, you could just hear progressive and rock fans scratching their heads trying to figure how someone slipped a pub-rock song on their turntables. rating: *** stars
- Probably because it had the highest 'progressive' content and bowed in non-too-subtle aural homage to Yes and other English progressive bands, 'Judas Returns' (along with "Decline and Fall') was one of the two PFTR songs that folks typically acknowledge off the album. If you liked Yes at their most commercial and didn't mind some really dumb lyrics (c'mon, they were from Cambridge, so you couldn't be blamed for expecting something a bit more substantial ("men in shields control our days ..."), then you probably weren't going to have a problem with this one and to be honest, it grew on you after a couple of spins. Unfortunately, just as the Knowles - Small jam was really beginning to kick into gear the song faded out. Shame. rating: **** stars
- 'Don't Bite the Hand' started side two off with some more Allman Brothers-styled twin lead guitar opening into a rollicking, fairly straightforward slice of AOR. The guitars saved the song from falling in the also-ran category. rating: *** stars
- 'One (On My Mind)' was another atypical performance. With pretty melody and layered harmonies this one sounded a bit like something out of the Crosby, Stills, and Nash catalog (something Crosby might have penned). Small turned in some beautiful keyboards. rating: *** stars
- The album's longest and most complex composition, 'Decline and Fall' was another Yes-influenced number that gave Small an opportunity to showcase his impressive array of keyboard talents. Twisting and turning through a series of entertaining segments, the song actually became more focused as it went along and served to showcase some really nice keyboard and guitar interplay by the members. Such jamming normally doesn;t do a great deal for me, but this was one of the exceptions. Very nice. rating: *** stars
No, it isn't a lost classic, but it's far better than you would have expected judging by some of the lukewarm reviews. Shame they didn't get a second shot at it.
"Public Foot the Roman" track listing:
1.) Land Owner (Sean Byrne) - 4:38
2.) When You Lay It Down (Sean Byrne) - 5:40
3.) King for a Day (Sean Byrne) - 3:39
4.) Judas Returns (Sean Byrne) - 6:00
1.) Don't Bite the Hand (Sean Byrne) - 5:05
2.) One (On My Mind) (Sean Byrne) - 4:54
3.) Decline and Fall (Sean Byrne) - 8:31
From RYM (RDten1)