Acoustic Sounds

The Youngbloods

Elephant Mountain




Produced By: Charlie Daniels, Bob Donnelly reissue producer

Engineered By: Richie Schmidt (Schmitt), Hank Cicalo, Mickey Crofford

Lacquers Cut By: Kevin Gray

By: Michael Fremer

January 6th, 2024


Folk Folk Rock



IMPEX Reissues Long Neglected Youngbloods Folk-Rock-Jazzy Gem

"Darkness, Darkness" is not the only light emerging from the record

Best known for the cover of Chet Powers' (stage name Dino Valenti) anthemic "Get Together" found on the group's eponymous Felix Pappalardi produced 1967 debut album and later as the launch pad for Jesse Colin Young's fizzled solo career, The Youngbloods never got the much deserved recognition for its three smooth, dreamy, well-crafted rock-folk-jazz albums released by RCA between 1967 and 1969, the last and best one being this one, Elephant Mountain—though the quartet's debut is also pretty special (co-founder Jerry Corbitt left for a solo career just before this album).

Though it opens with "Darkness Darkness" an Appalachian ballad-like fuzz guitar drenched (actually a Pultec EQ/compressor), hard-rock dirge, the rest of Elephant Mountain drifts in two directions: one towards jazz-whimsy "good timey" music reminiscent of The Lovin' Spoonful minus Zal Yanovsky's goofiness and the other towards jazz-rock-blues chamber music anchored by Jesse Colin Young's always smooth but never slick vocals and (still live-gigging) Lowell "Banana" Levinger's meticulous electric piano and guitar. Add drummer Joe Bauer's light touch and you have a still tasty musical dessert soufflé that remains airy and springy forty plus years later. Unlike many record of the time, Elephant Mountain remains fresh and not at all dated.

While some (if not much of it) sounds studio-hatched, Levinger, quoted in the excellent triple gatefold insert annotation written by Charles L. Granata, says much of the material was written well in advance of the recording sessions, though Levinger wrote the orchestral charts the night before they were played aided by jazz greats like vibraphonist Victor Feldman and saxophonist Plas Johnson. The orchestrations are so seamlessly integrated within the tunes you can miss them if you've not paying attention, mesmerized by J.C. Young's hypnotic vocalizing.

There are more than a few standouts on the album especially the finale, "Ride the Wind" and of course the opener "Darkness, Darkness", but what's in between is equally light-touched and enjoyable as a drift-back to simpler times and none of it sounds at all dated.

Kevin Gray cut the lacquers for this reissue using a 1:1 analog tape copy probably produced by Mark Wilder at Battery Studios because Sony in its current stinginess and/or paranoia will not release master tapes though all of the other labels that do it—even sending them overseas—have not reported any problems. Once upon a time Sony sent the 3 track master of Kind of Blue to Bernie Grundman where it sat for more than a few years because no one bothered to pick it up despite repeated requests! Now? The opposite! How about a comfortable middle ground?

The original release was Dynagroove processed (an RCA "enhancement" that added a form of "pre-distortion" to the inner groove areas) in a (misguided) attempt to compensate for distortion added by spherical playback styli. Both The Absolute Sound's founder Harry Pearson and Stereophile's founder J. Gordon Holt were highly critical of the process as were many others in and out of the record industry.

The group was fortunate to be able to record at RCA studios with great engineers (including Al Schmitt’s brother Richie, name misspelled as “Schmidt”) so all three of the albums sound very good, with vivid, transparent representations of the unamplified instruments, which I'll not further dwell upon. Despite the Dynagroove and the not ideal (but not yet Dynaflex) pressing, my early copy of this one sounds more open and tonally better balanced than this reissue, which has a bit of "darkness darkness" added as if someone involved wanted to add a bit of unnecessary warmth.

Don't let that discourage you though, on its own, this K.G. mastering sounds very pleasing, well-detailed and very "analog-y" and of course a modern RTI pressing brings improved background quiet. The triple-gatefold insert with great photos and Granata's useful annotation brings previously undisclosed background information to the foreground, further enhancing the listening experience for those familiar with the album and providing an anchor for newcomers.

Packaging is a Stoughton "Tip-on" jacket, every copy I've ever seen and what's on Discogs shows the cover graphic surrounded by a black border. For this reissue it's brown/maroon for reasons perhaps the reissuers will explain.

So gratifying to see an unsung excellent late '60s album finally get a place in the reissue sun. While Elephant Mountain isn't a groundbreaking or epic late '60s record, its superb musicianship and musical integrity hold up well all these years later and more importantly many, many plays later. Highly recommended!

Music Specifications

Catalog No: IMP6051

Pressing Plant: RTI


Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: 1:1 master tape copy

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2024-01-07 04:02:18 PM

    John Marks wrote:

    Great review, glad to see it.

    Perhaps IMPEX now will see fit to reissue my favorite JCY album, Light Shine.

  • 2024-01-13 04:32:20 PM

    PeterG wrote:

    A super record! Thanks for the recommendation.

    Especially noteworthy on the sonics is the excellent soundstage and 3D placement of the players. Similar to the recent reissue of The Cars in this respect, I love the way it fills the room