While this is a low-key reissue in terms of fanfare, repressing a 2013 version of the latest iteration on Phoenix, having Relatively Clean Rivers back in print is always essential and a notable occasion in its own right. Now the squeamish politics of reissue labels apply here. This in itself is an unofficial reissue, so take that in mind when looking at purchasing. I, myself, picked up a version of this record in 2004 on the shady as ever Radioactive label before knowing too much about them. While I’d rather that the money benefitted all parties involved, this is an impossible grail to find otherwise, with originals topping out around 900-1K. The record was originally issued by bandleader/songwriter Phil Pearlman in 1975, self-released under the Pacific Is label. Pearlman had spent the ‘60s working with outre-leaning units like Beat of the Earth, though he’d gotten his start back in ’64 in a much less psychedelic capacity with Phil & The Flakes. Beat of the Earth’s originals will break the wallet just as hard as a copy of RCR and also suffer from a bounty of unofficial reissues. Built on a much looser thread of psychedelic float, the Beat records pushed into extended jams that put them squarely between the East Coast gnarl of VU and the West Coast sunshine of The Dead. Out of this Pearlman leaned toward the latter, whittling the jam element and embracing a faded psych-folk that would birth his masterpiece.
The band is a kind of talisman for the resurgence of psychedelic folk that’s exploded post-2000 and the strains of Relatively Clean Rivers can be heard seeping into everyone from MV&EE, Woods, and Rose City Band to Damian Jurado and Richard Swift, who covered it Phil on a 2016 compilation. The record is lived-in and rumpled in the best ways — swapping between softly rolling folk and psychedelic embellishments like flute, synth, recorder and backwards guitar passages. Most private-press grails get held up in status simply because of their scarcity. Ownership is more of a boast filling the shelf than a need to have it on the turntable. However, Pearlman’s songs are of the highest order, which makes this one’s intermittent scarcity and questionable reappearance all the more vital. Its a record of incredible quality and should have been a mainstay alongside the West Coast psych classics from GD to CSN. Sadly I think that Phoenix operates on the same principles at Radioactive (and may indeed be tied to the former owners) so that means that its profiting off of the backs of artists. This music is vital, and essential. That much I can recommend. I’ll leave the link because copies are available from Forced, who should absolutely be supported and because the music of Pearlman should be available to all who need to hear it in troubled times.
Available from Forced Exposure.