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Renaissance Records reissue (2009)

Natural Gas

Natural Gas were formed by Joey Molland following his departure from Badfinger in late 1974. He had bumped into an old Liverpool mate Mark Clarke, the former bass guitarist for Colosseum and Uriah Heep, at a London hotel. Clarke had been working with drummer Jerry Shirley, who had recently left Humble Pie, and the trio decided to form a band. Rare Bird's keyboardist David Kaffinetti played on some demos, but he was soon replaced by ex-Sutherland Brothers & Quiver man Peter Wood. The band name was explained by Shirley in a 1976 interview, "It sounds dumb. The only meaning was what the group was going to be - a 'natural gas'."

The band relocated to Los Angeles and signed with Private Stock Records in early 1976. Felix Pappalardi, the ex-bass player with Mountain who had also produced Cream, was a friend of Jerry Shirley's and was hired as producer. The album was recorded over a three-week period at L.A.'s Crystal Sound Recording. Joey Molland dominated the song writing, providing six of the ten tracks with Mark Clarke contributing the other four. Molland was on fine form, with the majority of his songs easily the equal of those on the last Badfinger album that he appeared on, "Ass".

Pappalardi wouldn't allow the band members to be present at the mix, and both Clarke and Shirley were subsequently critical of his work. This was also picked up on by journalist Joel Webber who remarked in Trouser Press about the "quagmire of equalization and echo that's thick as a brick".

The album opens in style with Little Darlin' - a punchy, hook-filled number which contains some searing lead guitar by Molland (the co-writer with his wife Kathy). On the original side one, Molland also provided Once Again, A Love Song, a slow ballad typical of his earlier Badfinger songs, and the storming I've Been Waitin', a real tour-de-force with more fine guitar work - underpinned by a strong rhythm section and lively keyboards by Peter Wood. Wood co-wrote You Can Do It with Mark Clarke - a strong track which bears similarities to Ace's How Long and is sung by Clarke, who also takes the lead vocal on the George Harrison-esque ballad 'I Believe It's Love' (written by Shirley / Molland).

Another Clarke track, the lively 'The Right Time' opens the original side two of the album. His other songs on the second side are 'Miracle Mile' (sung by Joey and Mark and sounding every bit as good as Joey's best Badfinger tunes) and 'St. Louis Blues', while Molland provides the piano-led ballad 'Christmas Song' and the powerful 'Dark Cloud'.

There are also three previously unreleased bonus tracks included here - demos of Little Darlin' and Christmas Song (which don't differ much from the album versions, but are nonetheless good to hear), and a rough rehearsal take of Christmas Song which includes a humorous spoken word ad lib from Joey Molland - in strong Liverpudlian accent! The band are clearly having a lot of fun playing this song!

"Natural Gas" is an album that I have long enjoyed on vinyl and it's credit to Renaissance Records for recognising its quality, licensing and issuing it on CD for the first time. The CD booklet includes the original artwork and lyrics, along with sleeve notes that give a brief biography of each band member.

Natural Gas promoted the album on the live circuit as support for Peter Frampton on his "Frampton Comes Alive!" tour. But, despite an initial pressing of 30,000 copies which sold out, the album never charted. Problems had developed (detailed in Dan Matovina's essential book Without You - The Tragic Story Of Badfinger, which I found an invaluable reference tool when writing this review) that ultimately resulted in the band splitting up.

All in all, this album is highly recommended to anyone who appreciates Joey Molland's contributions to Badfinger's output, as his songs are very much in that vein. Mark Clarke's style was similar to Joey's too so his songs have the same feel, all of which makes for an enjoyable and cohesive slice of mid-70s melodic rock / power pop.


Review by Jim Henderson

Jim Henderson presents "Power Pop" on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Thursday 21:00, Sunday 14:00


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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