Last month, the L.A.-based label Blixa Sounds unveiled its latest release, the first-ever reissue of Chris Darrow and Max Buda’s Eye of the Storm. The 1981 collaboration brought together two psych-rock heavyweights, whose multi-instrumental talents and joyous style are on full display throughout. It’s hard to believe, but the album has never received any sort of reissue or re-pressing since its original release on the legendary Takoma label 37 years ago. Now, Blixa Sounds has brought the spirited and engaging music back into the public eye with newly remastered CD and digital download iterations of the album.
Chris Darrow and Max Buda (alias of Chester Crill) weren’t new to the music world when they released Eye of the Storm. Both had previously been members of the world-psych group Kaleidoscope, an L.A. music collective that at one time also featured David Lindley. During the late-’60s, the group released a handful of albums that showed off their unique music amalgam of American folk traditions, blues, country, and world music. Though Kaleidoscope never reached mainstream success, the influence of Darrow, Buda, and company is long-lasting.
By 1969, Darrow had decided to pursue other music opportunities and released a string of solo albums while Buda stayed behind in Kaleidoscope for one more album. The pair eventually teamed up again for a short-lived Kaleidoscope reunion in 1976 and then formed the banjo-less bluegrass outfit, The Rank Strangers, whose sole 1977 outing included a Grammy-nominated take on “Starting All Over Again.” The multi-instrumentalists kept up their musical partnership between solo albums and session work, and eventually reconvened in 1980 to record Eye of the Storm, which was released on Takoma Records the following year. Within the Rick Griffin-designed sleeve, listeners found a collection of rollicking and emotive instrumentals that are grounded in bluesy psych-rock but often take some interesting side-excursions on the way–from bluesy ballads and surf-rock, to funk jams and Caribbean grooves.
In an era of overwrought music excesses, Eye of the Storm stands out in stark contrast. The majority of the album’s ten tracks play like brief bursts of music that, at times, seem to be completed before they’ve really started. Despite their brevity, the performances pack a lot of punch and cover a lot of ground. Chris Darrow’s guitar prowess–whether on electric guitar, pedal steel, slide, or dobro–is impassioned, and it’s a great match to Max Buda’s harmonica, organ, and fiddle work. Add to the mix keys, marimbas, electronic pianicas, bass, drums, and a host of percussion instruments, and the result is an exciting 10-track album of first-rate musicianship.
The fine playing is particularly evident on “BLT,” the second track on Eye of the Storm. It’s a grooving funky track featuring a Nile Rodgers-like rhythm guitar and propelled by a grimey lead guitar line. Over the course of its all-too-brief stay, we hear solos on guitar, electric piano, and violin. It’s a fitting distillation of the bluesier tendencies of Darrow and Buda. The interlocking melodic parts operate in lock-step, each with their own space in the stereo field, making for for a jaunty workout that’s as engrossing as it is brief.
“Baja Nights” shows the other side of Darrow and Buda’s musical style with its meditative, country leanings. Buda’s violin melds beautifully with Darrow’s slide and acoustic guitars, providing a slow, down-home atmosphere that makes way for the more metallic tones of the pianica in the second half of the song. You can almost hear the crackling of the campfire by the time the dreamy piece reaches its conclusion.
“Phoney Baloney,” which originally closed out the first side of Eye of the Storm, is a much more expansive track than those that preceded it. It starts slowly, with wide-open guitar and piano chords and a beautiful slide guitar line, before it morphs into a rollicking rock number. The other songs on the album are just as dynamic, from the chase-scene energy of “Close Out” and dreamy soundscapes in “Enchanted Isle,” to the syncopated, Latin-inspired “Salsa Especial,” which contains some of the most joyous soloing on the record.
For this edition of the album, Blixa Sounds has made sure the listening experience better than ever before. Every song has been newly remastered by Bill Inglot and Dave Schultz at d2 Mastering. Meanwhile, the disc itself is housed in a mini LP-style gatefold sleeve that replicates the original album artwork by legendary California artist Rick Griffin. Inside the gatefold are new liner notes by Kaleidoscope aficionado Bruno Ceriotti that detail the lasting music partnership of Chris Darrow and Max Buda and provide insight into the making of the album.
Overall, this new presentation of Eye of the Storm is most welcome. Blixa Sounds has brought this once-forgotten album into the 21st century with its CD and digital debuts. With great sound, interesting liner notes, and, most of all, engaging music, this reissue of Eye of the Storm is certainly a cause for celebration for Chris Darrow and Max Buda fans everywhere.
Blixa Sounds’ reissue of Chris Darrow and Max Buda’s Eye of the Storm is available at the links below!
- Slip and Slide
- BLT (Blonde Louie Theme)
- Baja Nights
- Vootie Moon
- Phoney Baloney
- Salsa Especial
- In the Tube
- Enchanted Isle
- Eye of the Storm