CD Review: Cotton Mather “Kontiki Deluxe Edition”

Prior to my becoming a music journalist and reviewer, I was still paying attention to the more unusual and unknown bands and artists; the ones that were being promoted by the record stores and not really being promoted by the mainstream radio. The self-titled release from the band Naked, the album Notwithstanding from Chalk Farm and the mostly ignored band The Family Cat and their Magic Happens release are three such albums that were better than the coverage they received. Each of these three releases was well done, enjoyable to listen to and were impossible to understand why they didn’t receive the attention and respect they deserved. Another band around during that time period that was all but ignored in the U.S. music industry (so much so, I never even heard of them at that time) was Austin, Texas-based Cotton Mather. It was in 1997 that they released a classic pop/rock album entitled Kontiki. At the time, this album was almost completely ignored here in the U.S.

If you listen to Kontiki today, with the experimental nature of some of the tracks and the creative spirit that is found running through the release, it can be said that this album could have been compared to Pet Sounds from The Beach Boys and “The White Album” from The Beatles; but unlike the other two releases, Kontiki from Cotton Mather failed to gain a real audience here in the United States; a missed opportunity to be sure.

While Kontiki missed becoming a huge release here in the United States, it was being noticed over in England. Where American audiences had little or no idea of this release, musicians like the Gallagher Brothers from Oasis were looking at the album as being musically inspirational, and Uncut Magazine was giving the album high praise calling it “music to smile yourself to death to”.

Kontiki wasn’t completely ignored here in the United States, just ignored to the point that it never gained the audience it deserved. There were fans of the music from Cotton Mather in the band’s own country of the U.S; there was a cult following that kept the memory of the album alive enough to get band founder Robert Harrison to put out a 15th Anniversary version of the album, which was released earlier this year.

To celebrate the 15th Anniversary of Kontiki, Robert Harrison and his band Cotton Mather have released a 2-CD set of the album. Of course, the first CD of the Kontiki Deluxe Edition contains the original Kontiki album in all its glory as it has been released back in 1997. Every one of the 14 tracks has been re-released in this package to hopefully find the audience they so rightfully deserve.

While the first CD of the Kontiki Deluxe Edition release contains the album, it’s the second disc that fans, old and new alike, will find interesting. The second disc contains alternate takes, earlier versions and additional songs that did not find their way onto the original version of the album.

For those who never discovered the magic of the Kontiki album from Cotton Mather, here are some of the best tracks from the original release as well as the standout tracks that appear on the “Bonus Disc” that weren’t on the original release:

The Kontiki album begins with the track “Camp Hill Rail Operator”. The electric track takes you back to the 90’s with a sound that would show up in English rock songs as the bands over in Great Britain would create a new wave of British Invasion rock that would mirror this track and its musical approach. Whether they planned it or not, “Camp Hill Rail Operator” sets Cotton Mather up as an influence on music in England during the 1990s and beyond.

One of the best tracks on the original Kontiki release is the song “Spin My Wheels”. The “Spin My Wheels” track has more than just a little influence from The Beatles. In fact, you might have thought that this track actually came from the Fab Four if it wasn’t for the album art in your hands that said “Cotton Mather”. The flute that comes late in the track musically takes the song back to the days of the Sgt. Pepper’s album from The Beatles.

One of the best tracks on the entire album of Kontiki is the song “My Before and After”. This track has one of the strongest beats that appear on the entire album. Having one of the freshest sounds on the album while still having a slight British Invasion flavor, “My Before and After” can have fans of any time period of rock music dancing to the beat of the track.

It is on the track “Private Ruth” that the listener might experience a flashback moment. “Private Ruth” is the one track on the Kontiki release where Cotton Mather does a little experimenting with their music. In fact, the resulting track may have you feeling like you’re on a drug trip, as the music for the song has a very psychedelic vibe to it.

The track “Vegetable Row” is a track that seems to take all of the band’s influences and combines them all to create a track that is part Beatles, part Creedence Clearwater Revival, with Bob Dylan-like lyrics. The resulting track is one of the best songs on the album.

While these are just a few of the tracks on the original Kontiki, there are just as many tracks that appear on the second CD from the Deluxe Edition that are worth checking out. One of the best tracks on the second CD is the “Camp Hill Rail Operator (acoustic)” track. The acoustic guitars and no drums take the track in a different direction that’s just as good as the album track.

Originally a non-album track, the song “Little Star” finds Cotton Mather channeling both “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix at the same time. The combination of the two sounds creates a track that is a great hidden treasure within the bonus tracks on the Deluxe Edition of Kontiki.

When you hear two different versions of a song by the same song, you will usually find that you prefer one version over the other, even if for just a bit. However, for the song “Spin My Wheels,” the acoustic and electric versions by Cotton Mather have enough charm that when you compare the electric version of the song to the album version on Kontiki, you end up having to call it a “draw” as both versions have their good points and not enough bad points to really make a decision as to which is better.

The track that separates itself the most from the original version is the acoustic version of the song “Private Ruth”. While the electric version of the track might take you on a mind trip, the acoustic version of the song is a lot more musical and song-like. The comparison between the two versions is amazing.

The “unofficial” closer to the original release, “The Gold Gone Days,” was never included on the original album because of the feelings of the members to the song at the time. With the 15th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of Kontiki, “The Gold Gone Days,” finds its rightful place as it closes out the second CD of the new version of the album.

For the first time, the Kontiki release from Cotton Mather has the chance to gain the band some well-deserved and overdue exposure. The 26 tracks that make up the 2-CD re-release of Kontiki take the listener on a musical trip with a band that fell through the cracks of the music industry in the 90s along with other talented groups that should have had more of a chance than they got. At least with the Kontiki release from Cotton Mather, you get to experience what you may not have 15 years ago. Take this chance and enjoy this band who had a lasting influence on bands in England and find out what you and the rest of the U.S. missed out on the first time ‘round.

Check out the band’s public relations company, Fanatic Promotion.

Click HERE to see a live performance of “Spin My Wheels” by Cotton Mather in concert at Antone’s.