Lift's career can be neatly divided into two eras: 1972-1975 in New Orleans; 1976-1979 in Atlanta. "The Moment of Hearing" includes songs from both eras plus a 2001 MIDI-based recreation of a 1976 song composed by keyboardist Chip Gremillion. Previously the New Orleans songs were available only on a bootleg called "Caverns of Your Brain", and those songs plus one from Atlanta were put out by SYN-PHONIC in 1992 as "Past Present Future". "The Moment of Hearing" takes those and adds several more songs from Atlanta plus Chip's new version of his 1976 song.
The New Orleans output is largely Hammond/Mellotron-based progressive rock, while the Atlanta sessions change some of the personnel and lighten it up just a little, adding in a different lyrical style and a female vocalist, Laura "Poppy" Pate.
Chip Gremillion was responsible for compiling "The Moment of Hearing", and his extensive liner notes explain the life of the band, the personnel, the instruments used, the availability of the bootleg and official releases, and the way in which this CD was carefully remastered from the earliest available tapes.
The New Orleans tracks are from the original masters and sound as if they were recorded last week, but because only a safety master was available from Atlanta, Chip had to make do. Unfortunately the Atlanta songs have some hiss, plus it sounds as if some of the transfer from the original master way back when was done with one channel out of phase, leading to an annoying sonic chasm, most noticeable on "The Toast" and "The Waiting Room". Of course it could have been intended this way as an interesting effect, but for me it is a distraction.
The New Orleans offerings open up the CD with an American Progressive Rock barrage of Hammond, Mellotron, drums, bass, and guitar, which is there, but not as up-front as one would expect; the instruments are more or less equal partners throughout. Labeled as two tunes on the bootleg, "Simplicity/Caverns" is one 19+ minute cut, now correctly preserved as a single track on "The Moment of Hearing." "Buttercup Boogie" has a drum and bass line that reminds me of something Green Day may have done (yet preceding Green Day by over 20 years). "Tripping Over the Rainbow" is my favorite song from that era, largely because of the time change in the repetitive ending of the song, reminding me a little of a section of "Supper's Ready" by Genesis.
When they moved to Atlanta, a few personnel changes, a new lyricist, and a female vocalist changed the band's direction. Some of the progressive elements remain in the latter tracks, however, including the excellent keyboard work and arrangements, the instrumental sections, and the chord twists. The ending of "The Waiting Room" is quite haunting, although it took me a while to get to like the rest of the song, as its lilting female vocals conjured an image of a late 60s female folk singer...but then I discovered by reading the lyrics on the Lift web site that this song was written from a child's perspective, so it fell into place.
If you expect to hear a lot of Mellotron in these songs, you will, but often it's blended in with the other instruments, and it's never really up front. Chip and other Lift keyboardists have employed the M400 as well as an M300 (unfortunately the M300 was never recorded). You'll also hear a Vako Orchestron on the Atlanta sessions, which also employ more synthesizers.
Compared to more widely known, highly polished, and intense progressive music, Lift's efforts have more of a doing-it-for-enjoyment feel to them---a progressive bar band, if you will. Chip's keyboard chops are wild, though, pretty darn fast runs here and there, all of a sudden bursting out to grab a lead on an Arp or the Hammond. The remaining instrumentation is not overdone. Yep, the drummer misses on a fill now and then, the guitar work is there but not crying for your attention (in parts reminding me of Genesis/Hackett), and the bass solid and always trying to grab the spotlight, but they pull off some reasonable tunes together.
The overall feel to the album is taking a very tiny dose of 60s folk/protest and layering it over progressive arrangements, making it lean toward Yes without the stark precision (New Orleans) or something along the line of Genesis's varied attitude (Atlanta). Spring took a late 60s motif to the extreme, but fortunately Lift made it to the early-mid 70s and is much more listenable and accessible, maybe not technically as precise or intense as other progressive ensembles, but instead just sounding like they're enjoying themselves and are into the songs they're creating.
Much more about Lift is available on the web (click here), and you can get lyrics as well as MP3 samples.
Chip also shared with me some CDs of his more recent, solo work, all MIDI synthesizer/samples. I only wish I can move beyond blocked chords and into the realm he's in, which tosses in a variety of little twists, incorporating some jazz runs here and there. But I suppose that's what differentiates a "musician" from someone who "likes to make noise." Far closer to light rock---or dare I say "New Age"---than to the older Lift styles, Chip is still able to put together a few good runs, although maybe not as fast as 30 years ago, he'll admit. :-)
Thank you to Lift keyboardist Chip Gremillion for the CDs.