What’s That Sound? Kaleidoscope – “Bernice” (1970)

The American band Kaleidoscope was formed in southern California in 1966 and quickly became a fan favorite in the psychedelic scene due to their unique instrumentation and wild studio techniques.  After three unique and acclaimed albums and a popular live career the band released their final album “Bernice” in 1970 on Epic Records.

Their fans didn’t particularly like the record, citing a lack of enthusiasm and creativity in comparison to the earlier albums.  The band had gone through several personnel changes leading up to “Bernice”, with a new rhythm section appearing on the record alongside new singer Jeff Kaplan.  With that much of a shakeup in members and the album’s straightforward ’70s rock vibe, many fans saw this as a completely different band from the Kaleidoscope they knew and loved.

Despite the negative fan reaction and it’s reputation as a lackluster effort from a band on it’s last legs (they broke up shortly after the recording session) “Bernice” has some of my favorite Kaleidoscope songs on it.  To me it sounds like a wild psych band doing their take on the heavy blues cock-rock that was all around them, and I can’t help but love it.

For instance, dig the country-fried funk of the first two tracks, “Chocolate Whale” and especially “Another Lover.”

…or the odd psychedelic honky-tonk of “Sneaking’ Thru The Ghetto”…

My favorite two tracks and what I consider the most unique offerings on the album are right in the middle.  First up is track 4, “To Know Is Not To Be” transitioning us from the Southern California vibe of the early tracks with a breezy psychedelic treatise on consciousness, moving along in odd time and flavored with unique harmonies that herald back to earlier albums.

Then after a grungy revamp of an older song, entitled “Lulu Arfin Nanny” we have the spot-on Zappa impression “Lie & Hide” sports a slick riff over a laconic rhythm section, with deliberately cartoonish falsetto’s espousing the benefits of hiding your illicit behavior from law enforcement and society at large.  The tongue in cheek commentary on the bold ideas but reclusive nature of hippie culture is strong in this one, and overall the song does manage to capture the band’s sense of humor.

With the exception of the aimless jamming of the final track, “New Blue Ooze,” the album is fairly balanced and moves along briskly, coming in at less than half an hour.  If you’re just getting into Kaleidoscope, start off with one of their first two albums as an introduction.  But if you’re a fan of both late ’60s Summer-Of-Love psych and early ’70s country/blues rock then “Bernice”, while not necessarily a legendary album, will satisfy your urges for a time as you move on to more substantial rock offerings of the era.

Like what you hear? “Bernice” is a little tricky to get on vinyl, but available on CD from Amazon.

Happy listening!


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