Largely forgotten after its minimal 1969 release, F.J. McMahon’s Spirit of the Golden Juice is a DIY folk treasure trove. With original pressings fetching upwards of $300, it’s a real boon to have a true-to-form vinyl reissue now available.
McMahon’s first (and only) solo album is a largely guitar and vocal driven affair, with some light drums and organ sprinkled throughout. Opener “Sister, Brother” is a highlight of the record, featuring some unique solo acoustic guitar work over McMahon’s plea for happiness and unity.
“Early Blue” is another standout track, notable for the extremely strange and eerie organ work by label manager Scott Seely. It helps to illustrate just how DIY this album was, with everyone around McMahon pitching in to help make the recording happen.
Lyrically, the title track doesn’t tread any new and exciting territory for ’60s folk, but accompanied by the far away guitar solos and cloudy vocal mix, the words become quite haunting and take on an uncharacteristic edge. McMahon served in Vietnam, and statements like “the longer I live, the farther I find I have to go” have a chilling effect on the listener when put in context.
All these years later, Spirit of the Golden Juice continues to captivate its audience; quite the feat for a record released to zero fanfare and with little to no marketing. It’s a strange recording that on the surface seems benign, but begins to open up into something significant on repeated listens. It’s one of the most honest records of its time, and deserves a place in the pantheon of American folk music of the ‘60s.
For a decidedly DIY album, the sound quality is very pleasant. The stereo panning is wacky at times; reverberated guitars will jump in and out of the left speaker while the drums are positioned almost all to the right. This gives it a slight psychedelic tinge, but it’s probably just due to the limited recording ability of the studio. The vinyl itself sounds great and has no noticeable surface noise.
Looking at the cover art, it’s not easy to detect just what kind of album this is. McMahon is pictured on front, inside of a circular wooden frame, and the text is in a type of western font that makes you wonder if it’s going to be a country record. It’s very minimalistic, which fits well with the album’s sound. The cardboard has a very coarse feel to it, but not necessarily in a bad way; it’s just kind of similar to a brown paper bag texture. Inside is a nice booklet with info about the record and photos of McMahon’s earlier bands. The vinyl feels to be 180-gram.
Spirit of the Golden Juice is available on black vinyl at Mexican Summer.