1976 Sensation debut brings lost Milwaukee gem back to vinyl
When compact discs were new and all the rage, it was a boon for music fans in the sense that countless long-out-of-print LPs were suddenly available again via the new medium. Now that vinyl is back in vogue, the same thing appears to be happening again.
Witness releases like the return to the marketplace of the Baroques' local psychedelic classic last autumn.
And, now, thanks to Folk Evaluation/Light in the Attic, the previously unheralded gem of an LP by area duo Sensation.
Issued on vinyl in 1976, the 11-track self-titled LP by Sensation – written and performed by Jeff Engel and Don Fisher, who met in class at UW-Waukesha, and recorded by John Loeper and Jeff Rockel at L&R Studios in Brookfield – is now reissued in a top-quality edition that also includes a bonus 7" with demos and a pair of great tracks recorded with singer Tina Smith.
The music is an interesting blend of folk, country rock and power pop, with catchy melodies and a breezy mid-'70s vibe.
"As we were recording our album, we didn't really know what our expectations would be," says Engel, who now lives in Delafield.
"All I knew, is that we were trying to write and produce creative, interesting and fun music. It was very exciting to write and record the album. There was a lot of pressure in the studio to get the music perfect, but it seemed almost magical, when everything came together."
The album did garner some attention for the duo, including radio play, Engel recalls.
"It was a very exciting time in our life, when the album was released," he says. "I can vividly remember driving in my car, just after the album was released, and listening to the radio. It was a thrill to hear songs on mainstream radio, that were ours.
"It was a pleasure to work with Don, as he is a multi-talented musician and it was a (once in a) lifetime experience to bring our efforts together to write, record and produce our album. (It) was truly a team project, with many talented people being involved."
The group, however, did not record another album. But they did return to the studio, where – by happenstance – they ended up recording two songs with Smith, who added a supremely soulful vibe to ""I'll Be Somewhere Around" and "Chained to You," which still sound fresh 40 years later.
"One day while and Don and I were recording in the studio, a lady and her brother walked in," Engel recalls. "She had written lyrics for two songs and was looking for music to accompany her lyrics and possibly have the recording studio record it. It was just a perfect fit for Don and myself.
"We worked with her, embedding her lyrics and her voice in the two songs. She had a magical voice and we were thrilled to work on this project with her and the studio. It was very satisfying to sit back and listen to the final edits."
Neither the group nor the current record label were able to locate Smith while assembling the reissue.
According to Folk Evaluation's Jason Henn, the record had become highly sought-after.
"In the past 40 years, their lone album has become a collector's item and is considered a lost classic of lo-fi power pop," he said in an email.
According to the label's website, copies of the original pressing can fetch for up to $200.
"It was a pleasant surprise to have Folk Evaluation call me on the phone, asking about the possibility of re-issuing and re-mastering our album for worldwide distribution," says Engel. "It was exciting to think about the possibility of our album being re-released.
"I think the music is relevant, after all these years, because it's just simply fun and enjoyable to listen, too. The lyrics actually mean something and our music I think, just like any classic song, seem to be timeless."
Since the end of Sensation, Engel (pictured below in a current photo) has been an author and a full-time nature photographer.
"In addition, I was executive producer and host of a national, award-winning, outdoor adventure TV series. I also coordinate and co-lead amazing South African photo safaris."
He's also continued to make music, he says.
"Since recording the album, I still have found it to be extremely satisfying to explore my creative side," he says. "I am currently working with a an extremely talented musician named Mike Hartwig, from Brookfield. Together we are writing, creating a producing some really good songs."
Engel says he's in talks with Folk Evaluation to release some new music.
"The lyrics that I write, are drawn from a lifetime of experiences and we feel the music that we are creating is moving and inspirational. Listening to our music just makes people feel good inside. That's the best part of it."
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