Album Review: Soft Machine – Live at the Baked Potato
The original Soft Machine was a kind of jazz answer to Pink Floyd. Contemporaries of Syd Barrett’s group, they often showed up on the bill with his band. But because the Canterbury group was grounded in jazz – albeit with a rock sensibility – it was destined to remain well outside the commercial sphere in which the Floyd would flourish.
It’s more than a half century later now, and none of the original members remain with the group. For several years, an aggregation made up mostly of key mid-70s-and-beyond members toured and recorded as Soft Machine Legacy, and now they’ve dispensed with the “Legacy” tag and reverted to the old name.
Far more importantly, they earn the right to use it. The current lineup John Etheridge, Roy Babbington and John Marshall have decades with the group, and Theo Travis established his bona fides on his own. On this new live album, the band tackles early Soft Machine material with skill, energy and finesse. Right out of the gate, they nail “Out-Bloody-Rageous” from the old lineup’s monumental Third double LP. The new material – not to mention the fact that this Soft Machine has a guitarist (Etheridge) – meshes seamlessly with the vintage pieces.
There’s no end of bands trading on the glories of past lineups. Soft Machine stands apart and above such outfits; as Live at the Baked Potato makes plain, this lineup deserves to call itself Soft Machine.
About the Author
With a background in marketing and advertising, Bill Kopp got his professional start writing for Trouser Press. After a stint as Editor-in-chief for a national music magazine, Bill launched Musoscribe in 2009, and has published new content every business day since then (and every single day since 2018). The 4000-plus interviews, essays, and reviews on Musoscribe reflect Bill's keen interest in American musical forms, most notably rock, jazz, and soul. His work features a special emphasis on reissues and vinyl. Bill's work also appears in many other outlets both online and in print. He regularly hosts lecture/discussions on artists and albums of historical importance (including monthly events Music to Your Ears and Music Movie Mondays), and is a frequent guest on music-focused radio programs and podcasts. In Spring 2023 he is co-teaching a history of Rock 'n' Roll at UNC Asheville's College for Seniors. He also researches and authors liner notes for album reissues -- more than 30 to date -- and co-produced a reissue of jazz legend Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's final album. His first book, Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2018, and in paperback in 2019. His second book, Disturbing the Peace: 415 Records and the Rise of New Wave, was published in 2021 by HoZac Books. His third book, What's the Big Idea: 40 Great Concept Albums will be published in 2024. Read even more about him here.