1973 was a difficult year for German rock music. Kraut and German Rock were past their peak. The era of "long pieces" was nearing its end. The various styles of German Rock, whether underground, psychedelic, electronic or politrock were exhausted...
Nothing new was happening on the progressive front. Was it the same for pop and rock? The music landscape between the ZDF-Hitparade (Schlager-oriented) and Deutsch-Rock was a barren desert where the realisation of original ideas of quality and a high standard seldom happened. Sound pretty bad? There was one exception.
By 1973 Improved Sound Limited had already released two LPs, a film soundtrack in 1969 and a double LP in 1971 (re-released on CD by Long Hair LHC7). The latter was a highly praised example of versatility, perfection and creativity. In the meantime the band were contracted to compose music for plays, films and television and earned more esteem. They also used the time to develop musically. Axel Linstädt and his brother Bernd wrote new songs that had a "softer aggression" and "milder rock rhythms".
The direction is indicated on the LP cover. A dark bird, wearing a Stetson, has landed on a "desert highway". The bird is wearing cowboy boots; their picturesque colourfulness associates with a special image of America, the details allude to the song lyrics. Carefully arranged harmonies evoke an imaginary America, one so intact it only existed in westerns or Hollywood films, while the music is tailored to the lyrics in a congenial tonal context. The subject of the songs is not the hectic America after Vietnam, in the post-Watergate doldrums and weakened by a dollar recession. With a touch of wistfulness, Improved Sound Limited sing of a vast land, an Arcadia situated in the West, distant and lost...
According to the music critic Reiner Weiss, "CATCH A SINGING BIRD" unites thoughts and emotions that seemingly lead an ever-increasing minority to a position of helpless disconcertion in keeping with the Zeitgeist. In that respect, the album also had a political dimension. While F.J. Degenhardt, for example, was demonstrating his "red rage", in the song "Barricade" it says: "Got no barricade, no barricade to fight on". That was simply more sincere and more appropriate for the situation. This piece, melancholic and introverted, is the key to the rest of the album, the lyrics often quoting the past as an indictment of the present. They are crafted from an impressive profusion of literary and cultural details into a suggestive lyrical poetry, in which thoughts and associations have been encoded as vivid metaphors.
In "A Poets’ Conversation", for example, there is a fictional and anachronic conversation between James Fenimore Cooper and Oscar Wilde at the Catskill Mountain Hotel. Cooper cites a short Cheyenne verse to his colleague: "Nothing lives long, Mr. Wilde, only the mountains and the earth" and "Did we ever write such a line?" This can be read in Dee Brown’s book "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee", the Catskill Mountain House guest register lists both Wilde and Cooper. The lyrics to "Humphrey Bogart" were penned before the nostalgic Bogart retrospectives were shown in German art cinemas. "The Dark Lord" is an enchanting ballad about J.R.R. Tolkien’s bestseller "The Lord Of The Rings". Despite all its lyrical and musical qualities Improved Sound Limited remained an insider tip, radio DJs preferring to play the commercial and usual.
But the album "CATCH A SINGING BIRD ON THE ROAD" received remarkable press reviews and not just in the broadsheet cultural sections:
Hör Zu (No. 45/73):
"German, but not German Rock: the I. S. Ltd. with "Catch A Singing Bird On The Road". A very cool sound, what the Americans refer to as "laid back". We’ve never heard such soft country rock here before."
pop (No. 17/73):
"Another melodic sound compilation from I. S. Ltd., 10 songs from Axel and Bernd Linstädt covering all the different styles that have been created in America, with an essential impulse from England."
Nürnberger Zeitung (18.09.73):
"...a record of a special musical standard. The H.C. Artmann dedicated "Dark Lord" alone is reason enough to buy the new release."
PLAYBOY (No. 9/73):
"I. S. Ltd. from Nuremberg are still the only German group who, without sounding like imitators, can be compared to the better Anglo-American bands."
"The record has a personal feeling. The ten songs are all in their own right fascinating..."
DIE ZEIT (No. 40/73):
"...unfortunately the only German rock band to have learned from the Beatles and don’t spread Heideggeresque pensiveness or attempt anachronistic psychedelia with their music. The style of the compositions on the new album leans towards country rock, which they master with the ingeniousness and professionalism of their American competitors like Poco or the New Riders Of The Purple Sage."
Nürnberger Nachrichten (25.08.73):
"The music conveys an astoundingly independent feel for living. The LP is a joy to listen to. The mood and atmosphere are spontaneously communicated even without delving into the lyrics and that after all is the most important criteria for an outstanding pop production..."
Manfred Steinheuer, November 2001
IMPROVED SOUND LIMITED "Catch A Singing Bird..."
HUMPHREY BOGART 04:51
THE DARK LORD
A POETS' CONVERSATION 03:25
CATCH A SINGING BIRD ON THE ROAD
SUNDAY MORNING AFTER CHURCH
RIO BRAVO 59
HOT BISCUIT SLIM
THE DARK LORD