Archive for the ‘ RnB ’ Category

Blo “Chapter One”

Chapter One

Blo (based out of Lagos) grew out of the Clusters, a popular late 60s group who made ends meet by covering Beatles and Stones tunes.  Before long people began refering to the Clusters as the “Nigerian Beatles” but the group also soaked up the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, and local hero Fela Kuti.  To make a long story short things did not work out for the Clusters who included future Blo members Akintobi and guitarist/songwriter Berkley Jones.  In 1972 Blo made their Christmas debut at Lagos City Stadium and by all accounts blew supporting act Osibisa off stage.   Lagos City Stadium housed 10,000 vistors strong, all who were chanting “we want Blo” that day - a trio they had never seen before!

Press reports began describing Blo as Africa’s first real rock band. Following the explosive live performance at Lagos City EMI issued Chapter One in the summer of 73.  At the time nothing sounded quite like it.   The album is an extraordinary mixture of funky James Brown beats and spacey psychedelic guitar jams (check out the superb instrumental ”Miss Sagitt”).    Album opener “Preacherman” combines both these styles into something really far out and classic.  The spiraling acid guitar solos and shuffling drum work really stand out on this cut. Brilliant.  Every song is worth listening to multiple times but I’ll single out all 6 minutes of “Don’t” for it’s hazy, hypnotic vibe that’s similiar to early Can.

Sadly, Blo never really broke out of Nigeria despite having the look, superior chops, and an excellent batch of songs.

edit: Chapter One is now available on CD through Mr. Bongo (with a vinyl edition due by the end of this month). They’ve also posted the full album as a video playlist here.

mp3: Preacherman

:D CD Reissue | 2013 | Mr Bongo | buy here ]
:) Vinyl Reissue | 2013 | Mr Bongo | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Grateful Dead “Birth of the Dead”

birthofthedead

It’s no secret that the Grateful Dead jumped the shark many, many times during the course of their long career. In fact it’s pretty easy to dismiss the group outright as figureheads of the sixties counterculture’s gradual descent into hippie/yuppie oblivion, as their constituency dropped back into the mainstream American fold during the rather nihilistic, Cocaine-fueled post-Nam years and carried the band along with it. But behind the burden of all this history lies a remarkable early career that, while by no means providing the most extraordinary music of the times (our articles here should have made that one clear enough by now), managed to give us a good run of righteous records. Now Birth of the Dead, a relatively generous two-disc set released by Rhino Records back in 2001, adds another, perhaps even more exciting piece to the puzzle that is early Dead.

Split between studio and on-stage material, the material found on the former represent some of the band’s earliest forays into the recording studio, and the sounds they waxed during these sessions are a revelation. The band here is raw, frazzled and gnarly, still rooted in the blues and folk traditions they emerged from and free from any of the light funk fusion flavors that would come to tarnish their jams in the proceeding decade. The tempos here are fast, the guitars brittle and Pigpen’s Vox Continental dripping with garage cool. Had it come from any other group, “Mindbender” (possibly the crown jewel of the collection) and “Can’t Come Down” would be regarded as psychedelic folk-rock nuggets of the highest caliber. One almost wishes that some of the instrumental takes of these songs would be shuffled around the disc instead of being placed back-to-back with their masters, but the lack of vocals here help alleviate any repetition irritation. The most unusual cut on the first take is probably “Fire In the City,” in which the band is found backing jazz singer Jon Hendricks on a political number originally written for use in a mid-sixties documentary feature. The combination works much better than one might expect, with Hendricks letting his hair down a little beside Jerry Garcia’s piercing blues leads.

The live disc is a further joy, painted in surprisingly crisp sound quality and featuring a lengthy anthology of 1966 concert recordings apparently culled from a number of sources. Some of the usual suspects are to be found here, numbers which would follow the Dead onto their debut album such as “Viola Lee Blues” and “Sitting On Top of the World,” but these are backed with some rarely-heard material from the era, including a solid rendition of Dylan’s oft-covered “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and the traditional ballad “In the Pines.” The blues and R&B numbers in-between are all solid, if not particularly exhilarating, but are definitely worth their weight for hearing this band in its prime really cut loose. The seven-minute closing romp “Keep Rolling By” has some razor-sharp Garcia guitar action going – at times sounding more like fellow Bay Area pickers John Cippollina or Jorma Kaukonen than his own latter-day self – and a bevy of endearingly ragged group vocal shouting. Merry Prankster Dead like it should be.

So if you’ve never really given the band their due, put off by their mythological hokum and alarmingly obsessive legacy, give this set a shot and see where you end up. There’s a lot of great rock and roll to be found here, and it deserves to be taken on its own merit. And if you’re digging this and haven’t already jumped into the band’s self-titled debut (released a year after the material contained herein was recorded but born of many of the same impulses), maybe now you’ll have the proper context to digest that often underrated set.

mp3: Mindbender
mp3: One Kind Favor

:D CD Issue | 2001 | Rhino | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The Butts Band “Butts Band”

The Butts Band is one of those curios from the early-to-mid seventies when prominent rock musicians used to continually combine into various short-lived combos, always looking for that elusive commercial success. The Butts Band should have had a better chance than most, given the pedigree of its members; it grew out of an attempt in 1973 by the three remaining Doors to recruit a new vocalist after Jim Morrison’s demise. For some reason they elected to audition in London rather than LA, and all the prospective candidates were Brits. Partway through the search Ray Manzarek lost interest and went home, but Robby Krieger and John Densmore kept the faith, finally settling on Jess Roden as frontman. Roden had experienced critical acclaim but commercial failure with his previous project, the country-rock outfit Bronco, and as a student and practitioner of all the American roots music genres, not to mention an unassuming but distinctive vocalist and songwriter, he was an obvious candidate for the post. The band was made up by former Jeff Beck bassist Philip Chen and little-known keyboard player Roy Davies, with assistance in the studio from ubiquitous sessioneer Mick Weaver on organ.

Recording commenced at London’s Olympic Studios with former Doors engineer Bruce Botnick in the producer’s chair, but after three weeks the whole circus decamped to Kingston, Jamaica to complete the recordings. About half the tracks were cut in each location, and the final mixes were prepared back in LA. (The closing cover of “Kansas City” which purports to be a live recording was actually taped in a single take at Olympic and the crowd noise dubbed on later.) When Jac Holtzman declined to put the finished product out on Elektra, it was picked up by Bob Krasnow’s independent Blue Thumb imprint and subsequently distributed by Island.

The album comes across as equal parts The Band and Curtis Mayfield, with no real Doors flavour at all; perhaps no surprise as the two principal writers are Krieger and Roden in equal share. The original topside is a delight from start to finish; the leadoff “I Won’t Be Alone Any More” could be an outtake from The Basement Tapes, with its down-home twelve-string, wheezy organ, rustic bass and restrained lead guitar. “Baja Bus” is a mid-tempo funky-butt outing with a fine Fender Rhodes interlude and an extended Latin percussion jamming outro dominated by an apparently blissed-out conga player. “Sweet Danger” is mellow minor-key white soul, tailor-made for Roden’s honey-sweet double-tracked voice and featuring beautifully-restrained piano and guitar, but spoilt by an irritatingly-dated pitchwheel synth solo. “Pop-A-Top” rides on a reggaefied rhythm and a gorgeous electric piano riff; Krieger’s chillingly beautiful slide feature fades out far too soon. The flipside songs are less distinguished but benefit throughout from Chen’s and Densmore’s no-nonsense, sparse-but-inventive rhythm work. The closer, the aforementioned Kansas City, rocks along with a vengeance but Krieger’s ad-libbed slide work here is undeniably sloppy and bears no comparison to Duane Allman’s polished bronze licks.

With reviews of the album being generally favourable, the Butts Band scored a couple of live gigs in the UK as support to the Kinks and Sparks and a brief dilatory tour in the States, plus a few TV appearances including The Old Grey Whistle Test, but it was clear right from the start that the British contingent would not be willing to move permanently to the West Coast and the lineup rapidly fell apart. Krieger and Densmore recruited a bunch of American players, retaining the Butts Band name, and put together a further album, but it bore little relationship to its predecessor and is not highly regarded. Butts Band is currently out of print unless you’re prepared to settle for a bootleg CD, but pre-loved vinyl copies periodically surface on eBay. John Densmore’s website has a fine retrospective of the Butts Band(s).

mp3: I Won’t Be Alone Anymore
mp3: Pop a Top

:) Original | 1974 | Blue Thumb | search ebay ]

The Artwoods “Art Gallery”

In contrast to the commercially-successful but artistically-bankrupt pop sensations of the UK’s 1960s beat era there was a small hardcore of bands in the UK who couldn’t get arrested record-sales-wise but whom other musicians would cross continents to catch playing live. Frequenting the trendy London club scene and playing funky tunes that oozed git-up-and-dance, they usually centred round a deft practitioner of the Hammond organ, and comprised the said keyboard god plus fellow musicians who refused to compromise their musical integrity and their blues and jazz influences. Alongside the likes of Graham Bond’s Organization, Georgie Fame’s Blue Flames and the Peddlers could be found the Artwoods, who despite their undeniable talent would have a brief career and only some of whom would find wider success in later combinations.

Vocalist and leader Arthur “Art” Wood was the elder brother of Ronnie, then guitarist with the Birds (sic) and later star sideman to Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart and the Glimmer Twins. Having served his on-stage apprenticeship with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, Art set about putting together his own band in 1963, finally settling with Derek Griffiths (gtr), Malcolm Pool (bs), Jon Lord (org) and Keef Hartley (drs). (A couple of familiar names there, then, but not till a few years later.) Eschewing the straight R’n’B of the Yardbirds, the Stones and the Animals, the Artwoods stuck out for the jazz-inflected soul mix that would soon be in vogue on the Soho club circuit, covering material by Jimmy Smith, Lieber & Stoller, Eddie Floyd, Allen Toussaint, Isaac Hayes and David Porter, and Solomon Burke. For four years they rocked the live club circuit until the trend towards psychedelia began to edge them out; unlike many of their contemporaries they declined to make that shift, electing instead to split in ’67.

The Artwoods did make records; over their four years they issued six singles plus – despite its cheesy title and homespun cover design – this splendid studio album. Predictably, none of these sold worth a damn: perhaps because the band’s oeuvre consisted almost completely of covers, albeit superb ones; perhaps because the recorded product lacked the visceral excitement of their live performances. The singles are indeed a little humdrum, given their attempts to polish their raw sound for commercial purposes, but the album is a gem of ensemble musicianship with flashes of individual brilliance. Recorded in a tiny basement studio in London’s Denmark Street under the tutelage of master Decca producer Mike Vernon, it clearly features the live set and gets as close as one could ask to the live vibe, only limited by the need to trim the tracks down to radio-friendly length. There’s a lot of variety available; the standout tracks include Burke’s “Down In The Valley” done in impeccable Stax style, Floyd’s “Things Get Better” as a superb garage soul opus with Merseybeat harmonies and raw-nerve fuzz guitar, and a scintillating cover of the Jimmy Smith instrumental “Walk On The Wild Side” in the middle of which the band lapse into a pure swing jazz groove and Lord produces an orgasmic solo that presages what he’d do with Deep Purple. Apart from a pedestrian reading of “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody” there’s not a dull moment amongst the twelve original tracks. Art’s rough-as-a-badger’s-arse vocal is a guilty pleasure and Messrs Lord and Hartley shine throughout.

The subsequent careers of Lord and Hartley are well documented, but Art himself enjoyed far less success. He briefly formed a new outfit in ’69 with the musicians who would become the Faces; perhaps predictably for an outfit called Quiet Melon, it sank without trace. Art moved into a new career in graphic design with his other brother Ted and Malcolm Pool, singing only occasionally thereafter as a hobby musician till his premature death from cancer in 2006. His recorded legacy is available on the current 2009 CD from Repertoire which also includes no fewer than fourteen bonus tracks taken from the singles and the mega-rare Europe-only instrumental EP Jazz In Jeans.

mp3: Walk on the Wild Side
mp3: Things Get Better

:) Original | 1966 | Decca | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2009 | Repertoire | buy here ]

Ray Manzarek “The Whole Thing Started With Rock & Roll Now It’s Out Of Control”

What do you do after you’ve been a member of the one of the most (in)famous American bands of the late sixties? Well, you try for a solo career . . . but the whole frequently proves to have been bigger than the sum of the parts, and the parts often wither on the vine. Despite his acknowledged keyboard genius and compositional talents, bespectacled former Door Ray Manzarek found life tough as a name recording artist: his two solo albums from 1973 and 1974 failed to ignite the charts, and his later career mostly consisted of collaborations with other artists and sessions in the producer’s chair until he finally reunited with Robby Krieger for live dates after three decades. The ‘73 album, The Golden Scarab, was a complex, cerebral, mostly instrumental concept album that received generally unappreciative reviews despite contributions from LA jazz royalty including Larry Carlton, Jerry Scheff, Milt Holland and Tony Williams. For the follow-up Manzarek selected a safer template, the prevailing vibe on The Whole Thing Started being funky jazz-tinged rock akin to what Steely Dan were also doing at the time, with Manzarek handling lead vocals on lyrics mostly penned by long-time Doors manager Danny Sugerman, and the guest appearances now included Joe Walsh on guitar, Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan) on backing vox and a then unknown Patti Smith reading a fragment of Jim Morrison’s posthumous poetry. Sadly, this didn’t prevent it following its predecessor into oblivion.

Despite its promising moniker, the title track is an undistinguished piano shuffle boogie with flat horn stabs and clichéd lyrics, and Manzarek’s rather thin, pinched vocal does it no favours. From that point on things improve rapidly; “The Gambler” has a fine rolling Fender Rhodes rhythm not unlike later Deep Purple material, an exciting octaved bass line, charming celeste touches and a splendid Hammond solo also reminiscent of Jon Lord’s sound, and the compressed, taut vocal, though hardly Ian Gillan, doesn’t detract. “Whirling Dervish” is a cheery Zappa-like instrumental in alternating 9/8 and 12/8 metres with lots of modulations and soaring, saw-edged soprano sax from guest John Klemmer; the Eastern-inspired middle section pulsates with oriental percussion and keyboard modes and the only disappointment is that the track fades far too early. “Begin The World Again” is certainly redolent of Steely Dan, being driven by funky Clavinet with tongue-in-cheek female backing vocals and tremendous bass guitar work by resident low-end factotum Nigel Harrison. “Art Deco Fandango” is a slight but enjoyable New Orleans-style swinger with a chanted refrain à la Cab Calloway and more excellent woodwind playing. On “Bicentennial Blues (Love It Or Leave It)” Manzarek deliberately revives the spirit of the Doors; the verses employ a throbbing Wurlitzer groove whilst the central instrumental section offers a definitively Doors-style alternating-minor-chord spine with ostinato bass (played by Harrison, not by Ray on his Rhodes bass keyboard) over which Manzarek dusts off his old thin, reedy Vox Continental sound for a great solo in which he even shamelessly quotes the classic motif from “Light My Fire”. “I Wake Up Screaming” and “Perfumed Garden” are slighter fare musically but feature interesting gimmicks; the former includes the aforementioned Patti Smith recital, and the latter employs the simulated (?) soundtrack of a mutual sexual climax.

Still musically active, Manzarek’s most recent projects include two collaborations with blues guitarist extraordinaire Roy Rogers. I’ve not heard these but various opinions imply that they fail to emulate the experimental spirit of his seventies solo albums, which having been revived on CD by UK reissue specialists Cherry Red’s Lemon imprint certainly deserve reappraisal. Fans are also recommended to read Manzarek’s autobiographical Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors which despite its desperately unoriginal title is an articulate, uninhibited and thoroughly entertaining first-hand account of his own early life and the rise and fall of arguably America’s finest ever rock band.

mp3: Bicentennial Blues (Love It or Leave it)
mp3: Whirling Dervish

:) Original | 1974 | Mercury | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2005 | Lemon Records | buy ]

Soundtrack to Performance

Despite boasting a rather eclectic hodgepodge of performers, the record was all cut by Nitzsche with a steady session band built on the inimitable guitar of Ry Cooder. Despite star turns by Mick Jagger and Randy Newman, however, it may very well be that it’s the soundtrack’s production that ends up stealing the show. Weird electric hums and echoing tape loops bounce in and out of the songs tying everything together and giving even the straightest material a surreal edge. I actually find that this album is very much in the spirit of two related works cut around the same time: Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Illuminations album and Mick Jagger’s warped and surprisingly uncharacteristic soundtrack to Kenneth Anger’s film Invocation For My Demon Brother.

It’s most likely Jagger’s participation which has kept this album available all these years, seeing as his one song here, “Memo From Turner,” has become something of a Stones classic. It’s a great song, but in no way overshadows the rest of the material. A young Randy Newman kicks off the record with one of his heaviest vocals on “Gone Dead Train,” which Nitzsche would later re-record on Crazy Horse’s self-titled album. Performance’s real gem, though? Merry Clayton turning in an absolute barnstormer with “Poor White Hound Dog.” This cut features my favorite example of Nitzsche’s weird electronic aesthetic, with random bursts of white noise and warbling Moog elevating the otherwise-straightforward R&B piece into something entirely unique. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s appearances here are unfortunately limited to two psychedelic mouth-bow instrumentals which, while enjoyable, aren’t much to write home about. Ry Cooder’s guitar pieces have a little more meat to them, with “Get Away” tuning in the spirit of early Captain Beefheart (on whose records Cooder, of course, contributed in a big way) and “Powis Square” highlighting the panoramic, soulful acoustic bottleneck style that would arguably culminate in his haunting score to Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas.

The oddball here is definitely the inclusion of the Last Poet’s black power anthem “Wake Up, Niggers,” an early political rap by New York’s pioneering street poets. While clearly interrupting the spectral mood of the record, this piece does nevertheless add an interesting new angle to the proceedings and help to break up the music’s intensely Nitzschean framework. The producer’s own compositions, the ethereally orchestrated “Rolls Royce and Acid” and rather beautiful piano piece “Harry Flowers,” shine a little bit of calm and meditation into the claustrophobia and are perhaps the most overtly cinematic recordings here.

Rarely does one find a rock and roll-based soundtrack that so perfectly manages to tie this kind of sweeping, emotional power with uniform listenability, and the fact that so many talented musicians managed to turn in such defining performances on this one thirty-seven minute album is a testament to the producer’s vision as well as the era from which it emerged (as Hunter S. Thompson would so famously put it, the “place where the wave finally broke and rolled back,” i.e. the end of the communal dream that was the sixties). It looks as though Performance is out of print these days in any tangible format, but besides the ever-present vinyl originals floating around out there you can pick up a digital copy without much hassle.

mp3: Gone Dead Train
mp3: Poor White Hound Dog

:) Original | 1970 | Warner Bros | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | Warner Bros | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

 

Les Fleur De Lys “Reflections”

As Britain’s “other” major Atlantic seaport, Southampton might have been expected to produce a stream of pop and rock successes to rival Liverpool during the Golden Years, but it didn’t happen. Probably the highest-profile outfit to emerge from the south coast seaport during this period was Les Fleur De Lys, certainly the only such with a grammatically-incorrect French name. Like their near-neighbours, Brighton’s Mike Stuart Span, they enjoyed a chequered history involving half–dozen lineups, dabbling in half-a-dozen genres, sporadically releasing a dozen or so singles and finally fragmenting in frustration after half-a-dozen years (1964-1970). Again like the Span, they never contrived to issue an album in their lifetime, but the present CD is a compendium of all their  singles from their earliest Beat Boom days through their freakbeat, blue-eyed soul, harmony-pop, psychedelic and nascent prog-rock phases. Their legacy remains a handful of classic freakbeat and psych A-sides, and their other main claim to fame is as a launch pad for guitarist Bryn Haworth’s subsequent career; he would morph into perhaps Britain’s finest electric slide player and thence become a doyen of Christian rock music in which field he remains very active.

The Fleurs could in fact boast some pretty substantial musicianship throughout their various incarnations. Drummer Keith Guster, the only ever-present member, could hold down a metronomic funky beat whilst bassist Gordon Haskell, who would move on to King Crimson, had formidable rock and soul chops. Haworth’s predecessor Phil Sawyer was also a fine player in a reckless Jeff Beck style, whilst Haworth himself boasted a fluid bluesy technique and a distinctive, piercing Stratocaster/AC30 sound. They were a top live draw around Swinging London, acting as backing band live and on disc for singer Sharon Tandy and supporting such esteemed and varied visiting headliners as the Beach Boys, Isaac Hayes and Aretha Franklin. In an attempt to break through chartwise they also recorded under various pseudonyms including Shyster, Waygood Ellis, Rupert’s People and Chocolate Frog (!). Several of the early singles were produced by one Jimmy Page, no less.

The twenty-four tracks of the present compilation include the A’s and B’s of all seven singles issued under their own name, the Tandy sides and all the sides released under the fake monikers. The early Beat-era stuff and the soul-based tracks are pretty disposable; the Fleurs were no Young Rascals, nor despite the presence of a couple of competent organists in the early lineups were they anyone’s Procul Harum. However the Page-produced freakbeat cover of Pete Townshend’s “Circles” and its follow-up “Mud In Your Eye” forefront Sawyer’s fine manic lead guitar licks, whilst “Gong With The Luminous Nose” and “Liar” are fine examples of Brit psychedia and guitar-led prog respectively with Haworth’s exemplary Hendrixoid fretwork to the fore. The two Sharon Tandy sides “Hold On” and “Daughter Of The Sun” are rip-roaring rockers, with the powerful backings complementing Tandy’s steely vocal and Haskell’s bass work on “Hold On” a revelation. On the rock and pop tracks the instrumentation and vocals are more than competent but the songwriting is passable at best and sometimes mediocre. The result is a fascinating 24-track collection of historical interest to Sixties rock completists, but which would have made a really good “best of” if reduced to sixteen cuts.

Originally issued on CD by Blueprint in 1996, the present Gonzo budget reissue has the same track listing but a different cover photo. The typo-strewn track listing and historical perspective in the booklet notes are not exactly academic masterpieces, but better ones can be found.

mp3: Circles (Instant Party)
mp3: Gong with the Luminous Nose

:D Compilation | 2010 | Gonzo | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Ellen McIlwaine “Honky Tonk Angel”

There’s a select coterie of artists whose voices are recognised as musical instruments in their own right, their unique vocal deliveries transcending lyrics and, without being pure, trained or operatic, tantalising the ear wordlessly like a breathy tenor sax or a sobbing Dobro. Ella Fitzgerald, Richie Havens, Tim Buckley, the late John Martyn all had this talent. Add to this rare gift an astonishing propensity for producing the deepest funk and the most soulful blues on an acoustic guitar, and you’ve got Ellen McIlwaine.

Born in 1945, Ellen grew up in Japan, the daughter of American missionaries, where she listened to AFN and learned to play New Orleans piano after Fats Domino and Professor Longhair. On the family’s return to Atlanta she switched to guitar, rapidly assimilating all the fiery Southern styles. For several years from 1966 she worked around NYC’s East Village, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Muddy, Wolf, Hardin and Hendrix. After a brief unproductive spell leading her own rock band, Fear Itself, she signed to Polydor in ’72 as a solo artist and produced her freshman album, Honky Tonk Angel.

The comparison with Richie Havens is more than appropriate here. As with the bulk of his early work, her primary mission on this album is to take familiar and unfamiliar songs by other artists and cover them in an idiosyncratic and totally individual vocal fashion, accompanied by a fluid and relentlessly rhymthic acoustic guitar. She’d develop her own songwriting on the follow-up and later albums, but here there are only two originals alongside the eight borrowed songs – but her choice is impeccable, taking in some of the finest writers of the late 60s and early 70s in a plethora of genres. She covers Isaac Hayes (“Toe Hold”), Jack Bruce (“Weird Of Hermiston”), Jimi Hendrix (“Up From The Skies”), Steve Winwood (“Can’t Find My Way Home”), Bobbie Gentry (“Ode To Billy Joe”) and Ghanaian jazz maestro Guy Warren’s “Pinebo (My Story)”, culminating with a momentous retread of the traditional “Wade In The Water”. Most of the tracks are marked by her jazzy, strident Guild guitar, chock-full of scratchy percussive flatpicking, earsplitting eleventh chords and occasional soaring slide, complementing her astonishingly confident, melismatic, androgynous vocal as she plays shamelessly with the lyrics, frequently wandering into pure scat or an ululating African dialect. By contrast the gentle “Pinebo” is a multi-tracked, stereo-separated acapella tour-de-force in Swahili, whilst her reading of the Winwood ditty is masterful and sensitive with immaculate fingerstyling. Half the album was recorded live at NYC’s Bitter End with McIlwaine’s voice and acoustic set off only by adventurous bass guitar and rattling Latin percussion, the remainder at The Record Plant with scarcely denser backing, but McIlwaine’s fretboard pyrotechnics and vocal gymnastics make the whole collection sizzle with excitement. The only sore thumb to stick out from this otherwise homogenous collection is the inexplicable inclusion of the old Kitty Wells country chestnut “(It Wasn’t God Who Made) Honky Tonk Angels”, done in a po-faced, almost caricatured Bakersfield style with full backing band including wailing pedal steel.

Ellen McIlwaine would go on to an uneven but uncompromising career, her commercial appeal blunted by her determination to make music her own way, but she continues to tour and to release albums at intervals. Honky Tonk Angel is out of print in any form as a unit but all of it can be found along with the follow-up We The People and one previously unreleased track on the excellent Chronicles compilation Up From The Skies – The Polydor Years.

mp3: Toe Hold [Live]
mp3: Can’t Find My Way Home

:) Original | 1972 | Polydor | search ebay ]
;) MP3 album | download ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

John Mayall “Looking Back”

Despite the incredible amount of critical acclaim afforded to John Mayall’s mid-sixties recordings with the Bluesbreakers, the mainstream seems to have left him behind by the time 1969 rolled around. It’s a little tempting to assume that popular taste had simply drifted away from Mayall’s trademark strain of rhythm and blues, and yet the band-leader’s affinity for experimentation has always given testimony to his willingness to run with the times. Indeed, 1968 saw the release of both Blues From Laurel Canyon and Bare Wires; unusual masterpieces filtered through a kaleidoscopic tangle of American roots music. The man’s earlier material was still more-than relevant, however, a fact to which Looking Back would firmly attest the following year.

Looking Back was originally released by Polydor Records in order to draw together an odd assortment of singles and unreleased sides, most hailing from an earlier era in Mayall’s career. From tightly-wound Chicago wailers to rambling slices of back-porch blues, Looking Back ultimately manages to touch on pretty much every facet of Mayall’s style. In fact, there are even a few numbers that would not be all that out of place on Laurel Canyon, such as the atmospheric “Jenny,” in which Peter Green’s reverbed guitar sends out lazy pulses and foreshadows later masterpieces such as “Albatross” and “Heavy Heart.” The clickety-clacking “Sitting in the Rain” is more or less exactly what you’d think of looking at the album’s fantastic cover, with a choogling electric guitar and thumping bass line accompanied by a trotting drumstick rhythm, while “The Picture on the Wall” is the obligatory country blues cut, with grooving Dobro playing and a typically lazy Mayall vocal.

Most of the material to be found here is more upbeat and rambunctious, however; solid Marquee Club rockers from the height of the British revival. “Blues City Shakedown” rides a fun, heaving guitar figure as Mayall lets his amplified harmonica rip. Recordings of the blues standards “Stormy Monday,” “It Hurts Me Too” and “Double Trouble” are all righteously tackled – in all honesty you could hardly ask for a better interpreter on these songs. Between the crack ensembles assembled here and Mayall’s enviable talents as both bandleader and musician, these otherwise-overworked tunes are given fresh life. The instruments eschew just enough blues conventions and cliches to keep the train rolling all the way down the the end of the track. Dig the weird, warbled vocals on the latter cut, potentially bordering on the psychedelic but far too raw to fit in any one bag. Hell, there’s a lot to digest here, and it’s easy to see why it was Mayall’s groups that kept young musicians in England and the States on their toes and so  hungry to learn the trade back in the day.

So waste no time, go and check this one out! Deram Records has managed to keep Looking Back in print, and though it is technically only available as a British import it ain’t going to set you back any more than a domestic release would. The album cover may make it worthwhile to find a full-sized vinyl copy, however, and with this kind of music in the grooves its hard not to be pushed towards investing in the real deal. If there’s any extra selling point needed, might it be that I’ve heard said that the guitar solo on “Stormy Monday” is one of Eric Clapton’s all time bests? Surely we have some thoughts there.

mp3: So Many Roads
mp3: Sitting In the Rain

:) Original | 1969 | Deram | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | Universal | buy here ]

Hour Glass “Power of Love”

Some folks out there will tell you that the two records cut for Columbia Records by The Hour Glass, Gregg and Duane Allman’s early west-coast rock and roll band, are nothing but commercial garbage. Don’t listen to them. From the perspective of the rabid, biker-boogieing Allman Brothers fan, The Hour Glass may very well come across as nothing but lysergic flower-child pop, but to the more informed listener a record like The Power of Love is a rare and valuable slice of psychedelic soul; I know that, for this long-time Allman Brothers fan, these Hour Glass recordings have actually edged out that later band’s albums on my turntable by a considerable degree, though I will confess to occasionally missing Duane’s inimitable bottleneck runs.

Cut between reworked songs by southern soul legends like Don Covay, Eddie Hinton and Dan Penn and memorable originals, The Power of Love really does (for lack of loftier language) kick ass from start to finish. Duane Allman’s heavy fuzz guitar and electric sitar may be a world away from the supple slide style that made him a household name, but it does have a vintage appeal of its own, and at the very least manages to display the guitarist’s legendary ear for melody. Meanwhile, Gregg’s singing is as heavy and soulful as it would ever be – just listen as he tears the roof off of songs like “Home” and “I Still Want Your Love,” sounding much more rough-hewn than his tender age would otherwise imply. So many of these tunes had Billboard potential that it blows my mind that this band never managed to take off, whatever record company hassles they were caught up  in at the time.

Some of my personal favorites here include the organ-driven “Changing of the Guard,” the wild, burning take on Eddie Hinton’s “Down In Texas,” and the righteous, reverberating psychedelia of the closing number, “Now Is the Time.” Duane’s solo on that last piece displays a radical controlled feedback tone that really makes it for me, and his sitar spotlight on the group’s jazzy instrumental reading of The Beatles evergreen “Norwegian Wood” is entertaining, if rather inconsequential. After hearing these numbers one almost wishes that more of the artistic eccentricities heard here had carried over into the brothers’ latter-day careers.

The Hour Glass recordings have been repackaged and reissued under a number of different titles, but I’d say the best place to find them is in the comprehensive Hour Glass anthology, originally a double LP released in the early seventies but recently remastered by Beat Goes On Records.

mp3: Still Want Your Love
mp3: Now Is the Time

:) Original | 1968 | Liberty | search ]
:D Reissue | 2001 | BGO | buy ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]