Reviews by jfclams
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Eat It was yet another double LP set and it turned out to be their least essential, even though there are some good-to-great tracks to be found. The decision was made to hole up in Marriott’s home studio for months, to work on a massive undertaking which, in retrospect, comes off a bit like a mere vanity project. Freer rein was given in the form of three female backup singers, now known as The Blackberries. Their credibility with R&B-influenced musicians went through the roof, but audiences were most likely confused by the combination of soulful belters backing this ruffian bunch of English rockers used to entertaining the long-haired, drunken/druggie concert-going kids of early-70’s America. There are four separate, meant-to-be-distinct sides: the first one consists of normal, hard-driven Humble Pie fare, the second filled with downhome authentic R&B covers, the third is the softer, acoustic side of the group, and the fourth is of a portion of a live performance. The issue here, though, is a big technical one – because most of this was recorded in Marriott’s home studio, the mix was mixed up to the point where the studio tracks sound like muddy demos or rough live cuts. Ironically, the name of his home studio was Clear Sounds. Someone in their camp was either too lax or stoned to point this out in advance of the record being released. The only exception to this was the third, mainly acoustic side. That said, there is the backbone of a damn good album here. The whole first and second sides, once you get past the technical issues, are a neat continuation of the sound the band was going for on Smokin’. In some instances, because it sounds so raw, I actually prefer these versions over the slicker stuff of the previous effort. “Drugstore Cowboy” is the perfect example of what I am referring to. Even though 85% of the time Marriott’s vocal is buried down somewhere in the recesses of your left speaker, he somehow manages to drive this track by sheer willpower alone, overpowering those shrieking Blackberries if need be. The cover of “Black Coffee” is at turns the dumbest and most perfect thing Marriott and the group could have ever done. When it first comes on and Steve utters the initial line, you think “what the hell are they doing?” And then when it ends, you think, “this is too good, why is it ending NOW???” They also cover Ray Charles’ “I Believe to My Soul” in the old “show-tunes” style which is much appreciated, and even the cover of “Shut Up and Don’t Interrupt Me”, which had to have been done as a total lark, just seems to fit like a glove. The last side is good, too. Their take on “Honky Tonk Women” is OK, but the real winners are “Up Our Sleeves”, which was reasonably close to “Four Day Creep” which opened the Fillmore set, and an extended version of “Road Runner”. I guess I was least impressed with the third side, although of the four tracks “Beckton Dumps” was a real strong rocker in the typical Pie mold. However, the personal acoustic exercises I found to be forced, just scratching the surface mood-wise, then placed on the record for contrast. Overall, I like this one, but I can see it getting on people’s nerves really quick, and everything, right down to the basic format, could be construed as annoying to the average listener.
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Now this is a key album. Here the “super-group” lineup solidifies the sound and direction they want to go in. If they had stayed together after this album, for at least a couple more discs, perhaps the overall story might have been different…. Anyway, I do not think there is much difference between the previous album and this one, except…well, obviously, the material is better, and the interplay between band members is better. To the second point, many people might be quick to say this is Marriott’s show, but I think that is far from the case here. I just think his performances are more forceful and purposeful. But they do not take away from the other band member contributions one bit; in fact, Frampton and Ridley are as strong as ever if not better served by a reconstituted Marriott swaggering and swinging his brass balls around. Touché – the record opens with “Shine On”, a Frampton-penned and lead vocal track which was the catchiest thing he ever did with the Pie, proving he could beast around with the rest of band when he wanted to. There are at least three, maybe four tracks here which I file under “personal favorites” since I get the feeling no one in the group intended them to be gargantuan hits or anything, but I really dig these tracks. There’s Ridley’s “Big George”, a meaty ‘n’ rooty rocker which can either feel like a big put on or is just a whole lot of fun. It’s the latter, because Ridley has the lead vocal. Plus, Bobby Keys gets in a killer sax solo. Marriott’s “A Song for Jenny” is a dedication to his then-wife (ironic because he would soon be divorced from her) which runs the gamut of emotions from gentle to epic. Not to be missed! I have referred to “79th and Sunset” before; here it is re-imagined as a tongue-in-cheek, country-flavored track about…what else…skeevy groupie girls and hustlers! Man, did Steve run with a horrible crew or what? The way he delivers the vocals are all tongue-twisted in a crazy way that only he could think of, much less execute. Great little track! But unlike the previous effort there are some real heavyweights which should have put the Pie in the big leagues. “Stone Cold Fever”, for one thing, which was a true group effort, and a shining example of their crossover work with hard rock and R&B music. Even better is the cover of “Rollin’ Stone”, which they ABSOLUTELY own, IMHO, and probably shredded people’s ears about a hundred thousand times in many a live setting. I am not one to pooh-pooh the Zeppelin covers of old blues tunes, but no one had the style and feeling down like Marriott and his crew did, at this time. And this was only a studio recording. The last epic on the record is “Strange Days”, which shares the same paranoiac tone as the Rolling Stones work on Let It Bleed, but does not quite cut to heart of the matter. As long as it is on, though, hard to deny when it grips its’ claws into you. This was the obvious jumping point to greener pastures…and it was, for a short period of time. In relation to this list, quite possibly the best of the best.
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After the first two albums the Pie signed onto A&M Records who basically reorganized them, got rid of the whole democratic super-group thing they were doing, and had them become a big “bloozy” hard rock band. It was the early, hairy-as-hell 1970’s, after all. Except they didn’t do that right away. They made this album, which split the difference between the old band and what the new band would become. They also put out the album with this artsy photo of a topless chick on it which I’m sure pleased a lot of executives back then! Consequently, it did not chart. Big no-no back in those days. Apparently, Steve Marriott was turning into a handful with his drug and mental issues, although the group quickly became a huge live draw Stateside. Getting back to this album, it’s pretty good. I like it because it’s fairly similar to Town and Country, the sad thing is, it feels shorter. Although run-time wise, it’s five minutes longer than the previous album. The thing is, now that they were being asked to be this big, heavy rock act, they of course stretch out the material so less tracks can fit on an LP! In many cases, it works, though. There are eight tracks here and I like more than half of them – five to be exact. The opening “Live with Me” – credited to the whole band – is a swirling tour-de-force which is brought home by a killer vocal from Marriott. Definitely a key Humble Pie track. Frampton’s “Earth and Water Song” is great, not only because it provides contrast to the grit and determination of the rest of the band, but like “Every Mother’s Son” from the last record, there is something here that is fiercely unique, setting it apart from many other artists, but do not ask me to describe what that something is! Ridley’s “Sucking on the Sweet Vine” ends the record on sort of a folky, soulful vibe. In another band, this guy could have been a lead singer, I tell ya! Marriott’s “Red Light Mamma, Red Hot” is a theme he would soon revisit far too often in the coming years – dalliances with questionable women and hard drugs mixed with bruising boogie rock – but here the formula is still a new thing to behold. “Theme from Skint” is an entertaining tale about the group’s foibles with record companies. Sadly, Marriott and the band would learn this lesson the hard way many times over in the future as well. Maybe the only song here I truly have some misgivings about is their cover of “I’m Ready”, which is dealt with in a rather boorish manner, compared to how the band had treated covers thus far. Overall, though, some transition – this is up there with the group’s best.
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Mere weeks after finishing Hallelujah, Henry Vestine was booted from the group and was replaced by Harvey "The Snake" Mandel. From there, the new lineup played Woodstock and eventually recorded this lone album with Mandel as a member. It's also acknowledged as sort of a farewell album for the Blind Owl as he would die in mysterious circumstances a cuouple of months after this album was released. The first striking feature here is the cover, which got a lot of people up in arms, but really, I think the band just wanted to signify the connection between "future" and "blues". The music itself is somewhat reminiscent of Hallelujah but with more emphasis on the Blind Owl's contributions, and they tack an extended jam this time around. As far as Alan Wilson goes, other than "Skat" which is a very upbeat jump-blues thing you cannot help but feel a veritable shroud of sadness over the whole album, and it's not just because of his then-impending death. The man sings like he is alone in this world ("London Blues"), then calls his own number, too ("My Time Ain't Long"). The big jam is even more negative in this regard - "So Sad (The World's in a Tangle") - with its' theme of impending environmental apocalypse, but the underlying groove itself is cutthroat and airtight. Elsewhere, it is not all doom and gloom. The last big radio hit is here - the chug-a-lug "Let's Work Together", with Bob Hite on lead vocals, and the title track is just as peppy and catchy, as well. The last of a kind, before the real craziness began, and Canned Heat turned into something completely unrecognizable.
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Canned Heat's second LP of `68 is an expansive affair, reflecting the excessive spirit of the times. The sheer amount of content is what matters here, especially towards the end with the experimental "Parthenogenesis" collection followed by TWO - yes, two - twenty minute live versions of the "Refried Boogie", complete with extended solos from all instruments. This also includes the band's other big hit "Going Up the Country" which became the unofficial theme of Woodstock. But with the emphasis on lengthy jams it may not be a good idea to make this your first Canned Heat album to listen to.
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