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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Beat Happening: Jamboree


1) Bewitched; 2) In Between; 3) Indian Summer; 4) Hangman; 5) Jamboree; 6) Ask Me; 7) Crashing Through; 8) Cat Walk; 9) Drive Car Girl; 10) Midnight A Go-Go; 11) The This Many Boyfriends Club.

Second time around, the joke is not quite so funny any more. True to tradition, this is still a very short album with very short songs (making any of these go over three minutes would severely violate the Geneva convention), but there isn't much progress other than the proverbial «10-year old kid» growing some pubic hair and discovering (in a not-so-independent process) the joys of feedback, distortion, and RCR (Rebellious Caveman Rock!).

Seriously, if there is any way to describe the opening number ʽBewitchedʼ, it is this and only this: a product from the Build-Your-Own-Stooges-Song Set. The opening feedback, the threatening distorted riff, Calvin's nasty baritone, and those lyrics — "I see you hang in the crowd / Staring me down... / What am I to do? / I got a crush on you" — if this isn't a conscious attempt to build their own ʽDown On The Streetʼ, I don't know what it is. Except, of course, that you have to take it as completely tongue-in-cheek, or else it is just a travesty. You could make that riff thicker, throw in some supporting lead lines, add extra bite and snarl to the vocals, get a real good drum­mer, and end up with one of those proto-punk classics from either Funhouse or Raw Power, be­cause the riff is actually quite cool — but you don't do that. You just end up with this corrupted, lo-fi, off-key demo version, because that's supposed to be the point. Okay then.

In fact, the songs here are, if anything, even more intentionally and defiantly «demo-like» than on the 1985 album. The title track is just Calvin singing off-key to a primitive drum machine; ʽAsk Meʼ is just Heather, singing slightly more on-key to... nothing at all, although the vocals do form a cohesive and catchy pop melody that should have had a full backing... or should it, really? Who knows, maybe if they added guitars and a rhythm section, it would have been just another run-of-the-mill twee-pop number — whereas this deconstruction is... like... allegorical in form, meta­physical in content? Fifty-eight seconds of the never-ending battle between the Nacheinander and the Nebeneinander. Art imitating Life or Life imitating Art? "Five hands crawling up my back / Thump, thump, have a heart attack". Nursery rhyme in the left corner, lo-fi aesthetics in the right corner. Clinch, clinch.

The thing is, until we actually see these songs «completed», it is very hard to tell if they are qua­lity embryos, produced with fine, healthy genetic material, or if they're just a bunch of unferti­lized cells whose main, if not only, attraction is that very «unfertilized» look. Some of the vocal, ahem, «melodies» can stick around, largely because of their repetitiveness, and some of the tracks will stick around just due to sheer ugliness (like the last track, ʽThe This Many Boyfriends Clubʼ, apparently recorded live and featuring Calvin at his absolutely ugliest — the vocals are more hideous than a bunch of tomcats in the night, and the accompanying feedback blasts have all the proper effect of nails-on-chalkboard); «enjoyable» these songs can only be for those who also «enjoy» watching Night Of The Living Dead. (With a few exceptions, of course: whenever Hea­ther takes lead vocals, the songs take on a friendly-sweet and generally listenable air — but she does not do it too often).

But if you disregard the individual songs and once again just embrace the concept as a whole, the downside is that, «faux-Stooges numbers» like ʽBewitchedʼ and ʽHangmanʼ aside, the concept remains more or less the same as it was: a tongue-in-cheek look at «musical failure» as an artistic statement in itself. And second time around, it's really not that fun anymore, which is why I can­ no longer be generous enough for a thumbs up — I mean, there's no way I could recommend Jamboree to anybody with a good ear for music, and there's no reason I should recommend Jam­boree to anybody interested in music-centered artistic statements because, well, there's just one thumbs up allowed per exactly the same music-centered artistic statement if there's not much else to go along with the statement. Unless, of course, you have doctor-prescribed aural pain treat­ments, in which case ʽThe This Many Boyfriends Clubʼ is a total must. Play it once every day at top volume, and you will be totally immune to drills, jackhammers, and televangelists for the rest of your precious life.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Buzzcocks: All Set


1) Totally From The Heart; 2) Without You; 3) Give It To Me; 4) Your Love; 5) Point Of No Return; 6) Hold Me Close; 7) Kiss 'n' Tell; 8) What Am I Supposed To Do; 9) Some Kinda Wonderful; 10) What You Mean To Me; 11) Playing For Time; 12) Pariah; 13) Back With You.

They went to Green Day's producer for this one — not particularly auspicious, but, fortunately, this was more of a nice gesture than a humiliating desire to start learning from their own disciples. Essentially, All Set is just Trade Test Transmissions Vol. 2, but a wee bit better on most ac­counts: songwriting, production, diversity — as if The Buzzcocks 2.0 were slowly, but surely coming into their own and learning to adapt and to remember what it used to be like in this much more modern world of the mid-Nineties.

The main problem still remains: most of the songs have the same style and the same topic — with just a few exceptions, it's all rather sterotypical power pop about love, with a very very tiny punk angle blinking red from time to time. I mean, just look at the song titles — how much lower can you get than when you go from ʽSome Kinda Wonderfulʼ to ʽWhat You Mean To Meʼ? I want some anger, goddammit! Has it really been that long since they last thought of all the women on Earth as scurvy treacherous bitches? Have they mellowed out so much that even Big Brother and The System are no longer regarded as even a minor threat? For God's sake, the album ends with a pseudo-orchestrated love anthem that's... more Styx than the Buzzcocks (ʽBack With Youʼ)! This is 1996 — who needs all these good vibrations when Y2K is approaching?

Just kidding, of course, but again, the serious implication is that, while the album as such has a certain face, few of the individual songs have one. They do have hooks — ʽTotally From The Heartʼ opens the proceedings on a very positive note, funnier, sweeter, and less openly stupid than ʽDo Itʼ did last time around: nice conclusive resolution with the title and all, as the song's romantic chivalry is delivered at top speed over that good old chainsaw buzz. Problem is, way too many tunes that follow are based on the same chords, moods, and subjects. They deviate from the trodden path on ʽPoint Of No Returnʼ, with metaphysical lyrics that can have multiple interpre­tations and a less-than-usual journey from threatening verses to anthemic chorus; on the I-can't-find-my-way-home complaint of ʽWhat Am I Supposed To Doʼ; and on ʽPariahʼ, which is a musical return to one of their favorite musical patterns (the bolero, this time, however, somewhat mashed together with the Bo Diddley beat), although sounds kinda ugly to me.

And it is a big problem — you could throw the individual hooks of these songs' choruses in my face all day long and I'd never notice when something different hit me. The thing is, no, they don't really need to go for musical diversity, but at least a little more thematic diversity would be nice, since it might have automatically led them to musical diversity as well. At their best, the Buzzcocks could shoot off in all sorts of directions — good love, bad love, no love, sexual frus­tration, social disappointment, and sometimes even plain absurdity. Here, they just continue to push in one direction, flogging that horse until it's black and blue all over. It begins okay, but eventually becomes tedious — so, perhaps, it would just be best to take this stuff one song at a time, the «time» in question being the short gap that is sufficient to make you forget the previous song ever existed. (And that, of course, applies to so much more than late era Buzzcocks).

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Buffalo Springfield: Last Time Around


1) On The Way Home; 2) It's So Hard To Wait; 3) Pretty Girl Why; 4) Four Days Gone; 5) Carefree Country Day; 6) Special Days; 7) The Hour Of Not Quite Rain; 8) Questions; 9) I Am A Child; 10) Merry-Go-Round; 11) Uno Mundo; 12) Kind Woman.

Of the three Buffalo Springfield records, this one always gets the cold shoulder — for objective reasons: like Cream's Goodbye a year later, it was released due to contractual obligations already a few months after the band had split, it consisted of various odds-and-ends recorded over a year-long period, and it did not even have a single track where all of the band members would be playing together. Clearly, this is an album that cannot be as strong as its predecessors — and this is the decision towards which most listeners are biased even before putting it on.

But if Last Time Around does not and cannot work as a «coherent» group album (and neither did Again, for that matter), it does not mean, either, that all these songs were not written and re­corded at a time when all the songwriters involved (even Richie Furay!) were maturing or even reaching their creative peaks. In just one more year, Stills would be a respectable and visionary member of Crosby, Stills & Nash; Young would be issuing the first of his numerous solo classics; and even those first Poco albums weren't all that bad, when you lower your expectations.

With maybe one or two questionable exceptions, all the songs here are at least good — hooky, meaningful, nicely produced — and at least a few are classics for the ages. And even if the prin­cipal songwriters are pulling on the blanket in different directions, it's not as if these directions are completely incompatible: had it been so, there'd be no way that Stills and Young would still regularly get together later, as parts of CSN&Y or of the Stills-Young band. Heck, even the sole contribution by the latecoming new member, Jim Messina, who briefly replaced Bruce Palmer on bass, is nonchalantly nice — not to mention that it would very soon be rewritten by Ray Davies as ʽHolidayʼ, although they both probably caught the tune from some pre-war vaudeville.

Anyway, speaking of individualities, Young is really underrepresented here, with just two solo songs to his name — of which ʽOn The Way Homeʼ is a fairly soft, innocent folk-pop ditty sung by Furay and dominated by falsetto group harmonies that sound more Beach Boys than Neil Young; and ʽI Am A Childʼ is an early Neil classic that would soon become a stage favorite, a very simple little ditty that probably earns our love by how well the chorus matches its basic cat­chiness and simplicity — a song written, indeed, from a child's point of view, but, in the grand tradition of «baffling the grown-up», ending up asking some unanswerable question or other (in this case, "what is the color when black is burned?", and no, the song was recorded two months prior to Martin Luther King's assassination, if you're looking for some political metaphor here). I mean, ol' Neil can be a very boring gentleman on acoustic guitar and harmonica when he plays those things for too long, but these two and a half minutes — so sweet, so charming, worth all of Harvest for me if you need a hyperbolical comment.

Of the five Stills numbers, I would want to single out ʽFour Days Goneʼ, which already gives you the perfectly accomplished Steve Stills of Crosby, Stills & Nash — a country waltz with nervous tension a-plenty and that fabulous desperation strain in Steve's voice that gets through to you even if he's singing so quietly, never having to strain his vocal chords; and ʽSpecial Daysʼ, with a great guitar tone that shows how much the man has matured as a psychedelic rock'n'roll player from the early days of romantic folk-rock. ʽUno Mundoʼ, bringing in a Latin beat and a rather hammy lyrical attempt to marry all the world's continents to each other, seems like a misfire to me, but an amusing one — as an anthem, it may not be nearly as immoral as ʽLove The One You're Withʼ, but the "uno mundo, uno mundo..." harmonies should probably have been left to somebody more authentic, like Santana.

Probably the weirdest number here, however, is ʽThe Hour Of Not Quite Rainʼ, an art-pop song with baroque orchestration written by Furay around a poem by Micki Callen as the result of a radio contest on a Los Angeles station («send us your words and Buffalo Springfield will write a song to them because that is absolutely what they're here for, folks»). Amazingly, it sounds real good, with an atmosphere of some deep autumnal mystery generated by the cello-and-brass-heavy orchestration and by Furay's slow, high-pitched, slightly somnambulant, if not altogether drugged-out, vocals. Despite being written «on order» and not featuring the input of any band member other than Furay, it somehow ends up in the same class as ʽExpecting To Flyʼ — melan­cholic light classical psychedelia with a bit of a shivery edge to it.

In short, I would recommend not to regard the record as an auxiliary odds-and-ends package, nor to see it as a less-than-perfect swan song — in reality, «Buffalo Springfield» were almost always more of a mixture of interests than a band united by a single purpose, and should be seen as the first chronological chapter of a long saga, or perhaps an important prologue to the continuing story of Stills, Young, and their buddies from the Byrds and the Hollies (now these were actually real bands, whose stories were vastly different from CSN&Y and did not end with Crosby's and Nash's departures). And in that context, Last Time Around is really more of a See You Soon, Folks thing — not the sound of something crashing and dying, but the sound of something better beginning. And, of course, it gets a thumbs up.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Brian Eno (w. Robert Fripp): Beyond Even

BRIAN ENO: BEYOND EVEN (1992-2006) (w. Robert Fripp) (2007)

1) Ringing Beat; 2) Gasp; 3) Sneering Loop; 4) Tripoli 2020; 5) Behold The Child; 6) Timean Sparkles; 7) Dirt Loop; 8) The Idea Of Decline; 9) Deep Indian Long; 10) Hopeful Timean; 11) Glass Structure; 12) Voices; 13) Cross Crisis In Lust Storm.

More Fripp & Eno for those who prefer their ambient spicy and with extra feedback on top. This album, too, has had a rather strange release history: originally made available only as a digital download, under the odd title of The Cotswold Gnomes, it was later released on CD as Beyond Even (1992-2006) in two versions: a single-CD package and a double-CD edition where you could either listen to all the compositions separately or segued together by means of rather un­sophisticated fade-ins and fade-outs. Additionally, discographies tell me that at least one limited edition print of the CD (Japanese, I think) came under the title Unreleased Works Of Startling Genius — which, I assume, may be a title inspired by the form term «Area Of Outstanding National Beauty», which is actually applied to Cotswolds, referenced in the original name. But enough with this detective crap, or it may begin to look as if I'm actively interested in this or something.

As the title (one of the titles) tells us, these are indeed collaborative works with Fripp, many, if not most, of them being outtakes from the Equatorial Stars sessions. Since, however, there is no intended conceptual unity here (which sort of makes you question the necessity of making that special segued version), the tracks are more variegated in texture, mood, and arrangements: some are rhythmic, some purely atmospheric, some dark (more often), some light (more rarely), and at least one where a lisping (or Japanese) lady whispers "behold the child" in a multi-layered loop — good choice if you want to make your Christmas celebration as modernistically psychedelic as possible, although I might be misreading the artists' lofty spiritual goals here.

Additionally, where on Equatorial Stars Fripp would largely dissolve his solos in the surroun­ding atmosphere, adopting a quiet minimalistic mode as if he were Brian's humble disciple in the art of staying invisible (and inaudible), here there is a bit of the good old Frippertronics in the air, and some mighty devilish Crimsonian soloing from time to time, which comes greatly in handy when you want to shut your mind off, get all conservative as heck and just enjoy the old man getting all pissed off and volcanic on his guitar. For these purposes, I'd especially recommend ʽSnee­ring Loopʼ (which is indeed a loop, and a fairly sneering one), parts of ʽRinging Beatʼ (al­though the wildest guitar parts there are locked inside a near-soundproof sarcophagus), and... and... okay, looks like I went over a top a bit. Oh no, there's actually some more on ʽThe Idea Of Declineʼ, bu that's about it.

Perhaps I was misled by the frequent presence of fellow Crimsonian Trey Gunn on a lot of these tracks — hugging the band's famous «Chapman Stick» that communicates a ferocious bass groove to most of them and greatly enhances the overall feeling of darkness by itself, so that Fripp can just sit back and modulate nonchalant cosmic rays with his six-string. That's how it goes on ʽTripoli 2020ʼ (the equivalent of cool jazz for the electronic age) and on most of ʽRinging Beatʼ. Elsewhere, the grooves are just replaced by impressionism (ʽGlass Structureʼ, which makes you feel trapped inside one, desperately trying to get out), exorcism (ʽVoicesʼ, taking you away to Ghostland), and try-your-patience minimalism (ʽDeep Indian Longʼ, which is like one bass note stretched out to five minutes — even a drone would drop dead from this drone).

On the whole, it's okay — definitely more «entertaining» than Equatorial Stars, but it also feels like these guys are long, long past the peaks of their creativity, because the tracks that remind of their early work are inferior to that work, and the tracks that try to take them into the future or at least keep them suspended in the now are most likely useless to fans of Aphex Twin or any other major IDM hero that was younger than fifty years old when he first began dabbling in IDM. On the other hand, you can't also get around the issue of professionalism and experience, or from the philosophical intrigue of what actually separates «a young man's ambient» from «an old man's ambient» — with rockers, as they age, the differences usually become clear, but what about wizards of atmosphere and technology? Seems like there's no proper dividing line here... or is there? Maybe that is the only credible reason why we still keep listening to these new Eno albums when we really should not be doing that.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Butterfield Blues Band: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band


1) Born In Chicago; 2) Shake Your Money Maker; 3) Blues With A Feeling; 4) Thank You Mr. Poobah; 5) I Got My Mojo Working; 6) Mellow Down Easy; 7) Screamin'; 8) Our Love Is Drifting; 9) Mystery Train; 10) Last Night; 11) Look Over Yonders Wall.

Eric Clapton had said in interviews that when Cream crossed over to America and began looking around, they basically just thought all those new bands were shit — with the exception of the Butterfield Blues Band, which, he admitted, was the only real competition that the haughty Brits had over there. Whether he was exaggerating or not, and what this was really supposed to mean, is up to you to determine, but the curious fact is, when you come to think about it, there weren't really that many «blues-rock» type bands in the States circa 1964-66. Folk rock, yes, with the Byrds serving as godfathers of the genre; psychedelic jamming, yes; garage-pop, yes, plenty of it, but the blues were largely left over for the British invaders to take. Strange, isn't it, when you come to think about it? As if all these white kids were afraid that The King Gang (Albert, Freddie, and B. B.) would start smashing their windows at night and putting holes in their tires if they tried stepping on their local turf.

Thus, in a way Paul Butterfield (and, coming a wee bit later, The Blues Project, who were their principal and not very successful competition) was filling an empty niche in his own native country — of course, few people were more qualified to do it than Butterfield, who was so much born in Chicago that the first song on his first album was appropriately named ʽBorn In Chicagoʼ, the second song covered Elmore James, the third song covered Little Walter, and by the time the fourth song came along, you were pretty much all set. And having been born in Chicago, and having spent his younger years soaking in the blues atmosphere of the city, and having a good ear for music, there was no way that Paul Butterfield could not have matured into a solid blues singer who could also blow some real mean harp, perhaps a little less creatively than his mentor Little Walter, but not any less passionately.

However, the real reason people still continue to listen to these early Butterfield Blues Band re­cords certainly is not Paul, likeable as he is — it is young prodigy Mike Bloomfield, whom most people first hear on Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited and only few people bother to check up fur­ther, despite the fact that he may, indeed, have been the... let me phrase this carefully... single best white blues guitar player in mid-Sixties' America? yes, something like that. At the very least, Clapton did consider him his chief over-the-ocean competitor for a brief while.

The thing about Bloomfield, of course, was that he was really a young punk who somehow got stuck in the blues — a genre that, unlike so many other white kids, he was totally refusing to treat boringly-reverentially. He would play fast, loose, flashy, ecstatic. He could be the Jerry Lee Lewis of the guitar one moment, the Coltrane of the guitar the next moment, and swing in and out of the generic 12-bar mode at will. He clearly loved all these big Chicago dudes a lot, but he was not at all set to imitate them — well, maybe Buddy Guy could have taught him something spe­cial, but then there might also have been things Bloomfield could teach him back. In any case, the guy's crazy leads are the goddamn reason to own and enjoy this record, period.

Because outside of that, the album would mostly hold up as a historically important one — if not the first bona fide American blues-rock album, then certainly one of those that first comes to mind when you think about American blues-rock as a whole. Butterfield is a nice professional guy, but not much more than solid — he does not have that much of a distinctive personality, and he can't even pull off a perfect, Muddy-approved "got my brbrbrbrbrbrbr working" on ʽMojoʼ, which means that drummer Sam Lay gets to sing it instead (!). I certainly couldn't elevate Butter­field as a singer over, say, Mick Jagger (who may have been not as technical on the harmonica, but made a far better job of making your hair stand on end as a singer in those early bluesy days, for good or bad). And consequently, there's not much reason to prefer him over Elmore, Walter, and Muddy, or even think that he brought something extra to the table (he's not a particularly good songwriter, either, and he would never be able to acquire the same «lonesome schizophrenic genius» tag as his future British correlate, Peter Green).

With Bloomfield afoot and aloof, though, even the most straightforward Elmore James covers here, like ʽShake Your Moneymakerʼ and ʽLook Over Yonders Wallʼ, acquire an arrogant boyish fervor that makes them, I dunno, somewhat more rock'n'rollish in nature than the originals — not «dangerously» rock'n'rollish, like the Stones presented their blues, but «ecstatically» rock'n'rollish, just ripping through the stratosphere like there was no tomorrow. Likewise, he is capable of making the slow blues numbers interesting and exciting, sometimes even playing those scorching melodic lines simultaneously with the vocals, without caring whether they take your attention away from the singing or not (they usually do, for instance, on the «original» composition ʽOur Love Is Driftingʼ, which is really just one more 12-bar blues, but with more stinging on it than around a bear-attacked beehive). The two instrumentals, ʽThank You Mr. Poobahʼ and ʽScrea­min'ʼ, have Bloomfield and Butterfield competing, but as shamanistic as Paul sometimes gets on his instrument, he just can't match Bloomfield when he strikes real hard.

We should probably drop in a kind word for the rest of the band as well — Elvin Bishop on se­cond guitar (usually rhythm, but I guess he takes a few leads here and there), Mark Naftalin on organ, Jerome Arnold on bass, and Sam Lay on drums (the latter two were drawn over from Howlin' Wolf's own backing band) — but the best word that can be dropped in, I guess, is that they all manage to put enough swing in the music so that it don't sound too stiff and reverential. Lay, in particular, creates far more fuss with his drumset than your average Joe, and is also seri­ously responsible for the above-average energy quotient of the album; but the role of the drum­mer on a by-the-book blues-rock album is not too enviable by definition.

In any case, as far as «whiteboy blues» stuff from the Sixties goes, there are few records out there to beat out the charm of The Butterbloomfield Blues Band (as it should have been called) — Eric Clapton With The Bluesbreakers might be the only competition in terms of scorching fierce­ness (and certainly not those early pre-ʽAlbatrossʼ Fleetwood Mac albums with Peter Green that strange people tend to rave about). Even if the band would really find its own voice with the next album, this one is still very respec... no, wait, I meant to say «quite kick-ass, really», because, well, if your blues-rock doesn't kick at least some ass, you must be doing something wrong — like confusing it with a 17th century court dance, for instance. Thumbs up.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Buddy Guy: Stone Crazy!


1) I Smell A Rat; 2) Are You Losing Your Mind?; 3) You've Been Gone Too Long; 4) She's Out There Somewhere; 5) Outskirts Of Town; 6) When I Left Home.

For most of the rest of the decade, Buddy found himself without a recording contract, suffering the same fate as quite a few old Chicago bluesmen, out of vogue and fighting, or refusing to fight, for survival. One reason may have been a stubborn refusal to adapt, like B. B. King did, but more important, I think, was the fact that unlike B. B. King, Buddy never truly achieved major stardom either in the 1950s or in the 1960s, and thus had no «starting capital» to begin with: not even the good word from Hendrix could make much of an impact.

Eventually, by 1979, as it sometimes happens, Buddy emerged on the far-from-home front — some people have to move to Japan to do this, but Stone Crazy!, as far as I can tell, was recorded in Toulouse, of all places (pretty big city, but who'd know there was a market for American elec­tric blues specifically in the far south end of France?), released on the small Isabel label, and only two years later picked up by the Alligator label in the States (which is why in most conventional discographies you'll find this record marked 1981, when it's really 1979), obviously, to very little fanfare and even less effect.

And you can see why, because Stone Crazy! does indeed show a man who is totally refusing to adapt, living in his own world of musical values and happy to ignore all the developments on all the musical fronts around him. Ten more years and the world would start admiring him for that, but in 1979-81 the progressive drive was still strong, and this retro-Chicago-stuff just didn't cut it. Too bad, because on a purely personal level, the album does show some progress — about half of the tracks feature Buddy Guy in such an overdriven mood as he'd never let us take part in pre­viously. Perhaps there was something in the Toulouse air that made him feel as if he were fighting the Saracens, or maybe it was just the lack of any pressure, but on ʽI Smell A Ratʼ (no relation to the Big Mama Thornton classic) and ʽYou've Been Gone Too Longʼ Buddy Guy is unleashed — good news for all lovers of electric blues guitar thunderstorms.

In fact, unless my gut feeling plays a trick on me, we'd probably have to pick ʽI Smell A Ratʼ as the first bona fide representative of the by-now-all-too-familiar Buddy Guy playing style — «blues against the rules», where conventional, party-approved blues solo licks may be offset at any time with a bit of dissonance, harmony break-up, discordant repetition of an appreciated chord instead of required moving up or down the scale, etc. etc., any time that the soul commands it from the player. Sometimes it's ugly, but even when it's ugly, you kind of feel that it's just be­cause the guitarist got so caught up in his feelings, he forgot all about his textbook. Of course, Buddy is not alone in this respect, but far from every respectable bluesman can allow himself to introduce that element of punkish hooliganry into the playing — Eric Clapton, for instance, while mastering quite a few of Buddy's old licks, never dared to follow him into that territory.

The downside of all this, unfortunately, is that Stone Crazy! is really only interesting when it comes to guitar solos — the song structures are as generically 12-bar as they come, and the only thing that varies are tempos and basic patterns (ʽShe's Out There Somewhereʼ is ʽDust My Broomʼ, ʽAre You Losing Your Mind?ʼ is B. B. King, and only ʽYou've Been Gone Too Longʼ constructs its vamp on the basis of Funkadelic's ʽHit It And Quit Itʼ, because, after all, Buddy does know his way around the basics of R&B, soul, and funk — it's just that the people of Toulouse expect him to play the blues, because it makes for a good rhyme).

Anyway, highlights: ʽI Smell A Ratʼ (plaintive, soulful, crazy aggressive guitar kicks in right away and almost never lets go); ʽYou've Been Gone Too Longʼ (instrumental, funkadelicious, kick-ass energy, the works); ʽWhen I Left Homeʼ (only partially — he makes a big case here out of the alternation of loud and quiet bits, but there's way too little of that scorching soloing when it comes to «loud», and it comes in way too late, and all the rest of the time is Buddy Guy doing his best Bobby Bland impersonation). The rest... ain't bad, really, just nothing to write about. But as a whole, the album does have enough importance and entertainment value to deserve a thumbs up: ʽI Smell A Ratʼ was probably the best blues song to come out of 1979, even if the world couldn't care less at the time.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Blitzen Trapper: All Across This Land


1) All Across This Land; 2) Rock And Roll (Was Made For You); 3) Mystery And Wonder; 4) Love Grow Cold; 5) Lonesome Angel; 6) Nights Were Made For Love; 7) Cadillac Road; 8) Let The Cards Fall; 9) Even If You Don't; 10) Across The River.

Stylistically, this is a return to the vibe of American Goldwing — unassuming retro-rock with emphasis on the «nobody should be able to tell that we are not The Eagles or at least The Doobie Brothers!» side of the business. But impression-wise, All Across This Land seems to be the better bet of the two, if only because it's got more muscle; and I mean that almost literally — the riffs, the rhythm section, the vocals all seem to be infected with a strange brawny vivaciousness. Not only that, but Earley and his mates intentionally lower the «intelligence shield» of the music and go as far as to offer a few really simplistic anthems to, uh, simplicity — ʽRock And Roll (Was Made For You)ʼ does sound about as dumb as its title.

And, for once, this is sort of a plus, because throughout their career, Blitzen Trapper have consis­tently failed to convince me that they were truly qualified for the status of a «subtle», «intellec­tual», «innovative» rock band. In reality, a few happy exceptions aside, Earley is a natural-born barroom rocker and little else — and All Across This Land is just that, an album of barroom rock with a Southern edge to it that "just wants to rock'n'roll", as they themselves acknowledge on ʽNights Were Made For Loveʼ. Meaning that it all sounds nice and tasteful and adequate, even if, as usual, few songs stick out.

General gripes involve the superfluous use of synthesizers — cheesy fake strings really do not belong on these kinds of songs — and, more importantly, the fact that Earley has not become any more distinctive as a singer than he used to be: his husky, earthy voice is good for this music, but he still has such minimal range and flexibility that if anybody said he was «singing with feeling», I would have to assume that «feeling» is an immanent, unchanging quality for this guy. This is, however, a grudge that can be held against the absolute majority of Blitzen Trapper's roots-rock idols from the Seventies, so why should we blame poor Eric?

Speaking of sticking out, I'd probably have to put in a good word for the title track, featuring the album's most distinctive and memorable set of riffs and passing off for, let's say, a second-rate Skynyrd; the already mentioned ʽNights Were Made For Loveʼ, a fast tempo pop-rocker stuffed with romantic nostalgia (like a sped-up variation on the Byrds' cover of ʽMy Back Pagesʼ or something like that); and the closing acoustic ballad ʽAcross The Riverʼ, which could have been so much better if sung by Neil Young, but... ah, hell.

Overall, I'm not giving this a thumbs up so as to avoid upholding the illusion that this is some sort of «creative rebound» or that you can find here something that cannot be found on a solid selec­tion of soft rock nuggets from the early-to-mid Seventies. But since the record clearly does not pretend to anything more than telling you, "We love our smelly roots, and what's wrong with that?", I'm not giving it a thumbs down, either. If you just can't get enough of those Southern vibes and need your fill replenished daily, All Across This Land is highly recommendable. If, however, you still vaguely remember Blitzen Trapper as that odd try-anything-once band that arrogantly mixed Brit-pop, roots-rock, and psychedelia on its debut album, that old band just ain't coming back. They made their choice and settled down on the farm. Oh well, I guess somebody at least has to settle down on the farm in these days of urban dictature.