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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Alex Harvey: Alex Harvey And His Soul Band


1) Framed; 2) I Ain't Worrying Baby; 3) Backwater Blues; 4) Let The Good Times Roll; 5) Going Home; 6) I've Got My Mojo Working; 7) Teensville USA; 8) New Orleans; 9) Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger; 10) When I Grow Too Old To Rock; 11) Evil Hearted Man; 12) I Just Wanna Make Love To You; 13) The Blind Man; 14) Reeling And Rocking.

Out of those people whose musical career took years and years to get off the ground, Alex Har­vey must hold an indisputable record. Success and notability weren't his until the launching of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band in 1972 — yet The Alex Harvey Soul Band was active and kicking around the circuits of Scotland and lands to the south since at least 1959, when the Beat­les were still the Quarrymen and Elvis was still in the army.

But was there anything particularly worthwhile about the Soul Band? No, except for perhaps a damn fine good taste in selecting their cover material (the scarce information we have on this page from Harvey's past does not include anything on original songwriting). They performed quite a lot of diverse material, almost completely shutting out the more "commercialized" US and UK pop hits and concentrating instead on everything from rockabilly to R'n'B to electric blues to even digging out and rearranging old pre-war blues standards (Harvey's special predilection for these golden oldies would result in an entire album dedicated to them — see below). In all that, they arguably had little or no competition on the British/Scottish scene of the early Sixties.

This is where the praise comes to a dead end, though, because the band's only album, as far as I'm concerned, holds only meager historic interest. It was recorded on the heels of their (traditional for all British bands of the period) big break on the Hamburg club scene, and dressed up as a "live" album, with overdubbed audience noises, although the sound quality is way too good for anyone to be duped — it may have been, and probably was, live in the studio, but that's about as live as it gets. The fourteen songs faithfully run the gamut of whatever was listed above, and eve­rything is done with a proper amount of professionalism and, perhaps, even some excitement, yet there is nothing in these performances that somehow improves on the originals or, more impor­tant, changes them into something worth hearing on its own.

Harvey himself, although blessed with a powerful voice, was still light years away from capturing his tragic madman stage persona, and, although he is nowhere near as obnoxious on this record as he is on The Blues, simply makes no competition to the other guys in the business. His sidemen are competent, but competent the way your local barroom band would be competent after having played in the barroom each night for five years. The "edge" is missing, if you know what I mean. If you don't, see for yourself — try to compare the band's performance of Leiber & Stoller & The Coasters' 'Framed' with the song's radical reworking on the same-titled debut from The Sensatio­nal Alex Harvey Band eight years later. The latter is a demented rock theater masterpiece; the former is... a cover of Leiber & Stoller & The Coasters' 'Framed'.

In short, this is a pretty bland album if you take it in the context of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates (who rocked out better), the Beatles (who had better songs), the Beach Boys (who had better vocals), the Dave Clark 5 (who had a riskier and edgier sax player), the Animals (who had a cra­zier frontman), the Rolling Stones (who had a far more dangerous and provocative sound), the Americans (who wrote all these songs that Harvey covered), the Russians (who had just flown Gagarin into space three years ago), and the Romulans (each of whom looked more handsome than Alex Harvey could ever hope to get). If you manage to strip away the context, it all comes across in a far more positive light, but I guess Avril Lavigne could also be thought of as the epi­tome of punk if one didn't know anything about punk. Thumbs down from the heart that did not manage to get wound up, and likewise from the brain that tried to justify the album's existence but found it easier to justify Asian despotism.

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