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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Al Kooper: Easy Does It


AL KOOPER: EASY DOES IT (1970)

1) Brand New Day; 2) I Got A Woman; 3) Country Road; 4) I Bought You The Shoes; 5) Easy Does It; 6) Buckskin Boy; 7) Love Theme From "The Landlord"; 8) Sad, Sad Sunshine; 9) Let The Duchess No; 10) She Gets Me Where I Live; 11) A Rose And A Baby Ruth; 12) Baby Please Don't Go; 13) God Sheds His Grace On Thee.

Don't know much about easy, but third time clearly does it. Not one to hold back, still bursting with ideas, still probably dissatisfied about not being able to let it all out in one huge bundle to amaze everyone's eyes and ears, Al finally went for the gold: same approach as usual, but this time, on a double album, never ever to be outdone in the future, even by himself.

The surprise effect may have been gone, because by then everybody pretty much knew what to expect from the whizz kid, yet it is still amazing to realize just what an immense overload of ideas this guy had accumulated over the mid-Sixties to finally start depositing over this relatively brief period of hypercreativity. Once again, each and every song bursts with them — they may not all be tremendously memorable, but he did come up with all of them. How did he manage to do that? Some people have trouble coming up with one fresh idea over a consecutive run of five or more LPs; Al Kooper is the direct opposite.

In random order, let me just list some of the crazy stuff he does on here. Ray Charles once pro­duced a revolution when he took a generic spiritual and reworked it into 'I Got A Woman', crea­ting soul music in the process. Now Al, in an almost absurdist twist, pushes it one step further, taking Ray's creation, slowing it down, and reworking it into an orchestrated lounge jazz standard, piano and sax solos and a sort of Oscar Peterson Trio mood thing established. It reads like a de­construction, with Kooper's tenderness almost impossible to believe, but it's one of the most bi­zarre and totally unpredictable deconstructions ever — and it all sounds very smooth and natural, unlike the man's previous rough experiment with '59th Street Bridge Song'.

Another transformation awaits the old blues chestnut 'Baby Please Don't Go', which bands like the Amboy Dukes, and later still, Budgie and AC/DC, were speeding up and transforming into a balls-out hard rocker. The Koop, on the contrary, turns it into free-form jazz, a set of piano, bass, and something else («ondioline»?) improvs occasionally interrupted by slightly black-facened vocalization (whose whininess actually fits in well with the slightly psychedelic, slighty relaxed, slightly paranoidal mood). Ah yes, it clocks in at 13:20, and obviously invites one to thoughts of padding out one side of the double LP — truth is, it deserves every second of that running time, and I would like to see someone deny this and at the same time sing hosanna to all those Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Charles Mingus albums.

Of the originals, 'Sad, Sad Sunshine' is the classic highlight. Said to be written or, at least, con­ceived while coming off an acid trip, this may be the most harmonious, proverbially gorgeous conjoining of fully worked out sitar and orchestral parts in pop music that I have heard so far — must have been one hell of a trip if, upon the end of the journey, East and West managed to share such a truly historical meeting. And then there's 'Brand New Day', Kooper's most eagerly optimi­stic anthem so far. Recorded for the soundtrack to Hal Ashby's directorial debut, The Landlord, it has clearly outlived the movie and works far better as the kick-start opener to Easy Does It.

What else is there? Rootsy, friendly, catchy soft-rock ('Country Road'), more of the old Blood, Sweat & Tears-style jazz-rock with bold Morricone-like brass parts ('She Gets Me Where I Live'), blues-rocky concern for the abused native ('Buckskin Boy'), music-hall arrangement meets Nash­ville melody ('I Bought You The Shoes'), and an almost parodic attempt at big bulgy blues-de-luxe with the title track, performed so crudely you could easily mistake it for a lame attempt at self-promoting on the part of your local barroom ensemble. Don't worry, they're professionals, they're just faking it for a reason.

With all these treasures to reap, you'd think Easy Does It would be perennially hailed as yet ano­ther in an endless stream of masterpieces from 1970. Instead, it has sunk into almost complete oblivion, rarely appearing on CD (usually as a limited-edition import) and completely ignored on most critical lists (even among amateurs: on RateYourMusic, the album has not, as of yet, gar­nered a single review). Reader, take my word on it and do not believe this tombly silence. Even if you do not happen to be a big fan of Mr. Al's voice (I can understand) or tendency to slip into impro­vised rambling (I can understand), railing against Mr. Al's skills as composer and arranger would defy the purpose of music itself — and Easy Does It is Al Kooper's biggest, grandest, splurgiest declaration of love for music, one hundred percent honest and almost nearly as exciting. Thumbs up, of course; get this thing back in print now, you sluggards.

3 comments:

  1. I'll bet it's the cover that kept this from becoming successful. It's way too schlocky.

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  2. Dig the review, but I hope you're not planning on skipping 'Super Session Vol. 2' with Shuggie Otis.
    Some real cool stuff there.

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  3. Your raving review made me curious, and I'm glad it did: it's a wonderful album to listen to on a sunny Saturday morning ("brand new day" indeed). Thanks for that.

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