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Monday, October 15, 2012

Bo Diddley: Bo Diddley Is A Lover


1) Not Guilty; 2) Hong Kong Mississippi; 3) You're Looking Good; 4) Bo's Vacation; 5) Congo; 6) Bo's Blues; 7) Bo Diddley Is A Lover; 8) Aztec; 9) Back Home; 10) Bo Diddley Is Loose; 11) Love Is A Secret; 12) Quick Draw.

This one finds Bo slipping further and further into «comic» mood — with no fewer than four songs directly referring to him in their title, and no fewer than just about everything else being a veiled or unveiled account of Bo Diddley's adventures, either, with jokes, gags, puns, and musical slapstick all over the place. Not surprisingly, the more this man talks about himself, the less he somehow seems to be able to say. And no matter how irresistible the LP title might have been for the ladies — at least those well-versed in the art of mirror-reading — this was the first of Bo's LPs not to yield even one single radio classic or fan favorite.

But this does not necessarily mean that the record is a complete failure. First, there are some top notch instrumentals. On ʽCongoʼ, Bo recycles the string-scratching trick of ʽRoadrunnerʼ, this time imitating a jet plane engine rather than a Harley Davidson, then engages in some playful surf soloing à la Duane Eddy, all the while strutting his stuff and shaking his shimmy in classic Bo fashion. And on ʽAztecʼ, he leads the listener into Spanish territory — again, not really trying to emulate any of the masters of Latin art (which would have been an obvious embarrassment), but rather with the purpose of doing a little bit of deconstruction, randomly swapping the predictably simplified chords with squeaks, squirts, scratches, and rumbles. This is not «parody» — just good old Bo trying to place his personal mark on yet another style.

Elsewhere, it looks like all he is doing is recycling, re-recycling, and re-re-recycling ideas that have already been in heavy use for about five years. But repeated listens show that, even at this time, each song has just a little bit of individuality, that one little «shift» in texture that prevents it from completely repeating its predecessors. It might be a slight change in the beat, one extra note in the riff, one transposed chord, some prominently placed backup vocals from the man's loyal female staff... something,  and it all rocks fairly hard (which is also a plus, considering the general softening of US «mainstream» rock'n'roll standards in the early 1960s — besides, Bo was the only one of the major black rockers left at that time, with Little Richard going to church and Chuck Berry going to jail).

For instance, ʽNot Guiltyʼ is a nursery-rhyme-style dialog between Bo and his backups, with a Chuck Berry-influenced lead guitar part, suitable for a steady 4/4 beat, set against the syncopated Bo Diddley beat — a good example of Bo's «sonic illusion» technique where your ear is slightly thrown off course by the dissonance. Another Chuckified number is ʽBo Diddley Is Looseʼ, where the lead guitar carries on a sharp, but merry dialog with Bo in the vein of ʽCarolʼ and ʽLittle Queenieʼ: the licks may be borrowed, but the party atmosphere is all Bo anyway. And ʽYou're Looking Goodʼ is among his most convincing speedy R'n'B numbers — for once, the wobbly guitar patterns and the Isley Brothers attitude are combined to fine effect.

Open missteps and blunders are arguably limited to the generic 12-bar ʽBo's Bluesʼ, which does sound like an unintended parody — controversial as that might sound, Bo has less feeling for the slow 12-bar form than Mick Jagger, and is unable to do anything interesting for it; and to the happy R'n'B ballad ʽLove Is A Secretʼ, which, on top of it all, is rendered physically unlistenable by the never-ending backup crooning (three minutes of high-pitched ooh-wee-oohs that only pause to catch a breath from time to time is straightahead torture for the ears — forget waterboar­ding, this is the real deal).

Everything else ranges from «curiously nice» to «pleasantly mediocre»: a clear-cut step down from the weirdness / fun level of Gunslinger, but the man is still willing to combine brains, brawn, soul, and ego to good effect — the main problem is that, this time around, there has been just a little too much ego thrown in the pot, overshadowing the rest of the ingredients. Still, a modest thumbs up here for one of the few «real rock'n'roll» albums of 1961.

Check "Bo Diddley Is A Lover" (CD) on Amazon

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