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Monday, December 24, 2012

Bo Diddley: Another Dimension


1) The Shape I'm In; 2) I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know; 3) Pollution; 4) Bad Moon Rising; 5) Down On The Corner; 6) I Said Shut Up, Woman; 7) Bad Side Of The Moon; 8) Lodi; 9) Go For Broke.

We might quibble all we want about the money-talks attitudes of record industry bosses, but from a certain angle the behavior of the guys at Chess was beyond reproach: despite Bo Diddley being an utterly miserable seller for almost a decade now, somebody was still out there thinking and thinking — trying to come up with ideas that would at least justify continuing to grant him studio time, let alone help him raise a profit. Dressing the man up as The Black Gladiator did not work — the funk audiences of James and Sly were not amused. So the next move was planned — saddle the man with some contemporary material. «Bo Diddley Sings All The Great American Hits» and the like.

Would that work? With Muddy and his psychedelically tinged Electric Mud two years earlier, it did not. There was hardly one chance in a thousand that it would turn out for the better with Bo. Then again, occasionally it did work — Ike & Tina Turner did manage to appropriate CCR's ʽProud Maryʼ, and then there always were Ray and Aretha, capable of turning other people's gold into their own platinum, or at least vice versa. And ol' Bo Diddley — well, at the very least, he always seemed kinda smart: who knows, he just might have that magic touch.

Allegedly, Bo himself had no intent of doing a cover album, but had to play along in order to ap­pease the bosses. If that was the way it was, though, he certainly went to the limits of his loyalty for Chess: there are very few, if any, signs of disinterest here. On the other hand — Another Di­mension is a success of a curiosity rather than a failure. Not only do you get to hear melodies and arrangements on a Bo Diddley record that you would never have gotten otherwise, but he does his best to get into the spirit of each covered song, and shows an impressive emotional range that goes way beyond the usual clowning.

For instance, I would never in a million years have bet that he'd be able to pull off Al Kooper's ʽMore Than You'll Ever Knowʼ — this is so much not a Bo Diddley song at all, he might have had better luck with Beethoven's 9th, right? But he offers a soulful, respectable delivery that hits all the right chords anyway: rougher and grittier than the original, perhaps, which was all dren­ched in romantic tragedy, and thus nowhere near as chillin' to the bone — but the fact is, most people in the world could not do justice to that song (including most of the lead vocalists for Blood, Sweat & Tears themselves), and Bo almost does. It is at least worth it just to hear him do it from beginning to end, rather than just switch the stereo off in horror.

Much the same applies to much of the rest. Three CCR covers might seem like overkill (unless it was all done in a «I'm The Man, I'm not going for just one wimpy cover like that Turner couple»), but other than the glammy female backup vocals, they are all done good. ʽThe Shape I'm Inʼ, se­lected for single release, might seem like a particularly bizarre choice — but Bo nails down the unhappy insecurity in Richard Manuel's voice very well, and the replacement of Hudson's mo­dernistic synth soloing with a more traditional R&B-ish brass section is not a bad idea either. Much weirder, probably, is the cover of Elton John's ʽBad Side Of The Moonʼ — not only be­cause it is the only overseas cover on here, and the only one selected from a fresh new arrival (Elton was barely just a year or so into his stardom), but also because Taupin's cryptic lyrics are a particularly tough nut for poor old Bo to crack. Still, the band gets a good groove.

The other three selections are relatively original — relatively, because ʽI Said Shut Up Womanʼ is, as expected, a direct sequel to ʽShut Up Womanʼ, building on the same one chord sequence, albeit in a more distorted, noisy manner this time. ʽPollutionʼ is an original funk-rocker that finds Bo worrying about the environment (move over, Marvin Gaye), but, more importantly, puts up a hot load of sharp guitar tones — again, something that is fairly atypical for Bo, generally used to far «sloppier» playing, but delivered with pure kick-ass honesty. And then there is some more lite-acid funk on the instrumental ʽGo For Brokeʼ, with complex beats, jazzy piano, brass fills, acoustic funky rhythms, and psychedelic guitar soloing — so much of it happening at the same time that the piece definitely warrants extra listens.

The worst thing one can say about Another Dimension is that it is not really a Bo Diddley album. ʽShut Up Womanʼ and maybe some vocal fills on ʽPollutionʼ are classic Bo; the rest is chame­leon attitude. That is a pretty bad thing. But for anybody interested in Bo Diddley «as a whole», with the smallest bit of curi­osity as to how the man's «up» and «down» periods hold on to each other, Another Dimension is a must-hear. On its own, it is, at best, just a moderately pleasant listen; in the overall context of Bo's career, it reveals some important things about the man that may seri­ously correct one's perspective on «The Originator». In fact, sometimes, every once in a while, it helps if «The Originator» briefly becomes «The Copycat» — I believe that Bo's take on ʽMore Than You'll Ever Knowʼ, in particular, says much more about the man here than would yet ano­ther remake of ʽHey Bo Diddleyʼ or ʽI'm A Manʼ. Thumbs up.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. You just keep on digging these up. I always thought Bo's career was pretty much kaput by the mid 60s as far as recording went. I just might give some of these latter-day efforts a listen.