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Monday, January 7, 2013

Bo Diddley: The London Bo Diddley Sessions


BO DIDDLEY: THE LONDON BO DIDDLEY SESSIONS (1973)

1) Don't Want No Lyin' Woman; 2) Bo Diddley; 3) Going Down; 4) Make A Hit Record; 5) Bo-Jam; 6) Husband-In-Law; 7) Do The Robot; 8) Sneakers On A Rooster; 9) Get Out Of My Life.

And the story goes on: no sooner does Bo find himself a comfortable, modern-sounding, tradi­tion-respecting groove to slip in, than his record label, anxious to make just a few cents more on the name, steers him into a «fashionable» direction. This time, «fashion» involves teeming up with a bunch of British blues-rock players, following in the sagging footsteps of Howlin' Wolf (who had the misfortune to actually make his record a stable seller, ensuring trouble for all of his colleagues), Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and (from a different label) B. B. King. The logic re­mains the same — with UK blues-rockers conquering the original turf of old Chicago bluesmen, both critically and commercially, old Chicago bluesmen are now in need of the big names in the business to sell their records. And, of course, the big names in the business could get all snub-nosed and haughty — but why should they? These are their idols, after all, and no Eric Clapton or Rory Gallagher could ever get arrogant enough to claim that they have already advanced to the point where no B. B. King or Muddy could catch up with them. Be it the truth or not.

Problem is, once they finally decided to repeat the trick with Bo Diddley, all the good guys had already been taken, or, perhaps, had decided that they'd already paid their dues in full. In fact, it turns out that much, if not most, of the recordings here were really made in Chicago, and only a few of the songs really stem from London studios — just enough to barely justify the name of the album. Most of the players are little-known American session men; the only UK credit that I feebly recognize is guitar player Ray Fenwick, famous for the immortal nugget ʽCrawdaddy Si­moneʼ recorded during his brief stay with the Syndicats, but it is not clear which of the tracks feature his playing, and, in any case, there is nothing here that would even remotely approach the primordial wildness of ʽCrawdaddy Simoneʼ.

Basically, this is just another set of rather restrained, unexceptional blues-rock and funk-rock, no­where near the level of excitement and unpredictability of either Black Gladiator or Where It All Began. To see that point, try playing ʽBad Tripʼ and ʽDo The Robotʼ back-to-back: the for­mer is an evil monster of acid funk, the latter — merely a professional workout, with plenty of people in the studio but not a single one daring to take any chances: six minutes go by in vain expectation that something will finally break out of this, but what exactly can break out when everybody just keeps politely saying «after you, Mr. Second Guitarist!» or «no, no, Mr. Organist, I insist!...» or «don't mind me, ladies and gentlemen of the rhythm section, I'm just sitting in the corner here, adding some high-pitched funky salt licks to this nice soup you got cooking».

Many of the songs are spoiled off the bat with a «de-luxe» big brass section — such as the boo­gie-blues of ʽDon't Want No Lyin' Womanʼ, where the only thing of note is Connie Redmond's powerhouse vocalizing; Bo, on the other hand, cannot truly break through the wall of guitars, or­gans, and brass that not only cancel out each other's effectiveness, but also cancel out the validity of the leading artist. The same disappointment concerns some of the funkier numbers as well, e.g. ʽHusband-In-Lawʼ and ʽGoing Downʼ.

Overall, like most of the London Sessions series, the chemistry here is quite weak, and the re­cord very rarely rises above «listenable». The re-recording of ʽBo Diddleyʼ with new lyrics is smooth and mildly catchy (mainly due to the amusing invention of the "oooooh... ouch!" harmo­ny trick); ʽMake A Hit Recordʼ, with Bo trying out the «stuttering» technique of delivery, is fun­ny for the first minute (and utterly annoying for the remaining four); and only the album closer ʽGet Out Of My Lifeʼ is in any way reminiscent of the scary bite of Bo at his funky best — all of a sud­den, it's like both the rhythm and lead guitars have received clearance for extra aggression, and, for all of our patience, we are rewarded with ass-kicking crunch. Maybe it was an outtake from the previous year — I have no idea, but I wouldn't be surprised.

By that time, however, The London Sessions have already lost whatever credibility the title could offer — the album as a whole can only serve as further evidence of the ineptness of the old labels to take the fates of their old artists into their own hands. Hence, worth a listen or two, but nothing helps to rescue The London Sessions from the good old thumbs down, unless you just love the «old school» so much that you have no desire to distinguish between the exceptional and the run-of-the-mill sorts of material.

Check "The London Bo Diddley Sessions" (CD) on Amazon
Check "The London Bo Diddley Sessions" (MP3) on Amazon

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