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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Blues Incorporated: Sky High


1) Long Black Train; 2) Rock Me; 3) I'm So Glad; 4) Wednesday Night Prayer; 5) Honesty; 6) Yellow Dog Blues; 7) Let The Good Times Roll; 8) Ooo-Wee Baby; 9) River's Invitation; 10) Money Honey; 11) Big Road Blues; 12) Louise; 13) Floating; 14) Anchor 5 Miles; 15) Daph's Dance.

The last album to be credited to «Blues Inc.» (after this Korner just kept going on in his own name) was released in April 1966 — already at a time when everything that Alexis ever did, someone at that point was doing it better. The Graham Bond Organization stole away his jazz thunder, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers sneaked away his blues temper, Fresh Cream was just around the corner, Jimi was coming up around the bend, and that's just in the UK alone. Further­more, all of Korner's finest brass players had migrated to a better climate, and his new vocalist, Duffy Power, was just a competent, hoarse, blues-rock vocalist (previously noted for one of the first — and worst — covers of the Beatles' ʽI Saw Her Standing Thereʼ, hardly saved even by an expert rhythm part from Graham Bond's organ).

This means that, for the most part, the band is back here to generic, unexciting 12-bar blues stuff and sparkless blues-rock that sounds hopelessly antiquated for its time. In retrospect, it probably gives an overall finer impression than it did in early swinging London days, but who would you rather want to listen to — Alexis Korner on guitar and Duffy Power on harmonica, or, say, Mud­dy Waters and Little Walter on the same instruments? (For the record, Duffy's harmonica is all over the place, and he blows it in just as perfunctory a manner as he sings — Mick Jagger was a titanic-level impressionist in comparison even in his earliest days).

If there is anything here of mild interest, it is a couple of jazzier numbers that sound like leftovers from the self-titled Blues Incorporated: Mingus' ʽWednesday Night Prayer Meetingʼ at least tries to be exuberant, and ʽHonestyʼ tries to be multi-part, experiment with time signatures, im­provise, and, overall, behave in a «look-at-me-I'm-so-Miles-Davis» kind of manner. Again, there is no reason why one shouldn't be listening to the real thing instead, but this material feels more natural for the band — like it or not, successful blues playing requires having a bit of the devil in the soul, and these guys just don't seem to be able to make contact.

A small, odd surprise is further provided by three short acoustic guitar instrumentals that close off the record: just Alexis and his six-string, playing three original folk-blues compositions. Not one of them displays any stunning technique or emotional breakthrough — it just sounds like a quick set of last-moment sketches that the man put together before cutting the record. But it is an inte­resting gesture all the same, and a rather cute way to say goodbye, even if Korner probably did not know at the time that he would soon be forever retiring the name of «Blues Incorporated».

Actually, Korner's solo career from 1967 and up to his death from lung cancer in 1984 was long and varied, and would have its ups, downs, and (most frequently) middle-o'-the-roads — but no matter how much fashionable revisionism we might want to cook up, it is hardly likely that he will remain in pop music history as anything more than a devoted Kulturträger of the early 1960s: a semi-legendary figure, worthy of respect, recognition, and memory for what he did as a promo­ter, but not as a musician, composer, or performer. Not that there's anything wrong with that — just don't bother hunting for these records, hardly worth even the time of the hunt, let alone the money (or the bandwidth).

Check "Sky High" (CD) on Amazon


  1. I personally liked CCS. I was 11 as I heard 'Tap Turns on the Water' for the very first time and I liked it. I mean REALLY liked it. Still do, although in retrospect it possibly was the idea itself that - well, kinda blew me away, because up to that particular moment my association with all kinds of brass-laden music was that of military marching bands, definitely not rock or the likes of that. Blame it on the age, but it was new to my ears and fascinating.

    1. The only kind of brass I enjoy is stuff like this:

      (first 40 seconds, though the rest is fantastiwastic too) or this:

      (from the 17th second on, though the strings in the opening set the mood). To my ears brass in jazz, blues and pop sounds way too clean and neat. There are exceptions of course, but I only know precious few.

    2. Yeah, well...- no. Classical Music has never been something I could get myself into, with the exception of some kinda obscure stuff by the Labeques. And I like Kiri te Kanawas voice, but that's it.
      And some brass in pocket :)

  2. Now if you are interested in weird trivial connections: in early 1968 Alexis Korner played in Düsseldorf with a Dutch band called Cuby & The Blizzards.

    There he met a guy called Herman Brood, who recorded with Nina Hagen and was commemorated by her with the song Hermann Hiess Er.