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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Blues Magoos: Gulf Coast Bound


1) Gulf Coast Bound; 2) Slow Down Sundown; 3) Can't Get Enough Of You; 4) Magoos Blues; 5) Tonight The Skies About To Cry; 6) Sea Breeze Express.

The new-look Blues Magoos' second and last album, recorded in the wake of more lineup chan­ges and heavily relying on the use of session musicians, almost manages to hit the mark — hard as it may be to believe this, it is more coherent, focused, and overall adequate than Never Goin' Back To Georgia. It was commercially doomed, since it did not have a proper hit single to it, and, come to think of it, with a vocalist as «gifted» as Peppy (at this point, he already sounds like Eric Burdon's twin brother, however, unfortunately mutilated at birth), a hit single would be impossible in the­ory and practice.

They do try with the title track, which is a bouncy-friendly jazz-pop concoction in the vein of the post-Al Kooper Blood, Sweat & Tears, but could really use a more attractive vocalist to, well, attract the necessary positive attention on the part of the buying public. And then Peppy does even worse on the aggressive R&B workout ʽSlow Down Sundownʼ — this is where the vocals get genuinely awful, as the singer almost revels in his drawn out, torturously out-of-key vowels, probably believing that soul and sincerity will easily compensate for this. If Keith Richards can get away with this, why not Peppy Castro? Unfortunately, most of us, upon hearing the two, will probably figure out several easy «why nots» soon enough.

Surprisingly, though, the worse the vocals, the better the instruments. The band must have been inspired by the presence of sax player Pee Wee Ellis, who had previously worked with James Brown for five years and added an unexpected element of «authenticity» — it is not so much that his sax parts are great (although they sometimes might be) as it is that they subconsciously spur the band into trying something... well, something that used to be outside their reach, and now they are on the verge of nailing it, and sometimes they nail it pretty close.

What I mean is this: normally, the idea of a twelve-minute funky jam from a third-grade band like the Blues Magoos would seem preposterous. It is possible that ʽCan't Get Enough Of Youʼ was inspired by CCR's cover of ʽI Heard It Through The Grapevineʼ — it moves at a similar tempo, includes more or less the same amount of cowbell, and, without a warning, switches to jam mode midway through. But where CCR made the whole thing work by conceiving it as a spirited dia­log between Fogerty's pre-rehearsed theatrical guitar phrasing and Cosmo's pissed-off drum bash re­torts, the Blues Magoos pretty much just let the tapes roll without any preconceptions or, as it seems, any prior rehearsals. Amazingly, it still works — it isn't anywhere near as memorable as the CCR epic, but the band catches a good fire, and the sax, guitar, and vibraphone solos are quite lively and well on the level, even if they can't help but lack the inventiveness and technical dex­terity of serious competition from master jazzmen.

But the band's ballsiness goes beyond that — no sooner than the one lengthy instrumental jam is over, another one begins, and this time, there is no singing at all: ʽMagoos Bluesʼ is a long jazz-rock monster that echoes Bitches Brew in spirit (if not quite in form, since the band's rhythm section remains poorly equipped when it comes to tricky time signatures) but brings it closer to the average rock listener by retaining a bit of ye olde blues-rock aggression (mostly through the grim­ness of the bassline).

Lastly, ʽTonight The Skies About To Cryʼ (original orthography preserved) is a «monumental» soul ballad that would have worked well had they invited Van Morrison to guest star; and ʽSea Breeze Expressʼ is the album's most adventurous number, with elements of atonality and free-form improv gradually scrambling together to take the more concise shape of yet another short blues-rock jam.

Altogether, bad singing and a pervasive lack of personality do haunt the record, and there is no way I could argue about a «lost masterpiece» or anything. But neither does it deserve to be com­pletely forgotten, and, most importantly, there is nothing here to support a naturally biased judge­ment of the «yet another grrrrreat garage band turned to shit by deciding to go artsy-fartsy» vari­ety. Fact is, the Blues Magoos, other than one or two accidentally impressive singles, were never that great a garage band in the first place; and their turning to «artsy-fartsy», at the very least, fol­lowed a slightly unusual path compared to many of their peers — and produced generally lis­tenable and occasionally exciting results.

It is not a tragedy that, following the predictable flop of Gulf Coast Bound, the band came apart once again — it is not very likely that Eric Kaz would have firmly steered them onwards to fur­ther greatness. But it seems to me that the album may still be considered a rather respectable B-level en­try in the jazz-rock log — at the very least, it has far more integrity than anything Blood, Sweat & Tears or Chicago have ever done past their few initial prime years. Consequently — a modest thumbs up here, provided we can disregard Peppy's narcissistic feelings.

P.S.: Apparently, as of 2012, Peppy has reunited with Ralph Scala, and the oddly revamped Blues Magoos have released a new album called Psychedelic Resurrection (yeah right) which I have not yet been able to locate. Such behavior is not very typical of classic one-hit garage bands (at best, they usually just reunite briefly to go on a local club nostalgia tour), so it might be worth checking it out just for curiosity's sake.

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