BLUES MAGOOS: NEVER GOIN' BACK TO GEORGIA (1969)
1) Heartbreak Hotel; 2) Heart Attack; 3) The Hunter; 4) Feelin' Time; 5) Gettin' Off; 6) Never Goin' Back To Georgia; 7) Brokedown Piece Of Man; 8) Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out; 9) Georgia Breakdown.
Oh yeah, as if these Bronx fellas had ever been to Georgia. This and the following album usually get a very bad rap compared to the earlier stuff — for the simple, objective, and respectable reason that this is a «phony» version of the Blues Magoos. The real Blues Magoos, fed up with lack of success, split in late '68: the only original member of the band to have renewed the contract with ABC Records is Peppy Castro, a.k.a. Emil Thielhelm, and the rest are all new — including keyboardist and songwriter Eric Kaz, who would later earn a living by getting his songs covered by the likes of Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt. The others are even darker horses.
The «revamped» Blues Magoos, sniffin' the whiffin' of the times, were no longer a psychedelic or a garage rock band — they were «rootsy» artists now, dabbling in blues-rock, jazz-rock, and folk-rock with such a serious face on that the album is stuffed with five-, six-, and seven-minute-long explorations of this suddenly discovered «earthy» component of their spirits. The shift — if it is at all possible to speak in terms of «shifts», considering that what we have here is an entirely different band — anyway, «the shift» is quite expectable, given the times, but the ability of Peppy Castro to make his new band rival The Byrds or The Band?..
Still, this is an interesting album. It does feature an unusual gimmick — in the keyboards department, huge emphasis is placed on chimes (xylophones?) as a lead instrument, which gives the record a nifty «cool jazz» flavor; and many of its pieces are either purely instrumental or feature lengthy instrumental sections, which is quite alright considering that the band still lacks a good singer — Thielhelm's voice is weak and stiff, completely beyond competition in an era of Van Morrisons, Joe Cockers, and Rod Stewarts (and these are only the white guys). On ʽGettin' Offʼ, they go as far as trying to play some dissonant jazz piano solo passages à la Thelonious, and you know what? I couldn't really state with certainty that they're «bad» solo passages.
The album really falls flat on its face on the «tough» numbers — ʽThe Hunterʼ, due to the weak singing and the unimaginative, harmonica-based arrangement, is virtually nothing compared to, for instance, the Free version from that very same year. ʽHeartbreak Hotelʼ is a brave choice, but a suicidal one: the chosen arrangement, with its waltz tempos and xylophone solos, could be quirky and fun if the base song were different, but as it is, they drain the tune from all of its original darkness, and end up looking like clowns. Many a critic must have shot the needle off his stereo system in disgust before that first track was over.
Which is too bad, since the instrumental tunes on Side B are fairly moody — particularly the title track, with its quasi-Santana Latin beat; ʽGeorgia Breakdownʼ, added later on as a counterpoint, is slower and breezier, with lots of woodwinds spilled over the rhythm section, and it brings the record to a smooth, quiet end. Again, both are certainly more worthwhile than a flat, pedestrian rendition of ʽNobody Knows Youʼ — at this time, the new-look Blues Magoos are actually better as a «voiceless» lite jazz combo than as a rock band, and this is the biggest surprise of the album, one that prevents me from rating it with a thumbs down. Who knows, maybe this kind of sound might even have had a bigger future, had these guys themselves managed to properly understand what it was they were really on to here.