THE BLUES PROJECT: LAZARUS (1971)
1) It's Alright; 2) Personal Mercy; 3) Black Night; 4) Vision Of Flowers; 5) Yellow Cab; 6) Lazarus; 7) Brown Eyed Handsome Man; 8) Reachings; 9) Midnight Rain; 10) So Far So Near.
After Planned Obsolescence, we thought it was over, but apparently, something about the «Blues Project» moniker had a mesmerizing effect to it — and so, three years later, an out-of-work Danny Kalb resuscitated it once again. Reunited with Blumenfeld — so that, as in the case of Fleetwood Mac, the drummer turned out to be the sole link between all of the band's incarnations — and also scooping up Don Kretmar from the previous lineup (now on saxophone and bass), Kalb plunges back into battle.
Given that, of all the original members, Danny was usually considered to be the most «bluesy» in thought, the new record, so it seemed, could finally feel adequate to the name of the band — and in a way, it does, even if the band still feels an obligation to include at least one softie folk ballad (ʽVision Of Flowersʼ), and also dips its toes in the newly-nascent funk style. Unfortunately, where earlier they had to compete with the likes of Cream and Hendrix, now their heavy blues thing has to pander to the same market as Led Zeppelin, and we can all guess the consequences.
The highlight of the album — that one number which, as may be guessed, Danny really gave his everything — is the nine-minute brontosauric title track: a lumbering dark blues rumination on the fate of Lazarus, with Muddy, Wolf, and a little bit of Wheels Of Fire-era Cream as the easy-to-surmise chief sources of inspiration. What can I say? The groove is definitely heavier and growlier than anything previously generated by The Blues Project. But — once again, too little, too late: feelings wrought and tempered by ʽDazed And Confusedʼ may simply not find enough power here to get wound-up again. Danny even tries to break out of the formula by making the second solo less melodic and more «metallic», but he does not seem to have the proper experience or foresight to make it really rumble.
With this major battle fought and ultimately lost, the rest of the songs are just local skirmishes, some of them more successful than others, some utterly embarrassing. For instance, the idea to slow down Chuck Berry's ʽBrown Eyed Handsome Manʼ and turn it into a stuttery pub rocker, honky tonk piano and drunken sax included, was equal to downright killing the song. (One might just as well play the Stones' ʽRip This Jointʼ to the tempo of an ʽI've Been Loving Youʼ and see what happens). Recording Bobby Bland's ʽBlack Nightʼ as a dark blues number made more sense, since the original version never really had the «blackness» promised in the title, but in reality the song also fails, due to predictable lead guitar and awful vocals (vocals on the album, by the way, seem to be mostly handled by Danny himself, and this alone makes it clear why he was so rarely awarded with lead spots on «proper» Blues Project albums).
In the end, once all the noses have finished twitching and all the mouths have ended cringing, what we are left with is ʽIt's Alrightʼ, a fun three-minute piece of sax-led boogie; the cute rhythm section dialog on the funky opening to ʽPersonal Mercyʼ to which the song never really lives up; and a surprisingly effective combination of guitar riff and groovy bassline on the final song, ʽSo Far So Nearʼ, unfortunately, almost killed off by vocals so wobbly and shaky you'd think the singer was doing a tightrope balance trick at the same time. Clearly, this tiny pile of goodies is not enough to recommend the album — a thumbs down judgement is inevitable, albeit without any particular hatred, disgust, or condescension: everything is arranged professionally enough, there is some diversity, some sincerity, some fun. There just ain't too much sense of purpose, other than getting some sort of heroic pleasure from reviving the old moniker.