BLODWYN PIG: THE BASEMENT TAPES (1998)
1) The Modern Alchemist; 2) Mr. Green's Blues; 3) It's Only Love; 4) See My Way; 5) Blues Of A Dunstable Truck Driving Man; 6) Baby Girl; 7) The Leaving Song; 8) I Know; 9) It's Only Love; 10) See My Way; 11) Blues Of A Dunstable Truck Driving Man; 12) Hound Dog; 13) Drive Me.
Blodwyn Pig belongs to that slightly irritating kind of bands whose official catalog of archival releases has managed to surpass in quantity (but definitely not in quality) the number of their original LPs. This is probably due mainly to the activities of Mick Abrahams, or perhaps the band was blessed with a small, but energetic fan club — in any case, there is at least half a dozen CDs on various labels out there, collecting all sorts of outtakes, rarities, and live performance recordings, most of these in really bad quality. It would hardly make any sense to list them all, but a couple might be worth a brief mention.
First, there is this collection, somewhat arrogantly called The Basement Tapes even though not only does it not even begin to approach the relative importance of Bob Dylan & The Band's famed release — to the best of my understanding, it wasn't even recorded in any sort of basement, unless, of course, the BBC Studios put Blodwyn Pig on their special «basement list» reserved for second-rate artists. Basement or no basement, though, at the very least this is one of the cleanest-sounding archive releases for Blodwyn Pig, which is already reassuring.
The recordings are divided into three unequal parts. The first three tracks, with the original lineup, were made in 1969 for the Top Gear program. The next eight tracks date from the band's brief reunion in 1974 and thus happen to be the most historically important, since that lineup, which happened to include former Jethro Tull drummer Clive Bunker instead of Ron Berg, left behind no original studio recordings — these eight tracks all come from John Peel's and Radio 1 Live In Concert BBC archives. Finally, as an odd postscriptum, two more tracks are tackled at the end that were recorded by Abrahams and his backing musicians as late as 1990 — prior to the recording of Lies, but long after the world had forgotten that «Blodwyn Pig» used to be the name of a band and not some special Welsh recipé for pork roast.
The 1969 tracks do not deserve much special mention, other than to say that ʽMr. Green's Bluesʼ is a slightly revised version of ʽUp And Comingʼ, with a long spoken rant on John Peel occupying what used to be the wordless instrumental section. The rant is funny ("my friend John Peel is a vegetarian, he's got the greens, and that's why he got the blues, 'cause he's got the greens, he don't eat no meat y'all"), but not funny enough to make history: ʽThe Modern Alchemistʼ is far more impressive, but, unfortunately, not too different from the studio version.
The 1974 lineup is more interesting: in addition to two rather scorching versions of ʽSee My Wayʼ, they actually try out some new material, such as the nifty folk-blues acoustic number ʽBlues Of A Dunstable Truck Driving Manʼ, done by Mick in the Piedmont tradition; and the lengthy jazz/blues/folk suite ʽI Knowʼ, conceived in the overall style of Getting To This, but less diverse and evocative than ʽSan Francisco Sketchesʼ. In any case, Mick's speedy 'n' greedy soloing on ʽSee My Wayʼ is arguably the most spark-sending part of these sessions.
Finally, the new tracks are — not exactly an embarrassment, but an incongruent oddity. They give the album a certain «then & now» flavor, but at the expense of common sense: why exactly is Mick covering ʽHound Dogʼ, and remaking it as a generic modern blues-rock exercise in the process? And why does the «original» ʽDrive Meʼ sound like somebody's semi-successful attempt to remake Aerosmith's ʽLast Childʼ, changing a few chords, but carrying over Brad Whitford's sleazy-echoey guitar tone?
Oh well: at the very least, The Basement Tapes has the crazy audacity to provoke these questions, so it is probably not a complete loss. That said, I wish I could say that the record was recommended strictly for diehard Blodwyn Pig fans, but it is hard for me to picture a real, life-size diehard Blodwyn Pig fan — although somebody must have probably bought the album when it came out originally, or maybe Mick just has a large, extended family. Anyway, it's not at all a bad listen, and the sound quality is as good as it usually gets with BBC standards.
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