BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS: CHILD IS FATHER TO THE MAN (1968)
1) Overture; 2) I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know; 3) Morning Glory; 4) My Days Are Numbered; 5) Without Her; 6) Just One Smile; 7) I Can't Quit Her; 8) Meagan's Gypsy Eyes; 9) Somethin' Goin On; 10) House In The Country; 11) The Modern Adventures Of Plato, Diogenes And Freud; 12) So Much Love / Underture.
A slightly cumbersome name for a somewhat encumbered band — but in early 1968, the game was worth it, considering that nobody in the rock'n'roll department had properly done it before: namely, integrated the «rock band» format with the «big band» format, expanding the regular lineup to no less than eight permanent members, four of them confined almost exclusively to the brass section (although Fred Lipsius, in addition to alto sax, is also credited for piano). For all we know, this here is indeed the birth of «jazz-rock», a gleefully incestuous combination in which «rock», the child, turns on «jazz», the mother, and takes his Oedipus complex out on her.
No wonder the pagan gods got angry, and although they could not stop the jazz-rock virus from spreading, they did ensure that, for all their prolific career, Blood, Sweat & Tears would only have one proper masterpiece of the genre — this album. The formal reason is obvious: the band was essentially conceived and formed by Al Kooper, «the master of creative thinking» in roots-oriented American pop music, fresh out of The Blues Project — but no sooner had they released their first record that the unlucky guy was booted out of his own band, due to «creative disagreements»: much like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck on the other side of the ocean, Al must have simply been incompatible with normal teamwork, and eventually had to go solo.
The good news is that Child Is Father To The Man, a groundbreaking and, one could say, visionary collection of new compositions and old songs rethought in a radically new manner, did happen. Like many similar artefacts of the time, it is quite a pretentious affair — the name of the band, the name of the album, the sleeve photo with all the band members holding cardboard replicas of themselves, the presence of an overture and an «underture», the understandably loud, sprawling sound... but its intentions are also honestly idealistic — this is not complexity for complexity's sake, this is complexity for the sake of building a ladder to the sky — and, most importantly, it simply got a bunch of great songs on it.
I must say, though, that this is one of those cases where the presence of a small handful of major personal favorites sort of obscures the rest, and dims the whole picture. Namely, I am talking about the three principal Kooper originals: ʽMore Than You'll Ever Knowʼ, ʽMy Days Are Numberedʼ, and ʽI Can't Quit Herʼ, which not only happens to be the best triad he ever wrote — there is no doubt in my mind about that — but should also rank as high as anything contributed to the world by a major songwriter in 1968. The man's career in The Blues Project gave only vague hints at the soulful depths he would eventually uncover, and how was that made possible? In the least predictable manner — by surrounding himself with trumpets, trombones, and saxophones that could be organized into a genuine power machine.
Actually, ʽI Love You More Than You'll Ever Knowʼ is the one song on here that would have been just as poignant without the brass backing — first and foremost, it is the greatest one-man show in Al's entire career. Recording a song that formally matches the required criteria for «soulful desperation» is not difficult, and has been done millions of times; making it fully credible and epically breathtaking is a feat manageable only with a fortuitous combination of talent and luck. Although, technically, the song is molded in the well-known «blues-de-luxe» idiom, and you can very well see its roots in the output of B. B. King and Ray Charles, Kooper's vocal composing is all his own — the gradual build-up, rising to near-hysterical heights on "is that any way for a man to carry on?..", then suddenly turning from rage to sobbing tenderness on one of the awesomest "i-love-you-baby" of all times, then bringing it all the way up with the first "more than you'll ever know", then gently lowering it back down with the second one. «Heart-wrenching beauty» — check, and I would personally take that vocal part over literally anything Robert Plant has ever committed to tape, much as he liked to dabble in the same sort of aesthetics.
That said, the individual beauty of ʽI Love You More Than You'll Ever Knowʼ does not quite tie in with the ideology of Blood, Sweat & Tears: its chief reliance is on Kooper's voice and the concordingly weepy lead guitar parts from Steve Katz (who, by the way, also rises to the occasion and comes up with lines far more impressive than anything previously tried in The Blues Project). That the album, after the string snippets of the overture have died down, is actually launched with this particular tune, might even be a bit of a surprise for the uninitiated, as the brass section truly comes in only on the bridge, and is not at all essential to the tune. But Child Is Father To The Man is actually quite big on surprises — as befits any classic work of art.
The brass section does get essential on ʽMy Days Are Numberedʼ, a faster, tenser, and even more desperate sequel to ʽMore Than...ʼ — the opening brass melody gives you contemplative melancholy resolving into decisive musical seppuku in a matter of just a few bars, and although the fast rock-based verses and the slow baroque-styled choruses are a little too crudely sewn together, the contrast still works towards making the experience even more unforgettable. Finally, the «Love Junkie Trilogy», as the whole thing could be suitably called, ends with ʽI Can't Quit Herʼ, more piano-based and a little less gloomy than its two suicidal companions, but still picturing the passion as a hopeless addiction, driving the protagonist crazy and, perhaps, more than a little psychopathic. Here, the piano is soon joined by strings and brass in a fairly democratic ensemble, but again, everything is dominated by the vocals and the inner demons — belying the image of «jazz-rock» as something that has to be bombastic and anthemic, ʽI Can't Quit Herʼ is really as personal and intimate as it gets.
And this is also why everything else on the album, as thoroughly thought out and implemented as it could be, inevitably pales next to the «Love Junkie Trilogy». Steve Katz, Kooper's old pal from the Blues Project days, in stark contrast to Al, still seems to be living in those days — his psycho-folk ballad ʽMeagan's Gypsy Eyesʼ is pretty and courteous, but hardly endowed with much staying power. However, Kooper himself is hardly free of the old «training days» legacy, either, contributing the eight-minute mammoth blues jam ʽSomethin' Going Onʼ that is quite pedestrian in the old Blues Project way: at least Katz's «post-Hendrix» guitar tone and the thick brass backing give it more substance, but hardly enough to compete with the new blues-rock language of Jeff Beck or the upcoming Led Zeppelin.
The jazzified covers of Tim Buckley, Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, and Carole King are all perfectly listenable, intelligently reworked, and pleasantly soulful — certainly not «filler» in any sense of the word — and, in between the four of them, show quite exhaustively how this new musical formula can be applied to any sort of material, though it is interesting that the band prefers to concentrate on «singer-songwriter» stuff rather than try, for instance, to put their touch on any of the pop hits of the day. Kooper's intentions seem clear enough: build his art at the intersection of the confessional style, typical of loners and recluses, and the loud «arena» style — show how, when the deeply personal gets expressed through the openly public, the end results may, surprisingly, turn out to become even more deeply personal. This is the greatest paradox of Child, and the one reason why the band became such a different artistic entity after Kooper's departure: the form was retained, the substance was lost.
Anyway, the bottomline is: even if, for some reason, you are afraid of «jazz-rock» — for instance, associate it with Chicago ballads, or with instrumental fusion conundrums for those who value mathematics over music, do not make the mistake of ignoring this record, which sounds nothing like either of the two formulae. In fact, it pretty much sounds like nothing else out there: «Al Kooper with horns, strings, and heartbreak» finds no reasonable equivalent in my experience, and gets an assured thumbs up for that reason alone, not to mention all the others.
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