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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Blood, Sweat & Tears: Blood, Sweat & Tears 3

BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS: BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS 3 (1970)

1) Hi-De-Ho; 2) The Battle; 3) Lucretia Mac Evil; 4) Lucretia's Reprise; 5) Fire And Rain; 6) Lonesome Suzie; 7) Symphony For The Devil / Sympathy For The Devil; 8) He's A Runner; 9) Somethin' Comin' On; 10) 40,000 Head­men.

We can safely bet that way too many admirers of ʽYou've Made Me So Very Happyʼ must have been fairly puzzled to buy an album called Blood, Sweat & Tears 3 right after having bought an album called Blood, Sweat & Tears — sending them out on a hard-to-explain quest for that mythical second album that never was. With a little less safety, we can also bet that these same admirers may also have been puzzled by the fact that the band's lack of creativity in choosing their album titles had, unfortunately, also extended to their albums' contents. With only two ori­gi­nal compositions out of nine, the new-look Blood, Sweat & Tears were now clearly positioning themselves as a cover band. And who the heck needed a cover band back in 1970?

Worse than that, they did give a concise answer here as to why it might have been wiser for them to stick to covers. The «artsy» past of the band catches up with it, and fills its collective head with unnecessary ecstasy, on the thoroughly pointless, and sometimes rather offensive, version of ʽSympathy For The Devilʼ. For some reason, somebody thought that a little bit of free-form jazz, with plenty of tuba and trombone polyphony, made a good companion to the pseudo-Satanic vibe of the Stones' contemporary classic — probably picked out of the lot not by pure chance, but due to increased public in­terest with it in conjunction with the Altamont disaster — but the result is not so much «experimental jazz-rock» as «Vegasy jazz-schlock», especially given Clayton-Tho­mas' «Tom Jones with tail and horns» vocal delivery. Nothing gels, nothing makes sense, and most of it genuinely irritates, because the band really feels quite clueless throughout the entire performance. Maybe it could have worked better, had they picked out a track that wasn't already «epic» in the first place — then again, maybe it couldn't.

Therefore, when they actually cover stuff without any attempts to turn it into a «symphony», it usually works better. Goffin & King's ʽHi-De-Hoʼ, a smart choice for the album's first single, suits Clayton-Thomas' normal singing style much better than any Rolling Stones song, and there is also a nice climactic buildup to the grand «Southern gospel» finale. ʽHe's A Runnerʼ is another Laura Nyro song that they do full justice to (not to mention that Laura Nyro could always use a good popularization from a more popular act), and there is a very nice piano/bass instrumental inter­lude that certifies their jazz chops without turning into a pretentious mess.

Most of the other covers, too, range from passable (ʽLonesome Suzieʼ has the lead singer doing a Richard Ma­nuel impression that almost works — although, who really wants to hear David Clayton-Thomas sing like Richard Manuel when one can instead listen to Richard Manuel not singing like David Clayton-Thomas?) to likable (Traffic's ʽ40,000 Headmenʼ). The problem is, none of them make much sense apart from the «and now, your favorite song by Mr. X... done with horns!» message. In fact, I'd say that James Taylor with horns (ʽFire And Rainʼ) is a down­right sordid idea, but that's just me.

All the more puzzling it is to realize that the two originals here are pretty strong songs in their own right. ʽThe Battleʼ, co-written by Katz and keyboardist Dick Halligan and sung by Katz, continues Steve's tradition of gallant baroque / medieval-influenced folk compositions, but is tighter, catchier, more ambitious and less mushy than usual — a nostalgic minstrel tune with a good balance between the harpsichord and the brass section. As for Clayton-Thomas' ʽLucretia Mac Evilʼ, yes, it is overwrought, over-exuberant, and Tom Jones-y, but it does have a good slew of memorable brass riffs — something that ʽSpinning Wheelʼ, for instance, did not have, and the instrumental reprise gives Jim Fielder the best of opportunities to practice his nimble bass runs, as the rest of the band, too, feels invigorated by the tightness of the funky groove. So why did they have to waste solid musicianship on clumsy attempts to get into somebody else's groove, then (ʽSympathyʼ), when they were still capable of growing their own? Beats me.

Although the record enjoyed heavy commercial success, on the huge impulse of its predecessor, it must have been obvious to everybody that the overall reaction would be one of disappointment — or, perhaps, they thought they could make it on the strength of the singles alone, in which they were only partially right. Oh well, at least they did retain a good taste in covers, and at least there is a working logic in that Al Kooper would cover Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman where Clay­ton-Thomas would cover Joe Cocker and Steve Winwood. No thumbs down in the end — the awful ʽSym­pathyʼ is nicely counterbalanced by the excellent ʽLucretiaʼ, and most of the rest is so utterly neutral that the band seems more poised for a shrug than a negative judgement.

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