BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS: NEW CITY (1975)
1) Ride Captain Ride; 2) Life; 3) No Show; 4) I Was A Witness To War; 5) One Room Country Shack; 6) Applause; 7) Yesterdays Music; 8) Naked Man; 9) Got To Get You Into My Life; 10) Takin' It Home.
The attempt to re-model BS&T as a funky dance-pop band having miserably failed, both critically and commercially, it was officially decided that the group had lost its way, and needed to retrace its steps back to the point at which they seemed more generally accepted. To that end, Jerry Fisher amicably left the band, taking most of the Mirror Image-era extras (like Jerry LaCroix, etc.) with him — and David Clayton-Thomas was welcomed back into the fold.
The result is an album that is at least «on the level» with the band's output circa 1970-71: the kind of sound they had back there had not yet become «dated» circa 1975, and the restructuring probably injected a few extra drops of adrenaline into the outfit — and although I have never been a big fan of Clayton-Thomas, I have to admit that, next to the absolute non-remarkability of Fisher, he sounds like The Supreme God Of Vocal Expression by comparison, so that alone is a big step up from the passable, but colorless years of Fisher rule.
To herald the «comeback», BS&T tried out a move that, in retrospect, seems so utterly obvious that it only makes one wonder how they managed to hold out on it for so long — then again, perhaps they were saving it up for the rainiest day in their history, and it was getting pretty cloudy in 1975. I am talking, of course, of the release of the Beatles' ʽGot To Get You Into My Lifeʼ as the lead single from the album — that particular song that is referenced, in so many textbooks, as the song that gave life to the «jazz-pop» brand of BS&T and Chicago, much like ʽI Am The Walrusʼ gave life to the «strings-pop» brand of the Electric Light Orchestra.
Curiously, the band's version is actually much more guitar-heavy than the original — it is almost as if they were returning the Beatles a favor, with the «original brass band» paying homage to the «original guitar band» by reinterpreting the original guitar band's brass-led number as the original brass band's guitar-led number. That said, unlike the Beatles, BS&T forgot to shape their guitar parts into any memorable riffs — the result is a slippery, mushy style of production that preserves the vocal melody but cheapens the song instrumentally. Despite that, the single still managed to chart: a Beatles song is a Beatles song, after all, it's fairly hard to spoil it to the ground.
But there are plenty of more adequate covers on New City as well. ʽRide Captain Rideʼ, the only hit by the little-known band Blues Image, originally recorded in 1970, is here given the proper BS&T treatment, including a lengthy cool-jazz keyboard solo, and Clayton-Thomas gives an inspired performance — the original had a more exquisite guitar part (courtesy of Mike Pinera, who would later play with Iron Butterfly and Alice Cooper), but, overall, a thinner, less overtly kick-ass sound (and it also features here one of Ron McClure's toughest basslines, good enough to rival some of Fielder's), so count me happy.
The band also sounds revitalized on such party-oriented stuff as Allen Toussaint's ʽLifeʼ (similar in style to David Bowie's ʽFameʼ — coincidence? technically, yes, since Young Americans was released only a month prior to New City, but in general, no, since both songs reflected the same musical tendencies of the epoch); and Randy Newman's circus number ʽNaked Manʼ, introduced with a little bit of popular Mozart, but played out in «mock-silly» rather than «unintentionally-corny» style. And, just for diversity's sake, Laura Nyro as the band's resident «semi-popular intellectual singer-songwriter with musical pretense» is now replaced by Janis Ian, whose ʽApplauseʼ is extended by an extra three minutes of jazz-fusion and classical-fusion travels — nothing too awesome, but at least they are trying something out, and this is the kind of something that their reputation was built upon in the first place.
Of the original numbers, Clayton-Thomas' ʽYesterdays Musicʼ is a dang good soul-pop song, simple, but with a subtle build-up and an elegant melodic wrap-up at the end of each verse. The ballad ʽI Was A Witness To Warʼ is not as good — too much vocal pathos, too little in the way of discernible melody — and McClure's instrumental ʽNo Showʼ is equally mushy for the first half of its duration, before a nicely placed twist pushes it over into upbeat rhythmic territory, where it becomes another passable, but forgettable, fusion piece.
Still, I have nothing against awarding the album an overall thumbs up. It is musically competent, mildly adventurous, gives us back a singer that is above average (no matter what I might hold in general against this particular type of singing), and, unlike its immediate predecessors, does not try to blindly compete against prevailing fads and trends, but rather just goes on to quietly pursue its own business. The very fact alone that they were able to put that blundering train back upon a crude, but functional railtrack deserves recognition.
Check "New City" (MP3) on Amazon