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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Blood, Sweat & Tears: Brand New Day

BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS: BRAND NEW DAY (1977)

1) Somebody I Trusted; 2) Dreaming As One; 3) Same Old Blues; 4) Lady Put Out The Light; 5) Womanizer; 6) Blue Street; 7) Gimme That Wine; 8) Rock & Roll Queen; 9) Don't Explain.

Dropped from Columbia, the band briefly signed on with ABC Records, getting one more limp chance to «redeem» themselves from a commercial perspective — and predictably blowing it. Brand New Day was an arrogantly optimistic title, but it did not help. By 1977, BS&T were out of touch with everything and everybody: on one hand, with disco hitting really hard, Clayton-Thomas and friends were quite obstinate about making the necessary transition — on the other hand, their brand of slightly obsolete jazz-funk-pop was still classified as «light entertainment» rather than «serious musical exploration».

The results were predictable — the critics still hated them for being too shallow and silly, and the general public had no interest in them for being too out-of-time. Throw in the inability to accom­pany the LP with a solid single (ʽBlue Streetʼ — a ballad by Randy Edelman, a songwriter usual­ly covered by The Carpenters, Barry Manilow, and Olivia Newton-John, to give an indication), add a complete lack of serious promotion, and there you have it — the album was critically vili­fied, and did not even manage to break into the Top 200.

Frankly speaking, though, it is a significant drop-down even from the level of More Than Ever. Not a single original composition — and the cover selection, in retrospect, is very odd. Making use of material by contemporary songwriters worked well for them at the beginning, when they latched on to serious artists like Randy Newman or Laura Nyro; but Randy Edelman? Daniel Moore? Guy Fletcher? Phil Driscoll? you'd have to be one hell of a connaisseur to remember all these names, but why would you want to be that kind of a connaisseur? All of these songs are just easy-going, instantly forgettable tripe, be they ballads or be they «rockers», and the only thing that makes them listenable is that the band is still capable of getting a tasteful groove going.

They only hit disco land once, on ʽRock & Roll Queen (A Tribute To Janis Joplin)ʼ — however, they hit it hard enough for Janis to revolve in her grave, full turn on every next bar. Well, stripped of its ambitions, the song is an inoffensive dance track, with Mike Stern trying to ennoble it with screechy rock'n'roll guitar soloing, but it is not understood why the collective talents of BS&T should be wasted on such stuff — which could have been, with much fewer expenses and in a more adequate manner, handled by the likes of Billy Preston. Or Boney M, for that matter.

Elsewhere, they are mining two types of ground: «hilarious» lite-funk (ʽSomebody I Trustedʼ, ʽGimme That Wineʼ — "I just can't get well without Muscatel" should probably have been the title of the album; note, however, that the clumsy, overweight funky rearrangement does not in any way diminish the genuine hilariousness of the original Lambert/Hendricks/Ross jazz version from 1962) and Late Evening Balladry for You-Know-What (ʽLady Put Out The Lightʼ, ʽWo­manizerʼ). Every now and then a grumpy blues tune appears to shift the mood, but even if they respect and mostly preserve the original somber mood of J. J. Cale's ʽSame Old Bluesʼ, they add nothing of interest to the original (except for some unnecessary brass overdubs).

Still, it must be said that even in 1977, the band was functioning as a tight-oiled, professional machine, constructed out of living people — the essence of the grooves they set up may not be too interesting, but they still work each groove to the bone, demanding top results from every single player. This perseverance alone, a sort of «ethical music code» that they might have broken in favor of stiff, slick disco numbness and synthesizer swamps a million times already, does not allow me to give the record a thumbs down. If only the songs weren't that dumb and generic, Brand New Day, in its context, could have easily been a minor lost gem. As it is, its unavailabi­lity on CD up to this very day is no big loss.

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