THE BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND: IN MY OWN DREAM (1968)
1) Last Hope's Gone; 2) Mine To Love; 3) Get Yourself Together; 4) Just To Be With You; 5) Mornin' Blues; 6) Drunk Again; 7) In My Own Dream.
By the time this album came out, nobody really cared any more, and only the most astute listeners and critics may have noticed how desperately The Butterfield Blues Band was trying to rebrand itself. Running on covers, it seems to have been agreed, was pretty much equivalent to suicide; but neither Butterfield nor Bishop had a lot of songwriting talent, and so it is up to new bass player Bugsy Maugh to fill in the glaring gap and steer the Butterfields away from interpretation and improvisation and into the treacherous waters of creativity.
The big problem with this is that Bugsy was apparently a major fan of contemporary R&B, and his songs basically sound like sincere, but never outstanding imitations of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and whoever else was riding the Atlantic wave of success at the time. Jazzy rhythms, poppy choruses, lots of brass and vocal exuberance (and, what's more, the vocals were to be provided by Bugsy himself — Paul either did not want to mess around with other band members' songs, or found them unsuitable to his own style). And yes, the problem is not that this does not at all sound like classic BBB (who'd really care?), but that the songs only barely stand competition. ʽGet Yourself Togetherʼ, for instance, takes the old and well-worn ʽCan I Get A Witness?ʼ groove, but adds nothing particularly new to it — probably the most «novel» aspect is the way their brass section crosses paths with Butterfield's harmonica, but then I'd rather just see the whole thing turn into a fast, punchy, harmonica-driven instrumental (much like the Stones had originally done with this groove, turning it into the awesome — for 1964, at least — ʽNow I've Got A Witnessʼ). Actually, Bugsy is not a bad singer: he does quite alright on ʽMornin' Bluesʼ, a snappy chunk of whitebread soul, showing good range, fluent modulation, and respectable restraint. And still, I cannot get rid of the feeling that something is just not there. Probably because they take all these familiar structures, refuse to populate them with extra hooks, yet do not have enough balls to make them sizzle and kick proper ass in performance.
There are altogether two songs on the album that rise above the likes of «nice» and «okay» and «wish I'd had an extra ninety years to my life». The opening number, ʽLast Hope's Goneʼ, is a moody, subtle piece of blues made special by a very unusual bass «zoop» at its core and a chaotic mish-mash of brass and woodwinds at the edges; it is hardly a coincidence that the rising star of David Sanborn is credited here as one of the co-authors. And Bishop's only contribution to the record, ʽDrunk Againʼ, is a hilariously realistic example of how to make an authentically «drunken blues», with a large part of it taken over by a loosely coherent rant of the «protagonist walks into a bar...» variety. Not much to do with pure music (although Butterfield does a pretty good job on the harmonica in the background), but hits home all the same.
Butterfield's only solo composition here — the title track — is featured at the end and was probably supposed to be the climactic finish, what with all those gospel harmony overtones, but it is stunningly weak: musically, just sort of a ghostly shuffle, limping along like a three-legged dog, and vocally, with nothing but the pure power of one man's soul to guide it to its conclusion (and it doesn't even have a conclusion — it just indecisively fades away after almost six minutes of trying to understand what it is supposed to do).
So yes, I respect that the fact that they at least tried to change, and even develop some sort of hybrid musical genre, wobbling between blues, jazz, and R&B, rather than just throwing in a few more mediocre Albert King covers. But there's really nothing here that couldn't be done better by either Traffic, or Grateful Dead, or Blood, Sweat & Tears in their prime — and there's nothing but sheer curiosity, I think, that might make you want to check it out. Oh well, at least it's all over in just 36 minutes — very respectful of them, since it wouldn't have been too difficult to shove twenty more minutes of comparable mediocrity into the pot, and then I'd really have to hate 'em.