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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Butterfield Blues Band: The Resurrection Of Pigboy Crabshaw

THE BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND: THE RESURRECTION OF PIGBOY CRABSHAW (1967)

1) One More Heartache; 2) Driftin' And Driftin'; 3) Pity The Fool; 4) Born Under A Bad Sign; 5) Run Out Of Time; 6) Double Trouble; 7) Drivin' Wheel; 8) Droppin' Out; 9) Tollin' Bells.

If I ever had a nickname like «Pigboy Crabshaw», I'd probably have to join the Church in re­pentance, but Elvin Bishop seemed okay with it, and his pals in the band liked it so much that with the departure of Bloomfield they put it in their album title to commemorate the beginning of Bishop's brief rule as the Butterfield Blues Band's only guitar player. Brief and, may I add, some­what inessential. Elvin was neither the band's frontman nor its stuntman — he just played that guitar and never seemed to think all that much about leaving his mark on the world.

It would be cool as hell for me to say something important like «There was so much more to the original Butterfield Blues Band than Mike Bloomfield», and follow it up by saying «and this is effectively shown on the band's third album, where they effortlessly demonstrate how they can get by without Mike's talents», and then justify this further by pointing out that «Bloomfield was, after all, 50% talent and 50% showman flash — without him, Butterfield, Bishop, and Co. are finally able to concentrate directly on the music and sacrifice their egos for the benefit of the mu­sic». But hey, what can I do? All said and done, I'm a fan of egos. And the most successful sacri­ficers of egos are, in a way, the biggest egotists of them all — like J. J. Cale, for instance.

The Resurrection Of Pigboy Crabshaw is just a regular electric blues album now, abandoning all the genre-crossing, tradition-marrying pretense of East-West. To «compensate» for Bloom­field's departure, Paul brings in a whole new brass section — a good one, to be sure, including none other than the soon-to-be-legendary David Sanborn on alto sax; but the big band approach to their source material is neither new nor revelatory. Furthermore, the album title seems to sug­gest that previously, Bishop's talents were at the least undervalued and underused, and that now is his chance to shine; but the guitar parts are very subdued throughout the album, and when it is over, it will most likely be remembered as a sonic field dominated by Butterfield's harmonica and the brass section, never the guitar. And maybe it's logically cool, but most of the arrangements leave me cold, bored, and almost amazed that they would dare offer something like this in the middle of 1967 — what with Cream and Hendrix setting completely new standards.

The record consists almost entirely of covers, with just two short Butterfield originals for an ex­cuse: ʽRun Out Of Timeʼ, co-written with sax player Gene Dinwiddie, is a playful fast R&B groove ruled by nimble brass flourishes, but it fades out way before it could evolve into anything mind-blowing; and ʽDroppin' Outʼ, co-written with songwriter Tucker Zimmerman, is... a playful fast R&B groove ruled by nimble brass flourishes? Okay, it's soulful enough, but Butterfield is still unconvincing and unexceptional as a vocalist.

The covers are hardly any more exciting — particularly the unterminable, mindnumbingly slow ʽDriftin' And Driftin'ʼ, whose tortoise tempo and thick brass layers attempt to build up an atmos­phere of solemnity, but don't do much in that respect other than the fact of their existence. Butter­field and Bishop do deliver a couple of harmonica and guitar solos where it seems like they are really trying, but by the time they get around to them, the song has already long since outlived its usefulness. ʽDouble Troubleʼ is unworthy of both the shorter, far more focused and ten times as bleeding Otis Rush original and a later Dire Straits-style reinvention by Eric Clapton; ʽBorn Under A Bad Signʼ is totally expendable in between the Albert King original and the grizzly Cream cover; and the list may be continued.

Bottomline is that this record, while not stereotypically «bad», is just very, very boring. You have to have a really subtle appreciation for Butterfield, one that goes deep beyond the surface and maybe even adds an imaginary touch or two, or a very rigid, academic type of respect for electric blues to truly enjoy The Resurrection as something above background music; and I have neither, so I just have to rate it as a thumbs down. Especially in the overall context of 1967, when, you know, it was almost shameful to release a record of such profound mediocrity.

4 comments:

  1. Wowza, there's some cheesy artwork. It definitely dates the record directly to its period, and in a most unflattering manner to boot. Generic watercolor sketches for an album of by the numbers boogie. Meanwhile, Canned Heat at least had the sense to develop a singles game.

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  3. This is actually an entertaining record. Double Trouble does indeed remind me of SRV in one of his tamer moments. And I like the arrangement on Tollin' Bells. But PB doesn't do much for me...he sounds like a more soulful version of Bruce Willis singing the blues. And his harp playing is okayish, but nothing like the masters. They were below the standards of '67 that's for sure--basically a 60s version of the Blues Brothers.

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    1. Ouch! That's an unflattering assessment, although perfectly fair. Also, have you noticed their cover art is worse than worse than ever Canned Heat's or Savoy Brown's? :)

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