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Monday, June 20, 2016

Alan Price: A Gigster's Life For Me

ALAN PRICE: A GIGSTER'S LIFE FOR ME (1995)

1) Boom Boom; 2) Rockin' Pneumonia And The Boogie-Woogie Flu; 3) Rollin' Like A Pebble In The Sand; 4) I Put A Spell On You; 5) Good Times / Bad Woman; 6) Some Change; 7) Enough Is Enough; 8) Whatcha Gonna Do; 9) A Gigster's Life For Me; 10) (I Got) Business With The Blues; 11) How You've Changed; 12) Old Love; 13) What Am I Living For; 14) Say It Isn't True.

Liberty was pretty much the last of Alan Price's attempts to record a more or less complete LP of new material. Either he ran out of inspiration, or he just got tired of all his records selling poorly (he probably makes more royalties off ʽHouse Of The Rising Sunʼ these days than he does off his entire solo career anyway), or both, but anyway, the fact remains that Alan Price as a productive songwriter entered a period of decline in the 1980s and kicked the bucket in the 1990s.

Playing and touring was another matter, though, and for those purposes, sometime around 1994 Alan formed a «supergroup» of sorts, called The Electric Blues Company and featuring some of his old friends and colleagues — Peter Grant, who already played with him in the 1980s, on bass; Bobby Tench (formerly a sideman with Van Morrison, Freddie King, Jeff Beck, Ginger Baker, and many other far more famous people than himself) on guitar; and Zoot Money, one of Britain's most renowned sidemen, on guitar and keyboards. (Drummer Martin Wilde is the only dark horse, and I can sort of see why).

For the most part, these guys just played together, soending a lot of time on the road; in between touring, they did, however, venture into the studio as well, recording the dull-titled Covers in 1994 (haven't heard that one and would be very reluctant to try it out — not another version of ʽHouse Of The Rising Sunʼ, dear Lord!), and the slightly more colorful Gigster's Life For Me in 1995, which was picked up by Sanctuary's «Masters Of Blues» series and for that reason remains the somewhat easier available album of the two. And, clearly, the more interesting, because it focuses on slightly more obscure material than Covers, as well as offers at least a couple Price originals for those few admirers who are always waiting.

Unfortunately, unlike the surprisingly enthusiastic Thom Jurek from the All-Music Guide who even resorted to the word "terrific" to describe the album, I can only confess to having been deeply and profoundly bored all through Gigster's Life's inadequate hour-plus running length. Unless you just got to have yourself some retro-oriented, uninventive, run-of-the-mill blues-rock from 1995, the record has very little to recommend it, and, most importantly, it does not sound like a proper Alan Price record — true to its name and nature, it sounds like the results of a session on which Alan Price is a bit player. He does not even sing lead vocals on most of the tracks (Bobby Tench and Zoot Money handle them, and both sound like your average rockabilly singer in the local bar on a Saturday night), although on the rare occasion when he does, the level of excitement sweeps up considerably: for instance, Rudy Toombes' ʽRollin' Like A Pebble In The Sandʼ is a nice jazzy ballad — nothing special, just nice.

But there is nothing nice whatsoever about limp versions of old classics like ʽBoom Boomʼ or ʽRockin' Pneumoniaʼ, played with some pretense to rock'n'roll energy but sounding totally un­inspired and pro forma. There is nothing nice about yet another version of ʽI Put A Spell On Youʼ — even the old rendition from the late Sixties was nowhere near the true capacities of Alan Price, and how could he ever hope to compete with the likes of Screaming Jay Hawkins or John Fogerty thirty years later? There's nothing nice about a long, lazy, unfocused rendition of ʽWhat Am I Living Forʼ, a three-minute R&B song at best that has been slowed down to five. There's totally nothing nice about yet another version of Jackson Browne's ʽSay It Isn't Trueʼ — eleven minutes? you must be joking. Most ridiculous of all, there is nothing nice about the band selec­ting, out of all of Eric Clapton's catalog, ʽOld Loveʼ from the Journeyman album: I have actually always thought that this blues ballad has potential, but it was not properly realized with the ori­ginal arrangement and neither was it properly performed here (Eric can sometimes make the song come to life in concert, and maybe these guys could, too — who really knows? — but in the studio, it only shows a brief sign of pulse in the transition from verse to chorus).

The only thing I can say in favor of the record is that Bobby Tench is a damn good guitar player when he really puts his heart to it — based on some of his solos (most notably on the Boz Scaggs cover ʽSome Changeʼ and on the Peter Green cover ʽWhatcha Gonna Doʼ), I wouldn't really mind seeing him live. Sharp, crispy tone, great control over sustained notes, kick-ass punchy licks, the works. But even that is only present on just a few songs. As for Alan's originals, the title track, co-written with Bobby, is an unconvincing stab at pop-reggae, and only ʽHow You've Changedʼ features him in his trademark Randy Newmanesque mode, but the song is too slow and the vocal hook is too lazy to make much of a difference.

Bottomline is: if the guys actually had a good time recording this memento of themselves in the studio, we should all be happy for their veteran egos, God bless 'em and all. But as for everybody else, the record deserves, at best, a cursory listen, just so you could make sure that Alan Price was indeed alive and well in the 1990s (we know that, as of 2016, he is still alive, but I know next to nothing of any touring or recording activities of his in the past ten years), and a thumbs down just because I'm pretty sure these guys could do better if they wanted to do better, but they probably just didn't want to.

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