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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Canned Heat: Hallelujah


1) Same All Over; 2) Change My Ways; 3) Canned Heat; 4) Sic 'Em Pigs; 5) I'm Her Man; 6) Time Was; 7) Do Not Enter; 8) Big Fat; 9) Huautla; 10) Get Off My Back; 11) Down In The Gutter, But Free.

Not necessarily what we're looking for. The last studio album by the original classic Canned Heat, released just prior to Henry Vestine leaving the band and being replaced by Harvey Mandel, sud­denly sees them stepping away from the world of lengthy improvised boogie sagas and again restricting themselves to relatively short, concise, and surprisingly mild blues-rock numbers. For whatever reason, not only are there no more 20-minute tributes to John Lee Hooker (in fact, there ain't even a single track here reprising the bass line of ʽBoogie Chillen!ʼ), but there are no more attempts at crazyass experimentation like ʽParthenogenesisʼ, either. Perhaps they thought they were really no good at such experimentation, or perhaps they viewed it as a phase that naturally came and went for good, but the fact remains that Hallelujah is straightahead blues-rock, a bit heavier and wilder than their disappointing self-titled debut, but, in my personal opinion, a seri­ous letdown after the relative wildness of the previous two records.

Nor does it have even one short song with magical qualities, be it the bubbling menace of ʽOn The Road Againʼ or the pastoral bliss of ʽGoing Up The Countryʼ. «Blind Owl» Wilson, in parti­cular, is a big disappointment: all four of his pseudo-originals are merely passable this time, no matter how nice or weird his childlike falsetto still sounds. ʽChange My Waysʼ is just a fast-paced 12-bar blues with no haunting sonic combinations (there's an interesting echoey flute solo in the middle, but it's so short you barely notice it anyway); the country blues ʽTime Wasʼ tries to use a solo bass break gimmick between verses to give you the impression that it is at least slightly above generic level, but the best thing about the song is still a bit of fiery soloing from Vestine; and ʽGet Off My Backʼ is a decent back-and-forth alternation of simple boogie with psychoblues soloing in the vein of Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, but, again, nothing to speak of in terms of song­writing. It's almost as if the guy hit total writer's block; pretty sad considering how little time he had left on this planet.

Fortunately, the band still has a few funny gimmicks in store to keep the listener's interest at some level. ʽSic 'Em Pigsʼ, for instance, is a hilarious reinvention of Bukka White's ʽSic 'Em Dogsʼ in the form of probably the most vicious (downright mean, in fact) anti-cop musical statement of the year — culminating in a mock-advertisement voiceover ("if you're big, strong, and stupid, we want you... remedial courses are available for the culturally deprived") that might have earned them some broken ribs, were police officers a little better informed of the very existence of this band. Elsewhere, they finally get to the stage of covering the Tommy Johnson tune that gave the band its name (ʽCanned Heatʼ), even though the ancient original, all crackles and pops included, would still be preferable to this decent, but rather lazy-sounding electric revival. Bob Hite's ʽI'm Her Manʼ has what might be Wilson's finest, wildest, tightest harmonica solo in the opening and closing bars (everything else about the song is completely forgettable, though). And on the last number, another super-slow blues-de-luxe called ʽDown In The Gutter, But Freeʼ, they conduct an «experiment in freedom» by switching around and getting Vestine to play the bass (not a very generous decision) and Taylor to play the lead guitar (surprisingly Vestine-like!).

So it's not a total waste — in fact, as long as you are able to just lay back and enjoy some unpre­tentious blues-rock, it's hardly a waste at all — but for an album released in 1969, and following up on a clear artistic progression over three LPs in a row, Hallelujah is clearly a disappointment on both counts. It did not hurt the band's reputation: they were still invited to Woodstock, where they got to play ʽGoing Up The Countryʼ and strut their stuff and all, but it did make clear that, unless some things were to drastically change, the name Canned Heat would pretty soon be wiped off the roster to make way for artists more daring and less formulaic. Well, actually, some things did change pretty soon, and quite drastically, too... but not necessarily in a way that could be beneficial to the band's fame, fortune, and even physical health. To put it mildly.

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