CANNED HEAT: LIVING THE BLUES (1968)
1) Pony Blues; 2) My Mistake; 3) Sandy's Blues; 4) Going Up The Country; 5) Walking By Myself; 6) Boogie Music; 7) One Kind Favor; 8) Parthenogenesis; 9) Refried Boogie.
Everybody knows ʽGoing Up The Countryʼ, right? Everybody who is somebody saw the Woodstock movie, and it's up there — the studio, rather than the live, version, the perfect soundtrack to the sights of Children of Nature gathering for their peaceful-harmless rituals in the back of the woods to the peaceful-harmless sweet sweet sound of Jim Horn's flute (yes, that is the famous Jim Horn himself — unfortunately, nobody in Canned Heat itself could actually play the flute; there's a couple videos where they're lip-synching and The Bear is imitating actual flute-playing, but he can't even hold the instrument properly). Be sure to check out Henry Thomas' original version, called ʽBulldoze Bluesʼ and recorded way back in 1928 with a wonderful quills solo of his own, but the Canned Heat version does have the added benefit of the band's tight rhythm section, and then there's Alan Wilson with his childlike voice that is such a perfect match for the flute, all of this is like Paradise Found in the flesh.
Other than that, though, there are no major stunners on the first side of this album — just more of the band's generally enjoyable, occasionally boring, occasionally ass-kicking blues rock. Best of the lot is probably ʽBoogie Musicʼ, credited to a mysterious «L. T. Tatman III» (probably a local fantasy born out of one too many Budweisers) and featuring the always-welcome Dr. John on piano — it's a rich, fat, groovy piece of funky New Orleanian R&B with great brass / guitar interplay and an inobtrusive lecture on the essence of boogie in the coda. Other than that, Charlie Patton's ʽPony Bluesʼ is unrecognizable, but features some really whiny lead guitar licks from Vestine; and ʽSandy's Bluesʼ is a seven minute long super-slow blues-de-luxe, a genre that any band that does not have B. B. King in it should probably avoid.
But anyway, Living The Blues in general is not about the short songs — it is the band's most experimental album, with most of Side B given over to the ʽParthenogenesisʼ (ʽBirth Of The Maidenʼ) suite. Here we have psychedelic posturing (Alan Wilson's fuzzy Jew's harp solo in the intro), harmonica-driven boogie, honky tonk piano boogie, drum solo, feedback-drenched noise rock, swampy harmonica mixed with Indian raga, and a fiery blues-rock jam — all rolled in one. Honestly, none of it makes sense, and if you want to look for any thematic connections between all these pieces, be my guest. Yet somehow, the suite manages to be fun: no particular part sticks around for too long, and the guys are clearly enjoying all this absurdity. If anything, it's just a harmless celebration of the many different kinds of music that folks produce around the world, and I like this freedom of imagination and appreciate that the track still has plenty of entertainment value. It's not really trying to make some major philosophical point, despite the Greek title; it might even be a parody of suites trying to make a major philosophical point. In any case, it's quite a fun listen, despite the 20-minute running time.
What makes things more complicated is that it ain't over yet: here comes a whole second LP, and it only has one track, split in half — ʽRefried Boogieʼ, whose title indicates it is an «update» of ʽFried Hockey Boogieʼ from the previous album, is a 40-minute long jam, and this time, it actually is a real live jam, based on the exact same ʽBoogie Childrenʼ line as always, and with even more of those bass, guitar, and drum solos. As much as I like the band's jam power, I am not sure why they do not want us to believe that they already were at their best with ʽFried Hockey Boogieʼ, and insist on extending it to more than twice its original length for our pleasure. On a good day, I really do not mind, because a good take on John Lee Hooker can really work wonders and induce trances, and the boys were on fire all right; but on a bad day, I'd at least need a version of this that cuts out Larry Taylor's and Adolfo de la Parra's solos. That said, I do believe it is a record of sorts — I don't think anybody in 1968 (at least, outside of jazz) put out 40-minute long live tracks, so if they just wanted their bit of Guinness, I can understand that.
In any case, tedious or not, ʽRefried Boogieʼ does not stop the record from getting a deserved thumbs up. Everything that is here is at least not bad, and no record with ʽGoing Up The Countryʼ on it can be slandered — on the whole, Canned Heat were clearly peaking here, and if anything, the album gets by on raw enthusiasm and the fun quotient alone. They weren't talented songwriters, but they were happy to be involved in The Thing while it was Happening, and that happiness kind of trickles over from the speakers while the music is playing. So join in all the fun, and don't forget to boogie!