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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Canned Heat: Future Blues


1) Sugar Bee; 2) Shake It And Break It; 3) That's All Right, Mama; 4) My Time Ain't Long; 5) Skat; 6) Let's Work Together; 7) London Blues; 8) So Sad (The World's In A Tangle); 9) Future Blues.

The first significant change to affect the band was the departure of Henry Vestine, who apparent­ly had a falling out with Larry Taylor and, for that reason, missed the chance to appear at Wood­stock. His replacement was Harvey Mandel, "The Snake", who had previously made his name by appearing on Charley Musselwhite's Stand Back! album in 1966 and, for a few years, enjoyed the fame of one of America's best-kept secrets in the sphere of wonder guitar playing (for that matter, he was also the only member of the band in the Woodstock movie who did not look like a bum picked fresh off the street — probably didn't have enough time to assimilate). And while I would not necessarily call Harvey a better player than Henry, one thing's for sure: a bit of fresh blood, for a short while at least, helped get the band on the right track, and produce an album that was at least more... interesting than the steamless Hallelujah.

Although they do not reintroduce any 40-minute jams here, they get close enough with ʽSo Sad (The World's In A Tangle)ʼ, a 7-minute blues boogie that is not ʽBoogie Chillenʼ, but has the same grim, kill-'em-all attitude. Lyrically, they are concerned with the sad state of the modern world, so thoroughly deprived of brotherly love and stuff (this was, after all, recorded already in the wake of Altamont rather than Woodstock), but essentially, the words are just a front for two excellent solos — I'd imagine the first one, consisting of almost nothing but wobbling arpeggios, like a musical equivalent of an unexperienced tight-rope walker, is played by Wilson (who was never a technically endowed lead guitarist, but would always try out bizarre sound combinations when soloing), and then the second one (and the third one after the last verse) is Mandel, culmi­nating in a very different set of distorted psychedelic arpeggios, very different from your average blues soloing. The song is a guitar lover's paradise, far more interesting than the generic 12-bar ʽLondon Bluesʼ, although that one, too, has some incendiary Mandel solos and an always wel­come falsetto vocal from Wilson (the lyrics are total tripe, though, probably improvised on the spot, about some unhappy experiences the band had in London Town).

The short songs, this time around, tend to be diverse and marginally inventive or at least gim­micky: ʽShake It And Break Itʼ is a complete reconstruction of the old Charley Patton tune in the form of (another) light boogie, but preserving the playfulness of the original (and it's a good thing that they didn't have The Bear singing on it to crash it to the ground); ʽSkatʼ, with Dr. John-ar­ranged horns, is a bit of silly New Orleanian fun with Wilson trying himself in the role of Ella Fitzgerald (somehow, it's endearing rather than embarrassing); Wilbert Harrison's ʽLet's Work Togetherʼ (the same song that is otherwise known as ʽLet's Stick Togetherʼ, but with a different set of lyrics) makes great use of «distorted woman tone» from Mandel and is precisely the kind of material that The Bear was born to sing (half-drunk rousing anthems); and the guitar overdubs on ʽMy Time Ain't Longʼ sound like a pack of ghosts looking for fresh meat, because, well, his time ain't long and all that.

There's not a lot of interesting stuff going here, but you can clearly see the rejuvenated band trying to make almost every single number sound slightly more interesting than just playing it by the book — which is why this is Future Blues, after all: even the title track attempts to be inven­tive by playing around with a stop-and-start structure. It doesn't really work (there's no point in cutting off the rhythm section after each line, because there's no true suspense in that), but it's still better than nothing. And when it does work, it is far more satisfying than the technically more expert, but substantially much less interesting modern school of electric blues that, for the most part, does not care about innovation and development at all. So, thumbs up.

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