CANNED HEAT: HISTORICAL FIGURES AND ANCIENT HEADS (1972)
1) Sneakin' Around; 2) Hill's Stomp; 3) Rockin' With The King; 4) I Don't Care What You Tell Me; 5) Long Way From L. A.; 6) Cherokee Dance; 7) That's All Right; 8) Utah.
Canned Heat's first album without Wilson was, by all means, a disaster — a band that struggled plenty while its top songwriter and (arguably) most charismatic member was alive had little choice but to flounder when he was dead. The man's original replacement was Joel Scott Hill, a decent guitar player (he is immiediately given a chance to shine in that capacity on the fast boogie piece ʽHill's Stompʼ), but a very ordinary blues singer — his whiteboy soul-blues deliveries on ʽSneakin' Aroundʼ and ʽThat's All Rightʼ sound like pale parodies on pre-war urban blues and jump blues, and you could easily get vocals like these in ten thousand random barrooms and saloons all across the USA.
Worse than that, the album is simply filled from top to bottom with bad or poorly executed ideas, little sparks that fail to light any reliable fires. Even the «gruff blues» formula that used to work so well for them is now wasted on ʽUtahʼ, eight minutes of the generic ʽMannish Boyʼ groove, for some reason, recorded in a lo-fi standard, with lots of reverb on The Bear's vocals (did he have laryngitis or something?) and a lengthy, chaotic, meandering, and just plain boring solo from Vestine (or is that Hill?) that tries to set a personal record for the number of trill sequences one can squeeze out of the guitar in five minutes.
The one track that will probably draw the most attention is a guest spot by none other than Little Richard, who, coming totally out of the blue, graces the band with his presence, bringing along a new song and an old sax player (Clifford Solomon) — and although he does duet with The Bear, this is essentially just Little Richard, backed by Canned Heat, doing an impersonation of Little Richard that does not work one bit, because Canned Heat are too stiff to be doing breakneck maniacal rock'n'roll, and because Little Richard is too out of place and time to recapture the genuine youthful flame of the Fifties anyway. Not to mention that, in the context of the time, singing a merry happy ditty about "the king of rock'n'roll" just when none of the band members could genuinely synthesize merriment and goofiness in their hearts was probably not the right choice — and where «authentic» Little Richard performances make you want to drop everything and headbang like crazy, this whole experience just feels fake from the start.
In the end, the only tracks that make sense on the album are the aforementioned ʽHill's Stompʼ (not very imaginative, but incendiary guitar playing for three minutes, in a style reminiscent of Albert Collins) and yet another instrumental, provided by a much more suitable guest star than Little Richard — famous flute (and sax) player Charles Lloyd, whose perfectly composed melody gives a weird pastoral feel (with a touch of psychedelia) to the blues groove. In comparison, all the vocal-based numbers are downers: The Bear is clearly in no shape to contribute anything worthwhile, Hill is mediocre, and... well, bottomline is, they should have really taken a much longer holiday to get in shape. As the matter stands, Historical Figures And Ancient Heads really does turn Canned Heat into what it states it is — an unhappy, but probably inevitable development. Get the Charles Lloyd track for a good experience, and thumbs down for the rest.