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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Canned Heat: Human Condition


1) Strut My Stuff; 2) Hot Money; 3) House Of Blue Lights; 4) Just Got To Be There; 5) You Just Got To Rock; 6) Human Condition; 7) She's Looking Good; 8) Open Up Your Back Door; 9) Wrapped Up.

In between 1973 and 1978, there were about fifty thousand lineup changes in Canned Heat, so, God willing, we will skip most of these and fast forward to the peak of the disco era, by which time the band miraculously still had two of its original members — The Bear on vocals and Fito De La Parra on drums — plus younger bear Richard Hite on bass, Chris Morgan on guitar, Mark Skyer on second guitar, and then in walked Harvey Mandel for a spell, providing some fuel for the studio recordings as a guest star. Somehow this ragged outfit managed to get itself a record contract with the Takoma label, and proceeded to make some more music that not a single soul probably cared about in 1978.

Yet in retrospect you just gotta admire those valiant, prematurely aging hippies — apart from some production effects on the guitars (which, unfortunately, detract from the overall raw sound of the band), there is not a single sign of their having paid even the slightest bit of attention to the big musical changes that were going around at the time. What we have here is nine tracks of blunt, straightforward, brawny boogie-rock — picking up right where One More River To Cross left off, but even less diverse, with no incursions into funk territory (and since most of the old school funk had mutated into disco by that time anyway, they could hardly be blamed). Boogie, blues, and bluesy boogie with a barroom breath; there's not even much of that Woodstock flavor left, because very little, if anything, here has to do with peace, love, and moralizing — almost every­thing that is left is the smell of beer dregs on The Bear's T-shirt.

And it's okay, really. It's nothing great or particularly endearing in any subtle way, but it's thirty-plus minutes of thick, honest, energetic entertainment — the new guitarists select grumbly guitar tones (which always shine through even the craziest phasing effects that they decide to throw in the pot), The Chambers Brothers provide cheerful backing vocals, and even The Bear seems to be in grizzlier shape than he was last time around. It's practically impossible to resist headbanging along to ʽThe House Of Blue Lightsʼ, or feeling some sexy satisfaction from the ol'-time party spirit of ʽStrut My Stuffʼ, and even the totally formulaic Chicago blues of ʽOpen Up Your Back Doorʼ is delivered with such amazing instrumental precision (is that Mandel blazing away on the electric slide? sounds like him, anyway) that you can't help but suspect that, perhaps, the band's troubles of the time were somewhat exaggerated: as a cohesive musical outfit, this lineup shows nothing but the finest form throughout the sessions.

The alleged «gem» of the album is the title track — an old Alan Wilson-era outtake that they unearthed and resuscitated for the record, sounding not unlike a sped-up, extra-syncopated ver­sion of ʽOn The Road Againʼ or at least sharing the same slightly paranoid atmosphere, only this time in boogie rather than blues format. The Bear does a decent job softening and «murmur-izing» his voice to resemble Wilson's, and even if the glossy production does not quite allow you to mistake this for a 1969 recording, the overall gesture is still nice. However, «gem» is, of course, an exaggeration: in the context of all these other pieces of boogie, ʽHuman Conditionʼ hardly has any hidden nuance, hint, or threat to it. The original version (available on various compilations), with Wilson actually on vocals, is actually worth locating — the band seems to be going for a CCR-type sound on that one, and Larry Taylor's bass playing is far more phenomenal than Richard Hite's on the re-recording.

On the whole, the album is so unremarkable that it cannot possibly be recommended to anybody (in terms of preferences, you would not only have to make a detailed analysis of the entire Little Feat catalog before making such a recommendation, but you'd probably also have to plow through the entire Doobie Brothers discography). But it is far from being a bad album — in all honesty, they hadn't sounded that energized and ready for a fight since at least Future Blues, and I did have fun listening to all those boogie romps.

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