CANNED HEAT: INTERNAL COMBUSTION (1994)
1) I Used To Be Bad; 2) John Lee Hooker Boogie; 3) Remember Woodstock; 4) (You'll Have To) Come And Get It; 5) The Heat In Me Is Up; 6) It's Hot; 7) Vision Of You; 8) Nothing At All; 9) 24 Hours; 10) Gamblin' Woman; 11) I Might Be Tempted.
It's nothing short of amazing that this LP sounds like a fairly cohesive piece of blues-rock product, considering that it is apparently spliced together from at least three different sessions — four tracks still feature Junior Watson on lead guitar, but two feature Vestine, and four more feature Harvey Mandel (and, as far as I remember, Mandel and Vestine never really work together). The rhythm section remains the same (although on a few of the tracks Larry Taylor is replaced by Ron Shumake for some reason), and James Thornbury is still in place as the new band's chief singer, harmonica, and rhythm guitar player. Additionally, Ira Ingber is playing second (third?) guitar throughout, and Ronnie Baron is credited for some piano on the opening tracks... whew. And who of them exactly was formally a member of Canned Heat at the time when the new album came out in 1994? That's, like, a good billion dollar question.
But the music here is mostly good, if unexceptional. With Junior Watson's presence much reduced and new guitarist Ira Ingber's much increased, the sound is no longer as defiantly retro as it was on Reheated — this here sounds like Chicago blues and Chicago-blues-derived blues-rock in the modern era, with a more polished guitar sound and an overall glossier style of production. This does not outcancel the good-time vibe and the occasional attempt to throw in an original riff or two, and Ira Ingber turns out to be a talented songwriter — at least two out of three songs that he co-writes here with Gary Tigerman are relative standouts (ʽVision Of Youʼ is a funky-swampy rocker with some subtle menace to it, and ʽI Might Be Temptedʼ has a snake-like little riff connecting its simple boogie verses that simply refuses to go away). On my personal scale of experience, this is all slightly above the average «modern blues-rock record» — there's a bit of the old nostalgic Heat vibe, a bit of modern talent, a bit of diversity, but not enough by way of any interesting new collective personality for the band.
The nostalgia vibe is pumped to the max on ʽRemember Woodstockʼ, a track that diligently mimicks the original atmosphere of ʽOn The Road Againʼ, right down to featuring the drummer on vocals — and, surprise surprise, he seems to be sporting the same kiddie falsetto as the late Alan Wilson! But it almost works, unless you begin to pay serious attention to the worthlessly predictable lyrics ("Remember Woodstock, it made history as we know..." etc.): at least that atmosphere is recaptured flawlessly, and Vestine gets in the best solo on the album. And then, of course, Fito contributes ʽJohn Lee Hooker Boogieʼ, with a bit of Hooker himself sampled on the opening segment, and yes, you asked for it — the ʽBoogie Chillunʼ line is back, after all these years, although it's been slightly straightened out and masked with a scraping, broken-up riff. Again, Vestine takes the lead here, and for a short while, it's like we're really all the way back in 1968 (except that Mr. Thornbury on vocals ain't no Bob Hite).
As for the generic stuff (lots and lots of melodically predictable Chicago blues covers and rewrites), it's okay — they still have some humor and irreverence to go along with it, so it doesn't sound nearly as bad as when a Sheryl Crow or a Robert Cray take over the blueskeeping duties. Nothing to write home about, but the rhythm section is sufficiently sharp and forceful to get you toe-tappin', and that's about as much as you could ask at the moment. I am a little disappointed in the quality of Mandel's soloing — technically impeccable as usual, and he still has a good selection of nasty guitar tones at his disposal, but never even once does he properly go crazy on the instrumental breaks; I'd say Vestine, who only has two leads on the record, has him solidly beat quality-wise, if not quantity-wise. Then again, Vestine had always been the true soul of the band (along with Wilson), so that should hardly be a surprise.