CANNED HEAT: FRIENDS IN THE CAN (2003)
1) Same Old Games; 2) Bad Trouble; 3) Black Coffee; 4) Getaway; 5) It Don't Matter; 6) Let's Work Together; 7) 1,2,3 Here We Go Again; 8) That Fat Cat; 9) Home To You; 10) Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive; 11) Little Wheel.
Okay, let's see who these guys were in 2003... Fito on drums, ensuring the «right» to be called Canned Heat; Greg Kage still on bass, as well as lead vocals and songwriting for one track (ʽThat Fat Catʼ — an anti-capitalist rant that does not work too well when the proletarian protagonist introduces himself as "a fine-lovin' bitch-chasin' hound dog"); Dallas Hodge and John Paulus on guitars; Stanley Behrens on wind instruments and harmonica. Any of these names ring a bell? Only to remind us that Robert Lucas is out of the band, and since he was pretty much the best thing to happen to the post-Wilson, post-Hite Heat ever, this means that we're quite inevitably back to square one. In fact, you can tell that from the title: the minute you begin subscribing to the «...And Friends» ideology, it's as if you've officially put yourself on the barroom circuit, regardless of whether you have already been cruising it surreptitiously or not.
And who are the friends, by the way? The eerie thing about the list on the back cover is that some of these people were already dead in 2003 — like John Lee Hooker (died 2001), or Heat's own Henry Vestine (died 1997). Others are not so much friends as legitimate past members (Harvey Mandel on a re-recording of ʽLet's Work Togetherʼ; Robert Lucas on... another re-recording of ʽLet's Work Togetherʼ, appended as a bonus track — was this a sort of «let's get all of Canned Heat's guitarists to re-record one song for us» game?), and a few members of John Lee Hooker's band. This is sort of ridiculous — surely they still had at least one or two friends left in the big leagues? Where's Eric Clapton with ʽFurther On Down The Roadʼ? Where's Buddy Guy with ʽMary Had A Little Lambʼ? This is more like Old Ghosts And Sidemen In The Can.
Anyway, musically this is indeed a big letdown from the tightness of Boogie 2000: a mish-mash selection from several different sessions that had no reason to be released, since most of it consists of very basic, very perfunctory blues-rock — professional, but never exciting. Only three tracks stand out: the aforementioned ʽThat Fat Catʼ, mainly because of the hilariously bad lyrics; ʽNever Get Out Of These Blues Aliveʼ, with Taj Mahal on guitar (the coolest moment comes at the end, when the band stays around to jam a little bit and they overdub a piece of an interview with John Lee Hooker where he uses his deepest bass rumble to share a few memories about how great it was for him to be backed by Canned Heat in the old days — a bit creepy); and ʽLittle Wheelʼ, from an older session with John Lee Hooker himself on vocals and Henry Vestine on lead guitar — rougher sounding, almost lo-fi quality, but ten times as passionate as almost everything on the rest of the album (I think it was 1989, when Hooker was making his own «...and friends» album, The Healer).
Of course, one or two tracks are hardly enough to make a recommendation, so just stay away unless only for completism' sake — focus your efforts on locating Boogie 2000 instead, if you want decent proof of blues-rock not yet being completely dead at the turn of the millennium. These Friends In The Can are quite a sorry lot in comparison: not exactly thumbs-down worthy, since everything is kept clean and professional, but instantly forgettable.