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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Chambers Brothers: Love, Peace & Happiness


1) Have A Little Faith; 2) Let's Do It; 3) To Love Somebody; 4) If You Want Me To; 5) Wake Up; 6) Love, Peace & Happiness; 7) Wade In The Water; 8) Everybody Needs Somebody; 9) I Can't Turn You Loose; 10) People Get Ready; 11) Bang Bang; 12) You're So Fine; 13) Undecided / Love! Love! Love!.

By 1969, it was clear that The Chambers Brothers had become indoctrinated slaves to their formula of success — but it was also clear that it did not work so well on its own and that light­ning couldn't be bothered to strike twice in the exact same way. So what could be the remedy? Columbia Records decided to make it a double album — a studio LP, recreating the structures of vibes of the previous two, and a live LP (recorded at the Fillmore East, no less) that would hearken back to the boys' oldest days, even throwing in another live version of ʽPeople Get Readyʼ because, you know, nobody can withstand a good take on ʽPeople Get Readyʼ.

That said, I should stress that the studio LP, at least, is a slight improvement this time around. The obligatory big psychedelic jam at the end (title track) is now presented in the form of a slow blues-rock romp with surprisingly threatening (for a song with such a name) backing vocals and some drawn-out, simplistic, but tense and shrill wah-wah guitar solos. Midway through, the groove dies down, giving ground to a crescendo, out of which emerges a much funkier pattern; but all the movements are united by a single vibe that is actually closer to ʽGimme Shelterʼ than to anything having to do with love, peace and happiness — either somebody duped these guys or they, too, were feeling that «despair» was gradually replacing «love» as the chief vibe of the times. Perhaps boring drum solos or primitive escapades with volume controls do not do all that much for enhancing that vibe, but on the whole it is an interesting transition from light to dark­ness that, in its own way, preceeds a similar transformation that would happen to Sly & The Family Stone in between 1969 and 1970.

The shorter songs on the first side are not as bitter, divided between soulful ballads (including a rather perfunctory rendition of the Bee Gees' ʽTo Love Somebodyʼ) and funky grooves, at least one of which features a surprisingly melodic and memorable bassline (ʽLet's Do Itʼ); ʽWake Upʼ concludes the sequence with a short and fun mix of pop-rock and gospel overdrive, although waking you up this way, only to plunge you into the gloomy shuffle of ʽLove, Peace & Happi­nessʼ might be a pretty inefficient way to allocate your resources. Nevertheless, the overall level of energy is higher than last time around, and the decision to stay away from acoustic folk is a wise one — loud rave-ups work better for these guys.

The live half, unfortunately, is very hit and miss. The central (actually, the first) piece is another long bluesy groove, ʽWade In The Waterʼ, gruff, repetitive, and with too much emphasis on the drums — not to mention the surprisingly low quality of recording for Fillmore East (almost making me suspect that the brothers were always lugging around their own recording equipment, and that they had not bothered upgrading its shitty quality since 1965). Another drawn-out piece, ʽBang Bangʼ, is a silly vocal gimmick loosely based on the ʽLouie Louieʼ riff: much to the band's honor, they seem to be capable to get that demanding Fillmore East hippie audience on its feet with the thing, but in retrospect, this seems somewhat embarrassingly Sha-Na-Na-ish. In the end, the live part of the record is about as disappointing as that Now! album — and, more importantly, shows that the brothers' live act was getting even more stale at the time than their studio activities. In other words, all of this is completely passable, though occasionally fun.

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