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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Chambers Brothers: Shout!


1) Johnny B. Goode; 2) Blues Get Off My Shoulder; 3) I Got It; 4) Shout; 5) There She Goes; 6) Seventeen; 7) Pretty Girls; 8) Rained The Day You Left; 9) So Fine; 10) Love Me Like The Rain.

In the mid-to-late Sixties, the Chambers Brothers had pretty much two parallel careers going on: the adapt-to-new-reality «psychedelic» one, and a more traditional one — supported by their old label, Vault Records, who apparently had so much material in stock and so much free time on their hands that they could allow themselves to issue at least one «new» album per year without anybody really giving a damn. Since I assume that all of them were released without the artist's consent, hearing them is a strictly completist affair, and one must always be careful when going through the Brothers' discography: at the very least, remember to look at the label before going all indignant about the subpar quality of the material and the shitty quality of the recording, like I just went for a brief while before composing myself and remembering to do just that.

In this case, fortunately, the results are not all bad, but still messy. One side is given over to live recordings, probably from 1965-66, the other side consists of studio outtakes (including, for instance, a brief and concise take on ʽSo Fineʼ that is overall more listenable than the pointlessly endless version on Now!). The live side starts out quite inauspiciously, with a mediocre version of ʽJohnny B. Goodeʼ that lacks true rock'n'roll excitement and seems to think that replacing Chuck Berry's lead guitar playing with Mississippi-style harmonica might be a good idea. But things pick up later, with a convincing slow blues number (ʽBlues Get Off My Shoulderʼ — here, the harmonica fits in just fine with the heavy, depressing piano chords) and an energetic gospel / R&B medley of ʽI Got Itʼ and ʽShout!ʼ — the latter part is particularly interesting, since the pre­dictable yeah-yeah-yeah rave style here is mixed with the band's first attempts at going psyche­delic: they throw in a sharply distorted, hallucinatory lead guitar part with echo and delay effects, inconspicuosly transforming the performance from a vocal-driven chant into an acid jam, some­thing that neither The Yardbirds nor The Who ever really tried at their early shows (The Who sometimes came close, but they preferred to carry the music away into the realms of aggression and chaos, rather than psychedelic tripping).

The studio side is cleaner, louder, but to a large degree expendable: ʽThere She Goesʼ is a Stones-style blues rocker that is totally let down by a criminally flabby rhythm section (think ʽNow I've Got A Witnessʼ with severely loosened screws), ʽSeventeenʼ is slow dark blues that used to be done far better by Otis Rush (cool gravekeeper falsetto backing vocals, though), ʽPretty Girlsʼ is second-rate Isley Brothers, and ʽRained The Day You Leftʼ is third-rate Byrds — though, you have to admit this, having all these styles enacted by the same bunch of those former country bumpkins is quite a feat by itself. The only salvageable track here is the lovely ʽLove Me Like The Rainʼ, an original folk ballad played and recorded with exquisite tenderness, and also some­what unusual in its combination of gentle folk chord picking and low-pitched lead vocals (typi­cally, you associate The Byrds or The Searchers with this kind of sound). However, this is actually an alternate version — a much better produced one can be found as a bonus track on The Time Has Come, implying that Columbia ultimately got the better side of the deal.

Still, while this was clearly an obsolete release for 1968, out of the two Chambers Brothers albums that came out this year I would rate Shout! as the superior one — with the exception of ʽJohnny B. Goodeʼ, nothing here seems particularly irritating. This was their usual shtick: trying to prove to the world that they could do passable imitations of 'em all, and it is a more honorable shtick, I believe, than milking the exact same «Artistic Formula» a second time. In other words, mediocre music that accepts its own mediocrity is preferable to mediocre music that pretends to be something more than what it really is. Plus, that version of ʽShoutʼ is actually worth hearing just for the sake of novelty.

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