Mining the blues
Some record labels are wising up to the fact that back catalogue blues/rock titles can be pushed if the packaging is right.
IT must almost feel like a curse if you’re a fan of blues music these days, doesn’t it? It’s not like you can walk into any regular (not niche, mind you) CD store and get a good blues fix. Nope, those days seem long gone. In the fast-paced times we live in, the options revolve around either downloading (legal or otherwise) or purchasing online. It seems that the final bastion of good music lies in these two realms.
And haven’t we all wondered why – in these trying times of lost earnings through piracy and illegal downloads – record companies do not work out sweet deals for music fans with a taste for back catalogue titles? It seems obvious enough as a simple idea to bust the malaise of free music, yet few have taken the mantle.
There is a silver lining, though, now that Warner Music Malaysia has released a trio of classic late 1960s/early 1970s blues rock albums, courtesy of a triumvirate of artistes who plied the circuit back in the day, all mining the same field as predecessors Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
The packages come as three-CD box sets housing five of the artistes’ most influential albums, more or less. And all at truly walletfriendly prices, too.
Ten Years After (TYA) was immortalised after the British band’s blistering performance of I’m Going Home at Woodstock 1969. The music audience of the time hadn’t heard or probably seen anything like it but when Alvin Lee broke into the faster-than-light surfeit of notes of the intro, TYA was instantly bestowed superstar status.
Arguably, TYA was – like many of its contemporaries – always a live band first and a studio band second. But albums like Cricklewood Green and Sssh still rank as monster blues rock albums – as much as they were showcases for Lee’s guitar histrionics, they also shone the light on a tight band consisting of Chick Churchill on keyboards, Leo Lyons on bass and Ric Lee on drums. Ten Years After: Think About The Times (The Chrysalis Years 1969-1972) captures this in all its resplendent glory.
Lee and his cohorts supercharged the blues and were behind some paint-peeling boogie rock covers like Good Morning Little School Girl and I Woke Up This Morning. TYA clearly was wetting its beak in the blues rock explosion of the time and relied on a steady catalogue of cover tunes when it began, but from Ssssh through to Rock & Roll Music To The World (from 1969 to 1972), the band put more pen to paper.
Unfortunately, the endeavour to write more original material turned out to be a double edged sword, because the later fare lacked the spark and creative edge that was present previously. Still, not many bands can boast gems like I’d Like To Change The World, Choo Choo Mama or Rock N’ Roll Music To The World.
Earning his stripes in the same scene was former Procul Harum guitarist Robin Trower. The British guitarist may have had to endure unfair comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, but it takes some doing to ignore the similarities in his music.
Robin Trower: A Tale Untold – The Chrysalis Years (1973-1976) packages the guitarist’s first five albums across three discs, the pick of the bunch obviously being his tour de force Bridge Of Sighs.
His career only truly blossomed after leaving Procul Harum, whose music somewhat restricted his explosive style of guitar playing. His first, Twice Removed From Yesterday, offers the clearest indication of how much he longed to wail like the best, where slow burners like opening track I Can’t Wait Much Longer and Daydream share tracklist space with crunchers like I Can’t Stand It and Sinner’s Song.
The embodiment of the Trower sound though comes courtesy of the title track of Bridge Of Sighs, which to the uninitiated (and initiated, even), sounds like a dead ringer for Hendrix’s famed playing style. The album kicks off though with the driving Day Of The Eagle.
Bassist-vocalist James Dewar’s vocals aren’t as captivating as classic rock singers in the Robert Plant/Ian Gillan vein but coupled with drummer Reg Isidore’s powerhouse drum- ming, the whole mix is held together very tastefully.
Ensuing albums For Earth Below, Live! and Long Misty Days do little in displaying Trower as anything more than a rock guitar player schooled in psychedelia and blues, though Live! is a spectacular document of what the guitarist could do on a concert stage.
Among this lot, Groundhogs may have enjoyed the least success, but Tony McPhee was always comfortable walking the path less-travelled.
In a time when the band’s contemporaries were exploring the various instrumentations afforded to the rock world, the band stuck to the tried-and-tested dynamic of guitar, bass and drums.
Thank Christ For The Groundhogs: The Liberty Years (1968-1972) – like the other packages – homes in on the band’s Liberty years, which thankfully is pretty much the band’s best period (the band exists to this day).
Groundhogs’ first two ( Scratching The Surface and Blues Obituary) were straight ahead homages to US urban blues plied by the likes of John Lee Hooker (the band got its name from a song of his), Muddy Waters, the Kings BB, Albert and Freddie and the like, but the band’s breakthrough Thank Christ For The Bomb was the band’s first suggestion of exploring new pastures.
It was the first in a series which had the band dipping its toe in progressive waters and also signalled the trio’s socially-conscious voice. Thank Christ’s anti-war theme resonated among peace-nicks in a time when the United States was still engaged in the Vietnam War.
Groundhogs were almost middle of the road where the blues rock boom was concerned but in McPhee, the band has a lyricist who’s capable of melding disparity with positivity, especially on tracks Darkness Is No Friend and title track Thanks Christ For The Bomb.
The band continued to flex its progressive ambitions on follow-up album Split, though the music may have dulled somewhat from Thank Christ but Split Part One to Part Four still provides an engaging listen.
Who Will Save The World? The Mighty Groundhogs also marks the band’s move away from mere blues rock themes – Mellotrons and harmoniums are featured on this excursion.
McPhee’s fascination with all things war, peace and philosophy grips this album once more.
That apart, there’s little in the way of intrigue, though anything of note from the 1970s still sounds a whole lot better than most of what’s coming out of the rock fraternity at the moment.
These three box-sets come at a budget price of RM40.90 per package.
There’s no better time to get a back catalogue campaign of this nature going!
and are distributed by Warner Music Malaysia.