Min­ing the blues

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MUSIC - TenYearsAfter–ThinkAboutTheTimes, Ground­hogs–ThankChristForThe Ground­hogs RobinTrower–ATale Un­told

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!

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and are dis­trib­uted by Warner Mu­sic Malaysia.

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