Jeff Beck – “Truth” (1968)

March 16, 2010 at 9:42 am (Music, Reviews & Articles)

Musician Al Kooper wrote this review of the debut Jeff Beck Group album (though strangely only credited to Jeff Beck) for Rolling Stone, Sept. 28, 1968. This band, featuring a young Rod Steward and Ron Wood, was probably one of the biggest influences on the sound of the soon-to-be-formed Led Zeppelin… 

The album that catapulted John Mayall & Eric Clapton to fame, The Bluebreakers with Eric Clapton, was a special one. It hipped the U.S. to two good blues interpreters, held a fresh approach to the blues, and was performed by good musicians all around. Two months ago everyone was saying “Jeff Beck’s in town and you must see his group . . . blah, blah, blah.”  

It was an unnerving experience to hear the Beck group. I had to leave after three numbers. The band was blowing changes, the bass player was losing time, Beck was uncomfortably and bitingly over-volumed, the singer was doing deep knee-bends holding the mike stand like a dumbbell (original, but so what.) It didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense to me.

When his album came out, I expected to hear England’s revenge for Blue Cheer or Jimi Hendrix and his Electric Period. Not a chance. This album is quite another story. It’s called Truth.

I wonder what is the truth: the record or what I saw that night? This remains to be seen. However, this album is a classic, much the way the Clapton-Mayall album is. TRUTH is probably the current equivalent of that album.

The album opens with a considerably reworked version of “Shapes of Things” and it is more successful than the original except for Beck’s solo. I believe the solo on the Yardbirds record (by Beck) to be one of the classic guitar solo on a pop record. I was hoping he would top it. The singing (Rod Stewart) is just great and many will now realize just how impotent a singer Keith Relf really was.

After a “Strange Brew”-ish opening, “Let Me Love You” gets into a Mayall-Clapton “Little Girl” structure with an honest and relaxed feel. Beck sounds really comfortable here. The bass line (Ron Wood) is as correct and tasteful as could be for this particular groove. The ending is beautiful.

Tim Rose’s “Morning Dew” comes in for a good turn next. Most covers of this song have been quite good and it’s probably a credit to Tim’s original, which gave everyone a lot to work with. It sounds like they phased Becks “wah… wah” without moving the frequency to give it a close-up sound (like the vocal on “Punk’s Dilemma” by Paul Simon). Bonnie Dobson would be proud of the occasionally faded in bagpipes on this cut. The piano playing by Nicky Hopkins is quite good.

On “You Shook Me,” no credit is given the organist or the pianist, but the organ is up front and slows the groove down a great deal. Beck plays his our-de-force (sic) on this cut. The close of the first side and a highlight of the album is “Old Man River.” A very orchestral beginning featuring tympani gives way to a Percy Sledgeish track and vocal. The tympani are a bit overbearing after a certain point, and you wish “you know who” hadn’t gotten hung up with them at the session. The singing is gorgeous and actually in order not to repeat myself, the singing is first-rate throughout the album. It was not half as groovy in person however, which might tell the story of the Jeff Beck Group’s “fame” in the coming months.

An acoustical “Greensleeves” opens side two. It’s not very impressive. B. B. King’s bastardized “Rock Me Baby” called “Rock My Plimsoul” uses a quarter note triplet turnaround which is very effective and the track bounces around like a pinball machine. Beck sounds a lot like Hendrix on this. “Beck’s Bolero” is on here. It’s a B side from one of his old singles and it’s a chapter in a book that includes “Jeff’s Boogie” and his other instrumentals. Beck is actually a lot better than Clapton at playing four guitar overdubs and fusing them. Hendrix is better than both of them; he does it all at once.

“Blues Deluxe” is a seven-minute jam. Supposedly “live” (it sounds quite studioish) is slugs along and sounds like any other blues by a competent group. Nothing special. “I Ain’t Superstitious” starts off like a Yardbirds record but gets into Beck’s new groove. He does dog’s barking with his wow-wow pedal, changes tempos and just generally eases around Stewarts lucid singing.

As a group they swing like mad on this record. It remains to be seen what will happen to them in person. I hope the public is honest enough to make them work out.

Al Kooper

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Terence Trent D’arby – “Neither Fish nor Flesh” (1989)

March 16, 2010 at 2:58 am (Music, Reviews & Articles)

Mark Coleman’s Rolling Stone review from issue #566 (Nov. 30, 1989) of TTD’s ambitious, impenetrable second album…

Well, he really believes it. Terence Trent D’Arby’s second album is his bona fide genius move, a self-produced, self-arranged and self-written musical statement that’s just as ambitious, brash and maddening as the boasts he’s made in interviews. An inconsistent concept album, Neither Fish nor Flesh doesn’t prove all the claims made by D’Arby; that is, it fails to establish him as a visionary pop godhead. It does, however, demonstrate convincingly that he’s far more than a mere legend in his own mind.

D’Arby’s fascination with the inner-directed pop epics of the late Sixties – apparent in the luridly self-indulgent title as well as in the many orchestral flourishes, snatches of laughter and gusts of feedback scattered throughout the record – would seem trendy and predictable if his consultations with the hippie muse hadn’t shaken something loose. The eager-to-please hit singles from his 1987 debut, Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby, sound like tight-assed parodies of soul music compared with the overwhelming one-hit-to-the-body grooves on side 2 of this new album.

In fact, D’Arby delivers something a lot closer to the real nitty-gritty this time around – despite his aspirations toward Messianic rock stardom and partially because of them. Neither Fish nor Flesh may not be profound or even completely original, but sorting it out sure is fun – and you can dance to it.

Beginning with a simple voice-and-guitar declaration – “I Have Faith in These Desolate Times” – D’Arby casts himself as a spiritual pillar of strength in a stormy, troubled world: His confidence is audible, even seductive. But just when you think he’s auditioning to be the third Indigo Girl, the percussion tools start clicking and the drums kick up a polyrhythmic coda. Your next stop: the twilight zone of post-hallucinogen psychedelia.

From that point on, each successive cut builds up D’Arby’s head of steam. “It Feels So Good to Love Someone Like You” finds him stretching his falsetto to its Smokeyest reaches among discordant sighs from a disembodied-sounding string section – an effect taken straight from Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds. “To Know Someone Deeply Is to Know Someone Softly” playfully repeats an ersatz jazz-fusion riff, until the band gets serious and D’Arby dips into his bag of sure-fire lady-killing lines. “I’ll Be Alright” is a straight-ahead, pumping soul workout with a rock edge; it could pass as a track from one of Johnnie Taylor’s early-Seventies efforts on Stax. For all that, D’Arby seems less insistent about pointing out his R&B lineage; he screams less and lets the rhythm section testify.

“Billy Don’t Fall” reflects the involved sexual etiquette of our era. To the out-of-tune groan of a fuzzy garage-band guitar lick, D’Arby offers what solace he can to a smitten gay male friend: “Billy my friend don’t fall in love with me…. I’m not that kind of guy…. But I’ll stand by your side.” Patronizing? Perhaps, but you also get the idea that D’Arby is not merely expressing knee-jerk tolerance, that he’s trying to free his own mind by addressing a subject shrouded in taboo and prejudice. And these days it’s nice to be reminded of rock’s capacity to raise consciousness.

“This Side of Love” inaugurates side 2 with a Princely crotch rhythm, affected moans and another nagging guitar hook – this one a stinking, bloozy line that doesn’t suggest Jimi Hendrix so much as Grand Funk Railroad. On “Attracted to You,” another horny shiver riff lifted from Prince’s trick bag gets bombarded by heavy guitar runs and itchy keyboard licks, until the resulting cosmic slop recalls Funkadelic in full flower. “Roly Poly” also acknowledges D’Arby’s debt to George Clinton: It mirrors the spare synth melodies of the P-Funk leader’s Eighties work while hinting at a hip-hop-funk fusion. Playing right on the money all the while, the band jiggles the beat on “Roly Poly” just enough to replicate the unpredictable excitement of a rap DJ’s scratch mix – and just enough to subtly remind us that it’s 1989, after all.

D’Arby preaches the gospel of karma on “You Will Pay Tomorrow,” underlining the music’s baroque early-Seventies feel with a crackling wah-wah guitar. He keeps his vocal histrionics more or less in check and displays a surprisingly steady hand with the Willie Mitchell-inspired horn charts. He hasn’t fully conquered his tendency to excess, however – the damn strings do him in. D’Arby evidently could not be satisfied simply making “You Will Pay Tomorrow” a gospel-rooted tour de force – his “Prisoner of Love” or “Love and Happiness.” He had to throw in the Sound of Philadelphia, some Superfly-Shaft soundtrack moves and a few more cues from “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Such overindulgence is unavoidable at this sumptuous a musical smorgasbord, of course – and it’s hardly fatal.

You can call this album – or Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, for that matter – pretentious and overblown. But, however tangled their motives may be, D’Arby and Jackson are pushing themselves, taking chances, while most of their peers would be petrified by the very idea of risking their commercial success. No doubt Jon Bon Jovi will produce, write and arrange his own Sgt. Pepper-like stab at immortality at about the same time the New Kids on the Block crank out their Exile on Main Street. Rockers in the late Sixties and early Seventies were expected to redefine themselves with each new release, while the majority of young musicians in the Eighties feel compelled to refine their craft on album after consistent album. Professionalism rules.

Terence Trent D’Arby may not really be a genius, and so what? Neither Fish nor Flesh proves he’s gripped by a powerful creative spirit and has the will and the guts to follow it, wherever it leads. What will he do next? As long as he remains convinced of his own brilliance, rest assured it won’t be dull.

Mark Coleman

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