Tommy Bolin – Private Eyes (1976)

TommyBolin_PrivateEyes4 out of 5 Stars!

I always felt Tommy Bolin a brilliant guitarist, due especially to his jaw-dropping work on Billy Cobham’s classic Spectrum, then for his contributions to James Gang on several enjoyable albums. Unfortunately for Tommy, though, he got horribly and undeservedly maligned for merely accepting the offer to join Deep Purple as replacement for Ritchie Blackmore after the Stormbringer album. Sure, the twenty-four-year-old Bolin had a completely different style than Blackmore’s, but that didn’t take away from his unique talent at such a young age, as displayed on his two solo albums, Teaser—released just prior to Deep Purple’s Come Taste the Band—and Private Eyes, released the following year.

Like Teaser, Private Eyes not only featured Bolin singing lead on all tracks (his voice, though not too strong or wide-ranging, was certainly pleasant enough and highly recognizable) and his fretwork was quite awesome. Just listen to the solos and fills on the funky opener “Bustin’ Out for Rosey,” or the more rocking “Shake the Devil” and “You Told Me That You Loved Me.” Even the mellower and haunting tunes such as “Hello, Again,” “Sweet Burgundy,” and “Gypsy Soul” matched the quality of several ballads he wrote and performed with James Gang (“Alexis” and “Mystery”). And I couldn’t write this review without also mentioning the album’s fantastic showstopper, “Post Toastee”—indeed, I can’t listen to Private Eyes without replaying this nine-minute track several times. Stunning!

Also like I felt with the previous Teaser album, I appreciated the variety of moods and styles included on Private Eyes, the various bluesy, jazzy, funky, and soulful touches Bolin tossed in (no wonder he and Glenn Hughes gelled together so damned well in Deep Purple), and the contributions from all the musicians. Bassist, Reggie McBride, did exceptional work (with “Post Toastee,” being an amazing example), along with powerhouse drummer Bobby Berge, adept keyboardist Mark Stein, and the unheralded Norma Jean Bell, who not only provided percussion and background vocals, but also fantastic sax embellishments (similar in feel to what appears on various albums by Steely Dan). All in all, the band’s cohesiveness made me wish this line-up of musicians could have continued creating for many more years.

But sadly, Bolin’s heroin addiction caught up with him just after the release of this album, and he passed away several months later at the mere age of twenty-five. Horribly tragic and a great loss to the music world.

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