May Blitz – The 2nd of May (1971)

MayBlitz_2ndMay4 out of 5 Stars!

May Blitz, a hard-rockin’ and creative trio made up of two Canadians (guitarist/vocalist Jamie Black and bassist Reid Hudson) and a Brit (drummer Tony Newman, formerly of Jeff Beck Group who eventually joined Boxer and T-Rex) sadly released only two albums before disbanding.

Both albums are crammed with grooving and occasionally funky Hard/Blues Rock, Heavy Psychedelic Rock, and even a touch of Prog-Rock, with rather dark (proto-Metal) atmospheres overall. On this particular platter, the group’s second release, the driving opening track, “For Mad Men Only,” is a perfect example of that more metalized sound, with the band barreling out of the gate in the finest tradition of rock ‘n’ roll power trios—thundering and unrelenting rhythms and blazing guitar leads. A similar style also appears on “8 Mad Grim Nits,” the first track on the flip side, an instrumental where Hudson and Newman maintain a riotous beat behind Black’s often-explosive six-string antics.

Meanwhile, the other half-dozen tracks are less in-your-face, with “The 25th of December 1969,” “Honey-Coloured Time,” and “Snakes and Ladders” offering up mid-tempo fare loaded with both acoustic and electric guitar riffs, intriguing and varied percussion, highly melodic and jazz-inspired bass runs, and—especially on the latter track—hypnotic atmospheres galore. And one of my favorite tunes, the laid-back “High Beech,” with its beautiful acoustic guitar background and psychedelic vibes, could almost be a lost track from Ten Years After’s A Space in Time album.

The two lengthier side-closers seem almost text-book examples for bands on how to create captivating and almost free-form Heavy Psych material. The rollicking and flute-enhanced “In Part” even features a lengthy drum solo, a definite rarity for studio albums in any genre or in any era, while the luscious and dreamy “Just Thinking” allows the listener to float away on a sea of psychedelia—ideal for any listener who occasionally enjoys indulging in a certain type of…hmm…”cigarette.”

Overall, however, The 2nd of May is not without its flaws. Like on the band’s debut platter, Black’s lead vocals are indeed the weakest link. His delivery is often frail and perfunctory, lacking in all emotion, and his precision is not always meticulous. Yet May Blitz was never about vocal prowess, never about luring in listeners who demand a recognizable crooner churning out catchy and singalong lyrics, but instead, a raw celebration of tasty and mesmerizing fret-work. Therefore, Black’s generic vocals are in no way an aural affront to the ear drums, just a bit of a disappointment for those of us who can imagine what might have become of May Blitz had it also possessed a frontman as powerful and as sterling as its musicians.

And speaking of which, the fantastic musicianship on display here often reminded me of the excellent U.K. power trio Three Man Army (which—highly coincidental—also featured Tony Newman), another band that also never received the fame it so justifiably deserved. So fans of groups such as the aforementioned Three Man Army and Ten Years After, plus outfits such as Captain Beyond, Blues Creation, Groundhogs, Flower Travellin’ Band, Dust, and even Jimi Hendrix, will likely enjoy May Blitz, a band that disappeared way before its time.

 

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The Guess Who – Wheatfield Soul (1968)

GuessWho_WheatfieldSoul3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Wheatfield Soul was the first album in The Guess Who’s vast catalogue that truly indicated how strongly this mainly Pop Rock band desired—or rather, aurally ACHED—to burst into the Hard Rock arena.

Sure, the album contains the “sweet” mega-classic/orchestrated hit “These Eyes” and other “radio-friendly and tame” pop-rock ditties (“A Wednesday in Your Garden”, etc.) but it also includes blatant hints as to what was to come the following year with the release of the album Canned Wheat…the heavy fuzz guitar solo on “I Found Her in a Star” and the lengthy, funky, and lyrically caustic “Friends of Mine,” for example.

Overall, the sardonically blistering (yet still relatively tamed) vocals of Burton Cummings on most tracks were another clear testament to the savage band being held in rebellious captivity by a rapaciously greedy record industry seeking nothing but “delicate hits.”

Nevertheless, this is a classic album…with the promise of forthcoming slamming hard-rocking grandeur.

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Jeff Beck Group – Rough And Ready (1971)

JeffBeck_RoughReady4 out of 5 Stars!

After his original band (with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood) fell apart, and after he recovered from a horrible car accident, legendary guitarist Jeff Beck eventually reformed his group with a whole new lineup of musicians, including the fantastic Cozy Powell (RIP) on drums and the underrated vocalist Bobby Tench. The new incarnation released two albums, with Rough and Ready being the first.

Whereas the Rod Stewart-era of the band featured mainly Blues influences, Rough and Ready drew more heavily on Beck’s fondness for Jazz and Funk instead, with gifted pianist Max Middleton and dexterous bassist Clive Chaman also included in the revised team and perfectly aiding the effort on tracks such as “Got the Feeling,” “I’ve Been Used,” “Situation,” “New Ways Train Train,” and “Max’s Tune.” And whether on the bustling and buoyant “Short Business” or the more dynamic and laid-back epic “Jody,” Beck shreds on guitar, his style instantly and wonderfully distinct in the rock ‘n’ roll universe. It’s no wonder he went on to influence thousands of future guitar players throughout the decades.

Although when this album first appeared, I remember how a lot of long-time Beck fans didn’t fully relish the band’s new direction. I, however, welcomed it, feeling that Beck and his highly skilled cohorts had created a unique Hard Rock style that no other group I know has truly duplicated. To me, Rough and Ready (and the band’s self-titled follow up album in 1972) is a rather overlooked and underappreciated classic.

Note: I also quite enjoyed the even jazzier/funkier Hummingbird, the band formed several years later by Tench, Middleton, and Chaman with a different guitarist and drummer.

 

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Cactus – Cactus (1970)

Cactus_13.5 out of 5 Stars!

New York’s Cactus was a better-than-average, guitar-driven, Hard Rock band from the early ’70s, featuring drummer Carmine Appice and bassist Tim Bogert from Vanilla Fudge, the gruff-voiced Rusty Day, and underappreciated guitarist Jim McCarty.

How many times my friends and I replayed this debut platter I cannot count, but I can clearly remember those days spent blasting this jamming, boogie-rock album with the fragrant scent of a certain type of “cigarette” wafting in the air.

Although I actually prefer the band’s 1971 follow-up release, One Way…or Another, this album also kicks major ass with tracks such as the wailing, stomping, and harmonica-laced “Parchman Farm,” the excellent Willie Dixon cover “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover,” the thumping “Oleo,” which showcases a manic bass solo courtesy of Bogert, and the grooving “Feel So Good,” which includes a ferocious drum solo from Appice.

Although Cactus seemed to get lost in the shadow of Britain’s higher-profile, blues-based acts such as Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Savoy Brown, Faces, and Ten Years After, the material on this album proved as solid as just about anything those other groups produced, if not more fiery and blistering, thanks to the killer rhythm section and Jim McCarty’s sizzling fretwork.

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Savoy Brown – Looking In (1970)

SavoyBrown_LookinIn3.5 out of 5 Stars!

I rather enjoyed this particular line-up of Savoy Brown—one that unfortunately made only a single album—which was basically the future band Foghat with a different lead guitarist (longtime Savoy Brown leader/founder Kim Simmonds, of course). Indeed, several of the bluesy and riffing vocal tunes such as “Poor Girl,” “Take It Easy,” “Looking In,” the lengthy and jamming “Leavin’ Again,” and the laid-back, piano- and congas-enhanced “Money Can’t Save Your Soul” (my favorite on the album) could have easily popped up on Foghat’s debut in 1972 since the musical style between the groups is so often similar.

Anyway, shortly after recording this album, “Lonesome” Dave Peverett (Guitar/Vocals), Roger Earl (Drums), and Tony Stevens (Bass) left the band to create the hugely popular Foghat, and for the next release, Simmonds obviously had to hire a whole new group of musicians, this one featuring Dave Walker on lead vocals (which, in my opinion, ended up being the best, most consistent Savoy Brown line-up of all time).

But as far as Looking In, I like to fondly refer to this particular album as being recorded by “Kimhat,” which contained some of Simmonds’s most tasty fretwork, not only on the aforementioned tracks, but also on the instrumentals “Sitting an’ Thinking” and the funkier “Sunday Night.” It’s not the band’s masterpiece collection—which (to me) would come on the next album Street Corner Talking—but it’s certainly better than average regarding its enjoyability factor, not to mention how it hinted at things to come regarding Foghat. (Plus, it has cool cover art.)

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Rod Stewart – Gasoline Alley (1970)

RodStewart_GasolineAlley4 out of 5 Stars!

In the early ’70s, when it came to either Rod Stewart or Faces, all the albums were fairly interchangeable, seeing as how Faces played numerous Stewart “solo” tracks during its concerts, and all the original Faces musicians (Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, and Kenney Jones—all, unquestionably, Rock ‘N’ Roll royalty) contributed in varying degrees to Stewart’s first handful of solo albums, with Gasoline Alley being his sophomore effort.

Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, Gasoline Alley is just another Faces album, and it’s a damned corker for sure, including several of my favorite Stewart/Faces tracks, including “Cut Across Shortly,” “It’s All Over Now,” “Country Comforts,” and the title tune. A true classic!

(Also, a final side note: I can honestly say, despite the album cover’s fairly accurate depiction of the down ‘n’ dirty atmosphere on a few tracks, it’s probably one of the least appealing covers to have ever existed. No wonder several alternate versions were created for various formats or for some reissues throughout the years, or for different regions of the world, but in truth, none of these covers were very attractive. Anyway, just had to mention it since unappealing cover art is one of my major pet peeves.)

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Climax Blues Band – FM/Live (1974)

ClimaxBB_FMLive4 out of 5 Stars!

From the U.K. (not Chicago, as many people believe), Climax Blues Band—also known during its early years as either The Climax Chicago Blues Band or simply Climax Chicago, hence the confusion regarding the group’s actual origin—was a hard-drivin’, hard-rockin’ act that released well more than a dozen blues-inspired albums from 1969 and through the ’80s, but sadly, never gained the widespread recognition it deserved.

To me, when it came to much of its material, the band seemed almost a cross between Savoy Brown and Wishbone Ash—only with a sax player in its lineup and the occasional Jazz or Prog overtones.

And live, as displayed on this terrific album, the band absolutely killed! Indeed, when it first came out in 1974, this two-platter collection of dynamic and diverse tracks such as the wildly exceptional “Flight,” along with “All the Time in the World,” “So Many Roads,” “I Am Constant,” “Goin’ to New York,” and especially “Country Hat” with its wicked and crazy slide guitar solo intro was one of my favorite live albums, played by my friends and I as often as Wishbone Ash’s Live Dates, The Allman Brothers Band’s At Fillmore East, or Ten Years After’s Recorded Live.

Even now, like those other albums from that same time period, FM/Live conjures up great memories of my youth and never fails to put a smile on my face. About the only gripe I have about this album is the fact that some of my favorites Climax Blues Band songs were left off the live album, hence my overall rating, but I guess you can’t have everything, right?

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Nazareth – Razamanaz (1973)

Nazareth_Razamanaz4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Razamanaz is undoubtedly one of my favorite Hard Rock albums of all time, and my personal favorite in the Nazareth catalogue.

The bluesy riffs, the scorching performances, the spiffy production (thanks to Deep Purple’s Roger Glover), the selection of original and cover songs, and Dan McCafferty’s whiskey-shredded voice all seemed to gel on this album. Indeed, it was on Razamanaz, the Scottish band’s third studio effort, where the trademarked Nazareth style perfectly came together.

From the storming title track and a take-no-prisoners version of Leon Russell’s “Alcatraz,” to the eerie and devilish “Sold My Soul” and the ultra-catchy “Broken Down Angel,” this collection of tunes just doesn’t let up for one single minute. Both “Vigilante Man” and “Bad, Bad Boy” are showcases for Manny Charlton’s wild and wonderful slide guitar, and “Night Woman,” “Too Bad, Too Sad,” and “Woke Up This Morning” (a track from the band’s previous album, but rerecorded and energized) are nothing less than rockin’ and stompin’ killers, displaying impressive teamwork from the long-time rhythm section of bassist Pete Agnew and drummer Darrell Sweet.

Although Nazareth subsequently released numerous other top-quality albums during its forty-plus-years career, none of them seemed as near to everlasting “Hard Rock Paradise” as Razamanaz…a “must have if stranded on a deserted island” album if I ever heard one.

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Silverhead – 16 and Savaged (1973)

Silverhead_16Savaged3.5 out of 5 Stars!

In the early ’70s, Silverhead released two solid studio albums of bluesy Hard Rock with glammy overtones, bringing to mind a cross between artists such as Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Faces, Mott The Hoople, and T-Rex.

Led by flamboyant singer Michael Des Barres (Detective/Chequered Past) and also including bassist Nigel Harrison (Blondie/Chequered Past), the band churned out some raw and sleazy tunes that had great commercial potential. For instance, on 16 and Savaged, the band’s second and final album, the rousing opener “Hello New York” has a similar vibe to Bowie’s “Suffragette City” with sax included, while the suggestively named “More Than Your Mouth Can Hold” has the same downtown strut as the Rolling Stones’ “Happy.”

Regardless, primed for stardom, the band never got the major push from its record label, and instead of gaining fame to match similar bands of the era, Silverhead garnered nothing more than a cult following and remains virtually unknown all these decades later. A crying shame.

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Ten Years After – A Space in Time (1971)

TenYearsAfter_SpaceTime4.5 out of 5 Stars!

It’s nostalgia that plays a large part in me declaring this album to be Ten Years After’s finest achievement. Too many memories of special places, people, and events are locked up in this album, and each track brings numerous recollections to mind. So for me personally, this album puts me in A Space in Time…indeed.

Although 1970’s Cricklewood Green may be superior in several respects, it’s the beautiful melding of both electric and acoustic sections on A Space in Time that makes it truly special to my ears.

“One of These Days,” “I’d Love to Change the World,” “Hard Monkeys,” “Let The Sky Fall,” “Here They Come,” etc…each and every song is memorable, and I love the album’s overall production and studio experimentation.

Therefore, A Space in Time is the reason I fell in love with this influential band back in the early ’70s and it still remains my favorite.

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