Jeff Beck seems finally to have figured out that he is not going to replace the great Sixties group which bore his name and featured Mickey Waller, Rod Stewart, Nicky Hopkins and Ron Wood. After some trying moments with a couple of abortive bands whose principal purpose was to give him someone to play with, this all-instrumental album points a newer, healthier direction for the man whose playing is more emblematic of the Yardbirds than either Jimmy Page, who followed him, or Eric Clapton, whom he succeeded.
Beck’s music here is new only for him. It is closely connected to Stevie Wonder’s, Herbie Hancock’s and perhaps most of all, to that of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, his current touring partner. The only axe Beck has to grind is his Gibson; there are no statements here, only his usual flurry of notes. His affection for Max Middleton’s keyboard playing seems more sensible than it did with the group that made Rough and Ready. Middleton is derivative of Chick Corea and Hancock, but it hardly matters. His principal function is to complement Beck and he does that well. Richard Bailey’s percussion is a little freer than it needs to be, often as not, but then, this is not rock & roll.
Aside from “She’s a Woman,” where Beck’s guitar literally sings a verse, there is little here to distinguish one song from another. But the tunes blend together pleasantly and the second side, particularly, contains some hints that Beck may finally have found a mode in which he is once more comfortable. His exhibitionism can find full play within the ensemble instrumental complex, as it never could when it had to worry about being upstaged by a vocalist. And in places, he is even lyrical.
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George Martin produced, but without orchestral charts to arrange, he seems to have had very little to do, other than balance the mixes. Chances are that Beck will make better records, if he chooses to continue to work within the framework established here. The important thing about Blow by Blow, however, is that Beck seems finally to have found something to do with his talent other than waste it.