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.