Record Of The Week # 113

Blood, Sweat & Tears – New City

I was visiting Dave at Castle Electrics. This is not an easy experience. Dave runs a small shop in Acomb where he stands behind a cluttered counter in the absolute chaos of stacked washing machines, refurbished Dyson vacuum cleaners, kettles, lamps, mounds of pieces of paper and a phone he seldom answers. However, what he doesn’t know about appliances isn’t worth knowing. I was attending the Temple of Spark to discuss the swapping of an extractor canopy. Escaping him often necessitates the type of quality excuse such as you’re late for an appointment with the Queen or it’s the final countdown for a nuclear attack. Aside from this chore Acomb offers the best charity shop in York for second hand CD’s and occasional LP finds. After Dave accepted my apologies (and I’d promised to give Her Majesty his regards) I migrated to the next temple.

Historically I’ve found some splendid blues CD’s amongst the copious Cheryl Cole, James Last and Robbie Williams detritus. This time after an unproductive scan through the CD’s I turned my attention to the LP’s. Inevitably budget label classical LP’s abounded plus Engelbert Humperdinck, Jim Reeves and Petula Clark to the fore. I’m often happy to snap up the Country music ones as I add to my knowledge of the history of the genre but that’s not the reason for the search. Lurking in the pile was a tatty sleeve of the above album. A quick glance at the vinyl revealed something in quite good nick. It seemed worth investing £1.

Blood, Sweat & Tears were an American band of nine players who enjoyed their chart success in the late 60s and 70s. In fact they had platinum records in the US and topped the charts with two of their albums. “Spinning Wheel” was probably their most successful song in the UK charts. I like brass led soul jazz but when combined with rock it all seems just a loud and meandering affair where I worry that the players are having a lot more fun than the listener. This album, their eighth, was released in 1975 and saw the return of the Canadian lead vocalist David Clayton-Thomas to a line up that included trumpets, trombones, saxophones, tuba along with the expected complement of drums, keyboards, bass and electric guitar. My speculative purchases hit the record deck at least once and then gather dust thereafter if they’re not worthy.

I’ve now being playing this for weeks. I love it.

It helps that some of my favourite records are by The Average White Band and Tower Of Power and this sound picks up from both these acts although in a strict chronological order B,S&T came first. The two big draws are the vocals of Clayton-Thomas and the brass arrangements that rage and sooth as they work through a variety of styles and tempos. Their intent is laid bare with the first track “Ride Captain Ride” a tour de force of 70s Soul Funk. Clayton-Thomas’ muscular and commanding vocals sweep you along. They reminded me of a very powerful sports car trundling at an easy pace but the burble of the V8 reminds you that at any time they could propel him, and you, seamlessly with volume and emotion to a different place. “Life” follows with a ridiculously funky bass line with all the hallmarks of the New Orleans legendary songwriter’s work, Allen Toussaint. Horns electrify the chorus and Swede George Wadenius takes the spotlight with an electric guitar solo.

“I Was A Witness To A War” could be a show tune such is the wistful melody. The vocal has pathos and impact as the story unfolds of the horror of it all. One of the composers, Danny Meehan, had a varied career as a performing artist and songwriter following service in the Korean War and receiving The Purple Heart. You can safely conclude any ideas in the lyrics were received on the front line. Side One finishes with a traditional sparsely arranged blues song “One Room Country Shack”. Clayton- Smith delivers over a picked acoustic guitar; later on an acoustic slide joins. A quick tour of YouTube shows that this version is head and shoulders above that of John Lee Hooker or Buddy Guy. No small achievement.

Ultimately the album is a covers collection with only three of the ten songs being composed by band members. Janis Ian’s “Applause” is an interesting choice to start Side Two. Ian has become a revered singer songwriter who’s still touring. This whimsical story is about what each artist seeks in a live performance. It’s sad and poignant. The song is populated with some beautiful horn arrangements that demonstrate several styles and paces from baroque chamber music to jazz harmonies with trumpets playing the same tune note for note. Randy Newman arrangements always borders on a comedy style or a straight singer songwriter unadorned piano ballad. “Naked Man” from his 1974 critically acclaimed Good Old Boys is the former and gets the full band on vocals as Clayton-Thomas sounds like Tom Waits. The lyrics get so wacky that he is unable to stop from breaking into a laugh whilst delivering a verse. More predictable and chart orientated is the cover of “Got To Get You Into My Life” from 1966’s Revolver by The Beatles and also covered by several other artists. We play out with a composition by the drummer, Bobby Colomby, “Takin’ It Home”. It’s a brief coda starting with a sensational Bill Tillman saxophone lead but more to the point reminds us it’s Colomby’s sublime sophisticated drumming that has propelled and held this whole wonderful album together.

(If you’re tempted then I can tell you that this lurks on Spotify or Apple Music or at any leading record outlet)

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