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"I know where you're going!"

Class E

Main Category: Roots Rock
Also applicable: Hard Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a James Gang fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective James Gang fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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A particular medium where it was hard for America to compete with Britain in the late Sixties/early Seventies was the hard rock area. Where the British scene was putting out "metal monsters" like Led Zep or Sabbath or some of their 'minor', but quite talented and understanding, disciples like Budgie, American hard rock of the epoch seems to be mostly associated with Grand Funk Railroad and the like - bands that tried to earn their corner of the market without grasping the key essence of heavy metal, namely, that music should (a) be heavily riff-based and (b) actually go somewhere, that is, be atmospheric and evocative rather than just distorted and turned up loud. There were, of course, minor exceptions to the rule like Bloodrock's debut album, but overall, the genre was obviously misunderstood, at least, if for you the likes of "good" heavy metal are to be associated with Led Zep rather than with Grand Funk.

Part of the trouble, I think, was in that bands of the time also declined to really embrace the "heavy" side of rock. It's one thing to be a 'tough' guy like Mark Farner and his lads, playing crunchy distorted guitar and all, but it's another thing to be a 'dark' guy like Jimmy Page or Tony Iommi. Of course, too much 'darkness' can be equally dangerous, leading to cheesy mystical pretentions and Goth genericity, but heavy metal just ain't heavy metal without a bit of darkness to it, you know... On the other hand, American 'hard' bands sometimes had a good knack for criss-crossing their hard rock tunes with the essentials of roots-rock (country and blues), and one of the better, if not the best bands of the epoch to do it, were the James Gang. (Of course, there's always Neil Young, too, but he goes in a different category, so take 'im away, May!).

Nowadays Joe Walsh doesn't seem to get much respect from sneerin' people with refined tastes who are only waiting for the next chance to badmouth the guitar solo in 'Hotel California'; but at least in the early Seventies, Joe was one of the coolest guys to hang around with - a tasteful, skilled guitar player with a penchant for real melodies and real hot funky grooves, and the center point of the James Gang, although the other band members were talented as well. Together, the trio in their most classic lineup (Walsh/Fox/Peters) created a near-perfect mix of hard rock, country-rock and funk that could satisfy a little bit of everybody's tastes. They were funkier than Grand Funk, rocked with more passion than Blue Cheer (at least, post-Vincebus), and showed themselves to be quite understandable of the American tradition as well. At their best, they didn't steer away from moderate studio experimentation, either - a large part of their charm was rooted in the image of 'reckless let's-turn-this-knob guys', and while the results were understandably mixed, occasionally it resulted in daring aural delight.

The band never had a stable line-up, though, with drummer Jim Fox the only stable member (the James of the Gang!), and seemed to have been pursued with constant disasters and ego clashes. An interesting functional comparison would be with the Yardbirds: just as that British band is currently more notorious for serving as a 'boarding school' of sorts for the future geniuses of Clapton, Beck, and Page, so the James Gang served as a polygon for the future success of Walsh (solo and as an Eagle) and his replacement, Tommy Bolin (in Deep Purple, of course). Walsh "grew up" in the band, eventually overshadowing the other members, and just after about two and a half years of staying together, had to leave the band; Bolin, stepping in his shoes, at first seemed to resuscitate the band's career and steer them into a fresher and more exciting direction, but lasted even shorter than that, and the band collapsed soon afterwards altogether.

Despite the 'near-perfect' mix of styles that I have already mentioned, the James Gang have a lot going against them as well, which explains the low rating. Their 'experimental' period lasted only a very short time, after which the band switched on to absolute formula. They never had an awesome vocalist in the band - neither Joe nor the later lead singer, Roy Kenner, could boast anything resembling an unbeatable pair of chords. Worst of all, though, their albums were almost always gruesomely inconsistent, especially when it came to softer numbers; I could count the band's "interesting" ballads on the fingers of my right hand. Rides Again and Bang somehow manage to push the consistency level to acceptable levels, but overall, the James Gang probably deserve to be represented by a well-chosen 'best of' package in your collection, unless you're a real sucker for that kind of music. All points taken, I'd never ever uphold them as one of the greatest bands to ever grace the international scene, but at their best ('Funk # 49', 'Walk Away', etc.), the James Gang were a hell of a band - pity their 'best' happened so irregularly.

Lineup: Jim Fox (drums), Tom Kriss (bass), Joe Walsh (guitar). Kriss left in 1970, replaced by Dale Peters. Walsh quit, 1971, replaced by Dominic Troiano on guitar; Roy Kenner added same year as lead vocalist. Troiano left in 1972, replaced by Tommy Bolin.



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 10

Clever, but unexperienced funky lads discovering the studio for the first time... ain't it fun?


Track listing: 1) Introduction; 2) Take A Look Around; 3) Funk #48; 4) Bluebird; 5) Lost Woman; 6) Stone Rap; 7) Collage; 8) I Don't Have The Time; 9) Wrapcity In English; 10) Fred; 11) Stop.

Even Jon Anderson wished us to get things in perspective at some point, so keep that in mind when you fall upon Yer' Album for the first time. It isn't a very good record and certainly can't be supposed to preview a solid American band on the rise. In fact, I don't even suppose there are truly any solid songs on it. But there's just something special, and it... it works. For me, at least.

Basically, when the James Gang came to the recording studio for the first time, putting themselves into the hands of producer Bill Szymczyk (who later "inherited" Joe Walsh and the Eagles and then even spread his influence to post-Keith Moon Who), they were thoroughly unexperienced and innocent - 'raw and young', as Mr Walsh himself recalls in his liner notes. They had been playing together for some time already and had established a solid 'collective groove', but neither were they at all familiar with how to translate their collective spirit into the form of a vinyl circle nor did they actually have any well-polished self-written musical material. In their place, any less adventurous band would probably - at worst - have panicked and broken down, or - at best - released an insecure, half-assed debut record that would barely attract anybody's attention. What the James Gang decided to do was go ahead, and this debut is rather insecure. But they actually 'cashed in' on that insecure vibe, in the good sense of the word, and structured the entire album along these lines - the lines of a band that's just finding its way.

This "dunno what to do" atmosphere is everywhere, and for some reason it doesn't come across as forced or pre-planned, probably because it really reflected what was going on with the band at the time. Even the cover photo brings on memories of how the band "didn't realize that record companies actually budgeted money for cover art" (CD liner notes by Jim Fox), and most of the tracks are accompanied by funny notes of how some of them were recorded live and "what you are hearing was completely what went down in the studio all at one time" or how the guest piano player, Mr Ragavoy, "appears through the courtesy of his parents" and stuff like that. As for the music itself, it is constantly interrupted by little dumb interludes where band members chat, tell jokes, pull knobs, and occasionally just play the fool. There are several short interludes like these, which are essential for the proper understanding of the album as a 'collective groove thing', and since they never run on for far too long, they rarely become annoying.

So anyway... the bad news is that there are too few truly good songs. In fact, after multiple listens, I have only managed to detect one strong original composition here - Walsh's 'Take A Look Around', a very gentle, but not at all cheesy ballad with touches of psychedelia (mostly detectable through "treated" vocals and the mildly psychedelic guitar solo). There's a memorable vocal melody and a nice organ riff, too, which ensure the song's solidity; however, none of the other three Walsh-penned tracks ('Collage', 'I Don't Have The Time', co-written with Jim Fox, or 'Fred') come close in terms of memorability, even if they all have at least something in favour of them - a nice strings theme here, a weird psychedelic vocal track on 'Fred', something like that. You can really tell Mr Walsh kept a keen eye in the direction of whatever was happening in the state of California: there are obvious Jefferson Airplane and Doors references in some musical elements here. Besides, one of the songs is simply a Buffalo Springfield cover (Stills' 'Bluebird', done in a very falling-apart style). However, it's not like he managed to exactly improve upon any of his teachers.

This is why, at this stage at least, it's the actual grooves of this record that I find its most compelling feature, not the more structured songs. The Walsh-Fox-Kriss power trio were really hot - I'd go as far as to state that this album has some of the tightest playing on a white American band record of the time. Grand Funk Railroad can burn in hell; you just gotta listen to stuff like 'Funk #48' to truly understand who earned that title. Walsh churns out marvelous invigorating riffs all the time, even if he is a bit stiffed, it seems to me, while Tom Kriss's basslines are even more inventive as he explores the entire length of his fretboard and at times (especially during his solo on the Yardbirds' 'Lost Woman') does more or less the same things as Jack Bruce did in his creamy jams. And Jim Fox... Jim Fox swings real fine, with a manic pulsation you sure wouldn't expect from such a spooky-looking almost Hasidic kind of guy (but where's the goddamn hat?).

Thus, 'Funk #48' goes off in a sparkling manner; the other two jams do seem overlong, but at least 'Lost Woman' alternates guitar, drum and bass solos and actually begins and ends as a real song, so it's nice. Only the eleven-minute 'Stop', with Jerry Ragavoy on piano, seems to go on forever - I'd say that about every single minute of it taken individually really smokes, but when they're all put together, it's a rather risky business, especially considering that at this particular time Walsh just isn't THE supah-dupah expressive soloist he'd become a little later, even if he's really learning a lot. His technique is just a bit too simplistic for a jam that has to entertain for ten minutes plus. But I'm not offended anyway. See, I just turned on my 'groove' mood at the beginning of the record, and this helped me get through all of it pretty well. So - a word from the dumb - don't forget to turn on your "groove mode"!



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 11

Too bad the songwriting is so amiss, this is some of the best groove-oriented music of the epoch though.

Best song: FUNK #49

Track listing: 1) Funk #49; 2) Ashtonpark; 3) Woman; 4) The Bomber; 5) Tend My Garden; 6) Garden Gate; 7) There I Go Again; 8) Thanks; 9) Ashes The Rain And I.

This is a KILLER album, if only for the first part of it. Despite a member change (Dale Peters replacing Tom Kriss), the band is as strong as ever, and getting more and more self-assured all the time. Rides Again is no longer the timid experimental workout Yer' Album was - the guys don't include any more of their banter or stupid jokes, concentrating solely on the music, but that's a good thing, because second time around, relying on the same boozy gimmicks just wouldn't be fun any more. Wouldn't be fun at all, I guess.

Instead, with a hey and a ho, the band rips into 'Funk #49', a terrific number that has almost immediately managed to occupy an honourable spot on my "best white funk of all time" table - the rhythm section pounds away like mad, and Joe's swingin' shakin' guitar lines totally make the grade. Could ANY white guitarist of the epoch actually play with that much precision and that much feeling at the time? This is reason enough to honour Mr Walsh now and forever, not 'Life In The Fast Lane'. Just look at 'im beating the shit out of that guitar, effortlessly alternating riffs and mastering the funky art of syncopation to a tee. Add to this the silly, but catchy vocal melody (everybody who's heard that stuff on the radio will have that 'I KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING!' scream embedded in the dark depths of their brains for the rest of their lives), and Jim's masterful percussion break in the middle, and you're off with a masterpiece.

But it doesn't end there - the next three tracks all qualify as pretty hot as well. The instrumental jam 'Asshtonpark', for instance, is simply hilarious, with Joe playing a minimalistic guitar pattern and experimenting with the echo effect so that you seem to be surrounded by a whole sea of guitars when it's just one proto-Eagle having some fun. Too bad it's so short... I wouldn't have minded having that guitar melody expand into something bigger, but maybe they thought they'd overdone the jam thing with 'Stop' and were now desperate to keep everything relatively short and sweet. The rocker 'Woman' is somewhat more standard, but still there's something in that guitar tone and that simple unnerving riff that doesn't let it pass unnoticed. And then there's 'The Bomber', the album's magnum opus, which consists of three totally different parts linked together in a crude, but passable way.

'Closet Queen' is slightly reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, but the Zepsters never really had that funky spirit in them, so it's mostly the guitar tones that are similar. But the fun begins with the second part, where Mr Walsh again switches on the experimental mood and starts producing mind-boggling sounds of all varieties... 'kay, not exactly mind-boggling by 1970, in fact, pretty amateurish, I think, but still, the "astral solo" he produces with a total minimum of studio trickery is quite Syd Barrett worthy and should be heard by any psychedelia lover. Then the band bravely launches into a spirited rendition of Ravel's 'Bolero', with Joe again hitting all the right notes and mastering his feedback-regulating techniques so that no slight nuance of the original could be lost. And after all the experimentation, we return to 'Closet Queen' and some more of that gruff riffage makes our day.

And then, unfortunately, the day ends, because I just don't like the second half of the album at all. The songwriting curse strikes here - and harder than it could have done, for the boys had suddenly decided to divide the record into a "hard" and "soft" part, placing all the ballads on the second side. None of these ballads manages to impress me. Okay, so I'm impressed that they're all, uhm, creative in a certain way... there might be some interesting organ part, as on 'Tender Garden', or another psychedelic guitar solo, or a whooping orchestrated coda, as on 'Ashes, The Rain And I', but the main melodies are thoroughly hookless. Maybe the chorus of 'There I Go Again' could qualify as a hook, but it's also the least interesting song in general - just a nifty little country ballad with slide guitar. I normally welcome diversity, but I believe this is exactly the case where the James Gang should have stuck to what they did best, namely, write redhot funky grooves, and hold off from balladry, leaving it to somebody like Creedence Clearwater Revival.

That said, despite the inconsistency (further marred by the fact that for some reason, two of the ballads on the second side are "duplicated" in pseudo-independent sections that upon closer listen turn out to be just weaker rewrites of the two better ballads), I still give this album an overall rating of 11 if only to stress how really good the first side is. Maybe some of you will find stuff like 'Funk #49' a bit too 'refined', but me not being a purist, I could care less - all I hear is a fantastic driving riff and enough will to go off into the unknown and actually take risks. If you want truly 'refined' funk, stripped of all excitement, go for something like Chris Farlowe era Atomic Rooster, I guess. Did I mention yet that the band themselves consider this to be their peak? Just take a look at 'em dudes on the back cover, driving their bikes through the snow!



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 8

A clear case of a band neglecting its strong sides and lapping at its weak ones.


Track listing: 1) Walk Away; 2) Yadig?; 3) Things I Could Be; 4) Dreamin' In The Country; 5) It's All The Same; 6) Midnight Man; 7) Again; 8) White Man/Black Man; 9) Live My Life Again.

LAME. This is why the previous James Gang albums were enjoyable: (a) Joe Walsh's inspired lead/rhythm guitar playing; (b) meek outbursts of Joe Walsh's talent as a songwriter; (c) the band's collective funky groove. Taken together and pressed into one whole, these three aspects made up for a somewhat unique listening experience, with stuff like 'Funk #49' being pretty hard to replicate or imitate by anybody. So what's up with this? ALL the three positive aspects are muffled here - Walsh's guitar is severely restricted, the songwriting generally sucks, and the collective funky groove has all but been lost.

Thus end the two positive years of the James Gang. History says that by that point, tensions within the band were high - Dale Peters himself acknowledges in the liner notes that 'Joe was feeling a lot of pressure because he had become the focal point of the band', which means, the audiences on the James Gang tours were for the most part interested in Joe and Joe alone, while the rhythm section just kinda stood there... a glaring depravity, but then again, pretty much the same thing had earlier served as a serious cause of splitting in Cream's case. Ah well, it just so happens that the guitar comes first and foremost and the drum'n'bass come next. (Which, of course, eventually leads to the appearance of the famous "drum'n'bass" style, obviously initiated mainly for the sake of resolving the problem of the 'extra third'. Ha! Ha! No guitar - no fan favourite problem. Aren't these jungle guys really clever?). Anyway, this naturally led to a very serious disparity, and one can only imagine the circumstances under which Thirds was recorded if even the band members themselves write in the liner notes that they were 'starting to feel a little burned out'. The songwriting is split between the three, with just one instrumental composition credited to all the members, and since Fox and Peters are ultra poor songwriters, one can only imagine the results.

I do, however, agree with Peters that there are two exceptionally strong rocky anthems on the album. 'Walk Away' is the only number here with a typical hot Joe Walsh funk riff or two, graced with a supah-dupah catchy chorus and a solid bassline (even if I do suppose the guitar solo might have been a little more distinguished and a little better produced). And then there's 'Midnight Man', with enthralling poppy, almost Beatlesque vocal harmonies, and psychedelic colourful guitar tones... a song like that wouldn't be out of place on Rubber Soul, what with all the similarity to 'Nowhere Man'. Here, the guitar solo is beautiful, and Mary Sterpka adds further lush to the background vocals and actually sings one of the verses.

However, even if you chop me in little pieces, grind them into dust, and create a new man out of me with a little pinch of God's breath, I still won't be able to remember any of the other tunes, be they Walsh's or anybody else's. I never thought much of the James Gang's non-rocking stuff, and this is all non-rocking stuff. Ear-pleasing candy, with caressing guitars, dreamy orchestration, occasional bits of slide, occasional gospel choruses, etc., but not a single memorable or just really inspired melody in sight. The hooks are thoroughly missing everywhere. 'Yadig?', the group's instrumental "showcase", instead of roaring funky energy, builds upon a morphaeic vibes melody which explodes into some generic blues soloing at the end - three minutes of wasted time during which I could have banged my head to AC/DC's 'Whole Lotta Rosie' instead. 'Things I Could Be' never really lives up to the promise of its three-note main riff, with a total null of emotional content. 'Dreamin' In The Country' is a generic country ballad, the type that normal talented people usually only resort to when they have run out of every single idea they ever had before. 'It's All The Same Again' reminds me of Styx: dumbass cheerful acoustic ballad that is supposed to communicate joy but is so painfully insincere and self-extolling that not even the pompous horns arrangement can save it.

In fact, the only time, I think, when the band actually shows some potential on the non-hard rock material is Peters' 'White Man/Black Man'. The song does sport a ridiculously cliched anti-racist message, but I actually find Peters' vocal delivery here, for one, to be somewhat moving. Like, maybe he really cares. Who knows. Inspired by that delivery, Walsh delivers a crudely distorted, flashy guitar solo that's among his best ever, and The Sweet Inspirations add some extra power on backup vocals. So it's really not that bad, but surely not because of the nearly-non-existent melody, rather because of the "collective feeling" thing. Unfortunately, the "collective feeling" is again substituted by piss-poor soulful posturing on the closing number, 'Live My Life Again', which more or less falls into the same category with the Grateful Dead's 'Attics Of My Life' - slow, never progressing drivel that has fewer chord changes than the Windows warning sign, yet somehow is supposed to overwhelm you and your feelings with its pomposity. Not me, thanks.

As a result, I'm deadly bored, and you probably will be, too. Seek out 'Walk Away' and 'Midnight Man' and let the rest of this stuff be... Strange, isn't it, how recording under pressure actually brings out the best in some bands (the Stones, for instance) and the worst in others. It's almost as if in some cases the clashing personalities were competing over who can write the best song, while in others they were fighting over who can write the worst one. Moronic.



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 11

At one point in his life, Tommy Bolin was a decent songwriter...


Track listing: 1) Standing In The Rain; 2) The Devil Is Singing Our Song; 3) Must Be Love; 4) Alexis; 5) Ride The Wind; 6) Got No Time For Trouble; 7) Rather Be Alone With You (AKA Song For Dale); 8) From Another Time; 9) Mystery.

The title of the album gotta qualify as one of the lamest puns ever, what with the album cover and all - ugh, pretty disgusting. Not surprising, then, that it was pretty much ignored by critical attention, and even nowadays this stage in the band's career is casually dismissed as stagnant. Of course, it's not just because of the lame title: since Joe Walsh The Critical Darling left the band, nobody really cared much about it. Too bad. Bang actually shows the band in revitalized form, and the more I listen to it, the more these songs actually grow on me - in fact, on a song by song level, it's hardly any worse than Rides Again, and actually, it's much more consistent, come to think of it.

Of course, nobody can conceal the fact that it's simply a different band. This is where the guitar function passed to newcomer Tommy Bolin, ex-Zephyr and future Deep Purple Mark IV member, and the songwriting is pretty much completely dominated by him, with extra credit sometimes going to vocalist Roy Kenner and sometimes to Jeff Cook and John Tesar, probably some of Tommy's buddies that I don't know anything about. Not a single credit actually goes to Fox or Dale Peters, making the band's rhythm section exactly what it is - a rhythm section, and nothing more.

But that's good! Those guys could never really write a good song. And Bolin proves himself a pretty solid master of melody. His lead guitar skills are strangely subdued on this album; he's nowhere near as prominent and flashy as he would be in Deep Purple, and those who love the guy for his impeccable chops can be disappointed, because these chops have to be seriously looked for - most often, they're to be found in subtle subdued licks played underneath the lead vocals, and Tommy really lets rip only in a couple of places. Still, his excellent tasteful style, coupled with melodies that are vaguely interesting and relatively hook-based, makes up for a really refreshing and exciting listen. Strange enough, despite the fact that James Gang came from funk and that Bolin would turn into funk's strongest propagator in his Purple days, there aren't that many pure funky rockers on the record - rootsy countryesque rock, straight-up boogie and moody balladry share an equal function with the funkier stuff, or maybe even more. But they're decent.

Actually, while we're on the balladry topic, the two main ballads on here are pretty hot... finally, the day has come when I can sincerely praise a James Gang ballad! 'Alexis' is one of those, a sublime and slightly dark tune featuring Tommy himself on lead vocals, perhaps his best, most gentle and sincere sounding lead part I've ever heard, but the fun begins when the ballad gets its coda, with the "dark potential" of the tune unleashed and the previously gentle acoustic riff exploding into a gruff distorted proto-grunge sludgy mess and Tommy unfurling his wah-wah soloing against this background. Another strange ballad is 'Mystery', which is purely acoustic, with a serious puff of orchestration thrown in for the coda, and is strangely reminiscent of Jethro Tull throughout, with very Ian Anderson-esque vocal melodies and a medieval-influenced picking style that seems to come almost straight off Minstrel In The Gallery... wowie. Only it's better.

Of course, the real meat still lies in the rockers, each and every one has some minor creative detail to offer us. 'Standing In The Rain' is smooth and even, with aggressive slide work to help out the generic rhythm. 'The Devil Is Singing Our Song' is goofy and hilarious, a pseudo-mystical tale sung by Kenner in an overblown pseudo-operatic (tongue-in-cheek) tenor, and based on a solid phased riff, all it lacks is a sharp distinct solo, but for some reason Tommy prefers to stick his lead guitar overdubs in the background. Modesty can be appreciated sometimes, Mr Bolin, but no need to be so modest here! There's also stuff like 'Must Be Love', the funkiest number on the record that sounds not unlike the Allman Bros. at their post-Duane best, and the equally tasteful - and equally Allman-esque - 'Got No Time For Trouble' with its professional acoustic "overdrive".

Perhaps the only truly weak link is the "experimental" Roy Kenner accappella number 'Rather Be Alone With You', with all the band members imitating their instruments with their vocal cords - I've always thought of that technique as stupid and self-indulgent, and besides, they don't do it nearly as well as some other performers I've heard. But otherwise, it's a record that belongs to that class I call "minor aural delight": nothing truly extraordinary, but everything so solidly written, thought over, and tasteful, I'm ready to accompany this review with a pretty high rating. Like I said, this incarnation of the band certainly borrows more from the Allman Brothers than James Brown or Sly, but that ain't necessarily a bad thing, and if you listen good and hard, the band actuall sounds to take delight in what they're doing - granted, maybe not as much delight as they're taking in whatever they're doing with that lady on the front cover (you don't wanna know!), but then again, it's one thing to perform music and another thing to take comfort in a lady's company, isn't it?



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 8

Not at THIS point he wasn't, no. Generic rootsy boredom, only relieved by a few good guitar solos.


Track listing: 1) Cruisin' Down The Highway; 2) Do It; 3) Wildfire; 4) Sleepwalker; 5) Miami Two-Step; 6) Praylude; 7) Red Skies; 8) Spanish Lover; 9) Summer Breezes; 10) Head Above The Water.

Bleh. Another one of life's little mysteries - this album relates to Bang! in exactly the same way as Thirds relates to Rides Again, as far as quality goes, but this time around, I can't even come up with an obvious explanation. It seems like the ingredients are all here - same line-up, same song authorship, same adequate balance between hard rockers and softer balladeering stuff, and yet, most of the songs are total junk.

Perhaps 'junk' is the most correct word on here, as I do have the feeling drugs were constituting a serious undermining factor by then (as much as I hate to make statements like these - first of all, it ain't never been proved that serious drug taking should lead to talent deterioration, and second, who can tell how many drugs what member of the band was taking at each and every particular point? But I just can't resist here), and maybe that's why not a single melody on Miami says anything to me. The overall sound isn't offensive - the band isn't playing up to cock rock standards or anything - but none of the ideas seem to boast at least a little bit of originality. And not even the fact that they turned to Tom Dowd (arguably the "roots-rock producer # 1" of all time) to help produce the album really helps. Nothing helps. The impression is as grim and gloomy as that of the poor lone flamingo on the cover.

There's one thing about the album I rather like: Tommy Bolin's ever improving (or ever uncovering?) guitar skills. Bang! seemed to present him as a creditable composer, but not really all that much of a player. For Miami, it is vice versa - the songwriting is consistently rotten, but his playing style, at least on the heavier numbers, is magnificent. Thus, 'Cruisin' Down The Highway', the album opener, is as sterile and unimaginative country-rocker as could be (unless you think the alternation between the slow and fast parts is genius), but when Tommy lets rip with his redhot boogie chords towards the end of the album, everything is forgiven, and the only thing you need to do is turn your amps up loud loud loud and kick the shit out of your neighbours. (Okay, so you don't really have to do that, but geez, if you had neighbours like mine, you'd sure understand me). Same with the next track, 'Do It': when at the very beginning Kenner screams 'Get ready...', my first and absolutely immediate association is with the hysterical 'are you ready?...' that introduced the world to Grand Funk Railroad, and the tune is seemingly doomed by that delivery - but Tommy's frantic double-tracked soloing at the end is even hotter than before, and easily predicts some of his best work with Deep Purple (which would usually only shine through in live performances, though). I particularly love the "psychedelic throttling sound" he squeezes out of his instrument at the end of the track. And the final number of this 'holy guitar trio', 'Wildfire', with easily the best - if unexceptional - riff on the record, is slower and moodier, but with even shriller guitar tones.

It's totally downhill from then on. The power balladeering of 'Sleepwalker' has as much subtlety as the dome of the Capitol, and not even Tommy's inspired soloing redeems the stupid overblown power chords of the song. The short instrumental interlude of 'Miami Two Step' is cute, but not exactly the kind of thing you could build up a reputation on. 'Praylude' is the band trying to do something relaxed and atmospheric, but the muddy, muffled production doesn't even let me hear what kind of notes Tommy is playing out there - imagine a lethargic ambient piece that sounds as if it were coming to you from under ten feet of deep water, and there you are in my shoes right away. From there, it segues right into the tricky tempo-changing rocker 'Red Skies' which goes absolutely nowhere, and then into the Tommy-sung acoustic ballad 'Spanish Lover', just an incoherent mix of "heartfelt" disconnected chords and starry-eyed lyrics. Geez, at least 'Alexis' had some real tension to it. This stuff just tries to emulate a generic country atmosphere, with no hooks whatsoever.

And finally, after another half-assed country-rocker, the "grand" conclusion of 'Head Above The Water', which to my ears sounds like a pompous re-write of Blind Faith's 'Can't Find My Way Home', a far superior song in every way. Four more wasted minutes of doing-nothing-going-nowhere on an album that showcases a thorough lack of inspiration throughout - how good is that? If you need any further proof, you'll be surprised to know that writing this review has left me drained, and I demand a prize for bursting my braincells while trying to come up with something worth saying about this piece of product. How 'bout the right to call somebody names? Like: 'Roy Kenner is a poppycock'. Oh shit, I just don't need to say anything else. If you happen to find this stuff, just look at Bolin's expression on the photo inside. He's either plain not there, or he's wishing he were somewhere else. And it's not like the other band members look happy, too. At least last time around they had that lass to play around with...


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