Blues

Mel Brown “Chicken Fat” (Impulse!, 1967)

Impulse! Records, of course, is revered as one of the world’s preeminent jazz labels, with a roster boasting Alice and John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler, Charlie Haden, Archie Shepp, and many other legends. However, Impulse! is less celebrated as a champion of blues and funk (and funky blues). But with Mel Brown’s dynamite 1967 LP, Chicken Fat, the company proved it could hold its own with the best in those fields.

Born in Mississippi and based in LA, Brown—who passed away in 2009—was an in-demand session musician throughout the ’60s, playing with Brenda Lee, Nancy Wilson, T-Bone Walker, the Olympics, and B*ll C*sby. Impulse! must have been looking to branch out stylistically when it signed Brown for his debut album. Whatever the case, they got a doozy with Chicken Fat.

The record begins with “Chicken Fat,” which is as gritty and funky as the title is gross. The guitar interplay between Brown and Herb Ellis is complex and soulful and full of fowl squawks, and the groove is absolutely raunchy. I’ll be spinning this in DJ sets for years to come. Written by Brown, Ellis, drummer Paul Humphrey, and bassist Ron Brown (no relation), “Greasy Spoon” follows with some fleet and elite blues-funk, distinguished by a killer descending bass line by Ron Brown. Mel is in scintillating form on guitar, spraying brilliant glinting chords over the sexily torqued groove. Here and elsewhere, maniacal instrumental prowess abounds. “Slalom”—written by popular session trumpeter Jules Chaikin—brings a staccato, churning strain of funk that foreshadows Medeski, Martin + Wood by over 20 years. “Shanty” is careering blues funk of exceptional fluidity and action-film-soundtrack wizardry.

On the bluesier end of the spectrum, “Home, James” is a lackadaisical, louche number laced with flashy Brown soloing. This tune would segue well into David Lynch’s “The Pink Room,” although Gerald Wiggins’ curiously dinky electric-organ sound is almost comical. The Oliver Nelson composition “Hobo Flats” features either Brown or fellow guitarist Arthur Wright going buck-wild on the wah-wah pedal over a languidly libidinous blues saunter. Such a sick display of virtuosity—it gave my ears vertigo. Chicken Fat ends strongly with “Blues For Big Bob,” a choppy, Booker T. & The MGs-like head-nodder with an unstoppable groove, a loopy organ solo by Wiggins, and a guitar solo of head-spinning intricacy.

Portland’s Jackpot Records reissued Chicken Fat in 2023, so it should be relatively easy to find and affordable. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Lee Moses “Time And Place” (Maple, 1971)

It’s damn near impossible to quantify soul with regard to male vocalists, but consensus has built over the decades. Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Bobby Caldwell generally top the lists of singers who can make you break down and cry with a few syllables. Rarely, if ever, though, do you hear Lee Moses’ name among the elites. But if you learn one thing from this review, it’s that Moses—who died in 1997 at age 56—ranks as one of the best excavators of deep emotions in music history. The pain and grain of his pipes were just profoundly wrenching. That he died relatively young and unheralded only adds to the pathos when you listen to his records.

A major figure in Atlanta’s soul scene in the ’60s, Moses played guitar for some live gigs with Gladys Knight & The Pips; they wanted him to become a full-time member, but Moses yearned to make it on his own. He had high hopes for his sole album, Time And Place, but it stiffed in the marketplace upon its 1971 release. Nevertheless, true heads knew it was loaded with specialness. There’s a reason that Light In The Attic subsidiary Future Days Recordings has reissued Time And Place on vinyl four times since 2016, including this year. Once you hear Lee Moses sing, it’s like crack for your soul-starved ears. Plus, the originals and the covers that Moses selected cut you deep. You shall be moved.

The opening 1-2 gut punch of “Time And Place” and “Got That Will” should swiftly convince you that Moses was emoting on a level that few could equal. The former lopes into the frame with some horn-laden, laid-back funk as Moses testifies his obsessive love to an inamorata; it also possesses the greatest “mmm hmmm” ever to kick off a song. The latter finds Lee reeling off names of his fellow musicians who made it, and then proclaims that he’s eventually going to join them in the pantheon. Alas, that didn’t come to pass, but the song sure is soul-funk gold. “Every Boy And Girl” is a doom-laden, church soul belter that exudes “House Of The Rising Sun” vibes while “Would You Give Up Everything” is a momentous funk/soul ballad with a complex, corkscrewing bass line—a pretty rare thing. The buoyant, open-hearted melody of “Free At Last” totally embodies the title. And if you dig heart-shredding ballads, Moses sings the shit out of the staggering “Adorable One.”

The album’s best covers are among the most frequently attempted in pop/rock history. Moses puts his indelible stamp on them and makes you wonder why more people don’t consider them definitive. He slows down “California Dreaming” and alters the arrangement into stormy soul, and gruffs it up on the vocal tip. Moses doesn’t so much blow away the Mamas & The Papas’ original as he does transform it into his own joint. Then there’s one of the greatest “Hey Joe”s I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard over a dozen. In the intro, Moses explains how he was trying to dissuade Joe from going down to shoot his old lady, who was messin’ around with another man. “This is a song about a soul brother named Joe. Joe was a good friend of mine.” Etc. When Moses gets around to singing, he outshines even Tim Rose’s bruised and blustery delivery on this classic. The backing is greasy, Southern blues funk of the highest order.

Time And Place should’ve made Moses a star, with his guitar playing as gritty and expressive as his voice. Plus, he got that will to learn. But all of this somehow wasn’t enough. That the LP’s still in print a quarter century of Moses’ death, though, is a testament of sorts. (Also highly recommended: Future Days’ 2019 comp How Much Longer Must I Wait? Singles & Rarities 1965-1972.) -Buckley Mayfield

Groundhogs “Hogwash” (United Artists, 1972)

Groundhogs leader Tony “T.S.” McPhee passed away on June 6 at age 79, and the outpouring of love and respect that followed on social media was gratifying. Though he never became a household name in the US, the British guitarist/vocalist earned renown from discerning listeners for his inventive, explosive guitar playing and incisive, sociopolitical lyrics, as exemplified on albums such as Thank Christ For The Bomb, Split, and Who Will Save The World? The Mighty Groundhogs. McPhee was a cult guitar hero’s cult guitar hero, and he shined hard on one of Groundhogs’ best—and most underrated—records, Hogwash.

As many English musicians had done in the early/mid ’60s, Groundhogs began their existence as a blues-inflected rock group. In 1964, they even backed American blues legend John Lee Hooker on some of his UK dates and later cut an LP with him titled …And Seven Nights. Auspicious! Unsurprisingly, Groundhogs’ first two albums—1968’s Scratching The Surface and 1969’s Blues Obituary—trawled in traditional, gritty blues territory, but they began to expand beyond those strictures with 1970’s Thank Christ For The Bomb.

On Hogwash, the addition of Egg drummer Clive Brooks enabled Groundhogs to venture into more complex realms. This becomes apparent from the opening track, “I Love Miss Ogyny,” whose unpredictable, slow-fast dynamics and strange guitar tunings and riffs mark a bold move into prog-rock. McPhee not only sang like a more blue-collar Richard Thompson and wielded electric and acoustic guitars, but he also messed with an ARP 2600 synthesizer, Mellotron M400, ring modulator, and assorted FX pedals. These weapons allowed Tony to spice up Groundhogs’ tough and twisty rock, lifting it further out of their earlier bluesy muck.

“You Had A Lesson” is ominous rock that verges on Van Der Graaf Generator bombast, with Peter Cruickshank’s riveting and girthy bass plowing a devastating groove. “The Ringmaster” is an 83-second experimental interlude centering on a heavily FX’d drum solo. Some people can’t handle this sort of anomalous abstraction from a rock group, but those types are a drag; this is cool. The album’s longest and perhaps best song, “3744 James Road” contains over seven minutes of metronomic, Can-like bass and drum interplay, torrid guitar expressionism, and a surprising earworm chorus. “Sad Is The Hunter” rocks as ruggedly and threateningly as John Lennon’s “Well Well Well,” but with flashier solos and extrapolations by McPhee and Cruickshank.

The ridiculously fun and intricate “S’one Song” is a party-rockin’ tune for people with high IQs while “Earth Shanty” is chest-puffing, Mellotron-enhanced prog that makes you feel more heroic than you have any right to. It’s like the Moody Blues with wilder instincts and bigger biceps. The LP ends with “Mr. Hooker, Sir John,” a heartfelt homage to the god John Lee Hooker, fueled by McPhee’s hard and nasty acoustic guitar strumming. McPhee sings, “You taught so many people how to play/Your music is as timeless as a mountain and as earthy as clay/Your voice is clear and resonant as a bell.” Tony really lays it on thickly, and it’s touching. The song’s a curiously retrograde end to a forward-thrusting record, but, hell, JLH deserves all the tributes and Groundhogs had broken so much new ground before, so slack is cut. Call this album “hogwash” at your peril. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Savoy Brown “Raw Sienna” (Decca, 1970)

British blues rock was damn near everywhere in the ’60s and early ’70s, and Savoy Brown were in the thick of it, releasing very good records from 1967 to 1972. Unfortunately, they failed to gain the substantial traction in the US that artists such as Cream and Fleetwood Mac achieved. Instead, Savoy Brown were more of a connoisseur’s band, and the consensus among those sage heads is that they peaked with Raw Sienna.

Led by pianist/vocalist Chris Youlden—who left the group after Raw Sienna—and guitarist Kim Simmonds, Savoy Brown expanded blues rock’s parameters on this nine-track LP. One of Simmonds’ three compositions, “That Same Feelin’” is fabulous, marauding rock powered by Roger Earl’s funky percussion solo, Kim’s stinging guitar solo, and Terry Noonan’s bravura brass charts. Another Simmonds anomaly is “ Is That So,” which is not so much blues rock as it is a proggy quest in busted waltz time—a nice surprise! The spy-flick-soundtrack-y instrumental “Master Hare” (also by Simmonds) excites with blaring horns and Youlden’s tension-building piano. Tone Stevens’ bass lines are insanely groovy and complex and Simmonds wrings rampant guitar leads that might’ve made Peter Green with envy. [sic] A freaky rave-up coda ices this blues-rock cake.

Many of Youlden’s songs slap, too. The alluring opener “A Hard Way To Go” instantly ensnares you with Stevens’ intriguing bass line and Youlden’s golden, vocals, which reach Steve Marriott levels of wracked soulfulness. The sotto-voce, mellow blues of “Stay While The Night Is Young” features “Lonesome” Dave Peverett’s acoustic-guitar strum and Simmonds’ fluid, pointillistic electric-guitar solo. (Incidentally, this cozy, subliminally funky music was sampled by a California-based friend who releases excellent instrumental hip-hop under the name DJ Frane.) “When I Was A Young Boy” is that rare specimen—orchestral blues rock—and moving it is.

If I’m hearing this right, “Needle And Spoon” is a bustling, horn-powered paean to heroin. But if it’s sincere, this song pairs poorly with Neil Young’s “The Needle And The Damage Done.”A dynamic blues ballad with the brassy brashness of early Chicago, “I’m Crying” sounds like a hit single, aided by Youlden’s confessional, conspiratorial vocal delivery. Alas, even though their records sold pretty well in America, Savoy Brown never scored a hit here, but smart record collectors can score their best albums for a reasonable price in most used-vinyl bins. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

J.J. Cale “Naturally” (Shelter, 1971)

J.J. Cale’s debut LP sounds as if it were recorded while the leader was on the verge of nodding off to sleep. Even though Naturally is a party album, a driving album, a sex album, a crying album, a mourning album, everything on it sounds muted, swaddled in fluffy blankets, as intimate as pillow talk. The record established from the get-go that ain’t nobody as laid-back as Tulsa, Oklahoma’s J.J. Cale, and ain’t nobody ever leveraged that posture to such sublime songs which somehow achieved commercial success—mostly in the hands of other artists (Er*c Clapt*n, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Cash, et al.).

Now, Cale was relatively old for an artist making his debut full-length (32), but that’s fitting when you take into account the man’s proclivity for doing things unhurriedly. The advantage to this is, Cale’s music burst into the world fully formed and honed to perfection. Naturally proffered all of J.J.’s styles and tics in one 12-song, 33-minute platter, and he spent the ensuing 40-plus years further polishing these modes (country, bluegrass, jazz, blues, and rockabilly, with sly nods to funk). But for many fans, Naturally remains Cale’s peak.

“Call Me The Breeze”—Cale’s first song on his first album—could be his definitive work, something that rarely happens in the music world. In it, J.J.’s spindly, rapid blues-guitar calligraphy wreathes the metronomic drum-machine beats, like Canned Heat in mechanized-mantra mode. It could be classified as “hick motorik,” as one writer for The Stranger put it in a 2009 feature on Cale. Even Cale’s driving songs choogle at a relatively slack pace. This friction-free, country-rock ramble was covered/homaged by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Cash, Spiritualized, Bobby Bare, and others.

Cale’s blues songs don’t seem very brutal, but rather something with which he handles with a minimum of fuss. Nevertheless, his sentiment seems genuine and the spare architecture of tracks such as “Call The Doctor,” “Don’t Go To Strangers,” and “Crying Eyes” convey a light gravitas that appealed to Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized, among many others. Cale’s intimate, gruff vocal style makes every word seem confidential and crucial. Even as he sounds as if he’s a second away from napping, Cale rivets on these blues tunes with his hushed, sandpapery tones. You can hear this to stunning effect on the unlikely single “Magnolia,” a spare, dewy ballad of exquisite beauty. The song is as evanescent as a teardrop, with Cale’s voice so full of regret it can hardly attain audibility.

But Naturally shows that Cale can also go jaunty and celebratory, too, as he does on the Dr. John-like “Woman I Love,” “Bringing It Back,” and “Nowhere To Run,” Cale’s idea of a rowdy Rolling Stones rocker, but still as laid-back as a yogi after a cup of camomile tea. And then there’s “After Midnight,” a subdued party jam that Clapt*n made famous even before J.J.’s album dropped. The subliminal funk of “After Midnight”— thanks largely to Norbert Putnam’s bass, Chuck Browning’s drums, and David Briggs’ piano—turns this classic into a boudoir-friendly slow-burner. (Grateful Dead comrade Merl Saunders covered it on Fire Up. You can read a review of that album here.)

Now let us reflect upon “Crazy Mama,” Cale’s only Top 40 hit and perhaps my fave song by him. From today’s perspective, it seems like a miracle that a tune as minimal and unobtrusive as this would chart, but those were different times. Even mainstream ears had the capacity to cherish music with subtlety in 1972. Despite its hedonistic title, “Crazy Mama” is prime hammock-lazing blues rock, with a slide-guitar solo by Mac Gayden that embodies libidinal ache as articulately as anything I’ve heard in my long life. “Crazy Mama” exemplifies the less-is-more ethos in rock.

Some artists try strenuously to reinvent themselves with every new release. Cale was completely at ease doing his own thing, with minor tweaks, decade after decade. Like the protagonist in “Call Me the Breeze,” Cale “[kept] blowing down the road… Ain’t no change in the weather/Ain’t no change in me.” So gloriously chill, that man and his music were, and the peacefulness that emanates from the latter is priceless. -Buckley Mayfield

Shuggie Otis “Freedom Flight” (Epic, 1971)

Shuggie Otis still isn’t as famous and celebrated as he ought to be. Although his discography is relatively small, his name should be uttered in the same reverent tones the listening public reserves for superstars such as Sylvester Stewart, Jimi Hendrix, and Prince.

Now, Otis’ 1970 debut LP proper Here Comes Shuggie Otis has some stellar moments, but Freedom Flight is where he really blossoms. He would follow it up in 1974 with another classic, Inspiration Information, before going many years without releasing new music. David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label revived interest in Otis’ mellifluous mélange of psychedelia, blues, and funk with its 2001 reissue of Inspiration Information that included four cuts from Freedom Flight. It was one of the best music-biz moves the Talking Heads frontman has ever made.

Otis certainly had connections to some of the top players in the biz thanks to his father, the R&B artist/bandleader Johnny Otis. But still, for a 17-year-old to create an album as ambitious and brilliant as Freedom Flight is astonishing. It’s no wonder legends such as Frank Zappa, Al Kooper, and the Rolling Stones wanted to tap the multi-instrumentalist prodigy’s talents.

Ice Cold Daydream” is a fantastic opening number, complex yet catchy funk rock that could make Sly Stone do the splits out of respect. Shuggie’s guitar effects are sweet as hell, and he plays organ and bass like a badass, too. Somehow I’d gone my whole life not knowing about Mike Kowalski—who’s played with the Beach Boys, Nick Drake, and John Martyn—but he proves himself to be a truly funky drummer. Papa Johnny chips in with percussion, which was very nice of him.

Shuggie flexes his formidable blues muscles on “Me And My Woman” and “Purple.” Written by Gene Barge, the former song is about a roller-coaster romance and though it’s pretty straight-ahead, it’ll put serious lead in your pencil. (Does anyone still use this expression? No? Cool.) Shuggie plays guitar, bass, and keys, and his guitar solo is a thing of ornate beauty, while his rhythm guitar chikka-wakkas are nasty. “Purple” is a simmering, shimmering seven-minute blues stroll that one could imagine working well in a classy strip joint. Shuggie once again excels on guitar, bass, and organ and Jim “Supe” Bradshaw adds crucial harmonica accompaniment.

My two favorite tracks here are “Sweet Thang” and “Strawberry Letter 23.” The former was co-written with certified Dirty Old Man Johnny Otis and received high-powered help from George Duke on organ, Wilton Felder on bass, and Aynsley Dunbar on drums. This is swampy funk that’s greasier than Dr. John’s Gris-Gris in a New Orleans grease fire. “Sweet Thang” is so sexy, I can’t think of a metaphor or simile that’ll do it justice, but your libido will surely throb like it’s never throbbed before. “Strawberry Letter 23” is Shuggie’s most famous song, thanks to the Brothers Johnson’s glazed-soul cover that dominated radio in 1977—and justifiably so. Shuggie plays everything on it, and dozens of listens to his and the Brothers Johnson’s versions cannot diminish the elegant elation that this mellow, pastel soul gem induces. Shuggie’s sleigh and orchestral bells and his gilded, ascending guitar arpeggios lift this song to the seventh circle of heaven. It’s one of the purest expressions of enchantment ever put to tape, up there with Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.”

Finally, the nearly 13-minute “Freedom Flight” is a patiently unfolding, bluesadelic drift that’ll get you floating in the way that a Hendrix jam at its most blissed-out can do. Duke, Dunbar, and Felder appear again, but it’s Richard Aplanalp on tenor sax and oboe who steals the song. Aplanalp played on Bruce Palmer’s The Cycle Is Complete, and it shows. His blowing has that tender yet questing tone that suggests intimacy with the eternal. The band achieves a peaceful, easy feeling, in excelsis. “Freedom Flight” serves as an exclamation mark in lavender haze to an album that’s a manifesto of artistic adventurousness… created, I remind you, by a 17-year-old. -Buckley Mayfield

Ben Sidran “Puttin’ In Time On Planet Earth” (Blue Thumb, 1973)

One wonders how a nerdy-looking, non-famous white keyboardist/singer convinced legends such as Miles Davis drummer Tony Williams, James Brown drummer Clyde Stubblefield, and session bassist Phil Upchurch of Rotary Connection and Chess/Cadet Records fame to back him on his third album, Puttin’ In Time On Planet Earth. Granted, Ben Sidran had co-written Steve Miller Band’s 1969 “Lady Madonna”-biting hit “Space Cowboy,” but still. You wouldn’t think a guy like this would have that kind of clout. Maybe Sidran simply charmed them into the fold, and coaxed Blue Thumb Records to compensate them handsomely? Whatever the case, praise your deity of choice that these cats somehow gathered to lay down this understated gem.

I’ve heard five Ben Sidran albums, and Puttin’ In Time On Planet Earth is the best. Now, the opener, “Full Compass” (which Upchurch wrote), a 39-second burst of flamboyant, Mahavishnu Orchestra-like fusion, is a red herring. But on the next track, “Play The Piano,” Sidran’s true nature emerges. It flaunts Sidran’s hip, Mose Allison-esque vocals that express how doing the thing that the title says is salvation. Sidran tickles out wonderful cascades of chords on the far right side of a grand piano while Upchurch and Stubblefield lift the rhythm from Prime Mates’ “Hot Tamales,” one of the greatest Latin/New Orleans funk songs ever. Your ears will do somersaults of joy. The striding blues jazz of “Have You Heard The News” exudes that irresistible Mose bonhomie and is boosted by the deft Mr. Williams on drums.

Face Your Fears” features old Sidran buddy Steve Miller on acoustic guitar. It’s an inspirational jazz-pop song with Frank Rosolino on trombone and Sidran on Mellotron bringing new tones to the record, and it really soars in the second half thanks to Miller’s wonderfully warped electric-guitar solo and Tim Davis’ blissful backing vocals. “Walking With The Blues” is actually more dulcet smooth jazz than anything that sounds like Howlin’ Wolf. Here, Sidran sings in his most comforting, confidential tones as Bill Perkins exhales sultry, sinuous tenor sax solos. It’s quite precious.

As fine as all of this has been, Planet Earth really peaks on the last two tracks. I’ll be damned if the title track doesn’t share the same rhythm as that B-boy favorite, Can’s “Vitamin C.” Coincidence? I hope not. I love the idea of Clyde Stubblefield paying homage to Jaki Liebezeit. Upchurch lends crucial wah-wah guitar to this very classy approximation of blaxploitation-flick funk, while Sidran peels off keyboard runs that evoke Deodato circa “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)”.

Even better is “Now I Live (And Now My Life Is Done).” An ultra-slinky groove snakes with guile as Sidran vamps with enough verve to make Donald Fagen green with envy while guitarist Curley Cooke is on crystalline form, somewhere between George Benson and Pat Martino. Sidran’s use of bells and boinger percussion toy really add spine-tingles to this surreptitiously funky song. Throughout, Sidran recites an existentialist poem written by doomed 16th-century prisoner Chidiock Tichborne, who was executed for plotting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I. Crazy backstory, right? This is simply one of the most sublime tracks I’ve ever heard, regardless of genre, and alone worth the price of admission, and then some. -Buckley Mayfield

Eddie Harris “I Need Some Money” (Atlantic, 1975)

The late American saxophonist/vocalist Eddie Harris is king of the jazz bargain bin, now that Billy Cobham’s catalog is rising in stock. Nearly all of Harris’ albums go for under $10; if you see one from the late ’60s or ’70s, grab it.

Over his prolific career, Eddie Harris was an adept balladeer, bluesman, straight-ahead bop melodicist, funky party-starter, turbulent free jazzer, and experimentalist with a keen interest in the mind-bending properties of electronic effects. I Need Some Money arrived toward the end of funk’s reign and near the beginning of disco’s dominance, and you can hear Harris and his skilled group seeking ingenious ways to move bodies.

That approach is obvious from the opening track. More than anything, “I Need Some Money” resembles the soulful, swerving funk of the O’Jays, early Commodores, and Larry Young’s Fuel. Harris’ lyrics lament the high cost of living, a common theme in black music of the ’70s, and one that’s proved to be timeless. Hell, it’s been my anthem in this messed-up year of unemployment and limited opportunities. The refrain of “Everything is so damn high!” will prance through your brain for hours. “Get On Down” starts with unsettling stomach-hunger sounds (probably created with a quica) and Eddie saying “excuse me.” A tentative beat percolates and about 100 seconds in, the song shifts into an unstoppable jazz-funk groove that bubbles and shimmies like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious.” Harris drops in some chuckle-worthy scat singing and Leon Thomas-esque yodeling, adding levity to a track that’s almost too much fun. “Get On Down” is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Shifting into a sparser, lower key, “Time To Do Your Thing” is an Afro-Latin percussion fest and a dancin’/romancin’ soundtrack for the carnally advanced. Above all the timbrally interesting beats, Harris’ robust, snaky sax (alluding to Wonder’s “Maybe Your Baby”), Bradley Bobo’s lubricious bass, and Ronald Muldrow’s clanging guitar engage in a vivacious conversation. Harris goes on another tangent with “Carnival,” a weirdly festive exotica excursion. It’s powered by the sort of drum-machine beats that would animate many ’80s synthwave groups, with Harris’ sax FX’d into timbres more associated with synthesizers the instrument Bird and Trane made legendary. African whistle, talking drum, cabasa, and massed, jokey chants add to the track’s otherness.

I Need Some Money‘s peak might be the nearly 12-minute “I Don’t Want Nobody.” Sounding like Spirit Of Eden-era Talk Talk over a decade before the fact, the musicians conjure a gospel-tinged blues of somber majesty. Harris sings through an electric sax at the beginning to feminize his voice while Muldrow’s guitorgan whirs into the church-y mode of Spiritualized’s “Shine A Light.” Rufus Reid’s six-string bass and the guitorgan entwine in a lofty dialogue, as the broken-hearted singer licks his wounds. (“You’ve always said that you love me/That I’d be the only one/You thought of me every night/Why did you say we have a future”). Absolutely crushing. (Trivia: Oh Sees’ John Dwyer is a huge fan.) The album ends with “That’s It,” an alternate-world version of Quincy Jones’ Sanford And Son theme—slower, but just as inspirational and grimy.

From what I’ve read, the title of I Need Some Money was the truth. Alas, Harris didn’t score a hit with it, but in his pursuit of lucre, he inadvertently cut his best album of the decade. If it’s a “sell-out” move, it’s akin to Miles Davis’ similar stab at commercial success that resulted in an uncompromising classic: On The Corner. Bonus: Money still commonly dwells in the cheapie bins. -Buckley Mayfield

Harvey Mandel “The Snake” (Janus, 1972)

The fact that you often see Harvey Mandel’s albums in the used bins is yet more proof that the world’s full of fools. The Detroit-born blues-rock musician is a guitarist’s guitarist who played with some of the best blues-rock musicians of the ’60s (Canned Heat, John Mayall, Charlie Musselwhite) and was thisclose to joining the Rolling Stones. You can hear Mandel auditioning for the slot given to Ron Wood on 1976’s Black And Blue, on which Harv knocked it out of the park on “Hot Stuff” and “Memory Motel.” I can’t be the only one who thought Mick and Keef blundered with their pick (pun intended).

Anyway, Mandel’s string of albums from the late ’60s to the mid ’70s is strong, with The Snake being its peak. Right from go, “The Divining Rod” alerts you to Mandel’s six-string mastery, with its dynamic, swerving rock powered by righteous cowbell. He wrings serpentine, silvery lines of dazzling intricacy and elasticity, and you can tell Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood was listening intently. The zig-zagging, Gábor Szabó-esque jazzadelia of “Pegasus” assumes a Romani tinge thanks to Don “Sugarcane” Harris’ spirited violin coloration. As for “Peruvian Flake,” I learned from the Urban Dictionary that the title’s a slang term for cocaine, so it’s apropos that this song’s quicksilver rock of mind-boggling technical proficiency. It’s kind of shocking that Steely Dan didn’t hire Mandel after this came out.

Some other highlights include “Ode To The Owl,” a moving blues-rock solo guitar tribute to Canned Heat’s Alan Wilson, who died in 1970 at the tragically young age of 27 and “Levitation,” whose sly jazz rock is elevated by Charles Lloyd’s flute, Freddie Roulette’s sublime, pointillistic steel guitar solo, and Kevin Burton’s flamboyant soul-jazz organ solo. My fave cut is “The Snake” (a slightly less sublime and psychedelic version appeared on Mandel’s 1968 debut LP, Christo Redentor). This might be the coolest, most funkadelic track in Mandel’s canon, and as I’ve discovered as a DJ, it segues very well into Herbie Hancock’s “Hang Up Your Hang Ups.” Mandel saved the fieriest for the last with “Bite The Electric Eel.” This is a fried blues-rock jam that can hold its own with Peter Green’s The End Of The Game. The song’s full of staggering showboating, but there’s nothing at all annoying about it.

I paid $1 for my used copy of The Snake, but as it’s the zenith of one of America’s most virtuosic and tone-smart blues-rock guitarists, the album’s worth at least 30 times that. Hot stuff, indeed. -Buckley Mayfield

Kevin Ayers “Bananamour” (Harvest, 1973)

Is this the second-greatest rock album featuring a banana on its cover? Quite possibly. While Bananamour is not quite as important as The Velvet Underground & Nico, it does boast the best song ever about the German vocalist who appeared on the Velvets’ landmark LP. More on that later.

Kevin Ayers’ last LP for the prog-oriented Harvest label, Bananamour isn’t as far out and cerebral as 1970’s Shooting At The Moon or as wonderfully weird as 1969’s Joy Of A Toy, but it has more hits than misses and it contains perhaps the founding Soft Machine member’s greatest composition. More on that later.

Bananamour—a fruity, bilingual portmanteau word that suggests Ayers is not to be taken totally seriously—starts with the woozily beautiful and ominous “Don’t Let It Get You Down (For Rachel),” a ballad redolent of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” and “Carry That Weight.” Ayers’ feeds his voice through a Leslie speaker while backing vocalists Liza Strike and Doris Troy vibrantly burst to the fore with the title chorus. The carefree lope of “Shouting In A Bucket Blues” is elevated by guest musician Steve Hillage’s honeyed, psych-blues-inflected electric guitar, which contrasts with Ayers’ lusciously lugubrious acoustic-guitar strum. Bassist Archie Legget steps to the mic to sing “When Your Parents Go To Sleep,” a brassy, wobbly legged blues-rock ballad about aching hormones. His voice is like a less pugnacious Joe Cocker while the tune resembles the Stones’ “I Got The Blues.” I’m not complaining.

Another impressive guest, Soft Machine organist Mike Ratledge, illuminates “Interview.” With Legget’s bass line getting to the funky nitty-gritty, this is severe blues rock that cuts as deeply as Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well.” Thankfully, this tune gets stranger as it goes, with Ratledge going off into the stratosphere with some mindblowing improv. Another Soft Machine alumnus, the inimitable Robert Wyatt, bestows harmony vocals to the warm, intimate ballad “Hymn.”

Bananamour has a couple of goofy tangents, too. “Oh! Wot A Dream” falls somewhere between Pink Floyd’s “Pow R. Toc H.” and a Bonzo Dog Doodah Band ditty while “Caribbean Moon” comes off as a British take on Nilsson’s “Coconut,” with all the insouciant charm and faux-calypso vibe that that implies. (“Caribbean Moon” appears on the US Sire edition, not the original Harvest release.)

Now for the pièce de résistance (thank you for your patience)—“Decadence,” a chiming, slow-blooming drone-rock epic that portrays the aforementioned Nico as a cold, elusive heartbreaker. A key passage: “Fading flowers in her hair/She’s suffering from wear and tear/She lies in waterfalls of dreams/And never questions what it means/And all along the desert shore/She wanders further evermore/The only thing that’s left to try…/She says to live I have to die.” Harsh, dude. The song’s gradually accelerating and ascending cruise to the stars (Legget’s bass is a spiraling, springy wonder) foreshadows soulful British space-rockers Spiritualized. That is high praise, indeed. You can bet legendary BBC Radio DJ John Peel loved Bananamour. -Buckley Mayfield

Nicky Hopkins/Ry Cooder/Mick Jagger/Bill Wyman/Charlie Watts “Jamming With Edward!” (Rolling Stones, 1972)

I’m not gonna pretend this is an essential album. However! As far as Rolling Stones-affiliated curios go, Jamming With Edward! is an interesting side hustle featuring three members of the then-world’s greatest rock band. Even if they were just messing around, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, and Bill Wyman couldn’t help making compelling music—especially with hugely talented session dudes such as Nicky Hopkins (a frequent accomplice on keys/piano for the Stones ca. 1967-1975) and guitarist Ry Cooder (ex-Captain Beefheart, ex-Ceyleib People) in tow.

Jamming is the operative word for this record—which is usually priced just above bargain-bin prices at most shops. (For those wondering, “Edward” was Hopkins’ nickname.) The back story is, the Stones were waiting for Keith Richards to show up in the studio in the momentous year of 1969 (always a dicey proposition back then), and figuring it not prudent to waste valuable time, they jammed their skinny asses off. The results are occasionally phenomenal—certainly more engrossing than side 6 of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass—and Jamming somehow reached #33 on the US album chart.

Jagger dismissed Jamming in the original edition’s liner notes as “a nice piece of bullshit… which we cut one night in London, England while waiting for our guitar player to get out of bed. It was promptly forgotten (which may have been for the better)… I hope you spend longer listening to this record than we did recording it.” Yo, Mick—this is still way better than She’s The Boss.

First track “The Boudoir Stomp” is a blues-rock shit-kicker that rollicks at the same pace as the superior “Midnight Rambler.” It’s a spicy, hypnotic opening salvo, though, and you’d probably win some friends if you put it on at a bar’s jukebox. (They still have those, right?) The reverent version of Elmore James’ “It Hurts Me Too” thwarts the momentum, but it’s always nice to pay tribute to a blues hero and throw him some change, too.

Edwards Thrump Up” (written by Hopkins, Cooder, and Watts) works up a swift head of steam and mesmerizes like some Delta blues mutation of krautrock. Seriously, Cooder’s guitar sometimes sounds like Neu!’s Michael Rother on the motorik klassik “Hallogallo.” Jagger drops in some spare harmonica and yells here and there while Wyman is the low-key, low-frequency hero with his thrusting thrums. Another ripper is the 11-minute “Blow With Ry,” the LP’s funkiest nugget. Got damn, Charlie is in the pocket here, almost like the Meters’ Zigaboo Modeliste, and Cooder is in lethal, slashing blues-rock mode. Mick convincingly declaims like the bluesman he sometimes pretends to be, albeit sounding as if he’s in the next room and wearing a balaclava.

Following those peaks, though, Jamming descends into inconsequential messing about with “Interlude à la El Hopo” before resuming to burn with the lean, fleet blues-rock of “Highland Fling.” Hopkins’ piano runs are truly stunning.

So, yeah, while the three Stones involved with Jamming probably forgot they even made this sporadically brilliant lark, you would do well to ignore Jagger’s belittling of it and cop a copy for some above-average cheap thrills. -Buckley Mayfield

Fleetwood Mac “Mystery To Me” (Reprise, 1973)

Mystery To Me is one of those sort-of-overlooked Fleetwood Mac albums that came between the Peter Green and Stevie Nicks-Lindsey Buckingham phases. Keyboardist Christine McVie and guitarist Bob Welch dominate the songwriting here; while it’s not the best pre-Rumours Fleetwood Mac album, it does contain a few serious highlights. Your enjoyment of Mystery To Me will be predicated on how much you dig Welch’s Valium’d vox, McVie’s plummy singing, and medium-cool blues rock. The strange thing about this record is that its peak, “Hypnotized,” is an anomaly in the Fleetwood Mac catalog. More about that later.

Side one stands out for a couple of McVie compositions. The peppy, catchy “Believe Me,” the most uptempo tune here, comes across very much like “Homeward Bound” off Bare Trees. “Just Crazy Love” is mildly ebullient pop that hints at Christine’s vibrant songwriting on Rumours. “Forever” shambles in on an odd reggae-rock rhythm that’s endearing almost despite itself. The rambling orchestral, quasi-flamenco rock of “Keep On Going” is unusual for bearing a McVie vocal in a Welch-written song.

Side two’s standout is “For Your Love,” as Fleetwood Mac deploy a a subtly different and dreamier rearrangement of the Yardbirds classic, bolstered by lots of dual-guitar fireworks. In “The City,” Welch explains how he can’t handle New York’s darkness, which is all around—even in Central Park, apparently—as his wah-wah guitar squawk propels a swaggeringly funky blues-rock workout. “Miles Away” is breezy, kinetic rock that makes you want to floor it as you zip down the freeway on a journey to the periphery of your mind, while Welch grinds out some seductive, highly torqued blues rock on “Somebody.”

But the real reason to cop Mystery To Me, is “Hypnotized”—which was a minor US radio hit and covered by the Pointer Sisters on their 1978 album, Energy. Urged along by a coolly detached yet insistent, rolling rhythm and colored by the chillest of spangly guitar embroidery, this song is pure proto-Balearic-beach enchantment. Welch’s mellow-bronze vocals perfectly cap this aptly titled jam. “Hypnotized” is my go-to Fleetwood Mac tune when I’m DJing in a bar and as the night’s winding down and I’m trying to lay the foundation for its boozing patrons to get laid.

Overall, Mystery To Me is a slow-grower that boasts a few cuts that belong on any Fleetwood Mac best-of mixtape. You should still be able to find a used vinyl copy for under $10. -Buckley Mayfield