Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Amboy Dukes - The Amboy Dukes

The Amboy Dukes
The Amboy Dukes
Mainstream  S/6104

I first heard the Amboy Dukes on the "Nuggets" comp shortly before Ted Nugent's rise to stardom with "Cat Scratch Fever."  Nugent became extremely popular at my high school but not with me.  I've never liked his solo work and the more I knew about him, the less I liked him.  There's no denying though that the man can shred and I like the first three Amboy Dukes albums which thankfully do not sound much like his solo records.  This is the Dukes' debut album.  It opens with a cover of Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go" that is based on Them's classic version of it.  This song appeared on the original "Nuggets" comp and deservedly so.  It is one of their best performances.  No matter how many stupid things Nugent says, plays or does, I'll always have some respect for him because of this song.  The band lays down a solid rhythmic groove and Nugent goes to work on top of it with some really spectacular licks, he even quotes Jimi Hendrix at one point.  Yes he's a show-off, but he's got the chops to back it up and his exhibitionism can be fun.  One thing for sure about Nugent, he is nothing if not confident.  He displays this on the next cut, a cover of Cream's "I Feel Free."  Nugent takes on Eric Clapton and holds his own.  I still prefer Cream's version, mostly because of the strength of the rhythm section on the original.  Nugent and rhythm guitarist/vocalist Steve Farmer contribute "Young Love" and "Psalms of Aftermath."  The former is banal practically bubblegum-like although Nugent plays up a storm, the latter is mediocre psychedelia complete with a sitar and pretentious biblical lyrics about the history of man from creation to the apocalypse, it reminds me of Eric Burdon and the Animals at their worst.  The album picks up with the rocking group composition "Colors" which sees the return of Nugent the axe hero.  It has a strong riff and mildly psychedelic lyrics.  Side two begins with another cover, "Let's Go Get Stoned."  It sounds like something you'd hear from a bar band, albeit one with an excellent guitarist.  Farmer and Nugent's "Down on Philips Escalator" is a nice pop psychedelic song with smoking guitar work from the Nuge.  It is my favorite of the originals on the album.  Farmer's waltz-like "The Lovely Lady" has a chamber pop feel to it, it reminds me of Ars Nova which seems like a weird comparison to make for a band led by Ted Nugent.  I like Rick Lober's keyboards and Nugent's delicate cascading guitar runs.  Farmer and Nugent's "Night Time" is a straight ahead rocker driven by a heavy bass line from Bill White with an exciting rave-up courtesy of Nugent.  The Dukes turn to the Who for their final cover, "It's Not True."  It doesn't stray far from the original with T. T. Palmer making a ruckus at his drum kit and Nugent laying down feedback ridden guitar lines over Lober pounding away at the piano à la Nicky Hopkins.  The album ends with "Gimme Love" from Farmer and Nugent.  It is another straight ahead rocker with killer riffing from Nugent that helps the album finish strong.  The Amboy Dukes were basically an ordinary garage band with an extraordinary guitarist.  Their debut album is competent and mostly enjoyable, but it would be utterly forgettable without Nugent's blistering guitar work.  The man was a formidable talent right from the beginning and I think if the band had had better songwriting it probably could have reached the upper echelon of American rock in the 1960s.  Recommended for Shadows of Knight fans who wish the band had a killer guitarist. 

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