Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Undead - Ten Years After

Ten Years After
Deram  DES 18016

When I saw Alvin Lee's obituary last week, I immediately flashed back to all the time I spent in high school playing air guitar to Ten Years After's famous performance of "I'm Going Home" on the "Woodstock" soundtrack album.  To this day I can mentally recall his epic solo by heart.  It was one of my favorite cuts on that album and my favorite part of the movie.  I dug the band in high school but then I started to pay attention to the words of Lee's apathy anthem "I'd Love to Change The World" with its homophobic slurs and complaints about taxing the rich and decided I didn't like him very much anymore.  I do still like this album though from its psychedelic cover to the highly charged blues-rock inside.  I consider it one of their best records.  It was their second album, recorded live at Klooks Kleek in London.  After a brief introduction the band jumps into the swinging "I May Be Wrong, But I Won't Be Wrong Always" with plenty of Lee's trademark lightning fast guitar runs.  Lee was not nearly as imaginative as the top line guitarists of his era, Jimi Hendrix, Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Jerry Garcia, Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page, but his energy and fluidity are impressive.  There is also an organ solo from Chick Churchill and a bass solo from Leo Lyons which seem pedestrian next to Lee's playing.  My biggest knock on the song and the band is that Lee isn't much of a singer, when he tries to get down and get bluesy, he sounds strained.  Fortunately there isn't much singing on the song which goes on for nearly 10 minutes, it is mostly a framework for the extended soloing.  The side concludes with a fast-paced workout on Woody Herman's "Woodchopper's Ball."  This time there is no singing to get in the way of Lee's frenetic fretwork.  It is a dazzling performance.  Churchill takes a lengthy organ solo that is quite engaging but it sounds like it is in slow motion in comparison to Lee.  I could do without Lyons' bass solo which stops the song dead, but Lee's final solo brings the song back to life and he practically has my speakers smoking with his incendiary licks.  Great stuff.  Side two opens with "Spider In Your Web" which is a slow blues that exposes Lee's weak vocals.  Since speed is the essence of Lee's style, this slow tune works against his assets as a guitarist not that the slow tempo stops him from unleashing a torrent of notes but they sound forced and showy.  The more stately pace does give Churchill space to stretch out a little for his solo which I find more convincing than Lee's.  Next up is an instrumental version of "Summertime" which is taken at a faster tempo than normal.  It sounds sort of jazzy and I like it, but it is ruined when it evolves into "Shantung Cabbage" which is the name given to Ric Lee's crappy drum solo which seemingly goes on forever.  The album concludes with "I'm Going Home," the song the band made famous in "Woodstock."  It is a tad slower than the "Woodstock" version but it is tighter and less bloated as well.  It is a thrilling performance and gives the album a rousing finish.  Admittedly this is pretty simple stuff, repetitive blues based riffs with minimal variations and banal lyrical content, Lee's hyper-active playing is the only thing that makes it exciting, if not interesting.  I generally only reach for it when I want to bop around mindlessly, it does get me going that's for sure.  Recommended to air guitarists looking for a challenge.

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