Thursday, June 30, 2016

Black Oak Arkansas - King Biscuit Flower Hour

I'm not sure how I first became aware of BOA, but it was probably due to their appearance on TV's Rock Concert, where I became mezmorized by their three guitar attack (!), drivin' rhythm section and the insane stage antics and sweaty sermons from frontman Jim Dandy. I'm positive that a certain David Lee Roth was watching after school that night, as well, because he based his entire career on Dandy's look and moves. Their simple Southern rock tunes were catchy as hell yet easy enough that upon meeting future Gizmo Kenne Highland, the first song that we jammed on was "When Electricity Came to Arkansas" from the Raunch'n'Roll Live album. While that album remains the pinnacle of their sound for me, this CD is a momento of a later, 1976 Reading Festival gig that was aired on the King Biscuit Flower Hour radio show. By this time Harvey Jett found religion (he actually appeared acoustically at my college in Indiana trying to recruit students to Jesus) and left the band to be replaced by keyboardist Marius Penzer. Ruby Starr had also joined the touring company after she added her wild'n'raucus vocals to their hit "Jim Dandy (To the Rescue)" and, besides adding a sexy female counterpoint to Mr. Dandy, she also got to sing a couple of tunes from her album with the band Grey Ghost.

For me, the band was not nearly as hot'n'nasty with the added keyboards and while they thought that they were much improved, it definitely lacked the previous high energy mayhem. They have a good spirit on the opener "Hot Rod", but the keys do detract for me and I really don't care for the synthesizer solo replacing the 2nd guitar lead segment and the guitar/synth trade-off is a little cheesy. Their original "Rock'n'Roll" has some nice'n'heavy guitars but sounds like a try at heavy metal as opposed to their own brand of wild ass southern rock. "Great Balls of Fire" is absolutely appropriate for the band and I dig the dual guitar lead, but it is a bit slicked up, and their "Jim Dandy" (recorded a couple of years prior to the rest of the set, for some reason) is fun'n'rockin' and essentially a dupe of the recorded version - showing that they did become a tight combo by this point.

With two lead guitars riffin'n'roarin' throughout, "Hot & Nasty" is one of more successful raunch'n'roll numbers here, although the downright purty backing vocals are a bit of a shock. "Fist Full" is built on funky keyboards and Ruby's vocals alternating with Jim, but is really a dull, 70's rock number. Starr does a good job on "Maybe I'm Amazed", which properly utilize the keys, even if it doesn't sound anything like BOA - neither does her "Love on Ice", which, while energetic, is sleek to the extreme - like Jefferson Starship backing Janis Joplin!  Oddly, they cover the Guess Who's "When the Band Was Singin' Shakin' All Over" - not bad, but weird since it was an autobiographical song and not something you would expect from BOA - but I guess they were actively trying to tear down any preconceived notions of their sound.

Penzer's keys start "Lord Have Mercy On My Soul" while Dandy sermonizes before the band kicks in with the rockin' song, which again was better served on the expanded Raunch'n'Roll Live version without the keyboards, but Ruby's vocals do add a nice dimension - and the same can be said for "Keep The Faith". Decent takes, for sure, but I guess I just like the rawness of the earlier band. The CD includes an outtake from their Balls of Fire album, the soulful blues of "I'll Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" with guest sax-man John the Baptist - yes, that's what they called him!

OK, so I'm the guys who thinks that Kick Out the Jams is the MC5's best record and that Grand Funk Railroad were at the best before they were an American band, so that's where I'm coming from here. This is a document of a good 70's rock band, but is not the raw abandon of their earlier work. Cool, but not essential.