Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jeff Beck Group – Beck-ola

Although this album was recorded as the group was on the verge of breaking up (with vocalist Rod Stewart and bassist Ron Wood plotting their defection to the remnants of the Small Faces, who will shorten their name to the Faces and go on to 70’s r’n’r glory), the band still plays with incredible tightness and continues to define late 60’s/early 70’s heavy blues rock, with an emphasis on “heavy”!

Adding drummer Tony Newman and (officially) keyboardist extraordinaire Nicky Hopkins (to make them stand out a little from the rest of the blues rock, guitar-centric bands at the time), the Jeff Beck Group demonstrates what this genre could really sound like in the right hands.

Opening with a manically heavy version of “All Shook Up”, Nicky shows that he is a full fledged member of the group, as the rhythm section work together better than ever and Rod’s voice is in fine form. Beck’s guitar is still the star, though – absolutely perfect tone and superbly creative playing. He doesn’t use any effects but still forms a wide variety of sounds from his Les Paul and Marshall. This record could be used as a textbook for guitar techniques!

As Beck says repeatedly in the liner notes, the band was going for “heavy” and that is what they achieve in “Spanish Boots”. Newman does his best Keith Moon impressions here as Beck pummels his guitar with power chords and then moves to absolutely subtle licks. Then, almost out of nowhere, Wood seems to force a bass solo into the song before the whole thing fades out!

“Girl From Mill Valley” is a divergence from their formula and is actually a pretty piano ballad written by Hopkins. But they return as forceful as ever with their rendition of “Jailhouse Rock” – even Wood’s bass is kicked into overdrive. I do wish that they had more interesting material to work with, but Beck continues to astound me with his playing! Even Hopkins gets a high-energy solo here! The instrumental segments are phenomenal as they pump it up more and more until they just have to fade out.

The original “Plynth” is more great heaviness and a groovy song with wacky breaks played with real precision. This band knew how to play together, even if it was on its last legs! Newman slams his cymbals mercilessly in “The Hangman’s Knee” as the band forms another blues rocker with still more Beck guitar pyrotechnics.

Opening with a riff that Hendrix dug enough to cop for “In From the Storm”, “Rice Pudding” continues to showcase Beck’s immense talents as the band jams through different changes. After several minutes of crazed pounding, the band mellows out and Hopkins creates a nice backdrop for Jeff who lets his slide sing over the top. They return to the rough’n’ready riffing to end out the tune.

The CD release has several bonus tracks, including a version of B.B. King’s “Sweet Little Angel”. They treat this pretty straight, although Beck’s guitar continues to be bogglingly raw and raucous. He shows that he really knows his blues licks, though.

“Throw Down a Line” is a demo that the producer was hoping could be a single. Beck kinda denigrates is as a pop tune, but it is a pretty good song with a nice beat. Actually this sounds like something that Rod might have done on his own later in his solo career.

The final two bonuses are different versions of “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock” – basically the same arrangements with some different instrumental flourishes.

While not as consistent as Truth, Beck-ola is still a great piece of phenomenal guitar playing and truly heavy blues rock.