Friday, December 05, 2008

Cream - Fresh Cream

The cleverly titled first album by the Cream features some of their best known bluesy numbers and while there are some oddities, this does show what they were trying to accomplish as a modern blues-based r’n’r band.

Doo-wop-styled vocalizing opens the first number, “I Feel Free”, before it blasts into a powerful rocker that retains its melody throughout. Clapton’s “woman tone” is on display here and his playing and sound is excellent. I really like the piano embellishments, as well. “N.S.U.” follows and no, I have no idea what these initials stand for, though Bruce seemed to like this type of in joke, as he reprised it in “SWLABR” on Disraeli Gears. This is another strong pop-rocker where Eric really lets loose on the solo with his screaming guitar and Ginger goes a little nuts on his drums. Great stuff, though I do think the vocals are slighter higher in the mix than they should be (even though the voice interaction and harmonies are really well done) – they tend to drown out the instruments at times.

While not exactly a strict blues number, “Sleepy Time Time” is damn close and it shows them experimenting within a blues setting and creating something really fine. Less successful is Bruce’s pop oddity, “Dreaming” (though this is appropriate to follow “Sleepy Time Time”). While I think that Jack could write truly phenomenal songs, I don’t care for these eclectic outings.

“Sweet Wine” is also somewhat unusual but is overall a good rocker, though it has some weird slow sections which seem to have nothing to do with the rest of the song. Clapton gets in his licks which helps rock it up.

They break out Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” to show their true blues creds and they do a damn good job on it! Undeniably nodding to Dixon, they still manage to include enough of their own personality to make this song their own. Excellent!

I also love their take on the traditional instrumental “Cat’s Squirrel” – I think this is the optimum version – rockin’, with terrific harp playing from Jack. Unfortunately, I don’t particularly care for their version of Robert Johnson’s “Four Until Late”, which comes off as an old-timey saloon tune.

But they redeem themselves immediately with a manic take on Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”. Frantic and fierce, with more superb playing all around, including another fantastic Bruce harmonica workout. Absolutely impossible to sit still during this one!

I love their take on Skip James’ “I’m So Glad” – not a traditional blues progression, but a simple number that utilizes dual vocal counterparts to great result and then allows Eric to present a tasteful, melodic and ultra-cool (and reasonably short!) solo! Plenty of super vocal harmony work, too.

Baker’s drum showpiece is “Toad” which starts off as a hard-rocker before moving into the percussion solo, which inevitably is just not very absorbing on record. Ginger’s a terrific drummer, but drum solos are really hard to keep interesting without seeing the person demolishing their kit. This is a logical closer but not a super strong one.

As expected at the time, this was and is a powerful debut album by this volatile and short-lived group.