Polydor 1971-1972 / Angel Air 2015
Straightening their course, Scotland’s finest keep on rolling before their promising trip goes downhill into eternity.
After two successful albums delivered in 1971, STC refactored their formula on many a front. First, bassist Jim Dewar had left to join Robin Trower, so Maggie Bell was free to find a new focus for her vocals; and then, the group’s initial progressive elements got reined in in favor of a more streamlined delivery. All of this resulted in stylistic purity that’s best signified by the singer’s sultry, if sadly short, a cappella take on the traditional “Ailen Mochree” as opposed to the hard rock edge of opener “Big Jim Salter” and “One Five Eight” whose cosmic heaviness is merrily padded with Ronnie Leahy’s organ.
There’s funky abandon to Les Harvey’s riffs and Colin Allen’s drumming that feel so relaxed in the brass-splashed paean to drugs “Mr. Wizard,” yet their bluesy flow infuse “Faces” and Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” with a spiritual uplift, whereas the live rendition of Freddie King’s “Going Down” redresses the balance. But acoustic fibre of “Seven Lakes” offers a perfect ride into the sunset, its jazzy gauze pointing to the band’s swan song: “Ontinuous Performance.” It would always be blackened by Les’ untimely passing – the guitarist was electrocuted and died on-stage – yet his playing on “Niagara,” where the ensemble interplay is at its tightest, and on “Penicillin Blues” feels economic but fiery, while he delivers a stately, if understated, solo on the piano-driven “One More Chance.”
Still, the punchiest tracks of the album were cut with Jimmy McCulloch, en route from THUNDERCLAP NEWMAN to WINGS, whose guitar ups the brass-spiked panache of “Good Time Girl” and soars from the sublime harmonies of “Sunset Cowboy” which pays homage to the CROWS’ fallen hero. It was also a fall for the group as Harvey’s demise sucked the soul of them and, as being cold couldn’t be an option for STC, the quintet broke up soon to never return. A sad story with a great soundtrack.