Storm at the bottom of the barrel brings up some brilliant gems.
His recording career was so short that one can’t stop wondering how this guitarist managed to make so much music which keeps on piquing interest and firing imagination decades after Tommy Bolin’s death. Over the years, there’s been more than a few archival releases, including a record with the American’s tapes augmented by his today’s colleagues, like it is here with the “Sooner Or Later” swing. But Whirlwind” still feels more than another bout of barrel-scraping, not least because the two discs on offer add much to the listener’s perception of the great late rock casualty.
Perhaps, the 26-minute-long version of “Marching Bag” that would become “Marching Powder” on Bolin’s solo debut, “Teaser” from 1975, comes on too raw to enjoy all the stylistic strains it accumulates – unlike the ripping funk of “From Another Time” that burns every nerve – yet with Tommy everything usually was about the groove. Such an emotional rhythm is very tangible in the percussive “Dungeon” with its organ jive and an “Apache” quote, and 1972’s jazzy “Hoka-Hay!”, a Billy Cobham-flavored opener of many an ENERGY concert. One of the earliest tracks here, it echoes one of the latest, “Gotta Dance,” which the axeman tentatively jammed on with DEEP PURPLE and planned to include on the third album under his own name. Which, of course, wasn’t to be.
Bolin’s abundance of ideas could rival that of Jimi Hendrix’s, whose influence is all over the stereo-busting blues of “Heartlight” and “San Francisco River,” but there’s an unfamilar, and touching, side to Tommy’s playing in the acoustic country ditty “Way It’s Always Been” – pining voice, prairie roll, a porthole from the assault – whereas the instrumental “Sleepwalker” with its muscular slider workout hits harder here than on the album it eventually landed. It’s interesting to follow the artist’s creative process that’s on display in the unplugged reading of “Wild Dogs” and vibrant demos of “Alexis” or “Spanish Lover” that the guitarist laid down before joining JAMES GANG and heightening its cosmic tension for their “Bang” LP: it’s in this process that the allure of the “Whirlwind” lies.