Brain 1972 / Talking Elephant 2020
Happenstance funsters: rock elite from Blighty build a new sort of rapport across the Atlantic yet find neither fame nor fortune.
Respected as a founding father of British blues – a status bestowed on him by both genre aficionados and renowned alumni of BLUES INCORPORATED, the latter including such future luminaries as Charlie Watts and Jack Bruce – Alexis Korner’s ’70s output has always been criminally overlooked. Still, the records the veteran laid down in that decade, usually in the company of other singing guitarist, Peter Thorup, are rather remarkable, and while NEW CHURCH didn’t enter collective consciousness, despite sharing the bill with KING CRIMSON at THE ROLLING STONES’ Hyde Park performance, CCS’ reeds-adorned covers of LED ZEPPELIN and JACKSON 5 remain adorable even now – and the same can be said of this album.
The LP’s original title was “The Accidental Band” – a reflection of how it came into existence when the duo of Korner and Thorup served as an opening act for HUMBLE PIE in the USA and crossed path with CRIMSON again. As a result, when the 1972 tour reached Louisiana, their new group, SNAPE’s line-up consisted not only of Alexis as axeman and singer and Peter as an arranger, plus drummer Ian Wallace who’d joined them earlier, but also bassist Boz Burrell and sax player Mel Collins. And, of course, there was Steve Marriott when this ensemble and a few of their compadres set up camp in the London studio to preserve for posterity a heady mix of traditional tunes, original songs and classic rhythm-and-blues numbers.
At first, it feels like Korner’s previous collective, with the blare of Mel’s armory filling the groovy sails of “Gospel Ship” and Zoot Money’s piano peppering the sugar-and-spice mélange of Alexis’ and Mike Patto’s distinctive vocals. Yet this ensemble put emphasis on their electric, rather than acoustic, aspect of sound, so Wallace’s steady beat is driving “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer” towards intoxicating, infectious elation, while Marriott’s ear-splitting voice joins in and brass licks mingle with the main man’s twang. His own “Sweet Sympathy” and “Country Shoes” – the record’s banjo-laced finale which will see Steve handle the organ – may be less hurried but these four-strings-punctured pieces are as hot ‘n’ honeyed, whereas “Rock Me” slows things down even more to turn the track’s six-odd minutes into molasses-esque blues, highlighting the ensemble’s abilities once the players go deep into their element and elegantly navigate the viscous waters.
As the leader’s finely layered guitar displays various techniques and sprinkles spiritual chant with wah-wah, the atmosphere seems to get dark, which is why “Don’t Change On Me” transforms silky soul into raucous rumble almost in the blink of an eye, before Boz facilitates the funky, if leisurely, shuffle of “You Got The Power (To Turn Me On)” that gradually builds tension again. And again, Collins’ gentle flute removes the edge letting the entire ensemble and an array of singers, added and abetted by Tim Hinkley’s keys, ignite James Taylor’s “Lo And Behold” to make it smolder with pseudo-religious passion and bristle with multitude of reeds.
There are deceptively simple pleasures strewn across this record, as are the emotions seeping out of it, yet the genuine complexity of what the accidental band did cannot be underestimated – now’s the time to access and love it: it’s that delicately punchy.