GSF 1972 / Talking Elephant 2023
Legendary British artist’s finest offering finds a refreshed, and properly contextualized, outing.
Flying out of Larry Parnes’ nest of talent, this singer didn’t live up to his pseudonym so, although not forgotten, neither Duffy Power’s name nor music are remembered as often as those of Georgie Fame or Billy Fury, yet he laid down enough wonderful tunes to warrant the listeners’ interest, and his flair secured him the backing of such stellar instrumentalists as John McLaughlin, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. However, the man born Ray Howard, an also-ran in the ’60s, understood that the next decade wasn’t about singles and tried to consolidate covers and originals for an album – but 1971’s “Innovations” failed to become one of Transatlantic’s most prominent releases. Enter Adrian Millar, an English entrepreneur and a prospective producer who, upon hearing Duffy’s previously recorded material, all self-penned and largely unissued – at least in Power’s own delivery, as opposed to renditions by the likes of Keith Tippett – decided it had a lot of potential if taken to the studio again. Cue the veteran’s eponymous LP, put out in 1972 to be reshuffled a few years later and fleshed out now with additional, rather important, tracks.
The only reason the crunchy rhythm-and-blues number “Dusty Road” and the tremulous ballad “Be Beside You” didn’t make the cut was these songs’ credit – written by Harvey Shield, not Duffy, the two pieces are present here as both the former’s unpretentious demos and the latter’s blistering renditions, freshly remixed, to highlight Power’s immense skills as an interpreter able to appropriate any tune – yet the titles that landed on the album display the entire spectrum of his voice. Still, while the folk-flavored “Liberation” where the warbler’s scatters rapture over the slider-caressed licks before whipping up a solo on harmonica, or the strings-drenched “Holiday” where he’s playing a seasoned crooner, are impeccable performances focused on restrained drama, the ruminative acoustic outpourings of “Glimpses Of God” and “Song About Jesus” would hardly, despite their spiritual brilliance, be to everyone’s taste, which is why Millar’s “Jumpin’ Jesus” – given to the producer’s charge in 1973 – remained on the shelf for fifty years. Duffy is at his best, as a vocalist and composer, in a romantic mode of the exquisite “Love Song” and “Love Is Shelter” but the upbeat “Little Soldiers” – bolstered by the gospel refrain from Alexis Korner, Dana Gillespie and Boz Burrell, and driven by another Crimsonite, Mike Giles’ drums – and the mellow “Halfway” feel no less fantastic, emphasizing different facets of Power’s approach to melody.
Duffy could sound playfully intimate, as he does on “Lilly” that grows from a country-tinged ditty to a much deeper, despair-colored piece, and gloomy, as on “River” that swells from a stark serenade to a magnificently orchestrated hymn, yet the earlier unheard “Love’s Gonna Go” sees him reveling to the jovial groove. These contrasts are the perfect reflection of the late singer’s genuine power: “Dusty Road” being an attempt to restore the Brit’s glory, it’s about time he joined the pantheon of fellow stars.