Repertoire 1996 / Cleopatra 2022
Taking care of nobody’s business, erstwhile Small Face reaches for celestial hootenanny to be high and happy.
It’s not astonishing how much unreleased material was left on the shelf after Steve Marriott’s untimely demise; it’s surprising how much stuff remained unreleased for years, given the music’s quality which warrants frequent reissues of his archives. For all the former mod’s deceptively lackadaisical stance, Steve had a relentless work ethic, beavering away while his colleagues took a break from touring, and this score of cuts – often referred to as “The Scrubbers Sessions” after the moniker bestowed on Marriott’s coterie of kindred spirits, the 1974 sessions overseen in his home studio by ivories player Tim Hinkley – is a testament to that. They didn’t plan to use any of the tracks for any particular ensemble, even though one of the numbers, thanks to the presence of Clem Clempson and Greg Ridley, ended up as a title track of the next HUMBLE PIE album, two other landed on the singer’s eponymous solo LP and THE SMALL FACES reunion platter, and a few provided his ALL STARS with a solid repertoire later on.
Of course, Marriott is his elements when it comes to slowing down Sam Cooke’s “Shake” or speeding up Bo Diddley’s “Mona” where varied grooves bring out the best in Steve’s lead-laden pipes and let him elevate classic rhythm-and-blues to a totally new, hot ‘n’ spicy level – tentatively spaced out in the piano-led pastiche of “Captain Goatcabin’s Balancing Stallions” whose half-drunken choir is hilarious and tight as a drum in “Cocaine” whose organ-oiled funk is infectious. So when Ian Wallace‘s beats drive the effervescent riff of “Street Rat” to the honky-tonk and Mel Collins’ saxes smooth “I Need A Star In My Life” for the vocalist to shine against the song’s shimmer in the most soulful manner, he doesn’t fail to take this robust sonic veneer in his stride. Marriott may allow the vigor slack a bit in the too languid delivery of “Be My Baby” but the energy his harmonica is mustering in the heavy, acidic reading of “Louisiana Blues” – sung by Ridley, Steve’s duetting partner on “It’s All Over” – seems immense, these contrasting classics demonstrating the scope of his talent.
The domestic nature of recording that’s so apparent in the spiritual-like, reverberant “Lend Us A Quid” and “Lord Let Me Hold Out” reveals a previously hidden vulnerability in his voice, it exudes exuberance in spades on “High And Happy” which Marriott and Hinkley shift from merriment to sorrow. Yet then Clempson’s dobro and B.J. Cole’s pedal steel help them direct the acoustic idyll of “Bluegrass Interval” and the melancholy of “I’ll Find You” back to the fields of mirth which will also house the bubbling “Don’t Take But A Few Minutes” – anchored with Boz Burrell’s bass wigout – and once the unhurried roll of “Signed Sealed” closes this collection, the very thought of a label passing on such a rich vein of Steve’s musical missives feels alien.
Fortunately, the tapes got dusted off for everyone to enjoy and miss the late great artists behind them – Marriott, Hinkley, Ridley, Burrell, Wallace – ever more.