B&C 1970 / Esoteric 2016
Harnessing gravity, one of the most underrated British bands hit their peak without getting high.
Blindingly brilliant, this quartet should be spoken of in reverential tones but their colors have been covered in patina far too long to sear one’s retina. “Mountains” looms large through the years, though, as a testimony to the group’s marvelous glory and limitations. Had they been able to fashion a memorable melody, everything could’ve been different, and the band tried hard, breaking away here from blues of their first two albums.
The ensemble’s progressive vigor is palpable on a live version of Lionel Hampton’s “Riding On The L&N” that would sometimes stretch up to 30 minutes on stage, but the artists’ intense intent sets things in motion with “I Wouldn’t Have Thought” where Martin Pugh’s insistent riff, delicate strum and slithering solo work up vibrant tension, and Mick Bradley’s marching drums raise the expectancy bar almost unbearably, if subtly. The resolution comes when the foursome let their inner jazzmen take over and open a new perspective to the folk-inspired, acoustic haze of “Leader Of The Ring” and “Levinia” which find Kieran White in his most romantic of voices, while the flamenco-flared title cut’s vocal harmonies reach for higher ground to shake off the halo of “You Are My Sunshine” and glow.
Country-rock speeding up “Henry Lane” and funk of “Walking Down The Road” giving way to a wah-wah-washed tribal dance may greatly enhance the mood, but “Hold That Train” signals a return to bluesy track – with re-energized engine to propel its groove towards the end. Sadly, the only way from mountains is down: STEAMHAMMER’s next album would be drastically different from this one and it would be their last. For them, ascendance to immortality was not an option.