Saturday, 26 March 2016

"Mike Harrison/Smokestack Lightning/Rainbow Rider" by MIKE HARRISON [of SPOOKY TOOTH] (2016 Beat Goes On 2CD Reissue (BGO) - Andrew Thompson Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...





"...Turning Over..."

Lead Vocalist with England's rockers Spooky Tooth for their first four albums between 1968 and 1970 – Mike Harrison's three solo LPs in the Seventies for Island and Goodear Records have been ignored for decades. Well on the strength of what's presented on this superb 2CD reissue/remaster that's a bit of a boo-boo on the part of us 70ts Rock Music junkies. Across three albums there are clunkers for sure and even mediocrity in places – but that's offset by the properly fab good stuff. Here are the ghostly dental details...

UK released Friday 1 April 2016 (8 April 2016 in the USA) – "Mike Harrison/Smokestack Lightning/Rainbow Rider" by MIKE HARRISON [of Spooky Tooth] on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1224 (Barcode 5017261212245) features Remasters of 3LPs onto 2CDs and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (69:14 minutes):
1. Mother Nature
2. Call It A Day
3. Damian
4. Pain
5. Wait Until Morning [Side 2]
6. Lonely People
7. Hard Headed Woman
8. Here Comes The Queen
Tracks 1 to 8 are his debut solo album (after Spooky Tooth) "Mike Harrison" – released October 1971 in the UK on Island ILPS 9170 and in the USA on Island SMAS-9313 (with the band Junkyard Angel)

9. Tears [aka "Tears (Behind My Eyes)"]
10. Paid My Dues
11. What A Price
12. Wanna Be Free
13. Turning Over [Side 2]
14. Smokestack Lightning
Tracks 9 to 14 are his 2nd solo album "Smokestack Lightning" – released October 1972 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9209 and in the USA on Island SW-9321

Disc 2 (37:07 minutes):
1. Maverick Woman Blues
2. You And Me
3. I'll Keep It With Mine
4. Like A Road (Leading Home)
5. We Can Work It Out
6. Okay Lay Lady Lay [Side 2]
7. Easy
8. Somewhere Over The Rainbow
9. Friend
Tracks 1 to 9 are his 3rd solo album "Rainbow Rider" – released August 1975 in the UK on Goodear Records EAR 7002 and in the USA on Island Records ILPS 9359

As always with BGO - the outer card-slipcase gives the release a classy feel – the 16-page booklet with new NEIL DANIELS liner notes features full album credits, some photos and a potted history on Spooky Tooth and Harrison's solo work with references to previous interviews. But the big news is new 2016 ANDREW THOMPSON Remasters that sound great – big and meaty without over-trebling it. The 2nd and 3rd albums in particular have superb audio - and in the case of the mighty "Smokestack Lightning" track itself – the Remaster really elevates proceedings a whole bunch...

The self-titled self-produced 1971 debut album "Mike Harrison" was made with local Carlisle band JUNKYARD ANGELS (credited on the rear of the cover and not on the label) – Ian Herbert on Lead & Acoustic Guitars, Keyboards and Backing Vocals, Frank Kenyon on Lead and Acoustic Guitars and Backing Vocals, Peter Batey on Bass and Percussion and Kevin Iverson on Drums, Percussion and Backing Vocals. Mike Harrison does Lead Vocals, Piano, Harmonica and Organ - while Arthur Belcher does the Tenor Saxophone solo on "Hard Headed Woman" (also later co-wrote "Friend" on the "Rainbow Rider" LP in 1975 with Harrison).

Rare even in the mid Seventies – British copies of "Mike Harrison" came in a nice looking Island Records gatefold sleeve (repro'd in the booklet) but have always been scarce. As I recall Repertoire did a CD Remaster in 2011 (which I haven't heard) and outside of that – the album's been off-radar for decades. It opens with a mellow acoustic tune called "Mother Tune" penned by Bassist Peter Batey. Its short at 2:05 minutes and its languid high-string guitars deliberately emphasis a Soul feel rather than the heavy raunch of Spooky Tooth (Nice organ work too). It’s followed by "Call It A Day" which Harrison co-wrote with Batey, Herbert and Iverson. It feels like Part 2 of "Mother Tune" but at 6:27 minutes cleverly and unexpectedly fades about four minutes in into a heavenly Acapella vocal chorus that lasts until the end of the song. It's a weird but wonderful Prog Beach Boys moment. Co-written with Lead Guitarist Ian Herbert - "Damian" tries real hard – good lead vocals with clever backing patterns – but it still feels like it misses some kind of mark. Penned by Herbert, Iverson and Kenyon – "Pain" is like Jess Roden's and Robbie Blunt's Bronco – another Island Records band. "Pain" is melodic Guitar-Rock and ends Side 1 on a high note.

There is hiss on "Wait Until The Morning" opens Side 2 on another mellow piano-Rock tune. "...I'll miss you and I hope it keeps you warm..." he sings - sounding not unlike a mellow Steve Marriott (again clever vocal layers as it fades out). "Lonely People" continues the mellow Rock vibe – another pretty contribution by Bassist Peter Batey where Harrison sounds as his most Soulful. At last the album goes into coolsville – his 6:37 minute cover of "Hard Headed Woman" – originally on Cat Stevens' 1970 LP "Tea For The Tillerman". Harrison Funkifies the originally plaintive melody – then a brilliantly clever rhythm change at 2:39 minutes suddenly turns it into Heavy Guitar/Saxophone instrumental groove that wails and rocks like Free until its close. I made an edit on iTunes from 02:39 to 06:37 minutes and its fabulous stuff. The album ends on "Here Comes The Queen" – a co-write with his Spooky Tooth cohort Luther Grosvenor (who later became Aerial Bender with Mott The Hoople). Harrison gives it some great Harmonica licks as the catchy Rock tune shuffles along. Grosvenor put out his own version of "Here Comes The Queen" as a UK 45 on Bronze WIP 6109 with "Heavy Day" on the B-side in September 1971.

Relocating to the States to Muscle Shoals - for his 2nd album Harrison chose to open Side 1 with two Jimmy Stevens compositions - "Paid My Dues" and "Tears (Behind My Eyes)" (which Harrison simply calls "Tears"). They were originally released by the British keyboardist Stevens on his "Don't Freak Me Out" debut album on Atlantic Records K 40414 in 1972 (produced by Maurice Gibb of The Bee Gees). Both are slinky slow bluesy type tunes but Harrison makes a crucial mistake in letting Producer Chris Blackwell (of Island Records) allow Harry Robinson to arrange and put strings onto both. The songs are utterly ruined by it – reduced to saccharine and no amount of reassessment makes the listens any better. It's a shame because both had real potential. Things finally start to cook when Harrison offers us a truly great cover of "What A Price" – a No. 7 R 'n' B hit for Fats Domino on Imperial 5723 way back in January 1961. Across its slinky 5:52 minutes – the Dan Penn-style keyboards, the Duane Allman wah-wah guitars and Clarence Clemons Saxophone are all allowed to breathe - as are his guttural vocals. "What A Price" feels like Frankie Miller firing on all sixes – Rock meets Soulful white boys R 'n' B – and should have been the album's opening salvo. The remaster too is wonderfully expressive. We're then offered Joe Tex's "I Wanna Be Free" – a hard-hitting social statement Tex put out Stateside on Dial Records 3016 back in 1963. "...All I get is a pat on my back...I wanna be free..." – it's a song about a worried father trying to feed his children and earn a decent crust without being dropped on from a height by the man.

The first of the "Smokestack Lightning" album's real highlights comes in the shape of the only original on there – "Turning Over" – a fantastic piano/guitar groover Harrison co-wrote with his Spooky Tooth cohort Luther Grosvenor. This is where the Muscle Shoals players shine (and on the next track too) – Beckett and Clayton laying down a fabulous Allen Toussaint rhythm on piano and organ while the slink is sporadically interrupted by funky guitar chops from Pete Carr. By the time the beautifully complimentary brass sneaks in at 3:29 minutes – you’re done – it’s a 6:32 minute winner (and the remaster rocks too). But then I'm stung with my real poison – a truly stunning and lengthy cover version of the Howlin' Wolf’s signature song "Smokestack Lightning" (Chester Burnett's original 45 was 1956 on Chess 1618). At 12:30 minutes long and taking up almost all of Side 2 – it's been accused of being six minutes too long. Absolute knob. I love this rocking blasting sucker to death. The session players get to let rip in a way that would be the envy of a great Stones session. Barry Beckett and Clayton Ivey play the keys, Pete Carr, Jimmy Johnson and Wayne Perkins get to tear up the guitars while a posse of five bring in the brass. Harrison's growl finally sounds real and connected – and the re-emergence of that most famous of riffs two or three times throughout the song make for a rocking winner. Genius...

Pure supposition here – but If Harrison had lined up "What A Price", "Wanna Be Free", "Turning Over" and "Smokestack Lightning" as Side 1 and recorded an equally quality Side 2 in the same vein (covers and originals) – we would have been looking at one hell of an album – an Eddie Hinton Soul/R&B-type forgotten masterpiece. "Smokestack Lightning" has always seemed short to me as an album and is definitely docked a star by those two ruined Stevens covers on Side 1 – but don't get me wrong - the rest of it for my money is infinitely better than its rather weedy predecessor. I've always thought of the album as a bit of an unsung hero frankly...

"Rainbow Rider" saw him signing to Goodear Records – a label distributed by Pye and CBS with a very varied roster - Chris Stainton's Tundra, Carol Grimes, Viola Wills, The Grease Band, The Rats and his own Spooky Tooth. The album even had a different cover in the USA - pictured on Page 5 of the booklet beneath the British sleeve. Sessionmen for the album included Micky Jones on Guitar (ex The Bystanders, The Attack and Man), Morgan Fisher on Keyboards who would later join the British Lions and Norbert Putnam on Bass from Area Code 615. Del Newman arranged the strings and The Memphis Horns provided brass accompaniment. Kirk Lorange plays slide guitar on the Beatles cover "We Can Work It Out". Harrison sings and plays harmonica.

Goodear tried two 45s in the UK – "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" b/w "Easy" on Goodear EAR 603 in May 1975 and "We Can Work It Out" b/w "Maverick Woman Blues" on Goodear EAR 611 in August 1975 – neither did any business. The album opens with "Maverick Woman Blues" – a Don Nix cover version that was released as a single in Germany on Goodear BF 18355 with "You And Me" on the B-side (a Troy Seals and Will Jennings composition). Nix would later record his version of "Maverick Woman Blues" on his "Skyrider" LP on Cream Records CR 1011 in 1979. "Maverick Woman Blues" opens with grungy guitars and Harrison's trademark 'rawk' vocals – its ZZ Top meets Bad Company meets Foghat – a wicked and gritty boogie number. Things switch into a Funky Rock mode with "You And Me" written by Troy Seals with lyricist Will Jennings. Brother to Jim Seals (of Seals and Crofts) and Dan Seals (of England Dan and John Ford Coley) – Troy Seals would record the song as "You And Me, Me And You" on his own self-titled debut LP "Troy Seals" on Columbia KC 34271 in 1976. Will Jennings would later go on to do huge collaborative lyric projects with Steve Winwood on his solo LPs "Arc Of A Diver" (1981) and "Talking Back To The Night" (1982). Time for Harrison to go all balladeer and for track 3 we get a cover of Bob Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine" – a non-album song the Bobster originally gave to Judy Collins way back in 1965 which she released as a stand-alone 45 on Elektra Records. Harrison completely changes the whimsy upbeat vibe of the Collins version and makes it a more Soulful Rock ballad – a slow bruising beat backed up with great vocals and organ playing. Of all the truly great artists of our time - Dylan is surely the most overdone when it comes to covers – but Mike Harrison's take on "I'll Keep It With Mine" is like a quality Joe Cocker interpretation – different yet wonderfully complimentary.

Penned by the dynamic songwriting duo of Southern boys Don Nix and Dan Penn - "Like A Road (Leading Home)" was initially given to Albert King in 1971 to end his "Lovejoy" album on Stax Records. Harrison gives his cover a slow Southern Soul feel with brass and strings – it's a good version even if his vocals feel at times strained and ever so slightly off-key. At 3:27 minutes – his mandolin Rock-Funk cover of The Beatles "We Can Work It Out" was an obvious but not very successful single. There's interesting synth stuff going on in the 'try to see it my way' centre passage for sure - but it just feels dated and ill-chosen. Things improve immeasurably with "Okay Lay Lady Lay" – 6:35 minutes of wickedly groovy voicebox boogie – another co-write with fellow Spooky Tooth band member Luther Grosvenor. The '20th Century Choir' provide girly vocals to counterpoint Harrison's strangulated Eddie Hinton vocals. "Easy" is a lush ballad that just about gets away with the heavy-on-the-sauce strings – but after all that preceding Southern Boogie funk sounds out of place (its written by Mike Harrison with Aitkin and Brown – two names that elude me). Quite what Harrison or Goodear were thinking when they recorded an iffy version (complete with syrup strings) of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" – the Edgar Harburg and Harold Arlen classic from "The Wizard Of Oz" – is anybody's guess! But that they tried it as a leadoff 45 is unbelievably dumb (best left in the hands of capable interpreters like Nilsson). The side is just about salvaged by the smoochy finisher "Friend" co-written by Mike Harrison with Tenor Saxophonist Arthur Belcher (he puts in the solo on "Hard Headed Woman" on "Mike Harrison"). It's a nice vocal but hardly a great tune (nice bass and keyboards on the remaster).

So there you have it. Re-listening to the three albums in a row and it quickly becomes obvious why each failed to make any real impact on release – they lacked cohesion and needed stronger material too. But despite their patchy nature - as a junkie for Classic 70ts Rock - the good stuff is more than worth the price of admission. Once again well done to Beat Goes On (BGO) for another quality and timely reissue...

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is CLASSIC 1970s ROCK - an E-Book with over 260 entries and 2450 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap). 


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