Wednesday, 18 January 2017

"Yer' Album" by THE JAMES GANG [featuring JOE WALSH] (2000 MCA Records CD Reissue - Bill Szymczyk/Ted Jensen Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...




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Forgiving the cornball artwork (three very un-Rock 'n' Roll photos taken on Bill Szymczyk's camera down by the waterfalls in Kent, Ohio centred by a sepia oldie of the famous American outlaws) and that throwaway Hicksville title "Yer' Album" - I loved everything about THE JAMES GANG. They made a huge sound for a Trio and of course at the centre of that rattle and hum for their first three albums was the brilliance of Joe Walsh's songwriting and playing - the stuff of melodic axeman legend (a man who rocks The Eagles to this day).

That’s not to say that there isn’t indulgence a-plenty on here – unfortunately there is. The nine-minute cover version of The Yardbirds' "Lost Woman" and the twelve-minute Side 2 finisher "Stop" especially are often cited as guilty culprits (Walsh clearly didn't have enough original material). A Gerry Ragavoy and Mort Schumann song initially released by Howard Tate in December 1967 on Verve Records (a Soul dancer with lyrics) and subsequently featured on the "Super Session" album in September 1968 as a guitar-instrumental by Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield - "Stop" most notably comes in for some serious stick. Although it mixes elements of both the Tate and Kooper/Bloomfield takes on the song – TJG's version ambles on for twelve minutes before finishing on silly in-studio dialogue about '...You're not done! Dunn's in California!' An edit would have better. 

Speaking of which - that giggling-in-the-studio "Stone Rap" that opens Side 2 soon tests a person's patience too – but it was an album of the time and when they weren't tweaking accomplished studio cuts like "Collage" and "Take A Look Around" with the new Producer whizz-kid Bill Szymczyk (fresh from triumphs with B. B. King) – they let rip - and laid-down those cuts live. Walsh alludes to this in his short liner-notes-input – they were young and new. I'd argue therefore that despite liberties-taken - this is a 'takes it as you find it' record and you have to allow for that. Here are the CD Reissue/Remaster details...

US released 6 June 2000 - "Yer' Album" by THE JAMES GANG on MCA Records 088 112 282-2 (Barcode 008811228224) is a straightforward CD Remaster of the original 11-track 1969 Debut LP and plays out as follows (49:58 minutes):

1. Introduction (credited as "Tuning part One" on the original LP)
2. Take A Look Around
3. Funk No. 48
4. Bluebird
5. Lost Woman
6. Stone Rap [Side 2]
7. Collage
8. I Don't Have The Time
9. Wrapcity In English
10. Fred
11. Stop
Tracks 1 to 11 are their debut "Yer' Album" - released October 1969 in the USA on Bluesway/ABC Records BLS-6034 and February 1970 in the UK on Stateside SSL 10295. Produced by BILL SZYMCZYK - it entered at 199 and peaked at No. 83 in the US LP charts (didn't chart UK). "Bluebird" is a Buffalo Springfield cover written by Stephen Stills, "Lost Woman" is a Yardbirds cover and "Stop" is a Jerry Ragavoy and Mort Schumann song first aired by Howard Tate and also covered by Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield. Joe Walsh wrote "Take A Look Around", "Wrapcity In English" and "Fred". "Funk No. 48" was co-written by Joe Walsh, Jim Fox and Tom Kriss - "Collage" written by Joe Walsh and Patrick Cullie and "I Don't Have The Time" by Joe Walsh and Jim Fox.

THE JAMES GANG was:
JOE WALSH - Lead Guitar, Keyboards and Lead Vocals
TOM KRISS - Bass and Flute
JIM FOX – Drums

Their "Yer' Album" debut LP hit US shops in its natty gatefold hard-card sleeve in October 1969 on Bluesway/ABC Records - while Blighty had to wait until February 1970 to see it emerge on Stateside. The elaborate pencil drawing by Ladimer Jeric that adorned the inner gatefold takes up all of one side of the four-leaf foldout inlay that also features new comments from Joe Walsh and Jim Fox on the recordings – but no other insightful liner notes unfortunately (the real James Gang photo used on the front cover is beneath the see-through CD tray and the collage photo of the rear sleeve is on the rear inlay).

But the big news is a BILL SZYMCZYK and TED JENSEN Remaster from original tapes - and this unwieldy beast has never sounded better - the acoustics on "Collage" beautifully clear while the band letting rip on the lengthy solo passages of "Stop" sounding like they're on stage in your living room. A nice job done of a difficult transfer...

It opens with 40 seconds of strings and acoustic-guitar referred to on the original album label as "Tuning Part One" - now simply called "Introduction". It immediately segueways into the brill "Take A Look Around" - a typically hooky Walsh keyboard melody with silly word play at the end (it titles this review). Before the single "Funk No.49" from the next album "Rides Again" put them on the chart-map in 1970 - we get its predecessor "Funk No. 48". It rocks in a similar way but it has to be said not as good as the re-done hit did. Far better is their cover of Buffalo Springfield's "Bluebird" - a song so many bands seemed to take to heart. Susan Carter did a version of it with guesting Blood, Sweat & Tears types on her 1970 LP "Wonderful Deeds And Adventures" on Columbia - while Bonnie Raitt did another on her self-titled debut album in 1971 on Warner Brothers (see reviews for both). Here The James Gang add strings and backwards guitars initially only to Neil Young its ass with some hard-rocking thereafter. I've always been ambivalent towards the 'live in the studio' version of "Lost Woman" where TJG sound like Led Zeppelin trying to work out who they are and not quite succeeding. It's good for sure if you like a whig out (dig that Bass and Drums battle) but it's never been my cup of Java really...

After a few moments of stop-start waffle about Take 1 and Take 3 - we get the sublime "Collage"- the kind of song that indicated just how touching Walsh could be as a songwriter when he stopped thrashing his scratch-plate for ten seconds. Over in England Stateside Records debuted the band on 45 a month before the album was released with "Collage" – using it as the B-side to "Funk No. 48" (January 1970 - Stateside SS 2158). But the British single did no business and is (like the UK pressed album) a collectable now. "I Don't Have The Time" is a little too frantic for its own good - while the Gershwin-titled "Wrapcity In English" turns out to be a forlorn string-intro to "Fred" - a droning Walsh riff that goes into a cool Prog guitar flourish towards the finish. And it ends on "Stop" - dominating the Side and the LP with someone else's song.

It's not all genius for sure - but it's Joe Walsh - and that's enough to make me weak at the knees. And I'm thrilled that this CD rocks. Yer' album - I dig it y'all...

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