Sunday, 10 January 2010

"It Ain’t Easy" by (LONG) JOHN BALDRY [feat Rod Stewart and Elton John Bands] (2005 Warner Brothers 'Expanded' CD - Dan Hersch Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"…When You’re Going Down…"

When Nashville songwriter Ron Davies wrote "It Ain't Easy" for his 1970 LP "Silent Song Through The Land" (A&M SP-4264) - he probably had no idea that huge rock acts would then take his unknown song and name TWO entire albums after it – THREE DOG NIGHT in 1970 and (LONG) JOHN BALDRY in 1971. Many will also be aware of the song through David Bowie's cover on Side 1 of 1972's "Ziggy Stardust". Even Dave Edmunds had a go for his debut album "Rockpile" on Regal Zonophone - also in 1972 (see separate review). "It Ain't Easy" was just one of those cool rock tracks that lent itself to other artists who then somehow made it 'their' song. Baldry (who loved bluesy based acoustic tunes) was also clearly partial to its charms (lyrics above)...

The LP "It Ain't Easy" by JOHN BALDRY was released on Warner Brothers WS 1921 in June 1971 in the USA and on Warner Brothers K 46088 in the UK. This UK-released 29 August 2005 CD Reissue on Warner Brothers 8122784642 (Barcode 081227846428) bolsters up the original 9-track album with 6 bonus outtakes and 1 Radio Spot. The cover uses the US artwork (the UK front and rear sleeve was different, but is unfortunately not featured anywhere on this reissue) while the booklet provides session details for each song (excepting the bonus tracks). The recording of the album also involved a large cast of British rock notables (all listed below) - but first here's a detailed track-by-track breakdown (69:11 minutes):

1. Intro: Conditional Discharge
2. Don't Try To Lay No Boogie-Woogie On The King Of Rock And Roll [Jeff Thomas song]
3. Black Girl [Huddie Ledbetter aka Leadbelly cover]
4. It Ain't Easy [Ron Davies song]
5. Morning, Morning [Fugs cover]
6. I'm Ready [Willie Dixon song/Muddy Waters cover]
7. Let's Burn Down The Cornfield [Randy Newman cover]
8. Mr. Robin [Leslie Duncan cover]
9. Rock Me When He's Gone [Elton John/Bernie Taupin song - Exclusive Track]
10. Flying [Ronnie Lane-Rod Stewart-Ronnie Wood song/Faces cover]

11. Going Down Slow [a St. Louis Jimmy cover - 1941 Blues track - real name Jimmy Burke Oden]
12. Blues (Cornbread, Meat And Molasses) [Sonny Terry/Brownie McGhee cover]
13. Love In Vain [Robert Johnson cover]
14. Midnight Hour Blues [Leroy Carr cover]
15. Black Girl [Alternate Take]
16. It Ain't Easy [Alternate Take]
17. I'm Ready [Alternate Take]
18. Radio Spot [30-Second Spoken Advert for the US Market made in 1971 - it talks about LBJ and Fleetwood Mac leaving the UK to tour and "...storm America"]

The band for the ROD STEWART sessions was:
Lead Vocals - LONG JOHN BALDRY (12-String Guitar on "Black Girl")
Guitars - RON WOOD (of Faces, Rolling Stones) [Tracks 2, 4, 5, 6, 16 and 17]
Guitars and Pedal Steel Guitar - SAM MITCHELL [Tracks 1 to 5, 15 and 16]
Mandolin - RAY JACKSON (of Lindisfarne) on "Black Girl" and "Morning Morning"
Tenor Sax Solo - ALAN SKIDMORE on "Don't Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie..."
Drums - MICKIE WALLER (of Steampacket)
Backing Vocals - MAGGIE BELL (of Stone The Crows) on "Black Girl" and "It Ain't Easy"

The band for the ELTON JOHN sessions was:
Guitars - CALEB QUAYE and JOSHUA M'BOPO (of Hookfoot)
Backing Vocals - Lesley Duncan, Madelene Bell, Doris Troy, Kay Garner, Liza Strike, Tony Burrows, Tony Hazzard and Roger Cook

The original green label of the US and UK vinyl albums is aped on the CD label, the 12-page inlay has affectionate and information liner notes by SID GRIFFIN and the expert remastering has been carried out by Rhino's long-time tape associate DAN HERSH.

It sounds just brilliant - analogue warm and in your face for all the right reasons. At times in fact it feels like the FACES unleashed - both acoustically and in full-on band mode. Music wise - this is pre "Every Picture Tells A Story" and "Madman Across The Water" - I mention these albums specifically because Side 1 sounds like "Picture" (produced by Rod and featuring his backing band), while Side 2 sounds like a more rockier version of "Madman" (produced by Elton etc). Couple this with great song selections (fast and folky alike) and Baldry's British toff speaking voice sounding like a guttural fired-up Eric Burden when he sings and the effect is magical...

But the real fireworks for me come in the blistering bonus tracks. Faces and Mercury-years Rod Stewart fans will flip for these - 4 are acoustic (11, 12, 14 and 15), while the other 2 are band orientated (16 and 17). In fact it almost sounds like these tracks represent the true spirit of the sessions - an unplugged pure blues album trying desperately to get out - get past all that production. Infuriatingly, it doesn't say who plays the harmonica and acoustic guitar on the fabulous version of "Going Down Slow" or the weird cello intro on the Alternate "Black Girl"?

A fabulous little reissue then - and it compliments his second album for Warner Brothers that followed shortly afterwards "Everything Stops For Tea" which is also now reissued.

In June 1964, Long John Baldry & The Hoochie Coochie Men released an obscure UK 7" single on United Artists UP 1056. Its B-side - a raucous cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe's gospel tune "Up Above My Head" - featured an uncredited duet vocal with a sensational new singer (it was Rod Stewart's first vinyl appearance). You have to say that Rod The Mod certainly repaid the gallant Englishman for this launching pad, when he put together this wicked little album for him in 1971 at the behest of Joe Smith - President of Warners.

With Baldry lost to us since 2005 - this is a lovely way to remember him. And well done to all those involved for finally seeing it reissued. Rest in Peace you British beauty... 


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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