Saturday, 14 May 2016

"Bare Wires" by JOHN MAYALL'S BLUES BREAKERS (2007 Decca 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Open Up A New Door..."

When this CD was reissued in September 2007 – John Mayall had released his 55th album in 2005 called “Road Dogs”. This strapping Cheshire lad with the Blues hot-wired into his very DNA is 84 in November 2016 and still touring – wow!

In November 1968 Mayall would release the brilliant "Blues From Laurel Canyon" album only months after the June 1968 issue of the equally cool "Bare Wires". And on re-listening to this wicked CD remaster today (expertly transferred from first generation Stereo master tapes by Paschal Byrne) – I'm not in the least bit surprised we're still loving "Wires" and "Laurel Canyon" from that explosively creative decade. These albums represented John Mayall at the height of his Blues Rock songwriting powers – complimented by a band that featured collective genius in the shapes of Chris Mercer and Dick Heckstall-Smith on Saxophones, Jon Hiseman on Drums, Henry Lowther on Cornet and Violin, Tony Reeves on Bass and of course the future Rolling Stones guitar genius of Mick Taylor. And all of this musical exploration helmed by Mayall working Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica and four different types of keyboards. What’s not to love? And it’s less than a fiver in most places. Here is the Saxophone flicks, groovy chicks and zippy licks...

UK released September 2007 – "Bare Wires" by JOHN MAYALL'S BLUES BREAKERS on Decca 984 217-8 (Barcode 602498421789) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD and plays out as follows (73:58 minutes):

1. Bare Wires Suite (22:59 minutes)
(a) Bare Wires
(b) Where Did I Belong
(c) I Started Walking
(d) Open Up A New Door
(e) Fire
(f) I Know Now
(g) Look In The Mirror

2. I'm A Stranger [Side 2]
3. No Reply
4. Hartley Quits
5. Killing Time
6. She's Too Young
7. Sandy
Tracks 1 to 7 are the album "Bare Wires" – released June 1968 in the UK on Decca LK 4972 (Mono) and SKL 4945 (Stereo) in the USA on London PS 537 in Stereo only (the Stereo mix is used for the CD). The album was co-produced by Blue Horizon label boss MIKE VERNON with John Mayall – and peaked at No. 3 on the UK LP charts - No. 59 in the USA – credited in both countries to JOHN MAYALL'S BLUES BREAKERS.

8. Picture On The Wall
9. Jenny
Tracks 8 and 9 are the non-album MONO A&B-sides of a UK 7" single released February 1968 on Decca F 12732

10. Knocker's Step Forward
11. Hide And Seek
Tracks 10 and 11 are session outtakes recorded April 1968 that first appeared on the October 1971 UK compilation LP "Thru The Years" on Decca SKL 5086

12. Intro – Look At The Girl
13. Start Walkin'
Tracks 12 and 13 recorded at Falmer College, Brighton, UK on 25 May 1968 that were first released April 1983 on the "Primal Solos" LP in the UK on Decca TAB 66.

The 16-page booklet is beautifully laid out. There is a collage of black and white photos of the band in the studio, playing live at various UK venues, British and US trade adverts for the Decca album and even the lyrics at the end. Punctuating the period snaps (many in colour) are really informative and knowledgeable liner notes from MARK POWELL - head honcho at the revered Esoteric Recordings CD reissue company. And all of that reissue goodness is complimented by the best bit...the Audio...

PASCHAL BYRNE has done stunning Remasters at The Audio Arching Company in London from original tapes. Byrne has a long-standing Audio Engineer career and multiple prestigious reissue credits to his name (he also did the Mayall “So Many Roads” 4CD Anthology Book Set in 2010).  His work here is exemplary – great presence – the tracks allowed to breath so you can hear the musicians and not dampened to avoid hiss. This CD sounds fabulous...

The album is somewhat dominated by the 7-part 23-minute "Bare Wires Suite" - a kind of English Blues meets Frank Zappa avant-garde Jazz wig out. Each band member gets their soloist part - Mayall opening proceedings on a lone organ. And just when you think it's all getting out of hand - he slows the pace in "I Know Now" section singing "...they'll be needing me to lean on much more..." before bringing it all home with Saxophones on the last part. Even today it stands up and doesn't feel as long as its playing time would suggest.

Side 2 opens with some slinky Georgie Fame nightclub organ - "I'm A Stranger" sounding just fabulous - all Bluesy and Jazz at one and the same time. A 'one, two, three' count in prefaces the Harmonica shuffle boogie of the very cool "No Reply" while the band's goes all Colosseum with the Jazz/Guitar rock of the salacious yet honest "She's So Young" - a song about a lass whose just about to turn seventeen - an event our John is a little too eager to see arrive. It ends on the weird Acoustic Slide Blues of "Sandy" - the kind of ditty you'd hear on a John Mellencamp album in 1989.

But what elevates this CD reissue into the solid 5-star bracket is the superb extras - all six are more than worthy inclusions. "Picture On The Wall" is the kind of sliding Dobro Blues Rock that I adore slinking along like a naughty brat enjoying himself too much. That single's B-side is "Jenny" - a four and half-minute Slow Crawl that sounds like deep Fleetwood Mac Blues complete with that 'Mono' echo on the guitar and repeated vocals (the remaster here is so clean). The Stereo duo of 1968 outtakes that turned up on the 1971 compilation "Thru The Years" feature amazing guitar and Sax work on "Knocker's Step Forward" - an instrumental that boogies - and a rocking Harmonica and Guitar driver called "Hide And Seek" - which is just great. The live stuff only shows what a shin-kicking band they were live.

So there you have it - "Bare Wires" is still a wickedly good album and I can understand why kids in Blighty pushed it up to No. 3 on the LP charts. The Decca platter that followed in November 1968 "Blues From Laurel Canyon" was another winner cut from pretty much the same cloth (see separate review). And I’ll wear those duds any day of the week...

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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