James Gang, released in 1973. This is the first James Gang album featuring lead guitarist Tommy Bolin after Domenic Troiano left the band.
With guitarist Domenic Troiano out of the picture, the post-Joe Walsh James Gang was able to take their career off life support temporarily by adding guitarist Tommy Bolin beginning with this 1973 release. Having just dissolved his short-lived fusion band Energy, Bolin's creative playing injects a little Miles and Mahavishnu into the usually rocking Gang, most noticeably on "From Another Time." Staccato guitar lines and congas begin the song, an old-style James Gang
boogie fills the middle, and then a sound effect explosion abruptly
brings it all to a jarring, nonsensical close. It's all of the album's
problems in a nutshell since the knotty and the normal are at odds
throughout, although there are many moments to remember. Even if Bolin's
wistful "Alexis" doesn't fit with the other tracks it's a highlight, as
is the opening rocker "Standing in the Rain" where conmen ("Your note
said you went to Charleston/But I know you went to New Mexico) and
cretins ("You left behind a dead father/A sick mother and 4 younger
kids") are forced to face up to love. Bang feels less like a band album and more like talented studio musicians on the loose, but die-hard fans of either the Gang or the late Bolin will enjoy it, if only in fits and starts.
The title of the album gotta qualify as one of the lamest puns ever,
what with the album cover and all - ugh, pretty disgusting. Not surprising,
then, that it was pretty much ignored by critical attention, and even nowadays
this stage in the band's career is casually dismissed as stagnant. Of course,
it's not just because of the lame title: since Joe Walsh The Critical Darling
left the band, nobody really cared much about it. Too bad. Bang
actually shows the band in revitalized form, and the more I listen to it,
the more these songs actually grow on me - in fact, on a song by song level,
it's hardly any worse than Rides Again, and actually, it's much
more consistent, come to think of it.
Of course, nobody can conceal the fact that it's simply a different band.
This is where the guitar function passed to newcomer Tommy Bolin, ex-Zephyr
and future Deep Purple Mark IV member, and the songwriting is pretty much
completely dominated by him, with extra credit sometimes going to
vocalist Roy Kenner and sometimes to Jeff Cook and John Tesar, probably
some of Tommy's buddies that I don't know anything about. Not a single
credit actually goes to Fox or Dale Peters, making the band's rhythm section
exactly what it is - a rhythm section, and nothing more.
But that's good! Those guys could never really write a good song.
And Bolin proves himself a pretty solid master of melody. His lead guitar
skills are strangely subdued on this album; he's nowhere near as prominent
and flashy as he would be in Deep Purple, and those who love the guy for
his impeccable chops can be disappointed, because these chops have to be
seriously looked for - most often, they're to be found in subtle subdued
licks played underneath the lead vocals, and Tommy really lets rip only
in a couple of places. Still, his excellent tasteful style, coupled with
melodies that are vaguely interesting and relatively hook-based, makes
up for a really refreshing and exciting listen. Strange enough, despite
the fact that James Gang came from funk and that Bolin would turn into
funk's strongest propagator in his Purple days, there aren't that many
pure funky rockers on the record - rootsy countryesque rock, straight-up
boogie and moody balladry share an equal function with the funkier stuff,
or maybe even more. But they're decent.
All songs by Tommy Bolin and John Tesar except where noted.
"Standing In The Rain" (Tommy Bolin) – 5:05
"The Devil Is Singing Our Song" – 4:22
"Must Be Love" (Bolin, Jeff Cook) – 3:48
"Alexis" (Tommy Bolin, Cook) – 5:07
"Ride The Wind" (Bolin, Roy Kenner) – 3:45
"Got No Time For Trouble" – 3:47
"Rather Be Alone With You (Song For Dale)" (Kenner) – 2:05
"From Another Time" – 4:00
"Mystery" – 6:10
Roy Kenner – lead vocals, percussion
Tommy Bolin – guitars, backing vocals, Lead Vocal on "Alexis", synthesizer
Dale Peters – bass guitar, backing vocals, percussion
Jim Fox – drums, backing vocals, percussion, keyboards