Saturday , April 13 2024
What the Hell Happened to Blood Sweat & Tears

Music Reviews: Blood, Sweat & Tears, plus Sir Douglas Quintet, Marc Jordan, Esther Rose, Muddy Waters, and Eddie Money

Blood, Sweat & Tears garnered some attention with its February 1968 debut album, Child Is Father to the Man, but the jazz-rock group really took off after the release that December of its eponymous sophomore LP. That record, on which Canadian vocalist David Clayton-Thomas replaced Al Kooper, topped U.S. charts, sold millions of copies, and won two Grammys, including album of the year. It also produced three big hit singles with Clayton-Thomas’s “Spinning Wheel” and versions of Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die” and Berry Gordy and Brenda Holloway’s “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.” 

Two years later, though, the group hit a snag when it undertook an Eastern European tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department. The shows—reportedly agreed to in exchange for a U.S. residency permit for Clayton-Thomas—alienated fans who objected to the band’s alliance with the government during the contentious Vietnam War era. The concert series, which covered Yugoslavia, Poland, and Romania, is the focus of a new film and album, both called What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?

“Upon returning to the States after the tour, the group became victim of the significant societal upheaval and culture wars that were polarizing America,” according to a press release announcing the movie and record. “The toxic environment found the band in a crossfire between the right and left and the group suffered greatly as a result.” 

That’s true, though it would be difficult to solely blame the tour for the band’s subsequent decline. Its third album topped U.S. charts around the same time as the Iron Curtain concert series and a fourth LP in 1971 made the Top 10. But the group’s material became increasingly uninspired, and its lineup seemed to change every time you turned around. (Its list of past members and players contains more than 150 names, which might be some sort of record.)

That said, fans of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ early work will want to check out the previously unreleased live album from the 1970 tour. Though sometimes bombastic and never as inventive as the aggregation that delivered Child Is Father to the Man, the Clayton-Thomas­–led version of the band produced spirited, horns-heavy material, much of which is more compelling in the concert versions here than in the familiar studio renditions. 

The CD embraces most of the numbers from the group’s second album, including all three of the aforementioned hits plus covers of Traffic’s “Smiling Phases” and Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.” Also from that LP come “Sometimes in Winter,” a vocal showcase for its composer, Steve Katz, who like Kooper joined the great Blues Project in 1965; and “Blues Part II,” a 15-minute, largely instrumental jam that weds Kooper’s “Something Goin’ On” to excerpts from Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful.” Rounding out the program are versions of the debut album’s “I Can’t Quit Her” and two selections from Blood, Sweat & Tears 3: Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Hi-De-Ho” and Joe Cocker and Chris Stainton’s “Something’s Coming On.”

Also Noteworthy

Sir Douglas Quintet--Texas Tornado Live

Sir Douglas QuintetTexas Tornado LiveThis album captures the Tex-Mex sound of Doug Sahm’s Sir Douglas Quintet in a 1971 concert at L.A.’s famous Troubadour club. The group here includes four-fifths of the original Quintet, two of whom (group leader Doug Sahm and organist Augie Meyers) would subsequently team up with Freddy Fender and accordionist Flaco Jimenez to form the Texas Tornados. The program embraces likable versions of two of Sahm’s three infectious Top 40 hits, 1965’s “She’s About a Mover” and 1969’s Mendocino,” plus the sax-spiced “And It Didn’t Even Bring Me Down” and five other numbers. Note, though, that the playing time is just 29 minutes.

Marc Jordan--Waiting for the Sun to Rise

Marc JordanWaiting for the Sun to RiseThis 15th album from Toronto-based Marc Jordan is a moody pop gem that weds his sublime vocals to gorgeous arrangements for piano and orchestra by producer Lou Pomanti. The material is as good as its presentation: It includes a few well-chosen covers, such as Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress” and Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” but love songs co-written by Jordan predominate, among them the exquisite title cut and the jazzy “Coltrane Plays the Blues.” 

Esther Rose--Safe to Run

Esther RoseSafe to RunNew Orleans–based singer/songwriter Esther Rose has been labeled a country performer and has herself called at least one of her past records a country album. That’s understandable, given that she has covered artists like Hank Williams and made prominent use of instruments such as fiddle and lap steel.

Still, this fine fourth album has more to do with folk, pop, and even the punk that Rose reportedly grew up admiring. Listening to delicately crafted, catchy tracks like “New Magic II” and “Chet Baker,” which keep her intimate vocals prominent in the mix, you’re less likely to think of country than of Belle & Sebastian, the Sundays, early Blondie, or even the Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” This one’s a keeper.

Muddy Waters--Hollywood Blues Summit

Muddy WatersHollywood Blues SummitThis album faces stiff competition from the dozen or so other live albums by the great blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist Muddy Waters, some of which offer much longer programs than this one’s 37-minute, eight-song set. That said, the CD, which preserves a 1971 club gig in L.A., features a capable backup band and spirited performances of such Waters mainstays as “Got My Mojo Working” and Willie Dixon’s “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man.”

Eddie Money--The Covers

Eddie MoneyThe Covers. The late Eddie Money—whose 11 Top 40 hits include “Two Tickets to Paradise,” “Baby Hold On,” and “Take Me Home Tonight”—issued a pair of EPs in 2009 that feature eight well-known songs by other artists. On the recordings, which have just been released on vinyl and a single CD, Money seems more focused on aping the original arrangements than adding anything fresh, and several of his renditions, such as of the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” and the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues,” fall short of the well-known versions. His raspy voice is an excellent match for several of the other numbers, though, including the Four Tops’ “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” and Train’s “Drops of Jupiter.”

About Jeff Burger

Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains half a century's worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.

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