“Headkeeper” — Dave Mason – Blue Thumb ILPS 9203
“Striking It Rich!” — Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks – Blue Thumb 9204
At long last there is an outlet for the American Blue Thumb record label in this country. Island Records have acquired the rights of their most recent recordings and are issuing them here with the label’s own name and logo on the records. Previously EMI’s Harvest Label had the releasing rights, but what they issued was soon lost in the deluge of other material they were at that time issuing.
But now we have a chance to hear this label’s product. One of the first releases is Headkeeper by Dave Mason, his second solo album and for me it is one of the best rock records available this year. As an import Headkeeper sold in large quantities, which is hardly surprising now that I have had a chance to hear it.
The record has rather a strange history, apart from its delayed release over here. Dave Mason abandoned the album after completing the five numbers on side one, and the second side is made up of tapes of live performances he made at the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles. Apparently Mason wasn’t happy about the way things were going with the record, and the final mixing etc, was done after his departure. He is reputedly unhappy about the record being issued, partly because of the sound quality and partly, I suppose, because of his differences of opinion with Blue Thumb. But the record, especially side one, is a minor masterpiece of intelligent, adult rock ’n roll.
Usually each song is introduced by two or three of the instruments, which, after a few bars are joined by the rest of the band before breaking into the main body of the song. And the words, unlike the trite verses so often just tagged onto a melody line, offer us images that are both meaningful and evocative.
Side two is partly made up of live versions of songs previously available on Mason’s first solo outing, Alone Together. These lose nothing from being live performances, but if one wanted to bitch about re-offering them so quickly on this new album, you could say they were almost exactly the same in sound quality and deliverance as the originals. The other two tracks on this side are Pearly Queen and Feelin’ Alright?, which are songs Mason has recorded in the past when he was with Traffic.
Mason’s relationship with Traffic was seemingly a love/hate one, and it is apparent now that Mason’s departure robbed that group of a guitar style that was an essential ingredient of their sound.
Throughout Headkeeper the guitar work is excellent, whether as part of the over-all sound or on a solo break. The guitar solo on the title track is especially stunning.
The total togetherness the album achieves is obtained from the use of accompanists such as Lonnie Turner (bass) and Mark Jordan (organ and piano). The combination of piano and swirling organ in A Heartache, A Shadow, A Lifetime on side one creates a perfect mood for the romantic lyrics.
In conclusion, records as good as this are hard to find. The album market is continually flooded with many inferior products, which means quite a few fine records go unnoticed. At least give this a listen. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
The second Blue Thumb disc to come out is Striking it Rich! by Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks. This is Dan Hicks and his group’s third album, but his first two, for the American Epic label, have never been released here.
An easy description of the music presented here would be happy and unpretentious. The album, you see, is impossible to categorise. A friend commented that it was ‘high class musak’, which may be true, although I find the carefree singing and playing too well done to be passed off as just that.
At times I am reminded of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five and King Pleasure; in parts, of harmony groups from the fifties, and the album is dotted with nearly every musical cliche in the book.
I am left in a state of wonder by the instrumental solos all through the record, apart from being generally puzzled about the group’s musical background. For instance, the violin break on I Scare Myself is superb, as is the guitar/violin solo/duet on Walkin’ One and Only.
For me this is an immensely enjoyable record. Hear it yourselves and make up your own minds.