Saturday, 9 March 2013

Ten Years After - Stonedhenge

Vinyl Allegiance 

Released in early 1969, Stonedhenge is my favourite Ten Years After album and was described by the band as ‘our most experimental’. The fundamentals are blues and Alvin Lee’s guitar, but jazz elements are very strong, and on opener Going To Try there is a focus on percussion with bongos played by Count Simon (Stable) de la Bedoyere, and Chick Churchill playing the Celeste. The jazz influence arrives early with the quick piano song I Can’t Live Without Lydia written and performed by Churchill.

The boogie blues is asserted in third track, Lee’s Woman Trouble, which presents his distinctive vocal strong in the mix: it isn’t a classic rock voice at all, but its tone is mannered to a rock’n’roll sound and reflects his love of that era and music. The guitar work here is subtle rather than flash: that comes next on Soobly-Dobly-Doobob which features Lee’s signature scat’n’guitar work – the vocal matching the guitar note for note – and Lee also plays Chinese finger fans. My favourite song is fifth Hear Me Calling, another Lee composition, and it is influenced by the band’s love of Canned Heat’s boogie sound, according to Ric Lee who wrote the 2001 liner notes for the cd remaster [and more on my lost vinyl at the end]. This is a wonderfully simple blues boogie that starts gently with its by-now classic descending guitar line and opening melody, up until the drums and bass come booming in. Lee also plays some blistering guitar solo as the song progresses and the boogie rhythm builds and builds, until those brilliant descending notes arrive again. 

Sixth A Sad Song is a slow and brooding number with Lee’s vocal dominating perfectly at the start. It’s a song that builds, Leo Lyons’ bass providing a driving pulse before it quietens to its sad repose. Again, an incredibly simple but effective song.  Seventh, Three Blind Mice, is performed by Ric Lees on drums, a witty alternative to the lengthy and generally requisite rock drum solo.

Eighth No Title is the longest track on the original vinyl at about eight minutes. Again, it’s a song that starts quietly, the beat and melody almost whispered as a preamble to the eruption to come. When Lee’s guitar bursts in, jagged chords breaking the calm, the powerful two-step beat pounds out and then goes soft – this loud/quiet tease all part of the playfulness as Churchill’s extended and at times dissonant organ solo takes over, Lyons’ bass monosyllabic but insistent beneath this. Then it stops, and when it starts again, we are into a jazzier territory with Ric Lee’s drums driving forward now. With special effects too, this is the psychedelic number on the album.

The strength of Ten Years After is obviously in Lee’s guitar playing, but the other band members are critical and I have referred to some of their key moments, but it is of course the whole that best reflects that combined talent. However, ninth track Faro is at just one minute a quick focus on the brilliance of Lyon’s bass playing. Indeed, tenth and final album track Speed Kills has Lyon’s speedy bass playing very much in evidence, and indicative of his key accompaniment to the legendary Woodstock performance of I’m Coming Home, this later number included as a bonus track on the cd.

My strong allegiance to this album is the original vinyl so I won’t write about the bonus tracks [though live tracks further portray the playing excellence of the band], but suffice to say everything is brilliant. Stonedhenge is one of a number of precious original albums that ‘walked’ from my cottage back in the early 70s when I operated an open door policy which I happily broadcast to anyone at all. I suppose I cannot renege on my hippie ideals of the time, but I can rue the fact that too many collectibles got nicked by those not sharing my ideals, or, I guess I have to admit, taking them to a communal extreme!

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