Friday, 20 December 2013

Steamhammer - MKII

Take A Steamhammer Antithetical Ride

This is the classy 1969 second album from British blues and jazz rock band Steamhammer. It doesn’t quite get into my Top 50 [it’s a category still here on the blog if unfinished and neglected of late] because it isn’t an album I grew up with, but the standout song Passing Through is, appearing as it did on the CBS Fill Your Head With Rock sampler which, as I’ve written elsewhere, was one of my earliest albums.

There are great sax solos and support throughout, provided by Steve Joliffe, and these are often accompanied by the silky guitar work of Martin Pugh who also solos sweetly. It is a tight band which was famous and popular for its live act, and Keiran White has a distinctive soothing vocal that I always enjoy, again because of my fondness for Passing Through. Joliffe displays his jazz expertise on the softly chugging blues of Contemporary Chick Con Song, and White croons along whilst Pugh provides an effective but far from virtuoso guitar, and this is actually very much the band’s strength: its collective excellence.

There are the ‘formulaic’ tracks like fifth Turn Around which again [in the context of previously writing about generic seventies music] employs a harpsichord, and this is accompanied by Joliffe’s flute and very pretty vocal harmonising. Things heat up once more after this with sixth 6/8 For Amiran where there is a jazz flute riff and then White playing some bluesy harmonica and Pugh again soloing neatly rather than ripping it up. Seventh is the superb Passing Through which begins with a persistent drumroll rhythm and is distinguished throughout by White’s vocal which I can’t fully explain but know is most effective because of its tone. There is a beautiful electric guitar solo underpinned by an accompanying acoustic rhythm and another electronic effect, perhaps on an overdubbed guitar, and it is just simply a glorious rolling peaceful rock blues.

The album ends on a 16 minute blues rock jam Fran and Dee Take a Ride that probably gets as near to their live act as it can. This too is informed by the band’s signature restraint, certainly on record, where nothing gets let loose, and for Steamhammer that's the band’s hypnotic quality as the music ebbs and flows with consummate control.

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