Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Alvin Lee and The Road To Freedom

"There are many forks on the road to freedom and the road to nowhere is one of them" - Graham Alvin Barnes

Alvin's post Ten Years After career moves must have been a jolt to his fans from the Woodstock days.  He shredded all over two continents and worked his tail off but pulled up in 1972.  "I was in danger of joining the dead before 30 club" he said in his last albums liner notes.  Those liner notes from Still On The Road To Freedom are a wonderful final thought to his tried and true fans that hung his posters and played his music not only for themselves but to others as often as they could.  He wanted freedom from long tour schedules playing every night in huge arenas where "the sound echoed like a freight shed" and "security was armed police with cotton in their ears".  He wanted a life outside of all that and I'm happy for him and his family that he orchestrated that for himself. 

As a player you want your audience as quiet as possible so they can hear the nuances of your singing, playing and tone.  You're putting your heart and soul into it you don't want someone blabbing about how drunk they got last week down front.  Then there are the managers who view you as a commodity.  Alvin wanted freedom from "satisfying other peoples greed" as well as the freedom to make his own music.  He didn't want his music to be "commercially premeditated" and he has in the vault twenty more tunes from the past four years in some various form of finality.  The thirteen on his last album he said he liked the best.

Alvin wanted the music to speak for itself and I can totally get behind his attitude of playing what he wanted whether it was his mad love affair with 1950's rockabilly or even a little fiddle music.  Far from the flat out shredding which I personally loved and he obviously enjoyed his post TYA career is a musical menagerie as if listening to a satellite or college radio station mixing one format after another.  His post TYA carrer is perfectly bookend by his first album On the Road to Freedom and Still on the Road to Freedom.  Drop these two discs into any player and you will have a cornucopia of solid sounds, peaceful tunes, back porch picking, wonderful lyrics and as always some serious shredding flying from all manner of fret boards. 

For new fans or old fans to get a grip on an output that went unnoticed by most but included at least forty one albums (at last count) I'm going to offer up a short suggested Alvin Lee Catalog. 

Shhh - Ten Years After
Undead - Ten Years After (2002- Decca Records)
Cricklewood Green - Ten Years After
Essential Ten Years After - (Chrysalis E2 21857) (the one with the flaming guitar)
On The Road To Freedom
Pure Blues
The Best of Alvin Lee (Rep 5257) (the one where he looks like a 1950's greaser)
Still On The Road To Freedom

Shhh is right up there with Cricklewood Green - I love this album its gritty, it floats, there's a tremendous version of Good Morning Little School Girl, there's a John Lee Hookeresque tune called The Stomp that will make you sit up and take notice.  I Don't Know, That You Don't Know is that soft quiet acoustic number that always fits so well juxtaposed to his high energy singing and playing.  Two Time Momma sounds like something Canned Heat would have done (Goin Up The Country).  Its a great album recorded in 1969 a year before Cricklewood Green.

Undead is a live album that they rushed out because of fame and fortune and well I'm glad they did.  It is a snap shot in time of Ten Years After recorded live in front of a small audience.  It swings, it shreds, its the raw blues, it jams, its the young voice, its the excellent drumming and bass work, its the essence of rock n' roll with all its rolled up sleeves, attitude and energy.  Get the reissue because it includes four additional tracks from the show.  How Alvin just rolls through those live licks is astounding.  It includes the tunes Spoonful, Summertime, Woodchopper's Ball, and Crossroads.  The lads are just in their mid-twenty's, and great liner notes from drummer Ric Lee.

Cricklewood Green is such a great album I've devoted another article to it on a previous post.  The two collections Essential and Best of neatly wrap up the Ten Years After catalog and his post TYA career respectively.  If you need help working out or cleaning the house put Essential in and power through it immaculately.  Essential is a tour de force of high energy Ten Years After spanning their catalog and blistering your speakers.  Alternatively Best of is an outstanding double disc with a breadth of playing styles that will not disappoint.  His cover of I Want You (She So Heavy-Beatles) is phenomenal, crunchy and just plain impressive.  It will grab you right away.  Of course The Bluest Blues is here a song with his neighbor George Harrison to which Alvin was especially proud.

Pure Blues pulls together tracks from his entire career opening with an all acoustic number including both TYA tunes and Alvin Lee solo project tunes.  Thirteen choice cuts across various labels that's a must have and a complete no brainer when it comes to appreciating Alvin's talents and completing your catalog.

And then there is 2012's:
Still on the Road to Freedom what a wonderful farewell to his friends, family and fans.  There's multitude of riffs and formats represented here but it all hangs together wonderfully.  Shades of Mark Knopfler come to the top in the opening cuts and then a blues riff that Little Walter would have been proud of dove tails into a 1950's bop Elvis and Carl Perkins would have fought over.  Walk on Walk Tall is another slight gear shift acoustic finger style number followed by a blues finger style number and then quiet horns introduce Song of the Red Rock Mountain.  Song of the Red Rock mountain is just a beautiful number no lyrics, but stylish playing, that evokes a little spanish/western feel to me with shades of Leo Kottke.  He could have put out a whole album like this and the acoustic, new age folk fans and labels would have had an epiphany.  Still on the Road to Freedom closes out with Love Like a Man Pt. 2 and Alvin unmercifully, unleashes his trade mark power guitar to our delight.  But wait as if to say goodbye there's a surprise and a beautiful quiet hidden track takes a bow at the end.

I'll miss Alvin Lee but I'll never stop listening to his music.  His Crickelwood Green Poster has followed me from home to home, studio to studio and will always have a presence where I create and where I live and remind me what to bring on my road to freedom.

Walk On
Walk Tall
Be Strong
Don't Fall
Walk On
To the End
Be my Friend

(It's a deal Alvin)

Monday, April 08, 2013

Alvin Lee - Cricklwood Green

I was just a kid riding around in the back seat of a fast back mustang when my older brother popped into his eight track player Cricklewood Green.  Up popped Sugar the Road with its stabbing opening riffs, in your face lyrics, "what about the people that scream and shout just give em fifty years and they might work it out" and by the end of that four minute song with its blistering leads I was hooked.

The next song Working on the Road chugs in and at the one minute and fifty mark unleashes a torrent of Alvin Lee licks surrounded by a melodic chorus.  Well then who started rap was it the jazz scat singers who cares Alvin is spitting out lyrics and licks as fast as humanly possible that defy the chugging rhythm section and I'm rockin hard my fifteen year old head.

I'm having a good time headed somewhere in the aftermath of the sixties all in on the peace and love.  I mean hell the President and then his brother, the Vietnam War, dead bodies coming home all over the news along with actual war footage and Nixon being impeached, acid, pot, the summer of love, Woodstock, Selma Alabama and righteousness seems like a helluva lot better way to go than bullshit violence to me 50,000 miles Beneath My Brain.

Screaming at the Stars the intro weaves its way in slowly and the build up is immense and intense with a ferocious bass riff launching into a fuzzed up and out of this world riff that just keeps driving and driving, the bass launching an attack, the guitar answering back all in the tonal fuzz of the time...."yeah, yeah, yeah" never sounded so good.

Can you love me with a thousand eyes?
Can you see right through my bones?
Can you kiss me with a thousand lips?
Can you melt a solid stone?
Can you hear me from a thousand miles
When you're screaming at the stars?
Can you pull me up to jupiter
When I'm all hung up on mars?

And then the rollicking, rolling riff that ties up the end.  Holly shit this music has my attention and "Why the hell have you been hiding this from me"!  My brother tells the story to this day.

A false fade out with another taste of the furious 50,000 mile ending then a sonic intro to a classic Nashville 50's rockabilly back beat, with classic 60's lyrics and blistering Chet Atkins riffs just flying off the fret board.  What the what?  Just relentless playing back in the mix fast and clean shwee. 

Me and My Baby Never Get The Blues....Me and My Baby Never Get Uptight... Me and My Baby Never Do a Damn Thing Right.  I mean how perfect is that sentiment for righteous, rebel love.  Me and My Baby Always Feeling Good Love Each Other Sure No Reason Why We Should the righteous ha in your face lyrics couched in a bouncy up beat swing session and two upbeat songs in a row have you feeling pretty snappy and then in drops the bomb!

Love Like a Man:  Another quintessential riff rumbles along and around the two minute mark builds with organ and slashing full chords and Alvin just takes off flying with shearing rock riffs dashing off the fret board sent through a wonderful distortion and delay and how it builds in a cataclysmic orgy of sound busting through any preconceived notions knitting Hendrix and the Doors together in an aha moment of hey this is what all music should sound like. Forget Clapton is God Alvin Lee has tapped into the consciousness of the cosmos.

Circles comes floating down next through the ethereal with an acoustic guitar.  This is a hall of fame closing song for any concept album a thoughtful introspection with Zepplin like acoustic embellishments and its a beautiful moment, a beautiful outro to a blistering album framed in an atmospheric tonal sense and universe worthy of Arvo Part.

I have got what I once dreamed of As a child, so long ago  
But my life just goes in circles ’Cause one answer I don’t know
Does it matter what I do  

Who will hear me if I cry?  
Does it matter what I do 
Does it matter if I die?

Wow rinsed and complete, cool fresh air filling your lungs after an other worldly immense workout.  But wait Cricklewood Green isn't over it deftly brings back the meaningful heaviness.  As The Sun Still Burns Away slowly comes to the fore an ode to our unconsciousness attitude "as few say thank you for the day".  Alvin is letting us know we aren't living in the right frame as affects of the industrial world stomp through his classic rock n' roll wail blowing apart the soft landing of Circles.  

The beauty of eight tracks is that they wind right around to the beginning again and in moments we're having a good time baby having a ball.  

"Keep Working for your pension until your sixty five don't dig it at all, no, no don't dig it at all"  and has much changed?  

Back in the day when albums were works of art from beginning to end Cricklwood Green sits up on the top shelf.  Alvin Lee has left behind some phenomenal music and we will always have it with us if we are smart enough to look behind the glare of the current media and pop rock commercial fame machine which he stepped away from.  I'm so glad he enjoyed his freedom.  I highly recommend revisiting his catalog his music stands the test of time and Cricklwood Green is his most fully realized album.