Friday, December 30, 2011

Eric Clapton Blues

I'd long lusted after this double CD of Clapton's blues recordings in the decade between 1970 and 1980 but it had always been too expensive for me to buy in a record shop. Somehow there were many other double CD albums that were cheaper or became cheaper over time. Not this one. Even though it was still expensive I bought it in September 2011 because I had a voucher. Of course I bought 3 other CDs at the same time and still spent a bunch of money but on average the Clapton double album cost me R121 from my own pocket. Not bad.

Clapton is one of my favourite blues guitarists ever, in the top three with Peter Green and Albert King, and his work with Cream initiated me into blues and prompted me to seek out the old bluesmen from the Mississippi Delta, whether they stayed there and played at country juke joints, or went to Chicago, electrified and played taverns on Maxwell Street. Clapton's solo on the live version of "Sleepy Time Time" from Live Cream will always be in my personal top ten of great guitar moments; in fact a lot of his work will be in that top ten list.

I won't pretend to be a Clapton completist. I am fond of the Yardbirds stuff; the tunes he cut with John Mayall are pretty damn amazing and his work with Cream is unsurpassed. That is more or less where I stopped listening to or buying any Clapton release before Unplugged, and then From the Cradle and the two albums dedicated to the music of Robert Johnson. The rock star stuff from the Seventies, Eighties and beyond leaves me mostly cold. I do own 461 Ocean Boulevard and Slowhand but that is mostly because those songs resonate with echoes of my youth and rock radio. I also own Timepieces: Live in the Seventies because it was cheap and I have One More Rider, the live double album from the late nineties because it was cheap, but only the performances on the first named are any good. Obviously the Clapton band is professional and proficient yet they kind of suck the life from the songs they play. It is one thing reinterpreting your best loved songs; it is quite another thing to smother them with sophistication and stagecraft. There is a large pop audience out there for Eric Clapton and kudos to him for finding that audience in the first place and continuing to satisfy it. I prefer the bluesman Clapton and always will.

The general way in which Clapton has dealt with the blues over the years has changed considerably as can be expected from an artist with such a long career. In the early days, when he was young and hungry and played a Gibson Les Paul, it is all fury and attack with the famous "woman tone." When Clapton switched to the Stratocaster he also forsook the youthful brio and found a somewhat brighter yet also mellower sound, sometimes a tad too bright and trebly for my taste. The roar of twin humbuckers is just so much more to my taste than the piercing tone of a single coil pick-up. This was especially true of the Seventies Clapton, when he wanted to be just another guitarist in the band and not the overweening solo star, and it was a great relief to me to hear, in From the Cradle in particular, that Eric Clapton could still play dirty blues and make them count.

If I think of solo artists of the Seventies, Neil Young stands out as the guy whose records from that decade I would want to own, and I do have a bunch. When I think of Eric Clapton the only truly compelling album is Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs. 461 Ocean Boulevard is important but not a desert island disc. Nothing else really matters though I would not mind owning the expanded (CD) version of EC Was Here and perhaps Just One Night, both live sets that showcase different aspects of the repertoire. The first of these had a cover that was highly risqué for Stellenbosch in the mid-Seventies, featuring a close-up photograph of a naked female torso. It was the kind of record cover a hormonally charged teenage boy like me could secretly perve over when flipping through album covers in a record shop. I would have been embarrassed to buy the record though even if Clapton was a legitimate rock god. The music is a mixture of tunes from Blind Faith and Derek & The Dominoes and is weighted on the contemplative, acoustic side of Clapton's repertoire. The original record was flawed in that, as single platter, some songs were faded out long before the actual end of the liver rendition. In those days, it seems, Clapton liked stretching out on his blues.

The later live double album was recorded at the Budokan in Tokyo and is the typical combination of old and new, rock and blues, that was the staple raison d'etre of live albums in the late Seventies, when, after Frampton Comes Alive, record companies woke up to the realisation that this relatively low cost product (no need to book lengthy studio recording time) could be massively profitable. By 1979 Clapton had been a solo pop / rock act for most of the decade, and very successfully for about 5 years, and had a good selection of hits to entertain an audience with, and given that he is a master musician with a crack band behind him, one could expect more powerful, more expanded versions of his hits. The only tracks from this album that interested me were the blues tracks but at the time his updated version of songs like "Rambling on my Mind" did not appeal because of that trebly Stratocaster sound which sounded kinda thin and anaemic to me, compared to the versions with John Mayall or Derek & The Dominoes. In later years I have come to appreciate this sound for what it is, without hankering back to the old days. He moved on and his sound moved on.

I am not a big fan of the pop Clapton, especially the latter day version, from the Phil Collins years in the Eighties to the present. He may have made a number of accomplished, polished non-blues albums and have achieved a good measure of commercial success with them but his laid back pop style is not to my taste, however sincere and committed he may be. I now own the CDs of 461 Ocean Boulevard and Slowhand, mostly because of the significant impact their respective4 hits had on local radio, and I would not mind owning Backless either, simply for the inclusion of the two blues standards "Early In the Morning" and "Floating Bridge", but that would be just about it. The Another Rider live collection was a complete disappointment, even with the inclusion of some old favourites, because the arrangements were so anodyne and lifeless, although I can see where a live audience would have appreciated the big performances. There just does not seem to be much energy in these renditions and reinterpretations. The album of the Cream reunion concerts suffer from the same failure. Most of the venerable Cream tunes sound like Eric Clapton being backed by some anonymous session guys, churning out tired versions of songs for a nightclub audience who are as old as the band members and who are there for nostalgic reasons and not because the music is still vital. Cream once had fire, energy and brio; in 2005 it was just about the money, I guess, regardless of the protestations to the contrary.

It is the bluesman Clapton that I truly appreciate and like. Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs, From the Cradle and the two albums dedicated to the music of Robert Johnson, and even the Riding With The King collaboration with B B King, are the desert island disc Clapton records in my collection. Then there would be the entire Cream oeuvre, and probably also Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton. All of these are, to my mind, imperative choices.

In the Seventies Clapton regularly recorded blues tunes for his albums and interpreted them within the context of his band sound of the time, which often contrasts sharply with the sound and attitude of the specific blues records from 1994 onwards. The blues bottom line is there but the songs tend to sound merely bluesy as opposed to being deep, heartfelt blues.

The first CD of Blues consists of recordings from the Seventies, mostly with the core bands of the time, one track with Derek & The Dominoes, one guitar duet with Duane Allman and a solo recording. Some of these tracks have never been released and some have been taken from their parent albums.

The second CD consists of live recordings from the same period.

The studio set is bookended by two different versions of "Before you Accuse Me." I know the version from Unplugged quite well and the full band take is quite interesting, given that the syncopated interplay between the guitars is reminiscent of "Lay Down Sally" from Slowhand, and typical of the Tulsa sound of J J Cale. It was recorded during the session for Backless, the album that followed Slowhand but this take did not make it to the album. It sets the tone for the type of blues interpretations Eric Clapton essays on most of the tracks on this album. Here the blues is expressed as world weariness and deep melancholy and not particularly insouciant. The approach may be intended as being laid back, in keeping with the general tenor of the Clapton sound and emotional connection to his material, yet some of the tracks, and here I am thinking of the jams on "Meet Me In The Bottom" or "Country Jail Blues", just come across as enervated and lacking in inspired drive. "Meet Me In The Bottom" sounds like an out-take studio jam, with Clapton making up the lyrics as he goes along. No wonder this track is "previously unreleased." Apart from making up the numbers on this album, there is no good reason to have unearthed it from the vault, unless it is intended to illustrate that Clapton and band could have great fun messing around with a well-known blues tune.

Strangely, "Give Me Strength" works better than the blues covers, perhaps exactly because it sounds like a real plea from a man with real problems and is not merely a regurgitation of blues tropes.

The two songs that I am really glad to meet again are "Early In The Morning" from Backless and "Floating Bridge" from Another Ticket. The first of these was the tune that made me want to own the record, as it was the first Clapton blues, other than his work with Cream, I'd heard and by then I already knew Junior Wells and Buddy Guy's version of it too. I'd recorded "Floating Bridge" from the radio but had not been completely on station for the opening minute or two, which gave the taped performance an outer space weirdness I really liked. Great performance of an interesting Sleepy John Estes tune, too, and kudos to Clapton for honouring a relatively obscure country bluesman.

The second interpretation of "Before You Accuse Me" is more of proper blues than the cut that opens the CD. It is rhythmically less interesting yet also rocks harder and has more of the feel of the disgruntlement the lyrics suggest.

It is perhaps the greatest failing of this collection of tunes drawn from a commercially successful and personally bad period in Clapton's life too often sound a tad gutless and enervated. Obviously Clapton plays the blues because he loves them and I would not say that these performances are perfunctory or rote nods to his roots and influences but on occasion, and this holds true for the live set, I would have liked some fire, some intensity. The Englishman's quiet desperation does not inform the blues as well as the oppressed, and repressed, rage of the Mississippi bluesman.

The clue is the inclusion of "Wonderful Tonight" in the live set. It is a beautiful, heartfelt and tender love song to Patti, the opposite of the emotions expressed in "Layla", also about Patti, and the latter song would have been a better fit in a blues context, as it comes from the same tortured space as "Have You Ever Loved A Woman", which is included in the live set.

The problem, though, is not really the song selection but the way in which Clapton performs them. The required intensity is just not there; some of these performances sound like a band going through the motions one more time on old favourites. I appreciate that one cannot expect Clapton to revisit the blistering version of "Crossroads" released on Cream's Wheels of Fire album but I would have hoped for something with more punch and urgency. In a way the version on Blues adumbrates the sound of the reunited Cream at their 2005 Albert Hall concerts and that was the sound of three older guys who no longer can, or want to, play with the same power and raw inventiveness of their youth. The thins is that Eric Clapton was only in his Thirties when the live performances on Blues were recorded and he already sounds like the 60-year old guy at the Albert Hall in 2005.

My belief is that Clapton recorded and performed blues during the Seventies because it is a music he loves and not particularly because he wanted to pursue it as a dedicated genre. For this reason the blues performance had to fit in with the general ambience of the rock tunes and this is why the blues on Blues seem so anaemic compared to the recordings on From The Cradle and Me & Mr Johnson, where Clapton set out to pay dues to the blues. He is always the consummate craftsman and does not overheat the blues, like (for example) Gary Moored, whether ii is with the big Clapton band of the Seventies or with the small combos of the later blues recordings, but this also means that he does not sound all that committed to the material, even if he may have been, presented on Blues.

This double album is probably an excellent compilation to represent a facet of Eric Clapton's recorded and live output during the Seventies. It reflects the fact that Clapton never abandoned the blues and that it formed the bedrock of his oeuvre over the entire length of his highly commercial solo career path following on the high pressure of Cream and the relative failure of Derek & The Dominoes. Although I am somewhat disappointed by the lack of urgency and intensity in most of these blues performances I am nonetheless glad I now own Blues. I will never be a Clapton completist, as I do not much care for his more popular recordings though I will always be appreciative of his take on the blues, whichever way it goes.

Eric Clapton may not be God and he may not be blues incarnate either but he is a jolly fine bluesman all the same.







Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Miles Davis

I love second hand book shops and I love flea market CD stalls. In either one can find amazing bargains and copies of books or albums that are no longer easily available in your mainstream book or CD stores and often one can come across an obscurity that catches the eye and the attention and turns out to be a marvel.

In late December 2011 my wife and I were in Montagu for a couple of days and one our last day, on our way out of town, we stopped at a second books shop about a block from our hotel because my wife was looking for a religious book as Christmas present for her brother . The bookshop is quite large and would have made wonderful browsing for a book fanatic and previously I would happily have spent an hour picking through the stock but I don't do that these days, as I have too many unread books at home.

I did however take the time to look over the small stock of second hand CDs on display in the front of the shop. They were mostly classical music albums but there was some jazz there too. The one jazz album I bought is a live recording of the guitarists Charlie Byrd, Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis.

The other jazz album I bought is Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (1959) in a digitally remastered version.

I do not have a particularly close relationship to jazz and especially not to the kind of jazz played by the various Miles Davis groups over the years or, simply put, modern jazz as whole, which mostly sounds like background mood music to me. The style of jazz I like the most and have liked since I first heard it on records borrowed from the Stellenbosch municipal library is the hot music made by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five and Hot Seven groups of the Twenties and Thirties. This is visceral music that makes me wanna get up and holler. Miles Davis may make music of utmost genius but ultimately it hardly moves my soul.

My mate Sean Rosenberg has a handful of Miles Davis albums he'd bought when he was a student, mostly the classic records from the late Fifties and early Sixties, well before the fusion excursions of the late Sixties. I guess Sean's musical tastes as student were much more sophisticated than mine. Although jazz is deeply rooted in blues it is not the expression of blues I prefer and certainly did not prefer when I was in my early twenties. As I've said, this stuff sounds like dinner party music you play to set a quiet mood in the background. My kind of blues has to be played loudly to work for me.

Back in the early Seventies the Stellenbosch municipal library did not have many modern jazz records and I do not recall any albums by Miles Davis. The library did, however, have John Coltrane's A Love Supreme (1965), which I borrowed, because I knew the name of the artist (and had the impression of him that he was an iconoclastic, revolutionary saxophone player) and listened to a bunch.

The album consisted of two longish tracks on the first side and a 17 minute long track on the second side. This was challenging for me who was very much into short, sharp stabs of rock or blues and my overall impression of the music and my recollection of it after all these years, was that Coltrane had an abrasive, confrontational style of squawks and honks and endlessly spiralling harsh notes that did not sound very musical to me and absolutely not remotely comforting or soothing. This, to me, was anti-jazz, in relation to the type of modern jazz, for example Dave Brubeck or the Modern Jazz Quartet that I had been exposed to at the time. On the one hand this stuff made no sense to me, as I was not musically trained and could therefore not understand or appreciate the intricacies of what Coltrane was doing, yet on the other hand this stuff was so "in yer face" aggressive I made me think of it as jazz with a punk (circa 1976) attitude that made it quite cool to like simply because it was not pretty.

I have listened to a lot of jazz over the years, mostly incidental to other activities and my thoughts on the subject have not changed much. It is still a music I can only appreciate on an intellectual level and it is a music that often, where I have encountered it as a live music, has come across as fussy, technical and highly irritating because the musicians take the music and themselves so seriously. I believe one can study jazz in the same way that one can study classical music, and nowadays can study rock music. Jazz is meant to be an improvisational music and it seems to me to be counterproductive to study it; surely the magic of jazz is in the moment of creation?

I find modern jazz, the acoustic, small group variety, palatable enough. For some reason, though, jazz fusion, whether with classical music, rock or funk, is one of my pet musical hates. The level of virtuosity may be boundless yet the vacuity is often as boundless. One of the worst listening experiences of my life was a record with John McLaughlin and some noted jazz drummer. I could not distinguish between the tracks. To my untutored, primitive ear, each performance sounded the same as the previous or next one on the album, and each of them was pretty dire. The playing was obviously of a high professional standard and the tempos were frenetic yet the emotional impact was nil. It was a pointless record as far as I was concerned.

Many years ago I bought a biography of Miles Davis and more recently I bought a book on the making of Kind of Blue. Although I have not pursued a jazz path, it is always important to have more information on one of the most important jazz artists of my lifetime.

Now, finally, I own a copy of what is thought of as one of the most important records of all times in all genres. There are 5 tracks, all of them over 5 minutes in length; three exceed 9 minutes and one track is longer than 11 minutes. That's a lot of improvisation.

On first listen it seems that the first two tracks, "So What" and "Freddie Freeloader", are based around the same intro theme and are differentiated only by what the musicians do to that theme over the length of two different takes.

"Blue In Green" sounds like the soundtrack to a scene where movie character meanders introspectively down a beach at a cold dawn. It is very pretty and doleful and perhaps it is a million movie soundtrack clichés that brings this visual accompaniment to mind. It is no good listening to even the most revolutionary of music about 53 years after it was recorded, as time and many imitations usually blunts the impact considerably and probably does an injustice to the original purpose and sense of the music. Having said that, I cannot believe that Kind of Blue truly served as some kind of call to arms for a revolution in jazz.

I guess it would help to know something about music to have a complete understanding of what it is that I am listening to. The untutored, primitive ear just hears the superficialities of mood and texture and probably cannot comprehend the complexities of the musical innovation or subtleties of the infinite variations on chord, melody and mode run by the musicians. On the other hand, I know what I like and why I like it and I know why something grips and engages me when it does, and why it does not. One does not have to understand the technique a painter employs to appreciate the work of art and one does not have to know how to read music to feel the visceral attraction of a particular piece.

I find it interesting that for the most part the performances consist of horn solos over the backing of a muted rhythm section of piano, bass and drums. This is quite unlike the busy, sometimes frenetic, style of the Louis Armstrong Hot Five or Hot Seven combos where it seems that all the instrumentalists are fighting it out for space in the tune, none giving way to the others yet none getting in the way of the others. That is a way of playing that is akin to the electric blues band Muddy Waters put together in Chicago in the early Fifties.

In the Miles Davis approach, the soloist has all the space while his fellow horn players lay out, possibly with the intention to listen to his solo more carefully than if they were also playing at the same time, but this method also adds to the feeling of enervation and lethargy. It would have been nice, for example, to hear a duel between Adderley en Coltrane, given that they have such diametrically opposed styles. I guess that kind of thing was reserved for R & B style honkers and was the farthest away from what Miles Davis would possibly have wanted any of his groups to sound like.

Nothing on Kind of Blue sounds out of the ordinary to me. On the face of it, this music is of a piece with all manner of different jazz records released in the Fifties in the so-called cool jazz style. Maybe musical conventions I know nothing of were broken but I can hardly listen to this record and believe that it was anything as important as, say, those first recordings Elvis Presley made for Sun Records, many of which were quite conventional, with only a handful standing out as truly a breakthrough from country and blues to rock and roll.

I can see where Miles Davis achieved commercial success with this music. It is not offensive or weird and would make the perfect background for a hot, lazy day by the pool or a cold evening by the fire, whether you are indolently happy or neurotically depressed. Unfortunately it still comes down to the perception I have of this type of jazz as background music and not music that is interesting or engaging enough to make me sit up an listen intently.

I have come to Kind of Blue as an adult, with a wide and varied interest in music, as evidenced by my very eclectic collection, and it has been a long time since any piece of music affected me to the extent where I became obsessed with it or the artist's output, or where hearing a song for the first time was a light bulb moment. If I choose to explore the music of Miles Davis now, it will be a pursuit driven by curiosity rather than passion.



Thursday, December 15, 2011


In 1972 Elektra Records released Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, a double album of songs from the mid-Sixties by a group of bands who had been influenced and inspired by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dylan and psychedelics to make music that was of the youthful arrogance of musicians breaking new ground and perfect pop. Many of these songs were hits of a kind, if not always Billboard number ones. All of them are great.

In the early Eighties I bought the 1976 re-issue on Sire Records, with a different sleeve to the original. NME had highly recommended the album as at least conceptually an influence on the late Seventies punk movement the NME was championing and had more or less insisted that it was an essential part of the well-dressed record collection. Lenny Kaye, then guitarist in the Patti Smith Group and rock writer, had made the compilation and had written the comprehensive sleeve notes. All in all, Nuggets was a must have.

At the time I my first-hand experience of American rock music from the Sixties was pretty much limited to the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane. The bands on Nuggets came from a completely different angle and, often, geographical location, than the better known mainstream artists. Their basic guiding principle was to write short, fiery pop songs with an edge: that punk attitude that informed the likes of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols roughly ten years later.

The first two volumes of the Encyclopedia of Rock (which I bought in 1974) gave me a theoretical basis for my explorations into rock music by providing brief biographies of the bands and individuals the compilers of the encyclopaedia considered to be the most important rock acts. Volume 2 of the Encyclopedia covered the Sixties and amongst other luminaries, had entries on The Electric Prunes, the Blues Magoos, The Seeds, The 13th Floor Elevators, Standells and The Amboy Dukes. Nuggets afforded me the opportunity of putting a sound to the names. By and large I was blown away by this stuff. It was intensely good end enjoyable fun. The music re-emphasised to me that the experimental Sixties, when bands were trying out new sounds and new experiences, represented the best period in music ever. There was innocence, a naivety and a knowing cynicism all at the same time in the music industry. Particularly in the USA where the music industry was as much a calculated moneymaking enterprise as the movie industry, and where record companies jumped on trends and exploited them to the max for as long as the record buying public could be persuaded to buy the songs from the latest dance craze, and at the same allowed all kinds of weird and wonderful songs out on record and on to the radio. Hence the songs on Nuggets.

Neil Young recorded a version of The Premiers; "Farmer John" for the Weld live double album but could not do justice to the rough and tumble of the original version. "(Just Like) Romeo & Juliet" by Michael and The Messengers is probably the most exciting, revelatory previously unknown to me track on Nuggets. This is the most supreme of one hit wonders and I believe that it is best that the bend was never heard of again. Just for the sake of preserving the pristine sugar rush of this glorious slab of soul inflected doo wop style rock and roll.

There is the glorious mid-period Beatles pastiche of "Lies" by The Knickerbockers or the early electric Dylan pastiche of Mouse's "A Public Execution" or the inspirational version of "Hey Joe" by The Leaves (copied by Japanese psych rockers The Golden Cups) and the snotty snarl of "Let's Talk About Girls" by The Chocolate Watchband, probably my favourite Sixties band of all time.

I could write a eulogy of just about every one of these tracks, as each one is great in its own way, one visceral surge of excitement after another. I would imagine that this album could have been sequenced as an idealised example of perfect, parallel universe style, Sixties pop radio programming. These songs were never Top 40 hits and would therefore not have made it to heavy rotation and that is why it silly to believe in this selection as an accurate reflection of the wonderful world of Sixties pop. Then, as now, a lot of crap made it to the Top 40 and most of the best stuff never did.

The amazing difference between the CD re-issue and my original vinyl copy is that digital remastering gives the tracks far more sonic depth than I knew they had. Perhaps the analogue recording studios and techniques could give these recordings a lustre and a power that belie the relatively primitive times these tunes were recorded in.

Man, I love this kind of stuff! These songs are the reason why I could never get into prog rock. The music on Nuggets is not introspective and the lyrics are not the kind one pores over to seek deeper or hidden meaning. It is the kind of music where you turn up the volume and do a freaky, happy dance.


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Gary Moore’s Blues

When I think of the great blues guitarists Gary Moore does not readily come to mind. A blues shuffle is one of the most basic guitar skills to learn and running up and down the blues scale to construct a riff or a solo is not that difficult to learn and I guess the blues is the base from which many young guitarists start their career even if they progress to something much more technically complicated or just heavier. Jamming on a shuffle in A or E, or any one other key, is one of the commonalities of guitarists the world over, a language two guys from opposite ends of the spectrum can understand.

Gary Moore was a heavy rock guitar player, with Thin Lizzy, a heavy jazz fusion guitarist with Coliseum and had a solo career too, in the rock anthem arena. He is one of those rock artists who had an entire career of which I know little and for which I could care less, as his kind of rock bombast never appealed to me. It is based on the kind of triumphant virtuosity that does not seem to have much more effect than to sound impressive yet have very little visceral impact.

In the early Nineties Moore saw the commercial light and released a trio of blues albums. The trilogy comprised of two studio albums (Still Got The Blues [1990] and After Hours [1992] ) and one live set, Blues Alive (1993). He recorded a mix of blues standards and his own compositions. On at least one track he performed alongside Albert King, whom Moore dubbed "King of the Blues", a title Albert had always claimed though that right had also always been disputed by B B King.

I guess this collaboration with Albert meant that he was a greater influence on Moore's blues style than B B King ever was, given Moore's rather muscular hard rock approach to the blues. I really rate Albert King and, if pushed to make a choice, would prefer him over B B King, good as the latter is, because I like the powerhouse Albert King style. Not that either Albert King or Gary Moore is incapable of subtlety; it just does not seem to be quite the norm. Having said that, Gary Moore also recorded a tribute to Peter Green's blues from the Fleetwood Mac years, called Blues for Greeny (1995) that amply illustrates Moore's ability to replicate the style of one of the most exquisitely tasteful and subtle of blues players.

A couple of years ago and at a now defunct flea market stall on Green Market Square I bought the album Ballads & Blues 1982 - 1994 (2006) that featured, as appears to be mandatory for Gary Moore compilations, "Parisienne Walkways" in a live incarnation, along with some rock ballads and a couple of kind of blurs tracks. I bought the CD because it was very cheap (the inlay was missing) and I was disappointed because it was not that much of a blues album and I do not care for the Moore take on would-be-anthemic rock ballads. Three or maybe only four of the tracks are worth repeated listening. "Blues for Narada", an instrumental, was the biggest surprise of the album, as it is a very moving performance, more blues in conceptual feel than dirty downhome wailing and in the same ballpark as "Parisienne Walkways" as a song that could be a major crowd pleaser at a gig. One can see the thousands of flickering lighters or, as a more contemporary innovation, flickering cell phones.

Having googled the Gary Moore discography I now know that there are even more blues albums than the four released between 1990 and 1995. I have never seen the more recent albums or even been aware of them. Clearly the commercial appeal of the blues remained even amidst the more standard rock fare. I would be so bold as to say, though, that the earlier albums are still the best.

There are a couple of compilations of the 'blues years'. The one I have is Parisienne Walkways: The Blues Collection (2003), which is in fact a compilation of tracks from the blues albums released by Moore, plus the mandatory "Parisienne Walkways", a song on a Phil Lynott solo album and which seems to be so closely identified with Gary Moore that a collection of his songs must include it to have any chance of selling in significant volume. The version generally available is a live version, with an incredibly long sustained note that is probably the moment the listener waits for as the song is not bad but hardly compelling other than for the Moore guitar part. In this instance "Parisienne Walkways" comes from Blues Alive.

I picked up this blues collection for a song at Cash Crusaders. The presence of "Parisienne Walkways" was not a unique selling proposition; in fact, I would have preferred an album without it.

As I recollect Chris Prior played a few of these Gary Moore blues numbers on his late radio show on Radio 5 and they sounded pretty good on the FM airwaves. I really like the blues and have a fondness for good blues rock as well, or maybe I should call it blues influenced rock, as a bunch of bands who have tried to make rock songs out of blues just made crap. The two main issues are the rock rhythm section just cannot get the backbeat that is so necessary to swing the blues and that the lead guitarist believes he should solo as often and as long as he can, usually to boring effect over the length of an album.

Blues is meant to be about feeling and not simple technical ability, awesome as it might be. Gary Moore comes from a musical heritage where he could use his technical skill work for him in the blues context to produce music that satisfies as a whole. The backing musicians are often not, as far as | know, blues musicians but most probably simply top session musicians who can play in any style you require.

On this collection we have few Moore tunes, a couple of standards, including a duet with Albert King on "Oh Pretty Woman" and, significantly, a handful of songs either written by one P A Greenbaum, better known as Peter Green, or associated with the Green-era Fleetwood Mac.

"Oh Pretty woman" is the bravura opening track with a big blues rock guitar attack that belies any semblance of a deep attachment to the spirit of the blues though, of course, the Albert King signature tune, is pretty well standard braggadocio by a bluesman who was never ashamed to grandstand when he could. It is just that the bluster of the rock trappings do not do justice to the song or to the concept. This version could easily have fitted in with the Gary Moore heavy rock show.

I know "Walking By Myself" better in a much more sympathetic treatment by Johnny Winter from Red, Hot and Blue, the second album Winter cut with the Muddy Waters band in the late Seventies, and Moore's take on this Jimmy Rodgers classic is not as leaden as the opening track, yet also not as easily swinging as the Winter interpretation. I guess this is the difference between a guitarist who grew up in Ireland listening to the blues on record and a guitarist who grew up around the Texas juke joints.

"Need Your Love So Bad", "Merry Go Round", "Showbiz Blues" and "Love That Burns" represent the Fleetwood Mac tribute and are the most bluesy and sensitive of the tunes on offer. Moore has an appealing lovelorn voice and does justice to his material here. He cannot quite beat Peter Green at his own game though. Who can? Nonetheless these versions are worth revisiting.

The weirdness on this compilation is a George Harrison song that is rather appealing and melodic but I would hardly have thought of Harrison as a bluesman. The pop smarts of the song works well in this context of good time rocking blues. Great sing-a-long chorus. Coulda been a hit, I guess.

The three versions of "The Sky Is Crying" I know best are by the composer Elmore James, Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Here Moore takes the Albert King approach with piercing, forceful leads though he adds to the more or less dimensional King thing with a nod to Stevie Ray Vaughan's virtuosity. The basic thing one can say about Moore's take on the blues is that is loud end powerful. Unfortunately it is also somewhat too technically proficient and clinical to move me in the way Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf or Albert King move me. The blues should be about a feeling and the feeling Moore gives me is that he is making a commercial move and not a heartfelt one.

The album ends with three Gary Moore compositions: "Cold day In Hell", "Only Fool In Town" and "King of the Blues" and these tunes show that he is facile songwriter who knows his blues moves and can contemporise them to fit in with his big rock anthems. Rock solid rhythm section with melodic lead guitar combined with rousing choruses, is a formula for audience enjoyment and Moore knows how to work a room. He does not write blues from the heart, though. It is an exercise in song writing, albeit a successful exercise, that cannot truly touch the heart or even the gut, at least not mine.

Whereas I have listened a lot to Eric Clapton's blues and will continue to do so. The same applies to early Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green, Michael Bloomfield and even Stevie Ray Vaughan, all of whom were steeped in the blues and tried to do justice to the music and the emotion of it. My feeling is that I won't spend that much time listening to Gary Moore's version of the blues. Owning this compilation has more to do with satisfying my curiosity, after all these years, than with a desire to immerse myself in the man's product. Undoubtedly talented and skilled, yet not nuanced enough for my liking.