Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jeff Beck Group (1972)

This is the fourth album headed by Jeff Beck since his departure from the Yardbirds, and the second with the second incarnation of the Jeff Beck Group. No more Rod Stewart on vocals and Ronnie Wood on bass. Here we get a different collection of talents, somewhat less popular. Bobby Tench takes over the vocals.

In all honesty, there is no surprise to me that Jeff Beck was never as big as, say, Led Zeppelin. There are arguments about who was the better guitarist - Beck or Jimmy Page - and while Beck's stint in the Yardbirds was a bit more fruitful than Jimmy's (I still think Jimmy's stint is overlooked and underrated, though), there's no doubt why Jimmy became more of a household guitarist over the years. Regardless of who's a better guitarist (as if that wasn't subjective), there are other factors to consider, and Jeff just didn't have the band that Jimmy had. I suspect that another factor is that Jimmy was a rock guitarist, and Jeff ventured into a more experimental - jazz/fusion - territory, which simply isn't as popular (or as accessible) as rock n roll is.

I'm still in the process of "discovering" Jeff Beck. Some guitarists are easier to get into than others. I wasn't even really impressed by Jimi Hendrix at first, but that changed in time. And Jeff Beck was never as exposed as his peers. I have yet to dig into his later material, after he ditched the "group", but for now, his early stuff is what I have to go on.

Jeff Beck Group, the album, has kind of an R&B flavor. And there are a lot of covers, from the likes of Bob Dylan (Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You), Carl Perkins (Glad All Over), and Stevie Wonder (I Got To Have A Song). There is a strong piano presence, and while I'm not much of a piano person, it sounds really good here. However, it does give the album a certain kind of flavor, as you might expect.

I anticipated the standout track to be Beck's cover of Going Down, credited to Don Nix, originally recorded by blues master Freddie King - which, I'll tell you a little secret, is the primary reason I decided to grab this album. I love Beck's treatment of the song. The meandering instrumental parts, and the false stops, it's very rock and roll. And again, the piano sounds great, despite giving it that piano-y type of sound. My only complaint is that I want it to be even heavier. I know a local band that does a really kickass version of this song, just like Jeff Beck's (minus the piano), but even harder, and it sounds fantastic. It's the perfect blend between Beck's instrumentation and King's attack.

For favorites (in addition to Going Down), I have to pick the opening track, Ice Cream Cakes, for the guitar work (of course). But it's the instrumentals that really shine - I Can't Give Back The Love I Feel For You, and the Beck-penned Definitely Maybe, which finishes the album. The latter is a moving piece with some impressive and emotive guitar playing, that at points recalls, for me, the tone of Eddie Hazel's guitar on Funkadelic's Maggot Brain (one of the greatest guitar moments in recorded history). I'd love to hear Jeff Beck do more stuff like that.

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