The Blues Project
Verve/Folkways/Sundazed LP 5317 LP
Produced by: Tom Wilson
Engineered by: Val Valentin (director of engineering)
Mixed by: N/A
Mastered by: Bob Irwin
Lacquer cut by: WG at Nashville Record Productions
Sundazed Issues Rare Mono Mix of Blues Project Classic
by Michael Fremer
August 01, 2010
The forced revisiting of old, long neglected favorites is one of the great benefits of reviewing reissues. I hadn’t played this chestnut for years, maybe decades and never in the mono mix since by then stereo ruled—at least for me and a small minority of other kids.
I was obsessed back then to find the stereo mixes of everything, not realizing that mono was better for many recordings, like the early Dylans, Stones and Beatles albums, among others.
It wasn’t easy finding stereo releases of rock records in the early to mid sixties. Even at Sam Goody's in Valley Stream, where I used to drive to from Queens as soon as I got my license, didn’t have such a great selection of stereo rock releases. Those that they did have were all segregated in an obscurely placed bin.
I found this one there in stereo in 1966 and so never heard the mono mix. The weird thing is, I just went to look for the stereo original that I know I had and it wasn’t there. It could have been misfiled, which means I may not find it for years. So I can’t compare this to the stereo original. How many times have I seen the stereo original at record conventions for a few bucks and not picked it up because I thought I had it? Don’t ask!
In any case, this Sid Bernstein managed band (well, at least he wrote the liner notes that spelled “Ithaca” “Ithica”) brought Al Koope to the attention of many rock fans (well his face, anyway since no names are included on the jacket), though of course by then he’d played organ on Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited due to a combination of being in the right place at the right time (he was invited to observe by then-producer of the album Tom Wilson who went on to produce this album but not the Dylan album) and Balls with a capital “B.”
Dylan wanted an organ part “Like a Rolling Stone” and Kooper fibbed that he had one. Dylan loved what he came up with and the rest is history of which 100% of kids who bought this album were unaware.
When this, their second album was recorded, the band consisted of Danny Kalb (guitar), Steve Katz (guitar), Andy Kulberg (bass, flute), Roy Blumenfeld (drums) and Kooper on organ and most vocals. For some of us from Queens (Kooper grew up literally around the corner from me), it was clear that these boys had “Yiddische kups” or as Jaime Pressly so famously said it on The Howard Stern Show a few years ago, they had been “slapped a Yarmulke.” This made many of us very proud.
The eclectic album features a catchy hard-blues opener, a dramatically tuneful “Steve’s Song” (by Katz) that resembles something Tim Buckley might have penned, a decent cover of Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me,” and a long, extended Kooper blues extravaganza pulled from Muddy’s “Two Trains Running” that these young suburbanites pull off surprisingly well thanks to Kalb’s guitar wizardry and Kooper’s soulful singing.
Side two follows side one’s formula starting with another uptempo blues romp, “Wake Me, Shake Me” arranged by Kooper followed by Bob Lind’s tuneful pop confection “Cheryl’s Going Home.” But then the group hits a breezy, jazzy stride with Kooper’s “Flute Thing,” which holds up remarkably well all these years later and presages his turn to jazz with Blood Sweat and Tears. Speaking of which Jimmy Reed’s “Caress Me Baby” sounds like it informs “Something’s Going On” from the first BS&T album. The closer “Fly Away,” another Reed tune is done as a folksy, jazzy shuffle with a lonesome echo drenched harmonica part.
This is a relatively long and ambitious production packed with good tunes and even better playing. Few albums from that period were as eclectic, with nods to jazz, blues, folk and even early psychedelia. As for the production, well, it’s not great and nothing Sundazed could do would make it better. The sound is kind of hard and high frequency limited with a slightly metallic aftertaste, though a few tunes are better than others and overall it’s not offensive sounding.
I can’t remember the stereo mix but the mono works really well to fill out and strengthen a somewhat weak recording. If you remember this and you copy disappeared in a cannabis haze or your roommate or ex-wife took it, you’ll enjoy the reconnect. If you’re too young for that, you might enjoy hearing when youngsters could really play the blooze.
Thanks to Michael over at http://www.musicangle.com for the exclusive rights to reprint this material.
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