Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Alan Jack Civilization - 1969 - Bluesy Mind

Alan Jack Civilization 
Bluesy Mind 

01. I've Got to Find Somebody 2:48
02. Shame on You 2:30
03. What You're Gonna Say 3:10
04. Baby Don't Come Back Home 3:30
05. The Way to the Hells 4:58
06. What's Wrong 6:15
07. Some People 2:05
08. Middle Earth 9:36

Alan Jack (piano, organ, harmonica, vocals)
Claude Olmos (guitar, percussion, vocals)
Richard Fontaine (bass, percussion, flute, vocals)
Jean Falissard (drums, tambourine, percussion, vocals)

France's version of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers ?  France's version of early Savoy Brown ?  Seem like odd comparisons ?  Well, on the surface it might seem so, but having played this album a couple of dozen times over the years, that's the description by feeble Anglo mind keeps coming back to.  And to some extent that's what makes this album interesting.  If this had been released by an English, or American outfit, I doubt most people would have paid much attention to these blues-rock moves ... 

I don't know a great deal about namesake singer/keyboardist Alan Jack.  I'm sure there's lots of information on the man out there, but I've simply never tracked it down and most of what I've found has been in French.  That said, to some extent Jack was almost inconsequential on much of 1969's Jean-Luc Young produced "Bluesy Mind".  Yes, the band was named after him.  Yes, he handled lead vocals, wrote most of the material, and played keyboards.  That said, whenever I listen to the album my attention focuses on left handed lead guitarist Claude Olmos.  Virtually every track benefited from his tight and economical leads, saving most of these eight tracks from becoming little more than pedestrian blues-rockers.  And that's the predominant influence and sound you'll find on this set ...  Judging by material like 'I've Got to Find Somebody', 'What's Wrong' and 'Some People' Jack, Olmos and the rhythm section of  drummer Jean Falissard and bassist Richard Fontaine had clearly been listening to late-1960s UK blues-rock bands like Chicken Shack, Fleetwood Mac, Savoy Brown, and Ten Years After.  That said, there were a couple of interesting exceptions including the hard rocker 'he Way To the Hells' and the mild progressive/psych-tinged 'Middle Earth'.  You also  had to give Jack and company credit for performing all eight tracks in English (extremely rare and almost daring for a late-1960s French band).  The downside was that Jack sounded like he'd learned the lyrics phonetically which gave many of the songs a labored and occasionally unintentionally funny sound.  I know, hearing US, or UK bands singing in French is equally disconcerting.  Still, even overlooking the language issues, Jack's voice was an acquired taste.  He didn't have much in the way of range and when he tried to toughen up his delivery, the results were frequently pitchy, if not borderline irritating.  All of those limitations aside, the results were surprisingly enjoyable and an album that I play quite a bit.  Maybe due to the fact so much late-1960s/early-1970s French bands fall into hideous MOR pop, or pretentious jazz-rock pretense, these guys sounded pretty tight and entertaining.

- 'I've Got to Find Somebody' was a standard blues-rocker that didn't have much going for it any the way of originality.  The chief joy was listening to Jack pronounce 'find' as something that sounded more like 'friend'.   I know, Kim Simmonds wouldn't have sounded much better singing in French.   rating: ** stars
- Opening up with some blistering Olmos lead guitar, 'Shame On You' found the band kicking up the energy level with a nice rocker.   Yeah, Jack's labored English saw the title sounding like 'Same On You', but given Olmos wild fuzz guitar it didn't really matter that much.   Probably the most radio friendly song on the album it was tapped as a French single.   rating: **** stars
- For feat of misleading people technically I wouldn't call 'What You're Gonna Say' psychedelic, but with a slightly acid tinged vocal and Olmos shimmering guitar, it came close.  One of the album's more commercial numbers.   rating: *** stars
- 'Baby Don't You Come Back Home' found the band returning to a blues-rock base.  Professional with Olmos lead guitar again and the band's harmony vocals providing the highlights.  rating: ** stars
- Once you got over the funny spoken word introduction, 'The Way To the Hells' (they're spelling, not mine) served as side one's heaviest performance.  And once again, the spotlight was on Olmos who used the platform for his most varied and extensive solo.    rating: **** stars
- A dark, brooding, blues-rock shuffle, 'What's Wrong' was suitably authentic with Jack howling his way through a traditional tale of love gone wrong.  Unfortunately, in spite of some nice Olmos fuzz lead guitar, it was also about as exciting as large chunks of the UK blues-rock catalog.     rating: ** stars
- Another pedestrian blues-rocker, 'Some People' found Jack apparently trying to do his best John Mayall impersonation.  Didn't do much for me ...  rating: ** stars
- My choice for the album's most interesting (and atypical) performance, 'Middle Earth' found the band dipping their collective toes into a slow-churning slice of progressive rock.  The lyrics were goofy, but he song had a nice, slow building energy propelled by some first rate drumming from Falissard and Olmos' standout performance.   rating: **** stars

As mentioned above, the album was tapped for a French single:

- 1969's 'Shame On You' b/w 'Baby Don't You Come Back Home' (BYG catalog number 129 013)

One of the better late-1960s French rock LP's I've come across ...

The band released one French language non-LP 45 before calling it quits:

- 'N'y Change Rien' b/w 'J'ai Besoin de la Terre' (BYG catalog number 129 022)

Falissard and Olmos subsequently reappeared in the band Alice (they stayed lone enough to record and release the band's debut single).  Olmos then went on to play with a host of bands, including Magma.

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