Friday, April 7, 2017

Keef Hartley - 1969 - Halfbreed

Keef Hartley Band

01. Sacked 7:55
a. Hearts And Flowers
b. Confusion Theme
c. The Halfbreed
02. Born To Die 10:01
03. Sinnin' For You 5:54
04. Leavin' Trunk 5:58
05. Just To Cry 6:22
06. Too Much Thinking 5:33
07. Leave It 'Til The Morning 3:28
08. Think It Over / Too Much To Take 0:36

Miller Anderson - Vocals, Guitar
Peter Dines - Organ, Harpsichord
Spit James - Guitar
Gary Thain - Bass Guitar
Keef Hartley - Drums
Henry Lowther - Trumpet, Violin, Brass arrangements
Harry Beckett - Trumpet
Lynn Dobson - Tenor Sax, Flute
Chris Mercer - Tenor Sax

Drummer Keef Hartley replaced Aynsley Dunbar in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (about half of the United Kingdom seemingly having played for Mayall at one time or another).  After a two year stint with Mayall, Hartley was either fired, or (depending on which story you subscribe to), Mayall suggested Hartley consider starting his own band.  Either way, 1968 saw Hartley forming the cleverly-titled Keef Hartley Band.  Recruiting keyboardist Peter 'Dino' Dines, singer Owen Finnegan, guitarist Spit James (aka Ian Cruikshank) and bassist Gary Thain, the group was quickly signed by Deram.

Produced by Neil Slaven and reportedly recorded in just three days, 1969's "Healfbreed" was originally recorded with Owen Finnegan handling lead vocals, but Hartley and Deram executives were apparently unhappy with the results.  Sam Holland was briefly brought in as a replacement, but the tracks were eventually re-recorded with Miller Anderson handling vocals.  While I've never heard the Finnegan original (there's supposedly a bootleg version available), the decision to use Anderson sure seemed like the right move given the man had a voice that was literally born to sing the blues ...  So if you read some of the reviews, this one stands as one of the holy grails of 1960s English blues-rock.  I'm not sure I'd go that far in my praise.  Musically the album served to underscore Hartley's obvious devotion to the genre, though that devotion wasn't nearly as slavish as John Mayall and some of the competition.  Unlike those other acts, the ever eccentric Harley (yes he apparently really did dress up in native Indian gear), was willing to include a variety of non-blues efforts in the repertoire and that gave the album a slightly more diverse and enjoyable feel.  There was no way you were going to hear a commercial tune like 'Just To Cry' or an out-and-out rocker like their cover of B.B. King's 'Think It Over' on a John Mayall album !!!  The playing was uniformly strong, with Mayall's former horn section (Harry Beckett , Lyn Dobnson, Henry Lowther, and Chris Mercer) adding some nice support throughout the collection.

This album starts and finishes with some awkward spoken dialogue which attempts, in a clunky and embarrassing manner, to be humorous. It's not and a perfect example of where ripping and editing can be beneficial. One of the voices turns out to be none other than John Mayall!

Once the album gets going we are treated to the wonderful voice of Miller Anderson, surely one of the greatest white blues vocalists. The opening track has a great Hammond solo which is akin to a tease. Whilst the Hammond is ever present and its chops can be heard on all but one track, that's the only solo. It's a little mystifying, especially as the opening solo is very good; perhaps the organist annoyed Hartley? The bulk of the solos are handled by guitar and on that basis I don't know which of the guitarists takes the leads (see below for details) or even if they are shared. Either way, they are all very good.

There is a fair amount of brass accompaniment on the album, which can turn me off if used over-zealously. Happily, the use is just right and compliments the other rock elements. Elsewhere there is some violin

The style of the album is mainly Blues but with some Progressive elements/numbers. The exception being the song "Leave It 'Til the Morning" which is some sort of country/blues amalgam and sounds incongruous with the rest of the material. A couple of tracks - "Sinnin' for You" and "Just to Cry" are exceptional and have very memorable and catchy riffs. The latter has a feel similar to Atomic Rooster's album "In Hearing of". It is a great, laid-back number with a good Hammond backing and some nice wah-wah / echoed guitar and some trumpet - it is a  real highlight.

This incarnation of the Keef Hartley Band has the very welcome addition of Gary Thain on bass, for me one of the exemplars of the instrument; his work with Uriah Heep has almost legendary status. Here his input is typically melodic and his ability to play around the expected bass lines sow what a superb talent the guy was. The drumming of Hartley himself is always interesting. I have no real knowledge of drumming styles or techniques but this seems to me to be a cross between Jazz and Blues and he imbues the music with a lot of idiosyncratic personality, always diong the unexpected - to me at least!