|Detective – ‘It Takes One To Know One’/’Live from Atlantic Studio’ (Cherry Red)|
|Written by Jonathan Kardasz|
|Tuesday, 06 December 2016 03:00|
The marvellous people at Cherry Red have released the second and third Swan Song LPs by Detective, studio and live recordings respectively. The band were one of those great shoulda-been-but-weren’t-quite massive bands who filled that fecund period between the death of the Sixties and the (arguably) decade-defining punk explosion that ushered in the oft maligned Eighties. Formed out of the ashes of Silverhead the outfit coalesced around their singer Michael Des Barres, along with Tony Kaye, ex-Yes surprisingly, given the balls out rock herein; Michael Monarch, out of Steppenwolf, a vastly undervalued guitar player: trust me, the evidence is here; drummer John Hyde (ex-Hokus Pokus) and Bobby Pickett of Sugarloaf on bass.
So firstly don’t judge Detective by their appearance on the studio LP ‘It Takes One to Know’ One, because although it’s a ’77 release the band look something like a hard rock band imagined by the costume department on ‘Miami Vic’e and, to be frank, their appearance does not prepare you for the grooves on the disc. Because essentially this is a classy slice of heavy rock, with some delightful grooves and clever instrumentation – it’s heavy but it’s not metal; it’s got too much swing and too much soul. It rocks hard without bludgeoning the listener, this is stealth heft; five musicians taking the tropes of hard rock and somewhat playfully infusing them with all sorts of genre hoping embellishments to delight the jaded rock fan.
Thus ‘Help Me Up’ has loose swaggering guitar over a churchified organ and chugs along beautifully before leading into a wicked, wicked solo. ‘Warm Love’ starts with a dollop of cheesy squidgy synth before evolving in to a piano led semi-ballad with some nice understated guitar. It ups its game and finishes as a rather warm rocker with another killer solo as it reaches its crescendo. As I said, Monarch is an undervalued player: there are riffs aplenty here along with plenty of burning leads and stinging solos. Hyde, his band mate from Hokus Pokus, is no slouch either – ‘Are You Talkin’ To Me Baby’ and ‘Dynamite’ both have that Bonzo swing (no surprise given the Swan Song connection). The former tune is a monster of a tune, machine tooled to close a gig with a massive thrusting climax (phnarr phanrr) whilst the latter is driven by a nagging circular guitar riff over lyrics with a throwback rockabilly sensibility. Kayes keys kompletely (sorry, kouldn’t resist the alliteration) are prevalent throughout, no proggy pretention just the right vibe, the right sound to serve each song. Nothing les than classy musicianship throughout.
The vocals are of a consistently high standard: ‘Something Beautiful’ a case in point, Des Barres a hurt lover pleading to save his romance as the band give full tilt support to the anguish expressed by the singer – his voice somehow encompassing a Rod Stewart rasp with the phrasing of Paul Rodgers and the power of Gillan or Coverdale. The rhythm section more than hold their own – the drumming is cleverly held back from totally dominating the mix but oh boy does it ever propel the tunes, swinging & pounding but economic when the song requires a subtle touch, whilst the bass is totally locked in, bubbling away with an infectious toe tapping groove. The material is consistently good throughout, some a tad derivative (blah is a standard four on the floor Stones / Faces beat) but the band mange to insert enough original licks and touches to avoid sounding like followers or plagiarists (thus ‘Betcha Won’t Dance’ is lifted by a fabulous bottleneck / slide solo and is as catchy as the clap). ‘Tear Jerker ‘has a gonzo percussion workout opening leading in to a disappointingly less gonzo song, technically adept and catchy, but the intro makes you wish for four minutes of crazy gonzo trying to be a tune. ‘Competition’ and ‘Fever’ stand out the former a squiggly snaky riff based tune and the latter featuring a monster riff with jungle vox fighting for space with duelling keys and guitar.
All in all, this is a bloody good album. Oddly enough the biggest revelation from the Swansong connection is actually how much Percy’s debut ‘Pictures at Eleven’ sounds like this disc…not so much in the vocals, but in the big spacey sound; the blues referencing rock with intriguing time changes and unexpected tempos and the sonic experimentation. Seriously, play ‘em back to back and tell me they’re not from the same DNA.
The second reissue (but third release), ‘Live from Atlantic Studio’ was recorded as part of a short lived series of LPs released to promote parent label Atlantic bands via distribution to radio stations (the other two were the superb AC/DC set – available in the ‘Bonfire’ box – and The Le Blanc & Carr Band; no, me neither).
In terms of atmosphere it’s a weird one (but good weird), as the band sound live, but there’s very little crowd noise, smatterings here and there, but nothing like a conventional live album. Sonically you can tell it’s live, you can hear the band and there’s an authentic feel to the mix: vocals in and out, instruments in your face and actually a great organic feel that’s much more atmospheric than many celebrated in concert live albums from the same era. It’s a wicked showcase for the band too, the tunes are stretched and jammed, with a loose groove that’s eminently danceable and with a cocky swagger. There’s a funk feel but the guitar rocks out keeping things raucous whilst the keys cover the soul angle (particularly on ‘Recognition’) but also bring John Lord to mind at times, notably during ‘One More Heartache’.
Of the nine tunes the first album dominates with six tunes whilst there’s just two from the second (and a cover of ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’). Des Barres vocals are top notch throughout, with a sleazy relaxed rasp that glides in, around and over the tunes. The musicianship on display is excellent, but whilst Des Barres isn’t intimidated he doesn’t feel the need to grandstand or showboat to stake his place on stage. Put these recordings together with the Silverhead reissues mentioned above and there’s a damn good case to be made that he’s one of the most undervalued vocalist of his generation.
As for the rest of the material ‘Help Me Up’ is a raucous opener its Stones / Faces vibe offset by the gospel organ and its insistent pace is topped off by an urgent if wonky solo; ‘Got Enough Love’ is also organ led with ragged dual vocals and plenty of gang vox over some great guitar. ‘Recognition’ has a quiet start up with lush soulful sound with rock guitar on top, funky bass at the lower end. All in all this is more than a promotional tool, it’s a great piece of work in its own right. If you’re a fan of the Temperance Movement or you’re craving for a new Black Crowes album, then both these albums will delight you.
And if you enjoy these recordings do check out the three Silverhead reissues also from Cherry Red via the reactivated Purple label, just as strong and delightfully repackaged with bonus material.