Mike Bloomfield - lead guitar, slide guitar, vocals; Mark Adams - harmonica; Barry Goldberg - organ; Nick Gravenites - guitar, vocals; Mike Henderson - lead guitar, vocals; John Kramer - vocals; Mark Naftalin - piano; George Rains - drums; Roger Troy - bass, vocals
One of America's greatest white blues musicians, Mike Bloomfield initially earned his reputation as the pioneering guitar player in the original Paul Butterfield Blues Band, influencing nearly every guitarist who heard him. His impressive work with Butterfield led to his recruitment into many other projects, most notably Dylan's transition into electric rock music, where his expressive, fluid soloing propelled Dylan's music into a whole other realm. Bloomfield then went on to found what can arguably be considered America's first supergroup, Electric Flag, a seminally important band that became the critical link between the Chicago and San Francisco sounds of the late 1960s. Bloomfield's mastery of lead guitar during this era was second to none, and his astounding abilities displayed that he was equally adept at playing sweet and soulful as he was at stinging lead lines.
Following the demise of the Flag, Bloomfield became increasingly uncomfortable with the reverential guitar hero treatment. His distaste for fame, a chronic health bout with insomnia and his hard drug use all contributed to increasingly erratic behavior and to him shying away from the limelight. He consciously pursued a lower-profile career into the 1970s, primarily playing club gigs in and around San Francisco and lending his name and guitar prowess to his friends' recording projects. He also began releasing a number of low-visibility albums for smaller labels that displayed a more traditional, less adventurous blues focus.
This Record Plant recording, featuring Bloomfield and very notable friends, captures this later era perfectly. It's a relaxed affair, where Bloomfield cuts loose only occasionally and is quite content to support his friends. It is a rather incredible cast of characters that Bloomfield has assembled here. Mark Naftalin, his comrade from the original Butterfield Band is on board, as are Nick Gravenites and Barry Goldberg from the Electric Flag. Added to this is the exemplary rhythm section of Roger "Jellyroll" Troy and George Rains, who accompanied Bloomfield on many of his later projects, as well as a guest appearance by Mike Henderson, one of San Francisco's most revered blues guitarists, and you have the makings for a very special evening.
The set begins with a straightforward Muddy Waters style take on "Orphan's Blues." Naftalin and Adams contribute greatly on this opening number, while Bloomfield takes lead vocal duties and delivers a fluid solo. Nick Gravenites takes over as frontman on the next three numbers, beginning with the uncharacteristically countrified "Six Weeks In Reno." "Love Me Or I'll Kill You Baby," returns to the blues. Gravenites' gruff voice and violent, yet humorous lyrics make this an engaging performance, with Bloomfield playing slide guitar throughout. "What Time Is It" is another pure country number. Bassist Roger Troy takes lead vocals on many of the songs in this set, the first being on the up-tempo shuffle "Tell Me You Care," with Bloomfield providing tasteful leads throughout. Troy is also impressive on "Shadows Told Me All," which takes a funkier approach. In between, John Kramer delivers vocals on his own "Buy Me Some Time," featuring Goldberg's tasteful organ accompaniment.
The unquestionable high point of the set is the 11-minute medley of "Sweet Little Angel" and "Jelly, Jelly." Here Bloomfield immediately cuts loose, delivering the biting, stinging lead lines that made him a legend. This straight BB King-style blues brings out the best in Bloomfield and everyone provides tasteful accompaniment, particularly Goldberg, Naftalin and Adams, who all get chances to step out. This performance is so full of Bloomfield's vintage fiery leads that it proves his reputation was well deserved and his skills, while not so overtly apparent on the other material here, are still fully intact. Toward the end, guitarist Mike Henderson joins the fray and delivers some serious soloing of his own. Henderson assumes frontman duties on the next tune, "Don't Lie To Me," where he delivers another Muddy Waters style blues tune, full of fire and impressive guitar playing, before returning the spotlight to Bloomfield.
Next up is a track from Bloomfield's newest album at the time, Try It Before You Buy It. Written by Troy (and again featuring him on lead vocal), this is an engaging rhythm and blues number. Bloomfield takes a support role for much of the song, but delivers another fine solo midway. They wrap it up with the Little Willie John standard "Let Them Talk." This ballad ends things on a rather subdued note, but features some soulful leads from Bloomfield.
Overall, this set is quite the mixed bag and although it isn't the best place to start in terms of Bloomfield, it does contain fine performances. Best to consider it a relaxed gathering of old friends. Taken in this context, it's a thoroughly enjoyable listen of great musicians collaborating for the sheer enjoyment of playing together.
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