Sunday, June 28, 2015

Canned Heat - Hallelujah

   Blues being significant part of American folk music tradition was common root for various styles of jazz and rock music. It outgrows in hundreds of popular songs and tunes. In the late 1960’s blues rock played by authors of protest songs or psychedelic bands was quite normal practice. Legends of Woodstock festival Jimi Hendrix, Canned Heat, Taj Mahal, Ten Years After – despite all the differences, they were playing blues. These times it was more musical and poetic form than a kind of subculture it become later. From these fascinations of the harmonic and rhythmic scheme, blues rapidly evolved to such different phenomena as Captain Beefheart and ZZ Top and next generations of blues musicians have established mainstream of the blues rock with clear borders and particular character. Since 60’s blues was more and more specified as a genre, rock found some new directions and break up into many elements. And this is why it is so important to understand what happened with blues in late sixties.
   One of most renowned bands of the scene in late sixties was Canned Heat, for many the band defining blues rock by itself. After Woodstock it was internationally recognized and for some songs and culture contexts it was classified as a psychedelic band. In fact from the starting moment Canned Heat’s background activities were connected with preserving elements of old style blues, connecting they music with folk blues singers and aiming to give blues new position as a creative music. It was unusual band growing on the foundations of fascination and knowledge. Main singer Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite was blues fan and 78 rpm blues records collector. In 1969 Playboy After Dark episode he informed the host of this TV show, his record collection comprises more than 15 000 discs.

Canned Heat - Hallelujah (1969)

   The classic position in Canned Heat’s discography and in a way their crowning achievement is Hallelujah, album recorded at I. D. Sound Recorders in Hollywood CA in five month period between January and May and released July 8th 1969, just few weeks before legendary festival in Woodstock. Hallelujah was recorded by the band with lead singer Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite, second singer and rhythm guitarist Alan ‘Blind Owl’ Wilson, lead guitarist Henry ‘The Sunflower’ Vestine, bassist Larry ‘The Mole’ Taylor and drummer Adolfo ‘Fito’ de la Parra. This was the basic lineup for Canned Heat recordings in late 1960’s, but during almost half a year in the studio there were some more musicians involved. In some songs were playing two pianists (also on organ) – Mark Naftalin (I’m Her Man, Down in the Gutter, But Free) and Ernest Lane (Same All Over) or group vocals in two mentioned songs: Skip Diamond, Elliot Ingber (ex Mothers of Invention) and Javier Batise.
   Fourth album by Canned Heat is substantially different than earlier band’s recordings. Short songs, disciplined and concise in form, expressive and varied create program of many shapes. From blues rock Same All Over, based on strong riff, through Change My Ways sung with falsetto by Alan Wilson, being a tribute to tradition of popular blues songs recorded in times of great depression, to Canned Heat, rewritten and sung by Bob Hite, then written by Bob White and Booker T. White satire on LA sheriff Sic ‘Em Pigs with many theatrical sounds – traditional blues was always subversive and it was trendy to criticize police in late sixties, especially in California under the rule of governor Ronald Reagan. Straight boogie I’m Her Man and relaxed Time Was end this side, being a series of possible directions in future blues rock.
   Second side opens Do Not Enter, shuffle with nice coda suspending its tension, which continues in Big Fat and easing in third track Huautla, instrumental piece in 6/8 with rhythm change to 4/4 in middle part. Last two songs of the album are longer. First song Get Off My Back, has extended central episode with two guitar solos introduced by studio simulation of moving guitar with stereo effects. Last song Down In The Gutter, But Free is powerful narrative, preaching blues, with nice dialoguing guitar and harp. In this song Larry Taylor and Henry Vestine switched their instruments (Taylor played guitar and Vestine played bass). This unique album has many elements of pop music but also in a discrete way more sophisticated than earlier albums. In some fragments it can sound fanciful but it’s hard to judge this album since it was last album recorded with Alan Wilson. Canned Heat’s Hallelujah is full of splendid ideas and for various reasons it deserves to be remembered – four stars at least.

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