Blind Faith (Uni/Polygram ’69) Rating: A-
After Cream went bust and in between Traffic reunions there was Blind Faith, one of rock’s first "supergroups." Hugely over-hyped, the rush released Blind Faith was widely seen as disappointing but in retrospect the majority of this album has aged well even if it is seriously flawed. Obviously possessing awesome talent (Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and Ginger Baker), the guys made the mistake of hitting the studio before they had coalesced into an actual band, and they compounded that mistake by not having written enough songs. To compensate, the band extended Baker's “Do What You Like” past fifteen pretentious minutes, with each member taking turns soloing. The beginning and end of the song are pretty good, and Winwood (on keyboards) and Clapton do just fine, but the deadly dull bass solo of Rick Grech (ex-Family) shows why most people had never heard of him, and Baker’s unimaginative solo likewise grows tedious (wasn't "Toad" enough?). Given that this song takes up about 1/3 of the album its shortcomings are difficult to overlook (though I suppose if they had made it shorter they wouldn't have been doing what they liked!), but I can generally get past it because the rest of the album is extremely good, including their intense cover of Buddy Holly’s “Well All Right,” which sees Winwood prominent on piano rather than organ, which gives it a brighter sound than the surrounding songs. The band wisely let Winwood do all the lead singing, and as such the album has more of a Traffic than a Cream flavor, though I suppose it is something of a hybrid which is part of what makes it interesting. Anyway, Winwood is in excellent voice throughout the album, particularly on his haunting acoustic classic “Can’t Find My Way Home” and Clapton’s soulful, spiritual “Presence Of The Lord,” the two best songs here and the only ones that you'll still hear on the radio today. For his part, Clapton delivers some of his most expressive guitar playing, highlighting not only the aforementioned “Presence Of The Lord” but also a pair of Winwood penned songs in the expansive, melancholic “Had To Cry Today” and the more modest but mostly excellent “Sea Of Joy,” which also has a wonderful Winwood vocal come to think of it (I should've mentioned this one among the earlier songs when listing his vocal highlights). I like the way both of these songs shift from riff-driven rock to mellower sounds, both scoring well in terms of depth and dynamics. True, the fine former song is a bit too long (8:50) for its own good, but the latter track also features Grech’s most memorable moment via a lovely violin solo, while Baker also puts cool drum fills in all the right places. On the whole, this was a strong album but one that could've been better, as some of these jam-based songs meander unnecessarily and the playing is a little lethargic in places. Blind Faith the band was inevitably short-lived, as its members were unable to cope with the massive hype and expectations, not to mention their bandmates’ big egos. But even though Blind Faith didn’t quite meet expectations and is really an EP expanded to LP length, their lone album together nevertheless contained some enduring music.