Child Is Father To The Man (Columbia ‘68) Rating: A
The brainchild of Al Kooper (one of rock music's most unsung heroes), the original rendition of Blood, Sweat & Tears lasted for one influential - but alas, these days, largely forgotten - album. Blood, Sweat & Tears was probably the first band to prominently feature “Big Band” horns within a rock context; other like-minded outfits such as Chicago and the Electric Flag (among others) would soon follow suit in increasing the prominence of horn players in rock music. However, this 8-member ensemble was more than just a rock band, as they also explored jazz, pop, psychedelia, blues, soul, and even classical and chamber pop music, with the end result being a surprisingly fluent hybrid that foreshadowed the jazz-rock (i.e. “fusion”) movement that soon followed. The band generally manages to deploy their horn and string arrangements to tastefully complement rather than overpower the music, and they wisely intersperse some fine original material along with well-chosen covers from accomplished songwriters such as Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, and Tim Buckley. They achieve splendid results on “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know,” “My Days Are Numbered,” “Just One Smile,” and “I Can’t Quit Her,” four of the most undeservedly unsung songs of the ‘60s. “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” in particular is an overlooked showstopper that is highlighted by some unforgettable blues guitar by Steve Katz, as well as soulful keyboards and vocals from Kooper. The horns are understated and in the background, and some orchestral pop sections, a saxophone solo, and a dramatic ending all add up to nothing less than an utter masterpiece. Powerful horns are up front and center on “My Days Are Numbered,” a terrific “blue-eyed soul” song that even The Rascals would envy, while “Just One Smile" also deserves that label and is almost as good, led by its huge chorus. “I Can’t Quit Her" is probably the album's best-known song, being a catchy pop song with horn punctuations; the song is also one of several (“My Days Are Numbered” comes to mind) with surprising yet effective psychedelic guitar from Katz, who sings "Morning Glory" and "Meagan's Gypsy Eyes" in an Arthur Lee-like manner; the horns and keyboards-dominated former song is quite good if a bit show tune-y bombastic at times, the latter quaint, quirky entry is modestly enjoyable but sounds somewhat dated today. “House In The Country” is another dated but catchy sing along jingle, while “Overture,” “The Modern Adventures of Plato, Diogenes, and Freud,” and "So Much Love/Underture" are all influenced by classical music (in addition to horns, elaborate string arrangements are also commonplace throughout the album). These ambitious pieces add variety to the album, and the "So Much Love" section (the majority of the song, really, as the “Underture” part is little more than the song’s fadeout) is actually another fine, heavily orchestrated blue-eyed soul showcase (p.s. Both “So Much Love” and “Just One Smile” are also present, albeit presented much differently, on Dusty Springfield’s classic Dusty in Memphis album). Rounding out the track listing (which I've described out of sequence), "Without Her" presents a sad and lonely bossa nova flavored shuffle, while “Somethin’ Goin’ On” is an overly long but still really good 8-minute blues jam that showcased what strong players the band had. All in all, Child Is Father To The Man is an innovative, classy late-'60s album that's still richly rewarding today. Even though the band was notable for their pioneering sound (dated though it is at times, that’s not necessarily a bad thing to my ‘60s loving ears), Child Is Father To The Man is very much a song-oriented album, and it should still appeal to any fan of sophisticated soul and jazz-inflected rock music. Unfortunately, Kooper and horn players Jerry Weiss and Randy Brecker departed Blood, Sweat & Tears soon after this album, and the David Clayton Thomas-led version of the band would prove markedly different
Blood, Sweat & Tears (Columbia ‘69) Rating: B+
The departure of Al Kooper and the arrival of producer James William Guerico (also the producer of Chicago, the band with whom BS&T are always compared) and singer David Clayton-Thomas changed the group dynamic, as the vocals were now more pronounced and up front, while the expanded horn section became far more in your face. In addition, grand statements attempted to take the place of Kooper’s more subtle arrangements, and as such good taste was sometimes sacrificed for a bombastic, jazz (rather than soul) influenced sound that probably would've played better in Las Vegas than at the Fillmore. This strategy worked smashingly, of course, at least commercially, as Blood, Sweat & Tears won a Grammy Award for album of the year and became a massive seller that spawned three #2 hit singles, all of which are admittedly excellent. The smash hits were a cover of Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die,” which boasted a breezy melody with a ragtime feel, “Spinning Wheel,” a catchy, upbeat pop song penned by Clayton-Thomas, and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” an uplifting if hammy cover of a Brenda Holloway song that featured some terrifically moody keyboards and an elegant vocal - at least until the horns kick in and Clayton-Thomas belts out an overly theatrical but highly singable chorus. The album's other standout songs are a lively, jazzy take on Traffic’s “Smiling Phases,” which features a bustling groove and several impressive solos (keyboards, piano, bass, horns, drums), and a cover of Billie Holliday’s “God Bless The Child,” which works as an excellent ballad until the horn section takes over about halfway through with some highly energized soloing, though the song ultimately returns to the original mellow melody. I also like the hard-charging "More and More,” but the rest of the album is less impressive, as the band both prettily and bombastically tackles Erik Satie’s classical “Variations On A Theme” (twice), while Katz writes and sings a pretty (but pretty boring) ballad called “Sometimes In Winter.” Finally, the 12-minute “Blues (Pt.2)” must be mentioned, though for the first 9-minutes there's nothing particularly bluesy about it. Low energy jazz is more like it, but at least I like the sax solo (one of several throughout the album), and the energy level picks up considerably during an improbable Cream medley at around the 8-minute mark. About a minute later the intense blues section finally begins, but it's too little too late to completely salvage what is still an ambitious and intermittently interesting song. In short, with a handful or so really good songs, a few solid if unremarkable fillers, and a not quite satisfactory epic (the last album’s “Somethin’ Goin’ On” was much better), this album is pretty hit or miss. Still, the hits here easily outnumber the misses, and at its best the band's defiantly commercial yet at times surprisingly adventurous sound works extremely well, even though the kitsch factor can be rather high at times. Still, over forty years later this self-titled album remains the undeniable high point of the Clayton-Thomas era of the band.