Thursday, May 31, 2012
Desert Island Albums III Jack Bruce Harmony Row
1971 / 2003
Whenever you see Jack Bruce's solo career evaluated listed it's usually his 1969 debut Songs For A Tailor which gets the plaudit. While there's no doubt the punchy effectiveness of that record it's largely a clearing house of blues, soul and jazz-inflected tunes that had largely been abandoned during Cream’s burn-out.
Though long overshadowed by its predecessor Harmony Row was Bruce at his most adventurous and confessional, embracing new ideas, modes and moods that stretched beyond the usual comfort zones of straight blues-based rock, to come up with a record that was paradoxically intimate and expansive at the same time.
Legend has it that during a momentary truce with his demons, Bruce sat at the piano one afternoon, and from his fingertips there flowed a suite of songs, one after another, in a cascade of audacious creativity. In the course of a visionary few hours of amazing lucidity, Harmony Row tumbled into place.
Recorded soon after at London’s Command Studios, Bruce laid down bass, keyboards and vocals, alongside guitarist Chris Spedding and drummer John Marshall, both members of jazz-rock outfit Nucleus at the time. Its pared-back sounds allow a degree of detail and clarity which Bruce, either as a member of Cream or as a solo artist had never quite achieved before.
Shaping the words of his regular collaborator, Pete Brown, Bruce forges a series of poetic vignettes that move from oblique preludes such as Can You Follow and There’s A Forest, into the dramatic widescreen vistas of Escape to the Royal Wood (on ice) and Morning Story.
Victoria Sage, suffused with a dreamy melancholia and soulful Hammond organ tracery presents another stand-out moment, although this is almost eclipsed by the haunted reverie of Folk Song's with rhapsodic multi-tracked voices. It's a sublime evocation of love and remembrance that he's never quite equaled.
The spectral evocation of Glasgow bohemia bumping up against 9 to 5 suburbia, Smiles And Grins effortlessly navigates the shifting jazz-rock currents that spin and twist beneath the surface of this man's music.
With You Burned The Tables On Me being the only track jarring the contemplative mood,
Harmony Row is not Bruce the blues bruiser but Bruce boxing clever, moving his game with the finesse and aplomb of a prime-time Mohammad Ali, knowing exactly when to float and when to sting.
Though he’ll always be best known for his time with Cream and lauded for his explosive brand of power-play bass, Bruce is an artist whose position as a sensitive and expressive songwriter has been long been overlooked and consistently undervalued.