Thursday, September 8, 2016

1968 - Blood, Sweat & Tears

Blood, Sweat and Tears (AM9)

Artist: Blood, Sweat and Tears
Released: December 11, 1968
Producer: James William Guercio
Tracks: 1) Variations on a Theme By Erik Satie (1st and 2nd Movements) (2:35);  2) Smiling Phases (5:11); 3) Sometimes in Winter (3:09); 4) More and More (3:04) 5) God Bless the Child (5:55); 6) Spinning Wheel (4:08); 7) You’ve Made Me So Very Happy (4:19); 8) Blues – Part II (11:44) 9) Variations on a Theme By Erik Satie (1st Movement) (1:49)
Players: David Clayton-Thomas – lead vocals, except as noted; Lew Soloff – trumpet, flugelhorn; Bobby Colomby – drums, percussion, vocals; Jim Fielder – bass; Dick Halligan – organ, piano, flute, trombone, vocals; Steve Katz – guitar, harmonica, vocals, lead vocals on "Sometimes In Winter"; Fred Lipsius – alto saxophone, piano; Chuck Winfield – trumpet, flugelhorn; Jerry Hyman – trombone, recorder

Critics will point to The Child is Father to the Man, with its stellar single, "I Can’t Quit Her," as Blood, Sweat and Tears' most important album.  It may indeed be Al Kooper's most important album, but for BS&T, it's their second LP, the eponymous Blood, Sweat and Tears that gets the nod at AM. Here a new era began. Not fusion, that was Miles' job, but a jazz approach to rock and blues. Here was the catalyst for everything from Chicago to Steely Dan, a starting point in yet another new direction for which BS&T rarely get credit, despite winning a Grammy for Album of the Year (beating out, of all albums, Abbey Road*); still no respect.

The diversity of stylings is exceptional: From Eric Satie's Trois Gymnopodies (possibly the greatest of arrangements – Satie would love this) to Traffic's "Smiling Phases" to Billy Holiday’s "God Bless the Child," the greatest accolade is the album's stellar sales: four million sold by the summer of '69. Gone is the psychedelia of the debut and in its place is simply great, accessible jazz-rock-classical-blues. Critics will continue to deride the album's pop sensibilities, but it's exactly that sound that introduced many mainstream listeners to Traffic, Laura Nyro ("And When I Die") and Satie, as well as deftly recasting Motown (Brenda Holloway's "You've Made Me So Very Happy") in a new light. Still, the album's most ambitious track, the nearly 12-minute "Blues, Pt. 2," provides a deeper sense of the band's roots by marrying Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" to lengthy instrumental improvisations and a bluesy vocal from Thomas.

For the same reasons, the album scores an AM9 and not an AM10, failing to embrace a songwriting voice for BS&T. Those who argue in its favor would correctly point out that it is the Blood, Sweat and Tears versions of the these songs that we recall and not the originals by Traffic et al. I'm good with that (it's a 10 in my book); either way, Blood, Sweat and Tears is evolutionary and one of the best albums in another incredible year, a year that included Bookends, Beggar's BanquetA Saucerful of Secrets and The White Album. UnderstandablyAM has gone out on a limb that many will want to saw down, but BS&T is an LP that created a new genre, not fusion but jazz rock. It's not Bookends or The White Album by any means, but it's withstood the test of time and deserves its accolades, so suck it.

*On an interesting note, Blood Sweat and Tears came out in December 1968 after the nomination closing date for the 11th Grammy Award Show to be held early 1969. Its inclusion in the awards, therefore, was postponed until the 1970 ceremony.