Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Jeff Beck Blow By Blow (1975)

frenteFrom sfloman.com

After revisiting the power trio format on Beck, Bogert & Appice Beck felt that a change in strategy was needed. Excited by the possibilities of mixing jazz and rock (i.e. “fusion”) while adding funk to that familiar recipe and doing away with those pesky vocalists, Beck released Blow By Blow, a legendary guitar album, though in the hierarchy of Beck’s work I’d rank it slightly below his best Yardbirds and early Jeff Beck Group stuff on the grounds that it’s less groundbreaking.

Still, Blow By Blow, technically his first solo album, is at the very least a minor classic. Comprised entirely of instrumentals, this was an influential album that surprised both listeners and critics alike, as Beck’s playing and song arrangements are almost always tasteful and melodic. Meanwhile, Beck’s backing band supplies Stevie Wonder-ish piano work and keyboards (Max Middleton again who also writes or co-writes four songs) and funky rhythms (bassist Phil Chenn and teenage wunderkind drummer Richard Bailey round out the lineup), laying the strong foundation for Beck’s outstanding guitar playing to shine.

This richly textured album also features big synthesizer swooshes, and classy string arrangements by ex-Beatles producer George Martin, who in that same capacity here helps provide the album with a warmth, restraint, and elegance that’s often lacking in fusion.

As for the songs, “You Know What I Mean” is perhaps the best of several funky numbers, while “She’s A Woman” (a Beatles cover) is a melodic, reggae-tinged tune on which Beck makes his guitar talk a la Joe Walsh and Peter Frampton but more subtly than either. On the more rocking front, “Scatterbrain” is a relentless groover that builds powerfully and showcases the group’s virtuosity (Beck attracted great drummers in particular and Bailey’s splashy drum fills really stand out here and elsewhere as well), while Beck biographer Annette Carson accurately described the excellent “Freeway Jam” as a “high powered shuffle.”

Fine though these up-tempo tunes are, however, Beck is at his absolute best when he opts for raw emotion over flashy embellishments, and as such the album’s most enduring songs are arguably both ballads. “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” (inspired by and dedicated to Roy Buchanan) and the nearly 9-minute “Diamond Dust” are both slow and long songs on which Beck’s understated playing is incredibly soulful and emotional; never again will I doubt the beauty capable of being produced by an electric guitar.

“Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers,” one of two Stevie Wonder covers, in particular features phenomenally expressive playing that shows off his talent for note bending, and you could argue that this song is now recognized as his signature number. In summary, despite some dated elements (mostly with Middleton’s keyboards, though you could say the same thing about Stevie Wonder’s classic ’70s albums from around the same period) and a few less than exciting moments, the stylish, filler-free Blow By Blow remains an eminently appealing instrumental album that’s easily among Jeff Beck’s very best.

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April 11, 2013 - Posted by | Jeff Beck Blow By Blow |

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