THE BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND East-West (Sundazed)
An “integrated” band that predated Sly And The Family Stone, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band dropped the Paul from their name on this second album, perhaps as an outward signifier of increasing democracy within their ranks. Their hard-driving electric blues, with Butterfield’s harmonica and the acid sting of Mike Bloomfield’s guitar, isn’t too far removed from the sound found on Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”, to which Bloomfield also contributed. There’s a raucousness here that you don’t get from, say, John Mayall’s blues boom finishing school of the time (“East-West” was recorded and released in the summer of 1966), but, heard through the vapour trails of the efforts Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience would soon be making to boot the blues into outer space, “East-West” can’t help but sound a bit quaint today.
“I Got A Mind To Give Up Living”’s opening lines (“…and go shopping instead”) sound like a flip comment on commerce and the counterculture until the next line reveals that the protagonist is actually looking to buy his tombstone. “Two Trains Running”, unattributed here but a Muddy Waters composition according to Wikipedia, bears a significant lyrical overlap with Jimi Hendrix’s “Catfish Blues”, itself the work of one Robert Petway. The hard bop of Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” is covered like the jazz piece it is, with a round of solos sandwiched between the theme. It’s not exactly fusion, but its piledriving electric jazz is certainly ambitious. Even more so is the title track which, at the far side of 13 minutes, outlasts the years other substantial statements, Bob Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” and The Mothers Of Invention’s “The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet”. What might seem at the outset like a straightforward jam actually incorporates elements of Miles Davis-inspired modal jazz and John Coltrane-y Eastern-tinged ragas.
Sonically, Sundazed’s vinyl reissue of “East-West” is not great, either in isolation or compared with the label’s work on Butterfield’s band’s debut, being generally a somewhat distorted, harsh and unengaging listen.
THE PAUL BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (Sundazed)
“We suggest that you play this record at the highest possible volume in order to fully appreciate the sound of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band”, counsels the sleeve, and although I haven’t followed its advice for fear of arcing my beloved but fragile Quads, I can recognise the sentiment. There’s a vibrancy and vitality here that, in comparison, the band might have sacrificed on their second album “East-West” in its attempts to soak their electric blues in jazz and jams, as if trying to escape their roots rather than celebrating them. Here they light a rocket under genre staples such as “Shake Your Money-Maker”, “I Got My Mojo Working” and a scalding “Look Over Yonders Wall”, laced with Mike Bloomfield’s slashing slide guitar work, and tackle less immediately obvious material such as “Mystery Train”. Unstoppable like a juggernaut, it must have sounded revelatory at the time of its 1965 release. As with “East-West”, though, the problem for listeners hearing it afresh is that, shortly afterwards, Cream and Jimi Hendrix would do things to the “Negro blues” (as the sleevenotes call them) that would make even Butterfield’s work seem staid in comparison.
Sundazed’s vinyl reissue of “The Paul Butterfield Blues Band” is a more satisfying sonic proposition than “East-West” (or my copy of it, at least) usefully lacking much of the distortion and harshness that plagued that album.