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ALVIN LEE - STILL ON THE ROAD TO FREEDOM
RAINMAN RECORDS - - REPERTOIRE RECORDS
Release date: August 28, 2012
1. Still On The Road To Freedom,
2. Listen To Your Radio Station,
3. Midnight Creeper,
4. Save My Stuff,
5. I'm A Lucky Man,
6. Walk On, Walk Tall,
7. Blues Got Me So Bad,
8. Song Of The Red Rock Mountain,
9. Nice & Easy,
10. Back In 69,
11. Down Line Rock,
12. Rock You,
13. Love Like A Man 2.
|Alvin Lee: "Still On The Road To Freedom"
(2012) CD Review
You probably know Alvin Lee from his work with Ten Years After. That band will be forever famous for its wild set at Woodstock, immortalized in the documentary film (that version of "I'm Going Home" is one of the film's highlights), as well as for the song "I'd Love To Change The World" which reached #40 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In some ways, Alvin Lee's new album, Still On The Road To Freedom, feels like a reaching back, a looking back to the late '60s. But this is not a nostalgia record. It is not an attempt to recapture an earlier success, but seems more like a way to show the connection between the past and the present (and to explore both), something acknowledged in the album's title. And there is a freedom this album takes to move along the musical time line and use whatever seems right. The album definitely has a heavy blues edge. (One of its tracks, "Blues Got Me So Bad," has these wonderful lines: "I said I'd die for you, babe/She said, that's what I want you to do.") But this is not strictly a blues album. There is a lot more going on here. There is rock and rockabilly and folk, and it all comes together well. (By the way, "Nice & Easy" sounds like T. Rex meets Dire Straits.)
All of the album's songs were written by Alvin Lee. As for the idea of going back, there is a track called "Back In 69," (but it is more about the present than its title might suggest), and the final track is a remake of a tune from Ten Years After's 1970 album Cricklewood Green. Some of these tunes are pretty short. Tracks 2, 7, 8, 11, and 12 are all under two and a half minutes. There is a hidden song which starts at 5:33 on track 13 (it's a very short acoustic instrumental tune).
"Still On The Road To Freedom"
Still On The Road To Freedom opens with its title track, which finds Alvin Lee journeying "for a distant land where it all began." And yes, Alvin Lee's guitar still has that great late '60s, early '70s sound. It has that drive, that reach for new territory, an interest in exploration and expression that characterized a lot of the best music of the time. And the guitar is given the freedom to stretch out here, in the song's best section toward the end. The only thing I could do without is the echoes of "freedom."
"Listen To Your Radio Station"
"Listen To Your Radio Station" is a bluesy tune that is nearly an instrumental. The opening vocal section, which begins "Listen to your radio station/Coolest music across the nation," ends with "Let's play some blues on this guitar" a little more than a minute in. The rest is instrumental. This song is an interesting mix of blues with a bit of a techno feel.
"Save My Stuff"
"Save My Stuff" is straight blues with that fantastic, powerful harmonica. Like a lot of the best blues, it features simple, straightforward lyrics, in this case about riding the train home to the woman he loves. And then, "I'm gonna save my stuff for the woman I love." There is nothing complicated here, but this is a song you can immediately get into. You're on that train too, itching to get back to some woman, and enjoying the journey. A very cool blues tune.
"I'm A Lucky Man"
Perhaps the most surprising song on the album is "I'm A Lucky Man," a fun rockabilly tune with a definite 1950s style, particularly in the guitar, but also in the vocals. This song is a total joy. And while clearly revisiting an earlier form, the song feels like Now, more in its ability to change our perception of the Now than in trying to update the music to fit some idea of what's going on currently. I'm really just trying to say it's real, authentic, true. And that of course is timeless. And there is some great stuff on guitar.
"Walk On, Walk Tall"
Alvin Lee follows the rockabilly tune with a pretty acoustic song titled "Walk On, Walk Tall." This one too has very simple lyrics. It begins, "Walk on, walk tall/Be strong, don't fall/Walk on to the end/Be my friend." Simple, and wonderful. I really love the guitar in this one too. It's what makes this track one of my favorites.
This CD features three instrumental tunes. The first, "Song Of The Red Rock Mountain" is a really nice acoustic instrumental. It somehow manages to feel simultaneously intimate and cinematic, creating a vivid landscape, taking me out of my normal surroundings (which is appreciated). This is one of the CD's short tracks (at just over two minutes), and it feels like it ends a bit too abruptly.
The album's second instrumental, "Down Line Rock," features a country rock rhythm mixed with blues, and then a seriously groovy short drum solo, with a bit of funky bass. Very nice.
The third instrumental is the hidden track, a sweet acoustic number that ends too soon.
- From Michael Dougherty's Music Log
More than four decades have passed since Alvin Lee stood front and center at the famed Woodstock festival with his band Ten Years After and told half million or so fans, “I’m Going Home . . . by helicopter.”
Forty-three years later, Alvin Lee hasn’t arrived at his destination yet, as the title of his new solo album, Still on the Road to Freedom, available August 27, 2012 on Rainman Records, will attest. “I don’t think I ever will,” he laughs.
Recorded at Space Studios 3 in Spain, Still on the Road to Freedom finds Lee returning to his original inspirations. Longtime band members bassist Pete Pritchard and drummer Richard Newman, along with keyboardist Tim Hinkley, join Lee in a musical travelogue that is a tribute to the roots music that first influenced him.
“I got my start in music listening to my dad’s jazz and blues 78s when I was eight years old,” says Lee, who continues to follow his inspirations. “It’s about the freedom to make music of my own choice without worrying about what other people thought or expected,” he writes in the album’s liner notes.
Still on the Road to Freedom nods to country-blues, embodied by Alvin’s gutbucket harp on “Save My Stuff” (“I was a big fan of Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee”) and the delta stomp “Blues Got Me So Bad” (“My blues name is Deaf Lemon Lee”). He evokes Johnny Cash in the stark acoustic “Walk On, Walk Tall,” perfects the sensuous slow blues of J.J. Cale in “Nice and Easy,” and strums south-of-the-border Mexicali rhythms in the instrumental “Song of the Red Rock Mountain,” a song he made up on the spot while testing a microphone and wasn’t able to improve.
Lee continues to explore that creative freedom with the tribal African drums of “Listen to Your Radio Station,” which includes a sample loop from the late Ian Wallace, the gospel organ of “Midnight Creeper” and the surprising funk of the rousing “Rock You.”
The album also features “Love Like a Man 2,” a remake of the song on the band’s 1970 album Cricklewood Green, inspired, according to Lee, by New Orleans R&B player Smiley Lewis’ “I Hear You Knocking,” with a nod towards seminal influence Chuck Berry.
Asked how he’d describe himself, Lee pauses: “A musician . . . who leans towards blues, but likes rock and roll, country, funk, jazz — anything with a guitar in it.
After all these years, Alvin Lee’s still going home.
From All About Jazz -
I got my first look at Alvin Lee and Ten Years After when I saw them hard-charging through "I'm Going Home" in the film version of Woodstock . In short order, I began adding their albums to my collection including Ssssh (1969), which opened with the memorable "Bad Scene," Cricklewood Green (1969), best known for the song "Love Like a Man," and the apex of their commercial success, A Space in Time (1971), which yielded their highest-charting single, "I'd Love to Change the World."
After Lee left Ten Years After in 1974, he produced a series of solo albums that continued to demonstrate his distinctive vocals and linear guitar chops, even if they didn't always contain memorable material. But one standout was 1973's On the Road to Freedom, which co-billed Lee and Gospel singer Mylon LeFevre. Supporting players included George Harrison, Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Ronnie Wood, and Mick Fleetwood. Now, one year shy of being 40 years later, Lee has released a sequel, Still on the Road to Freedom. It not only invokes its 1973 namesake, any Ten Years After fan will find more than enough on this disc to take them back in space and time.
This time around, Still on the Road to Freedom doesn't rely on an all-star cast. Keeping close to the simplicity of roots traditions, Lee's group is Pete Pritchard (bass), Richard Newman (drums), and Tim Hinkley (keyboard). Together, they touch quite a few musical bases from very old schools. For example, the beautiful, haunting title track is not only pure Ten Years After, it's a reminder Lee was and is a lyricist who has something to say, in this case how the road to freedom never ends. "Back in '69" is another standout where Lee tells us we've gotten older and have lost the values of peace and love once so cherished by a generation. This one, in terms of the lyrics, is very reminiscent of "I'd Love to Change the World."
In the main, however, Still on the Road to Freedom is a musical homage to many of Lee's inspirations. Lee blows Jimmy Reed-ish harp on the straight up blues of "Save My Stuff," a nod to Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee. The happy, shuffling rockabilly of "I'm a Lucky Man" is another tip to Lee's early rock mentors. Remember, Ten Years After got its name in 1966 in honor of Elvis Presley's breakout year, 1956.
Lee pulls out his acoustic guitar for the simple blues of "Blues Got Me So Sad," the country folk of "Walk On, Walk Tall," and the luscious Mexicali instrumental, "Song of the Red Rock Mountain ." The latter was a melody Lee improvised while testing a microphone and could never improve. He goes international as well for the African-drum driven "Listen to Your Radio Station," which includes a sampled loop from the late drummer Ian Wallace.
Lee lets his band stretch out a bit for "Down Line Rock," an instrumental jam with nods to Booker T. and the M.G.'s. Organist Hinkley also shines on "Midnight Creeper" with an ironic, seductive gospel feel. The set winds up with "Love Like a Man 2," a remake of the Ten Years After hit with a completely new arrangement. According to the liner notes, Lee claimed the new version was inspired by Chuck Berry and New Orleans R&B player Smiley Lewis' "I Hear You Knocking."
Recorded at Space Studios 3 in Spain , not all of Lee's compositions are top drawer material. "Walk On, Walk Tall," in particular, is a series of cobbled together clichés that almost signal this song was intended to be a parody. However, the overall feel of Still on the Road to Freedom is that of an artist who wants to share the best of what he's loved in music since his childhood. But Lee's distinctive style and voice also fill this project with original touches that make this album far more than a reworking of basic blues, folk, country, and rock. Considering that Lee hails from Nottingham , England , it's interesting just how much Americana is in his creative well. Most importantly, Lee left Ten Years After in order to have musical freedom, and that's the freedom he's talking about in the title. Isn't that what the better music of the '60s was all about?
- from Seattle Post Intelligencer
More than 40 years after Ten Years After delivered a career-altering performance at Woodstock, guitarist-vocalist and band co-founder Alvin Lee is still enjoying the freedom he found when the band split up in 1974.
"I decided to take the road to freedom rather than the road to fame and fortune," Lee writes in the liner notes for Still on the Road to Freedom. "I was in danger of joining the dead before 30 club."
Specifically, Lee felt he had to get away from the relentless grind of touring, and from what he calls "the commerciality of the music industrialists." Even more importantly, he wanted to be free to "make music of my own choice without worrying about what other people thought or expected." It is that particular freedom that is evident through this album.
What freedom sounds like
Lee wrote all of the songs on the album, but he's quick to acknowledge influences from a varied group of artists and genres, from R&B icon Chuck Berry to ex-King Crimson drummer Ian Wallace. This isn't surprising, since TYA's music, although predominantly hard rock, had significant blues and jazz influences.
Lee began writing songs for Still on the Road to Freedom in 2008. By the time he was ready to go into the studio, he had 33 potential tracks in hand. After wrestling unsuccessfully with trying to consider all of them, he finally isolated his favorites (a little less than half of the total) and worked them into "an entity in itself with a beginning, a middle and an end."
And somehow, the mixture of arena rock, blues, bebop, country rock and folk does seem natural. Lee's guitar work, be it electric or acoustic, is as good as ever. His voice, never known for its "polish" (which is a good thing) is still natural and vibrant.
This is one of those relatively rare albums that is a good listen all the way through, with no need to skip tracks to hear the good ones. But, naturally, there are some I do like to go back to, like the percussion-driven "Listen to Your Radio Station," the catchy "Midnight Creeper," the instrumental "Down Line Rock" and "Love Like a Man 2" (a new version of a track originally on TYA's 1970 Cricklewood Green album.)
Lee plays multiple instruments on the album, which he also recorded and mixed. Other band members include two longtime associates -- Pete Pritchard on bass and Richard Newman on drums -- and keyboardist Tim Hinkley.
TYA (minus Lee) re-formed in 1988, but there are a lot of fans who are loyal to the original (1966-1974) lineup. If you're among them, you should put this album on your "get" list. If you're unfamiliar with either TYA or Alvin Lee, the album is a good listen just for the musicianship, and for the concept of creative freedom that drives it.
You might also be able to relate to the philosophy that accompanies a painting by Lee that appears on the CD and in the liner: "There are many forks on the road to freedom and the road to nowhere is one of them."
- from About.com Classic Rock
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