Thursday, May 12, 2016

Ten Years After – Watt

I was very fortunate, growing up in a house filled with music. My dad was a fan of the music at the time, which meant Jimi Hendrix, Grand Funk Railroad, Free, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and many other bands like those. Oh yeah, and this band, Ten Years After. This album came out when I was 7 years old, and I loved it. I loved everything about it. The album cover always struck me, with that hot air balloon showing the name of the album, and the colors. The music was great, to my young mind, and as I have re-visited this album when I was older, I've come to realize that my 7 year old self had exquisite taste in music. I've tried to make sure I didn't break my arm patting myself on the back over this, but I think I did tear my rotator cuff.

All joking aside, this was a phenomenal band. I dig all their stuff but this is my favorite album of theirs, and I think it is also their best album. All of their talents and skills are on display here. These songs are gems, well written, concise, and at the same time open-ended when they need to be. On this album especially, you can pretty much take your pick of styles and you will find something that suits you. This is an album that you can really listen to, because there is so much to hear. The bass never stands still, almost as though it was a crime to play anything less than eighth notes. The keys are always on point and some of the rhythm playing is a perfect counterpoint to what the bass and guitar are doing. Solid drumming that sizzles when it needs to. And what can you say about Alvin Lee and his guitar playing. He has a distinctive style when he is playing fast, putting together runs of notes that just seem like they will never end. You might think that many notes could be superfluous, yet he has a way of putting them together so that every note is in place and not excessive. When he slows down, he can play a wide variety of styles, and he plays them very well. Every time I put this album on I wind up listening to it at least 2 or 3 times in a row.

You want some straight ahead rock? Take the opening track, “I'm Coming On”. Its just under four minutes long and manages to hit all the right spots in ways that other bands spend their whole careers trying to do. I've always loved that vocal effect right at the end too. Pretty simple, especially by today's standards, but has always blown me away. Perhaps you fancy something with a slow build? Take the next track, “My Baby Left Me”. A little bluesy, a little rockin', its slow, then its fast, there are moments when all 4 band members are going at it like maniacs and it all meshes together so well you feel like you need a cigarette when its over.

“Think About The Times” is a beautiful ballad with lyrics that are certainly of the time, about life and how all flows into one. Lee provides a very soulful vocal on this that is on point. Up next is “I Say Yeah”, which introduces a little funkiness into the mix, and once again features all the band members putting their talents on display and creating a sum that is much greater than the individual parts. There's even a little shout out to the soundtracks of the spaghetti westerns with “The Band With No Name”.

As the album moves on, another song means another style. “Gonna Run” is a simmering bluesy jam that I could listen to all night. “She Lies In The Morning” starts out as a pretty straightforward song, then morphs back and forth between jam sessions and is all very, very tasty. And then to rap things up, there's a live version of the Chuck Berry classic, “Sweet Little Sixteen”.

I see these guys as an underappreciated band that hit their heights in the late 60's and early 70's. Most people know them from “I'd Love To Change The World”, and perhaps “I'm Going Home” from the Woodstock soundtrack, but if you dig a little and spend some time with this band, they did so much good stuff that it's ridiculous. If you're not really familiar with Ten Years After, use this album as a jumping off point, and then check out what they did before and after this one. You will be richly rewarded for the time you spend getting to know them.


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