Thursday, August 11, 2022

Bernie Marsden - Trios

And so we come to the third album in Bernie Marsden’s Inspirations series.  Following the Kings and Chess albums, Trios is something of a leap in style, as Bernie pays tribute to a bundle of “power trios” who might reasonably be filed under the heading of blues-rock.  The outfits in question are all big names, and though several of the titles are familiar, the selection isn’t stuffed with signature songs.
For my money Bernie feels more at home on this collection of (largely) down’n’dirty material than on the previous two albums, right from the fuzzed-up entry of the heavy rockin’ ‘Black Cat Moan’.  
What have you got in the case, Bernie?
Pic by Alan Bambrough
With the late Jimmy Copley crunching away on drums, this is a genuine power trio sound given to a song which, like the similarly weighty ‘Going Down’, came from the pen of Memphis maven Don Nix.
There’s similar heft to the Mountain track ‘Never In My Life’, which hoves into view with a spiral staircase of a riff, some wailing, quivering guitar breaks, and an unusually gutsy Marsden vocal.  A new one on me, it registers because of the qualities mentioned above, but the melody and lyrics are pretty humdrum.  Rick Derringer’s ‘Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo’ is a more familiar tune, and a stronger one, which Bernie and co lay into like a punch bag, Bernie slipping in some harmonised guitar here and there on the riff for variety, and unleashing a blizzard of notes during his solo.  But this is still one of the moments that leaves me wondering, what’s the point?  Edgar Winter reprised the song on his recent Brother Johnny tribute album, and I ask myself how much value there really is in Bernie putting his take out there.
The following ‘Same Old Story’ is even more of a rock’n’roller.  A deep-ish Rory Gallagher cut, it still kicks like a mule, a driving affair with David Levy’s bass pumping away in fine style.   And Marsden demonstrates a real affinity with the Gallagher sound, cracking out three very Rory-like solos in the course of four minutes, right down to the piercing tone, and even having a bash at a signature Rory “sing-along-a-Strat” passage for good measure.  One might ask if this degree of imitation has any real value beyond paying tribute, but curiously I’d suggest that here it draws attention to Rory’s singular musical nature.
In more subdued mode, Peter Green’s slowish ‘Driftin’ Blues’ is a subtler affair, with a halting riff over simple drums and bass, and Marsden delivering an exquisite solo with plenty of dynamics, and a gritty vocal that also comes over with feeling.  Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Driftin’’ is less successful though.  Bernie’s guitar work is plenty interesting, and if he doesn’t attempt to replicate Jimi’s sound he still manages to suggest his hazy tone.  But unfortunately Bernie can’t match Jimi’s peculiarly dreamy vocal.
Contrastingly, his singing stands up very well in comparison with Jimmy Dewar on Robin Trower’s ‘Too Rolling Stoned', which comes over with lots of drive and guts, right from the thrumming bass and wah-wah guitar of its intro to its edgy, wiry, slowed down coda.  And ‘Outside Woman Blues’ is another success, capturing the spirit of Cream without feeling slavish, with bouts of guitar tone suggestive of Randy Bachman on ‘American Woman’.
They get kinda funky once, on the James Gang’s aptly titled ‘Funk #49’, a familiar enough tune but one that still arrives like an old friend one doesn’t see enough of, with Jimmy Copley chucking in some powerfully funky, kit-rolling drum sallies, while Bernie’s occasionally double-tracked vocals are a tad cleaner than Joe Walsh’s distinctive voice.
I could live without ‘Spanish Castle Magic’, never one of my go-to Hendrix songs, and to close there’s a fun but corny take on Cozy Powell’s ‘Na Na Na’.  But on the whole Trios hangs together pretty well, considering its origins in the work of diverse hands.  I’m still not sure it adds much to the sum of rockin’ knowledge, but it’s enjoyable all the same.  And now for some originals please, Mr Marsden!
 is out now on Conquest Music, and can be ordered here.

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