Monday, December 4, 2023

Bernie Marsden - Working Man

When Bernie Marsden died back in August, at the age of 72, it felt to me that it was untimely, that he’d gone too soon.  The fact that he’d just completed this album of new material earlier in the summer underlines that feeling.  He was still, in the words of the album title, a working man – still making music.  So it’s sad to be thinking of him in the past tense when getting to grips with this collection.
His name has always been associated with blues and blues-rock, but don’t come to Working Man those styles to dominate.  In fact just two of the 12 tracks on the album walk in the shadow of the blues, as it were.  The mid-paced opener ‘Being Famous’ strides in with a crunching riff  
Bernie Marsden - a working man with tool of his trade
Pic by Adam Kennedy
and some wiry lead lines, announcing a strong tune about the high life lived by rock stars back in the day,
Bernie’s punchy vocal backed up nicely by female voices.  Is it startlingly original?  No, it’s not – but it is very satisfying.  And so, later on, is the strutting, edgy ‘Bad Reputation’, with its piercing solo.  It’s a song to make you wish David Coverdale, with his stronger vocal muscle (in his better days at least), had still had Marsden’s skills at his disposal all these years.
These may be the only out-and-out blues-rockers on the album proper, but if you want more in the same vein, then grab the limited first pressing which comes with a bonus album of ten tracks.  Here you’ll find a couple more rockers in the shape of ‘Look At Me Now’ and ‘Who’s Fooling Who’, which both come with tough, gutsy riffs, especially the latter.  Bernie knocks out an effortlessly classy solo on ‘Look At Me Know’, and on ‘Who’s Fooling Who’ leaves room for a powerful, surging organ solo, which I’m guessing is delivered by Bob Fridzema.
Back on the main album, Marsden goes down a more melodic, AOR-ish road on several tracks, such as ‘Midtown’, ‘Invisible’ and ‘Valentine’s Day’.  The first of these starts out acoustic-led, and when it changes gear suggests Toto as much as anything bluesy, with lots of backing vocals (male this time) giving it an extra sheen.  ‘Invisible’ has a thumping beat, a swaggering riff, and some squealing lead guitar notes, and with guest vocalist Jaime Kyle at the mic comes over like something by Pat Benatar.  Meanwhile ‘Valentine’s Day’ is romantic but upbeat as Bernie urges “Stay with me darling, hold onto my hand”, and gives the song a little twist with a harmonised guitar break.  And on top of these, the title track has its own lush, melodic rock vibe to go with to with some sympathetic story-telling about a character experiencing “hard times for a working man”.
There are also a couple of brief instrumentals exploring different vibes, with ‘Steelhouse Mountain’ going down a folkie/bluesy road leaning on shimmering acoustic guitar and some pinging lead, while ‘The Pearl’ is a more fluid, mellow affair, like a soundtrack of waves rippling on a beach.
Back on the bonus album meanwhile, the most interesting departures are on the closing three tracks, comprising fresh readings of the Whitesnake tracks ‘Til The Day I Die’ and ‘Time Is Right For Love’, and the Robert Johnson classic ‘Come On In My Kitchen’.  On all of these Tom Leary contributes violin to a largely stripped back sound.  So ‘Til The Day I Die’ acquires an occasional Celtic air, dreamy rather than brooding, while ‘Time Is Right For Love’ lopes along gently, and on ‘Come On In My Kitchen’ the scraping violin and reverb-tinged vocal create an eerie feel over the top of the subtle rhythmic groove.
Over the course of the two discs there’s nearly 90 minutes of music to get your ears around, and yes, the quality dips a little in places.  But there’s still plenty to demonstrate the quality of  Bernie Marsden’s songwriting, guitar playing, and ability to interpret songs in fresh ways.  The man may be gone, but he’s left lots of music that lives on.
Working Man is released by Conquest Music on 8 December.

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