Sir Lord Baltimore

Sir Lord Baltimore III Raw

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A typical conversation between veteran underground heavy rock collectors used to go something like this: "Man, oh man, can you imagine what would happen if the members of Sir Lord Baltimore actually re-formed and released the songs from their abandoned third album? Whoooaaaah…" And then it happened! Partially, anyway, but close enough for miracles, given the depths of obscurity out of which the legendary, early-'70s power trio from Brooklyn -- arguably the first American-bred heavy metal band -- eventually emerged after years of growing cult awareness. Credit the internet, the uniquely loyal nature of the heavy metal community, and the fact that, amid the dozens of commercially unsuccessful groups left in the dust by Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Judas Priest, Sir Lord Baltimore and their two albums withstood and ultimately beat the test of time far better than most. However, that was then -- 1970/1971, to be exact -- and this was now (2006), so the obvious concern for wary fans was whether original members John Garner (vocals, drums) and Louis Dambra (guitar), plus guest bass players, Sam Powell and veteran Tony Franklin (founding bassist Gary Justin declined to participate but gave his blessing) would actually manage to shake off 30-plus years of cobwebs and rediscover the essence of the once thundering Sir Lord Baltimore sound. The answer is "yes and no," for, while Garner and Dambra seem to have lost not an ounce of their instrumental chops, nor the incendiary glee with which they attack their instruments, their production standards have certainly been upgraded to a point that III Raw sounds like a modern recording (Dambra's chunky guitar tone, in particular) -- not a mummified replica of '70s recording technology. But despite the claims that the songs themselves actually date from that period, only one of them -- the hyperbolic opener "(Gonna) Fill the World with Fire" -- truly approximates the visceral abandon of yesteryear. Others, like the heavy funking "Love Slave," Garner's Buddy Miles-inspired love-in theme, "Rising Son" (which sees him launching into novel falsettos), and the tensely jittery "Cosmic Voice," simply aren't nearly as, well, raw. What's more, Franklin's immediately recognizable, typically busy playing style on most of these is another all-too-civilized deviation from the classic SLB sound, and the unusually mellow "Wild White Horses," with its acoustic guitars and romantic vibe, has little in common with the band's legendary canon, aside from evoking their first album's lovely Baroque wildcard, "Lake Isle of Innersfree." The closing track, "Mission" -- yes, that was just six songs and 30 minutes in all -- also opens the door to some controversy, since one Anthony Guido supplies guitar overdubs in place of an absent Dambra, and, not surprisingly, it lacks that recognizable SLB volatility, so perhaps this early exit comes just in time to avoid fueling serious fan suspicion. Nevertheless, most everyone is bound to agree that ‘tis better to have a somewhat flawed third album from Sir Lord Baltimore after all these years than nothing at all.

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