Long John Baldry

Boogie Woogie: The Warner Bros. Recordings

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This double pack, limited to 2500 copies, reissues Long John Baldry's long out of print -- at least in the States -- Warner Brothers albums from the early '70s, adding a handful of additional tracks (alternate versions, radio spots, unreleased songs) to each. Boogie Woogie: The Warner Bros. Recordings includes 1971's It Ain't Easy and 1972's Everything Stops for Tea, which were co-produced by Elton John and Rod Stewart -- neither whom had attained major popularity yet -- who worked on one album side per disc. Although Sid Griffin's generally insightful liner notes that describe these releases as "some of the best British blues rock to grace black vinyl" may be overstating their importance, there is a fair amount of genuinely solid music here. For the most part, Baldry covered American blues in his uniquely ornate British style, which not surprisingly didn't resonate with U.S. audiences the way say, the Rolling Stones did. His was a more studied albeit eclectic approach, dipping into New Orleans pop ("Iko Iko"), U.K. music hall ("Everything Stops for Tea"), traditional folk ("Mother Ain't Dead" with Rod Stewart on vocals and banjo!) and gospel along with some memorable Willie Dixon tunes ("Seventh Son," "I'm Ready," "You Can't Judge a Book"). It Ain't Easy's first five selections feature members of what would later be Rod Stewart's Every Picture Tells a Story band backing up Baldry, and is considered a stepping stone to that classic recording. Baldry isn't the most magnetic performer, but his gruff voice has a certain charm, and even if the material is a bit erratic, he is obviously enjoying himself. A boisterous Baldry tears into the slow blues "Bring My Baby Back to Me" from 1972's Mar-Y-Sol Festival as one of disc two's extras. He also goes country, rather convincingly, for a lovely cover of Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart." The only clear classic here is the rollicking "Don't Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll," a terrific rocking underground hit that was Baldry's only stab on American radio. While that may not be worth the rather inflated price of this limited-edition reissue, these albums are both intermittently enjoyable and Rhino has done its usual classy job repackaging them with remastered sound and rare pictures.

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