Denny Laine took "Go Now," a Larry Banks/Milton Bennett tune originally cut by Bessie Banks and the Jelly Beans, and made it his own with the Moody Blues. That Ginger Baker's Airforce has Laine cover the Drifter's "I Don't Want to Go on Without You" is very clever, and a hint that this band was very serious about making a go of it. The Bert Berns/Jerry Wexler composition might have been a bit too soulful for Top 40, while Graham Bond's rendition of Roebuck Staple's "Let Me Ride" is beyond soul, it's rock-gospel and genuinely great. Here Ginger Baker is far more restrained than he was in Cream, and fans of his former supergroups seeing this Airforce album with its childishly psychedelic cover probably had no idea what was inside. Laine's guitar is a tremendous contribution -- as this is Laine in his prime, post-Moody Blues and pre-Wings. Cream's "Sweet Wine" has a majesty here with the lead vocals of Aliki Ashman accompanied by Diane Stewart and Catherine James. Although Laine is listed as an "additional personnel" along with Rick Grech, Harold McNair, Rocki Dzidzornu, and Catherine James, Laine makes three appearances. On an album with seven tracks, that's pretty significant. "Do U No Hu Yor Phrenz R?" is pretty much this version of Ginger Baker's Air Force and the music is solid on the Baker original. Horns and keyboards combine and sway to the lilting vocal -- a very expressive and well-constructed track -- leading one to think maybe Baker wasn't the madman he portrayed, or at least that there was a method to his madness. His other contribution to side one is "We Free Kings" which weaves percussion and flute with the jazzy vocals of Ashman and Stewart. There are solos galore by Bud Beadle on saxes, Steve Gregory, and Graham Bond. The barely audible lyric sounds like something about Lady Godiva, togetherness, and happiness. Nice pyschedelic '60s sentiments, except that the '60s were over. "Humpty Dumpty had a great fall" can be clearly heard, making it obvious that this song is about the music, and the music is refreshingly intact and enormous. Baker's excess has to emerge on at least one track, and his drums are all over "Toady," of course, which is like a "Son of" "Toad" from the previous live album produced by Jimmy Miller. Baker does the production work here, and after eight minutes and 21 seconds of "Toady"'s haunting vocal and piano, Bond's "12 Gates of the City" concludes the disc. This material was clearly as hip as Eric Clapton's Layla album, just not as commercially organized or executed. There is no doubt that Derek & the Dominoes contained a special magic elevating those performances and songs to a sacred realm, but something should be said for the honesty and purity of Ginger Baker's Air Force 2, and if it is too musical and avant garde for an audience that embraced Clapton, it should be commended for its sense of adventure and elegance. "12 Gates of the City" is a delight, swimming with sounds from the Arabian nights and the swamps of New Orleans, a sublime and uncharted mix that sounds better years after it was recorded. A timeless, yet pretty much forgotten record which deserved more FM airplay in its day than it got.
AllMusic Review by Joe Viglione