Alan Wilson

The Blind Owl

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Issued by Maryland's Severn Records label, The Blind Owl is -- amazingly -- the first comprehensive overview of Alan Wilson's contribution to Canned Heat, the legendary blues-rock band he co-founded with Bob "The Bear" Hite. Few would argue that CH were one of the two American groups so deeply influenced by Delta blues that they brought the music form wholesale into rock & roll during the mid- to late '60s; the other group was, of course, the Allman Brothers Band. Compiled and produced by Skip Taylor (the band's manager and producer) and CH's drummer Adolfo de la Parra, this wonderfully annotated volume contains all the originals Wilson wrote for CH, as well as the tunes on which he sang lead vocals with his unusual tremulous meld of tenor and falsetto that fueled the band's two biggest hits, "Going Up the Country" and "On the Road Again." Along with his songs and wildly inventive rhythm and slide-guitar playing, his ingenious harmonica playing must be factored in: it was one of the Heat's trademarks, and gave them an otherworldly, timeless sound. Besides the hits, other stand-out cuts include "Time Was," featuring some stellar lead guitar work from Henry Vestine; "An Owl Song," with killer piano work from Dr. John; "Do Not Enter," an angry, early example of the band's trance-inducing qualities; the haunting (and prophetic) "My Time Ain't Long"; the slow, spooky, loose, and lengthy "Pulling Hair Blues," and his cover of "Little" Walter Jacobs' "Mean Old World," which could have been recorded in the late '40s rather than in 1967. Another highlight is "Skat" (the only tune here that showcases the band in the company of horns), featuring Wilson's scat singing and guest guitar work from Harvey Mandel. The only excesses in this set -- though for historical purposes they had to be included -- are on Wilson's four parts of CH's opus of self-indulgence, "Parthenogenesis," though they are easiest to endure. The Blind Owl is a fitting tribute to a truly underappreciated musician who should rightfully be regarded as an icon.

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