TEN YEARS AFTER: Ssssh/Cricklewood Green

(Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs Ultradisc II 24k gold CD)

Reviewed by DJ Johnson

As a young boy and the proud owner of my first electric guitar in the early 1970s, I had some very specific goals. 1) Practice day and night so that I may be good enough to get lots and lots of girls, 2) practice some more so I may figure out how to make sounds as heavy as Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) did, and 3) practice for years and years and years so I may eventually be fast and fluid enough to be qualified to carry Alvin Lee's spit bucket. I eventually became one the fastest players in town, but not fast enough to even play a Lee riff without having to apologize afterward. The thing was, you could play so fast the notes all blurred together, and that was kinda cool, but only Alvin could make each note weep at high speed.

Ten Years After's two best albums have been joined together on one 24k gold disc by the folks at Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs. Ssssh, originally released in 1969, contains some of the bands finest and truest blues moments. More people remember "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," and the track deserves its lofty place in rock lore, but "The Stomp" is pure blues magic. An original Lee composition, it predates The Rolling Stones "Shake Your Hips" by over two years, and it bears more than a passing resemblance. For gritty guitar tone, there's nothing quite like "I Woke Up This Morning," which closes out Ssssh on a thundering note. Ssssh was most definitely an electric blues album. For their next project, the band would bring in some new elements.

Cricklewood Green begins at track 9 with "Sugar The Road," a departure from the formula that delves into drony psychedelic territory. If it doesn't feel like blues during the majority of the tune, the "problem" is remedied when Lee kicks into hyperdrive for the solo. The music explodes, with Leo Lyons (bass), Chick Churchill (organ) and Ric Lee (drums) shinning just as brightly as Alvin. "50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain" further explores and tests the psychedelic ground that they would finally claim on 1972's A Space In Time. "Love Like A Man" is only remembered by serious TYA fans, mostly because the song everyone else knows them for, "Goin' Home," is so overwhelmingly famous. Too bad. "Love Like A Man" is a great tune and an underappreciated landmark that still sounds powerful. The hidden prize in this box, however, is "Me And My Baby," a jumpin' swing-blues original in the tradition of B.B. King. Lee solos, but the other three are the stars of this track, as they show themselves to be a real honest to God blues band.

Kudos to Mobile Fidelity's sound people. These albums never sounded this good. The hiss level has been greatly reduced. Listening to the original vinyl of Cricklewood Green, particularly the quiet intro to "Love Like A Man," one is bombarded with hiss. Here, it is just a whisper, yet the high end doesn't seem to have been sacrificed. Separation is as good as you can expect, considering--and this is mostly speculation on my part--the album was recorded with the band playing live in the studio without much use of baffles (padded partitions used to prevent microphones intended for one instrument from picking up the sound of other instruments). Since you can hear Ric Lee's snare wires rattling when Lyon's or Lee hit a low note, I think this is a safe bet. Best of all, the reverb space seems far better defined than it did on the original release. With music this dreamlike, that reverb space is extremely important. I give this one a very high recommendation.

(C) 1997 - DJ Johnson

Originally appeared in Cosmik Debris, a monthly music publication at http://www.cosmik.com/cosmikdebris

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