Σάββατο, 12 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009

Neil Merryweather - Word of Mouth


The year was 1969, one year after Al Kooper brought Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills into the studio to record what became the legendary 'Super Session' disc. It's difficult to resist comparing that historic trio with the trio Neil Merryweather brought together for his 'Word of Mouth' double LP. As on 'Super Session', only harpist/vocalist Charlie Musselwhite actually gets together in the studio with the other name performers, Steve "Guitar" Miller and Dave Mason. While Stills and Bloomfield never shared studio time on 'Super Session', there is no evidence that Steve Miller and Dave Mason ever recorded together for 'Word of Mouth'. In most respects, in fact, the contributions of Miller, and especially Dave Mason, are nominal. But just as Harvey Brooks added some stunning bass lines on 'Super Session', Neil Merryweather receives some stunning support from lead guitarist Dave Burt, and quality contributions from a host of talented session musicians. Even the multiple photographs of the studio scene included in the liner notes are reminicent of the 'Super Session' package. As mentioned, the original vinyl 'Word of Mouth' product consisted of four album sides and just over sixty-one minutes of music. The contributions of Miller, Musselwhite, and Mason are scattered about rather democratically. Steve Miller is credited with a co-write, lead vocal, and lead guitar on 'Just a Little Bit', featured on side one. It has a two minute piano coda, so Miller occupies only about half of the track. Side two offers a Charlie Musselwhite co-write, harp, and vocal on the standard blues piece, 'Hello Little Girl'. Dave Mason gets his turn with a co-write and lead vocal on the six-minute side three opener, 'Sun Down Lady'. Each featured performer has a co-write and lead vocal on side four. So, all told, only six of the fourteen tracks feature the three M's. Neil Merryweather himself does a good deal of composing for the disc, revealing himself as a specialist in heavy rock ballads, such as he serves up on the two opening tracks, 'I Found Love' and 'Teach You How To Fly', and later on 'The Hard Times'. He also supplies the bass and the majority of the lead vocals on the disc. He's adequate at all three, but rarely exceptional, and this is the major shortcoming of the disc. Many of the songs come off as generic rock numbers without memorable hooks or melodies. Songs such as 'Where I Am' and 'News' suffer from weak lyrical passages and derivitive instrumental backing. The choicest segment of the disc kicks off with the nine-minute 'Mrs. Robert's Son', apparently an homage to guitarist Howard Roberts, who plays on the track. It features an outstanding two lead guitar jam that progressively becomes less and less structured. More excellent guitar work follows on 'Licked the Spoon' and 'Sun Down Lady'. 'The Hard Times' concludes this stellar quartet of songs, featuring a unique electric violin lead from Bobby Notkoff. Another highlight appears on side four, with Charlie Musselwhite delivering an impressive lead vocal on an electric blues number he penned with Dave Mason, 'Rough Dried Woman'. That track is also interesting as Mason takes on bass guitar duties. Two other tracks from side four, the closer 'Hooker Blues' and the opener, 'We Can Make It', deserve mention as well. 'Hooker Blues' is the most psychedelic piece in the set, winding things up with some cool sound effects produced through playing tapes backwards. And I could be wrong, but it sure sounds to me like the melody from Steve Miller's 'We Can Make It' was borrowed for the 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation' theme song. Give it a listen and judge for yourself. Neil Merryweather's 'Word of Mouth' certainly has its moments, but much of the disc, unfortunately, is rather generic sounding. Few of the tunes stick in your head and/or demand a fresh replay. So the potters are working with substandard clay, but we are fortunate to be in the presence of such acclaimed potters. The musicianship is clearly the main attraction to this production, and their talent comes through loud and clear. At times Merryweather forces his talent over the brink, such as on the opening track, where his lead vocal resembles David Clayton Thomas on methamphetamine, or the overdone string accompaniment on 'Where Am I'. But all in all, 'Word of Mouth' is certainly deserving of a listen or two, especially for fans of Mason, Miller, and especially Charlie Musselwhite, whose contributions may be the most impeccable of the bunch. It's a rarity often overlooked from a sparkling period in rock and roll music.

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