What does it sound like?:
Six years in the making, this album celebrates Pete Brown’s involvement with Cream, offering up 15 acoustic interpretations of Cream songs with a fairly stellar cast of contributors, including Joe Bonamassa, Deborah Bonham, Maggie Bell, Clem Clempson, Neil Murray, Paul Rodgers and Bobby Rush. Sadly, in the time it’s taken to get from recording to release, it’s also seen the passing of Pete Brown himself earlier this year, as well as Bernie Marsden, Mo Foster and Ginger Baker. Malcolm Bruce is the only person to perform on all tracks, either on bass or piano, plus a vocal on “We’re Going Wrong” that has more than a hint of his father.
Brown’s songs provide the backbone of the album but there are omissions such as “SWLABR” as well as songs he had no hand in such as “We’re Going Wrong” and “Born Under A Bad Sign”. Whilst acoustic albums allow / necessitate a degree of reinterpretation, the songs are presented fairly faithfully. The switch to acoustic has minimal impact to the bass and drums, so it’s the vocals and the way in which Clapton’s guitar has been replaced that gives the songs a new identity.
Opener “I Feel Free” is one of the strongest tracks on the album. Although Bernie Marsden provides the guitar, it’s Malcolm Bruce’s melodic piano that stands out, whilst Deborah Bonham’s vocal gives the song a soulful lift. “White Room” is the first track with a Pete Brown vocal, which in places sounds eerily like Clapton, a violin led string section providing the center point that previously fell to EC’s guitar. The same combination of players (Brown, Clem Clempson and Malcom Bruce on guitar, Mo Foster on bass, Cheryl Alleyne on drums) also run through “Theme From An Imaginary Western”, Brown’s vocal here a touch brittle. “We’re Going Wrong” – part of the Cream canon that I never had much time for – sees the band reduced to just Clempson and Alleyne plus a string section and a stupendous vocal from Malcolm Bruce that has given the song a new lease of life, for me at least.
“Sunshine Of Your Love” puts Bonamassa, Marsden and Baker together. Bonamassa’s vocals just get better and better, and it’s a slide guitar solo plus Bruce’s piano that sprinkle some glitter on a track that otherwise feels a bit adrift without the punch of an electric guitar. I’d love to heard the non electric version. They also get together on “Crossroads” this time with Marsden providing the vocal. It’s played at the same pace as Cream’s original, but despite some fretboard wizardry from what I assume is Bonamassa, it remains a bit ordinary.
Elsewhere, “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” and “Sweet Wine” pair Marsden, Bruce and Baker with a brass section and vocalist Nathan James, a man with a four octave voice and a skyscraper ego. The jazzy looser fell works better on “Tales” but that’s also probably because I was never much of fan of “Sweet Wine” and this version hasn’t changed that. “Spoonful” takes on a soulful swing thanks to Bobby Rush’s harmonica, something that works better there than it does on “Sitting On Top Of The World” although Rush and Maggie Bell alternating vocals makes the whole thing worthwhile.
“Politician” is Brown’s third and final contribution. Brown offers a more idiosyncratic vocal with more adlibbing but for me it just his voice is just too stained and tremulous. Things get back on track with the closer “Born Under A Bad Sign” with Paul Rodgers sole contribution, meshing nicely with Bernie Marsden’s guitar.
What does it all *mean*?
I’ve always thought the difficultly with cover versions / tribute albums is that their target audience is inevitably people who are already big fans of the original versions and therefore inclined to dismiss any new versions as inferior. Something I tried not to do here, with varying levels of success.
Goes well with…
A battered copy of “Disraeli Gears”
Might suit people who like…