TOMMY BOLIN: FROM THE ARCHIVES VOLUME II
By Jim Sheridan
Something many dedicated music lovers despise about the current musical scene, especially on FM radio, is the uniformity and sameness of the sounds. It’s hard not to turn on the radio (or TV) and hear so many disappointingly similar sounds follow each other. For those looking for a bit more flavor and variety in their musical diet, here is From the Archives Volume II. From raw acoustic blues to intimate ballads to searing jazz fusion to ripping hard rock... you’re in a room with seemingly a dozen bands. Or one Tommy Bolin: The Ultimate. His was a spirit that spoke through whatever genre he wished to tap into, and it all came out sounding like him: like genius.
From the Archives Volume II is equal parts songwriter’s workbook and virtuoso’s display piece. Some songs get aired for the first time; there are also demo versions that offer some real surprises for those more accustomed to the polished album versions. Open your ears to this multi-faceted disc that sheds more light on the talent of Tommy Bolin. Come taste the man.
The disc opens with a demo version of the James Gang ballad “Alexis,” stripped down to its basic elements’ two acoustic guitars and Tommy’s singing. His voice is gently shaded, less produced and more honest than the James Gang Bang version. The melody lines vocally are almost identical to the final release but instrumentally it s simpler, purer, with no fade-out solo. As with all of his demos, there’s a lively snap to the acoustic strumming.
A demo of “Teaser” follows, more raw than the studio version, not as rough as many of the live versions; the best of both worlds. As such, it offers a fascinating contrast to the version implanted in Bolin fans’ cerebellums. The vocals are edgy, and really belted, not as practiced as on the studio version, the solo loss of a cosmic overdub headphone freak-out extravaganza, favoring a more straight-ahead attack. A fragile falsetto denotes “Celebration,” a gentle acoustic number. Strong soul influences are heard in the high notes Tommy goes for, arching over his own simple accompaniment. The high lonely aching sound of this song belies its joyous title.
“Destiny,” featuring Jan Hammer, Billy Cobham and the song’s composer Gene Perla opens with the dominant sound of the throaty flute playing of Jeremy Stieg. In this fusion number, everyone takes a turn at leading the jamming. Cool jazz shadings ease in; taut drumming, multi-colored keyboard notes, and pert flicks of guitar that leap out of either speaker and into some pithy picking that percussively duets with and leads the drums. The guitar lead is dazzlingly fluid, a real treat for fans of the Spectrum and Mind Transplant recordings. Ultimately, this song finds Tommy playing as a team member, not leader, and the result is beautifully cohesive.
The “Dreamer” demo, as with the other early versions of Teaser songs, is a simpler version, more stripped down than the epic final version. Perhaps the most striking feature of the song is the tentative, vulnerable sound of Tommy’s vocals. The piano is far more prominent, the guitar more in the background. a gentle slide solo moves into graceful single string lines rather than the echo-laden build-up of the familiar recording. A final detail to note is how Tommy’s quiet emoting makes for a different ending than Glenn Hughes’ dramatic cadenza.
“Slow Driver” is a slow, smooth, sexy acoustic blues its chugging feel and cool vocals befit the lyrical message. Tommy’s apprenticeship with blues masters like Albert King clearly taught him some things: witness his tasty, economical lead, and lines like “If you’re looking for a racer, you better go to the track. Ain’t no racehorse, baby, don’t matter when I get back!” Spooky cymbal splashes usher in “Journey,” , the previously unreleased early James Gang version of what evolved into “Marching Powder.” Here, the song is slower and more sinister than the final version, with a funky Jim Fox drum break down and no keyboard solo! Instead, there’s a swirling, curling Tommy lead. It is easier to hear the rhythm guitar, and one can only marvel as the second pass of the solo propels into some powerful shredding!
“Gypsy Moon” is a light, breezy cousin to From the Archives Volume I’s “Evening Rain.” Tommy’s percussive acoustic strumming comes to the forefront again. His nasal, restrained vocals make one ask if, like Glenn Hughes, he had Stevie Wonder in mind?
The Private Eyes favorite “You Told Me That You Loved Me” surfaces as a live totally re-mixed incarnation with the Tommy Bolin Band from their King Bisquit Flower Hour recording. Tommy blends directly copped licks from the studio version with some of-the-moment inspiration. “Let the kid play!” he cries, but also of note is how well the kid sings. The heavy fuzz bump and grind of the guitar leads to some over-the-edge soloing on the coda, to the delight of an audience that, sadly, did not realize how lucky they were. The same masterful slide technique that made “The Grind” burn so brightly on Teaser is firmly established on its demo, indicating how solid Tommy’s vision of this tune was. A bouncy, choppy feel is more prominent; there is a more dominate sound of the background voices on the chorus and a bluesier swagger in the verse vocal. It’s also easier to catch the words! Let it be said that the fade-out solo is simply red fucking hot. Like the acoustic demo version of “Teaser” on From the Archives Volume I, this “Someday Will Bring Our Love Home” is another example of how radically Tommy would change a song from demo to finished version, and yet how impressive even the early versions were. With a slow, breathy feel and an acoustic lead that winds around the chorus, the gracefully paced first half of the song jumps into a rousing, rapid-strummed coda that brings it home indeed!
Just as From the Archives Volume I began and ended with acoustic and electric demos of “Wild Dogs,” “Alexis” here gets its second playing to close the disc. On this track that Tommy plays all the instruments on (!), drums and overdubbed electric guitars enter on this 4-track demo rendition, bringing it even closer to the finalized James Gang version. The serpentine fade-out solo invokes Tommy’s early psychedelic days with Zephyr, bringing the CD to an end with a “Bang”!
And there it is; twelve tracks, all coming from different directions, though from the same source. As with so many of Tommy’s recordings, this is a document that bears listening to over and over again.
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