Album of the Year | December 22, 2014

1975 – Jeff Beck, Blow by Blow

blow-by-blowA bit of a change of direction for this one, and an album I found quite late compared with others I’ve listed so far. Jeff Beck used to be a name I associated with Hi Ho Silver Lining and nonsense quotes from guitarists about having “notes on his guitar that no-one else has.”

It was Where Were You? from Guitar Shop that I heard first and suddenly I could understand what people were going on about. The rest of the album though left me somewhat cold and a friend suggested I pick up Blow By Blow and Wired instead.

As an instrumental album full of segues and changes within pieces I’m actually not entirely familiar with most of the pieces by name, but right from the get go on You Know What I Mean it’s clear that what we’re listening to is not Jeff Beck per se, but the Jeff Beck Band. And it’s a really tight, funky band, crammed with talent. Max Middleton on keyboards stands out for me, though I learned later than Stevie Wonder helped out here and there too.

Having said I don’t know the track names, the exception is Scatterbrain which a six minute slice of perfection with some superb drumming, great lead work from Beck and Middleton, and orchestral backing which just about stays on the right side of being interesting without taking over, and a driving, tension-building main theme which kicks in whenever things are starting to get a little too safe.

Scatterbrain is followed by Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers, which is one of those tracks that showcases what people mean when they talk about notes on Jeff Beck’s guitars that don’t exist for anyone else. His phrasing, dynamics and control of notes on a piece like this is simply astounding.

After a few more changes of mood the album finishes with Diamond Dust, which again brings in an orchestral backing. This time its use is more prominent and the string section features more on a par with the rest of the musicians, being given its own share of the limelight before dreamily closing out the album.

In a way I find it hard to explain what it is I like about this album when placed along side other things on my list, but clearly from my playing habits it’s right up there for me. It’s an album I put on over and over, particularly when I’m in the mood for something that will occupy my brain without distracting me too much. For all the occasional blitzes of excitement, I find it a very soothing album to have on without it simply being background music. A rarity.

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