Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Cream - 1966-1972 (Universal, 2014)

Cream, consisting of Jack Bruce on bass guitar and vocals, Eric Clapton on guitar and vocals and Ginger Baker on drums was one of the first rock 'n' roll super groups, a band whose virtuosity shot them to fame before acrimony and infighting brought them crashing down just a few years later. In-between there were three studio albums, and two live albums that were released posthumously. Fresh Cream introduced the band in 1966, mixing well thought originals like "I Feel Free" and "N.S.U." with a wide array of blues covers ranging from Muddy Waters to Skip James and Robert Johnson. 1967's Disraeli Gears found the band coming into their own and embracing the psychedelia of the summer of love and swinging London. They had several hits on this album which wedded their muscular approach to a pop sensibility on tracks like "Strange Brew" and "Tales of Brave Ulysses" while still making time for their roots on "Outside Woman Blues." 1968's Wheels of Fire was another first, a two record set that focused one LP on their studio work and another on their live performance from the Fillmore auditorium. It's a wide ranging affair from Ginger Baker's bizarre spoken word "Pressed Rat and Warthog" to the blistering single "White Room" and a confident performance of the blues standards "Sitting on Top of the World" and "Born Under a Bad Sign." The live album features Eric Clapton's famously blistering version of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads", The harmonica blues blowout "Traintime" and lengthy jams on Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" and Baker's epic drum feature, "Toad." Things were fading fast with the release of the appropriately titled Goodbye Cream. Mixing live versions of Skip James' "I'm So Glad" and Bruce's brooding "Politician" with studio material lead by Clapton's pop song "Badge." After the group had formally broken up in early 1969, there were two albums of live material released in 1970 and 1972. This makes sense not only as a cash in but because the group was at their most ferocious when playing live. They tear through the blues standard "Rollin' and Tumblin'" and some originals on Vol. 1, while Vol. 2 sported surprisingly concise readings of some of their original material featuring some of the band's hits, "White Room", "Tales of Brave Ulysses" and "Sunshine of Your Love." This boxed set contains all of Cream's output during their earlier years, without the innumerable complications that would follow in addition to an improbable reunion concert and collection in 2005. The vinyl records are well pressed and quiet, and the original album covers are faithfully reproduced. Unfortunately there is no booklet of liner notes and photos, but a fan of the band with a penchant for vinyl will certainly overlook this. Cream: 1966-1972 (LP box set) - amazon.com

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