Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Yardbirds - Yardbirds '68 (Jimmy Page Music, 2017)

The legendary rock 'n' roll band The Yardbirds were on their last legs in early 1968 when these recordings took place. Jimmy Page, last in a long line of heroic guitarists in the group's employ had taken command of the music and it began to move away from the blues/pop foundation the group had been working on since their formation in 1963. Page wanted to move the band into a more confrontational heavy riff based music that he would eventually perfect with his next band, Led Zeppelin. (see also the Goldmine article about the Yardbirds to Zeppelin transition) Regardless, this is a very interesting collection, consisting of one disc of live material recorded at the Anderson Theater in New York City and a second disc entitled Studio Sketches, consisting of demo material recorded during this period. In addition to Page on guitar, the band consisted of Keith Relf on vocals, harmonica, percussion, Chris Dreja on bass guitar on backing vocals and Jim McCarty on drums, percussion and vocals. This music had been released very briefly on LP before being pulled, making this version curated under the auspices of Page himself with input from the other surviving band members the first official re-mixed, re-mastered release of the music. They may have been fraying at the edges, but the group remained a powerful live act, as seen by strong performances of "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" which motors along relentlessly with raw drumming and soaring harmonica. A couple of their earlier singles follow, "Mr, You're a Better Man Than I" and "Heart Full of Soul" which develop dynamically within the traditional framework the band had built over the years. The first surprise comes in the form of an embryonic version of "Dazed and Confused" soon to become an exercise on self-indulgence as Page wowed arena sized crowds with his guitar bowing technique and performances would stretch out over fifteen minutes. They are still feeling their way through these songs, but you can sense Page chafing against the familiar patterns of the band. This all comes together on the concluding track, a ten minute blowout of Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man” including a few sub themes to boot. Everybody digs into this performance with a tough chugging groove with slashing guitar and taut bass and drums. They also rip through a few more of their popular singles, taking a fast packed and action packed approach to fan favorites “Over Under Sideways Down” and “Shapes of Things.” The following disc of demos is short, but contains some treasures, such as the two versions of acoustic experiments like “Spanish Blood” and "Knowing That I’m Losing You (Tangerine)" another track that would find another life gets shortly. Overall, this is a valuable historical collection showing that the band was functioning at a high level and experimenting right up to the end. Yardbirds '68 - amazon.com

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