[5 March 2014]
Chris Wilson is the US-born but UK-based guitarist whose greatest claim to fame is being known as the singer of the best-remembered lineup of San Francisco cult band The Flamin’ Groovies during the phase when they recorded their seminal 1976 LP Shake Some Action. Wilson’s latest solo release, It’s Flamin’ Groovy!, has a tip-off in the title; here, he’s joined by former bandmates Cyril Jordan and George Alexander, along with other ex-members of the Groovies, such as Roy Loney, Mike Wilhelm, and James Ferrell. Procol Harum’s Hammond organist Matthew Fisher additionally lends a hand to boot. So, with all that talent and star power, you would think this record would be a triumphant return to the glory days of old. Sadly, It’s Flamin’ Groovy! is only partway successful. Most of the problem is that Wilson, when he sings, has a weak voice that, based on the evidence here, seems dulled by decades of cigarette smoke. It’s jarring and disconcerting to listen to, like hearing a death rattle or someone who has one foot in the grave. However, if you can get past that, there are certainly power-pop and jangle rock gems to be had on the record’s 12 cuts.
What’s more, this is an album that plays better under the cloak of darkness. Spinning this record in the middle of a sunny afternoon just doesn’t have the same effect as it does when nighttime has fallen. This is the stuff of dingy dive bars, right where the action all is. Additionally, this is an album that improves with repeated listens, even if it isn’t exactly full of surprises, either. Opening cut “All the Action” hearkens back to the band’s salad days—a slice of jangle pop that appears to be a response to the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Shake Some Action”, as the first lyrics are “All the action has been shaken.” Other standout cuts include the Stonesy swagger of ballad “Semaphore Signals”, and the saxophone in “Down to the Wire” is a nice touch. There’s a theme of taking chances on the record as two songs address gambling: “Last Roll of the Dice” and “Gamblin’ Man”. “Heart in Her Hand” also offers a great jangly riff. It’s just a shame that the vocals don’t always quite match the effort of the musicianship. Still, fans of the Flamin’ Groovies might find enough here to sate them until the reunited Groovies release a new album later on in 2014. It’s Flamin’ Groovy! is an album of fire, and, when it’s working on all cylinders, it’s a nice throwback to the Byrds-ian sound that Wilson deftly mines. Again, better singing next time out might bolster the nature of the material.