[7 April 2003]
The history of the Yardbirds (or Yardbyrds as some might prefer) is perhaps parallel to what has become of baseball’s Montreal Expos. Just as the Canadian baseball team has been a farm club to develop some of the game’s greatest stars (Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson), the British blues group was a home for Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton to hone their licks, riffs and chops. Although the group brought a boogie element to the musical landscape, it deserved a far greater fate. Lead singer Keith Relf passed away in 1976 and the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. But now, 35 years after the release of 1968’s Little Games, two of the original members (Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty) have decided to see if there’s a spark still there. And with a very impressive lineup of guitarists (including Jeff Beck, Slash and Steve Vai), the band is trying to recapture that magic.
“I’m Not Talking” opens the 15-track album with a trace of what was so enjoyable about the band from its inception. Whether it’s the ascending and descending bass lines that played off the lovable guitar riffs and intricate solos, the group still sounds like it has something to offer. The ‘70s rock conclusion could be eliminated though. “Crying Out For Love” evokes images of that psychedelic pop flavor so indicative of the late ‘60s. The new tune tends to go a bit stale in its middle portion though despite a valiant effort from all parties. “The Nazz Are Blue”, which features Jeff “Skunk” Baxter on guitar, is just as tight and nearly as musically solid as the original rendition.
Perhaps the greatest thing the group has going for it is sounding contemporary without sounding like your run-of-the-mill roadhouse covers band. Although it’s hard to be a cover band with original members, sometimes the end result is pathetic (see: The Doors). “For Your Love” has a great bounce to it with Goo Goo Dolls lead singer Johnny Rzeznik on lead vocal. Although it comes to a virtual standstill after one minute, the number picks up quickly and steadily. “Please Don’t Tell Me ‘Bout The News” is a percussion driven number that should go musically right instead of left. Opting for a lengthy harmonica solo that could be replaced or complemented with a lead guitar, the tune comes off a bit like a jazz be-bop song before hitting its stride. That isn’t to say it doesn’t have that trademark “mojo” feeling; it comes a tad too late.
One disappointment is the band’s signature song, “Train Kept a Rollin’”, a tune that is void of any sense of consistent urgency or excitement. Guitarist Steve Vai does add some color to the proceedings and drummer Jim McCarty is quite solid, but it just is lacking some oomph. Or ‘60s-era amplifier! “Shapes of Things”, which again features Vai doing some great solos to spruce it up. “My Blind Life” has former Yardbird Jeff Beck adding some great signature blues riffs that balance out lead singer John Idan’s rather average performance. The tune resembles what Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Steven Tyler churned out circa “Get a Grip”, a no-nonsense blues rock effort. Unfortunately, the lousiest track has to be disappointing “Over, Under, Sideways, Down”, which comes off like a poor man’s Brian Sezter’s Orchestra.
Normally at this time I would be summing up the few remaining tracks of the album. However, the label’s press kit has come with a snag, namely a faulty compact disc, leaving the last six tracks basically useless and almost impossible to decipher. Thankfully there is progress with “The Mystery of Being”, a mid-tempo pop rock track that sounds great in the audible spaces. “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” is another highlight here. Although the album isn’t exactly “the” definitive Yardbirds album, it can be said that this “reunion” is extremely far from embarrassing. Fans should enjoy it, provided the disc is functioning properly!
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/yardbirds-birdland/