Category Archives: Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce Discography

He was the prototypical progressive rock bass guitarist/singer in Cream, capable of belting out the blues with the best of them or pushing the limits of rock with psychedelic artistry. Although Bruce and Ginger Baker had played together in The Graham Bond Organization, it was Eric Clapton who requested Bruce’s presence in Cream. Clapton gained most of the attention in Cream, but Jack Bruce was the most complete songwriter in the band and authored many of their greatest songs (usually with lyricist Pete Brown), including “I Feel Free,” “N.S.U.,” “Sunshine of Your Love, “SWLABR,” “White Room” and “Politician.”

When Cream folded, Bruce embarked on a solo career, beginning with the well-received Songs For A Tailor (1969). He confounded many, however, with the release of the avant-garde jazz elpee Things We Like (1970), recorded with Dick Heckstall-Smith and former Graham Bondsman John McLaughlin in 1968. Harmony Row (1971) returned to a more traditional song format, yet even here Bruce’s songs were often unconventional and album sales less than robust.

For his next act, Bruce returned to the power trio format by joining Leslie West and Corky Laing (both of Mountain) in West, Bruce & Laing. The trio released two records of heavy blues rock—Why Dontcha (1972) and Whatever Turns You On (1973)—before breaking up. Over the years, Bruce would return often to the trio format, notably with Robin Trower (B.L.T.) and with Baker and Gary Moore in BBM.

While Bruce brought the adventurous spirit of Cream with him, it came with the excess baggage of addiction. Perhaps as a result of this, Bruce’s solo music is often excessive: his vocals are sometimes over the top, his bass playing even moreso, and his treatment of Cream’s music (especially in his later years) is more irreverent than reverential. As a general rule of thumb, the early song-oriented albums (Tailor, Harmony Row, Out of The Storm, How’s Tricks) are the most rewarding.

Like Greg Lake and John Wetton, Jack Bruce continued to perform a mix of old and new material to a loyal cadre of progressive rock fans at home and abroad into his 60s. His voice is no longer the commodity it once was, and at 70 it seems likely his performing days are past, but he leaves behind a rich legacy of recordings that are begging to be rediscovered and properly appreciated.

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Lou Reed: Berlin (1973)

Kronomyth 3.0: LOVE IT TO DEATH. If Lou Reed’s earlier songs were a slap in the face, Berlin was a punch in the stomach. Produced and arranged by the conceptual/ theatrical Bob Ezrin, Reed’s third album is a concept album that chronicles an abusive relationship between Jim and Caroline that ends, um, badly. There are no heroes here, no winners, only losers. Reed had given us many glimpses into troubled lives over the years, but Berlin is one long, unblinking stare at a tragedy that unfolds before our eyes and ears. Transformer smoothed out Reed’s rough edges. Berlin elevates them into spires on a great black cathedral for lost souls, resulting in his darkest work to date. The genius of Berlin is that it’s compiled largely from leftover pieces. “Berlin” had appeared in a brighter version on Lou Reed’s first album. “Oh, Jim,” “Caroline Says II” and “Men of Good Fortune” have their origins in the Velvet Underground. And yet Berlin moves seamlessly from honeymoon to hell and back again, as if it were stitched to a pattern. Ezrin has since stated his attraction to “heavy” themes, and the second side of Berlin is unbearably heavy. But Berlin is also one of Reed’s most musical albums, featuring strings, choirs and complex arrangements. The idea of staging Reed’s bleak narratives would seem crazy at first glance; crazy like a wolf and foxy, it turns out. Over the years, Reed’s tale of doomed lovers has grown in stature as new generations scale its formidable wall of pain. In 2006, Reed performed the album in its entirety for a handful of shows in New York, which became the basis for a film directed by Julian Schnabel. A nice bit of recycling, that; Andy would have been proud.

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Johnny McLaughlin, Electric Guitarist (1978)

Not a McLaughlin matter worth overanalyzing, simply a septet of songs in various permutations. The idea here seems to be to show off the guitarist’s range, from Mahavishnu to Santavishnu to contentious energy-lord of the avant garde. Interesting but rarely arresting, Johnny McLaughlin, Electric Guitarist doesn’t belong at the top of John’s resume. I’ll concede that “Friendship” delivers where Love Devotion Surrender didn’t, finding middle ground between the styles of McLaughlin and Santana, and the dreamy “Every Tear From Every Eye” conjures butterflies. But the rest of the record is a little too loose and jammy, from the drum-guitar boxing match of “Phenomenon: Compulsion” to the aimless funk of “Are You The One? Are You The One?” While it covers a lot of ground, spectacular scenery is scarce. A Mahavishnu reunion of sorts (“New York On My Mind”) arrives at the same attainable height as Jean-Luc Ponty’s early also-rans, a session with Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke is standoffishly notey. McLaughlin’s tripping bursts of guitar notes are technically impressive, though he only generates warmth by turning off the fireworks display for “My Foolish Heart.” The track placement seems to suggest a predestined course, stripping away layers until the irreducible is left. If it’s not the guitar workshop some hoped for, drummers won’t be disappointed: Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette and Tony Williams are their usual awe-inspiring selves. Fine cameos from Patrice Rushen, Jerry Goodman and Jack Bruce further underscore the who’s who lineup on this all-star assembly. But great musicians don’t automatically equate to great music, at least not here. Perhaps he should have retitled this Johnny McLaughlin, Eclectic Guitarist.

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