Friday, January 29, 2010

January 29: Blind Faith, "Presence Of The Lord"

Artist: Blind Faith
Song: "Presence Of The Lord"
Album: Blind Faith
Year: 1969

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When writing the history of an overwhelming majority of bands, it is a rather simple task, as one easily notes their rise from a "garage band" to fame and recognition. In a small umber of cases, an additional chapter must be made, as one of the artists or band found a later resurgence or perhaps success with a second musical project. Then of course, there is the case of Eric Clapton. In many ways the "King Midas" of blues-rock, nearly every band of which he was a part in the 1960's and 1970's stands today as an integral part of the history of rock music. From The Yardbirds, to the legendary group Cream, to his work with Derek and The Dominos, Clapton's name is without question one of the most highly respected in music history. Yet it was the "one off" project between the latter of these bands which may feature the greatest playing of his career. Based around the Cream core of Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker, the band only released a single, magnificent, self-titled album, and it stands today as a stunning musical feat: 1969's Blind Faith. The album was in many ways, a hasty affair, and the second side of the record contained only two tracks, one of which was the fifteen minute jam, "Do What You Like." Yet even with only a total of six songs, Blind Faith immediately cemented their names as rock legends, and their sound and mood are perfectly summed up in the truly unrivaled and absolutely beautiful song, "Presence Of The Lord."

Though the music throughout all of Blind Faith is nothing short of spectacular, a majority of the initial hype behind the record came from the controversy concerning the cover art (pictured above). Considered "too racy" for U.S. audiences, the cover was replaced by a group photo for its release there, though a single run of the original were pressed and sold within the U.S. Regardless of all of this, one cannot deny the fact that Blind Faith is one of the greatest blues-rock albums ever recorded, and in many ways, one can make the case that this sound was what Eric Clapton had been searching for up to that point. Moving around the core sound of a classic slow blues, yet as it progresses, both the music and lyrics give it an amazingly soulful, almost preaching tone. One can easily feel the frustration and searching for inner peace of Clapton though his guitar playing, and even when he kicks the song into a more aggressive gear, his magnificent wah-infused solo somehow fits perfectly into the song. In many ways, the song serves as a clear precursor to the sound he would perfect with his next project (Derek & The Dominos), yet "Presence Of The Lord" remains one of his finest compositions and musical performances of his career. Similarly, Ginger Baker creates an amazing, grooving backbeat, and the chemistry between these two artists is absolutely clear throughout the entire album. Having played with a number of iconic bands, bassist Ric Grech perfectly compliments both musicians throughout the song, and his deep, "thumping" basslines fill out the overall sound perfectly.

Presenting both ideal vocals, as well as an almost gospel-esque electric piano performance, "Presence Of The Lord" may in fact be the finest moment of the career of Steve Winwood. Smooth and soulful, the electric piano progression gives the album an almost "church like" sound, reflecting Clapton's playing, and the combination of these sounds makes "Presence Of The Lord" one of the most uniquely beautiful musical experiences in history. Similarly, with an ample dose of reverb in tow, the vocals of Steve Winwood are without question some of the most heartfelt and powerful ever written and performed. Pulling stylistic influence from American R&B, Winwood's vocals cap off the "religious" feel to the song, as he puts an almost unfathomable amount of emotion into the lyrics. Written by Clapton, the song perfectly encapsulates the struggle he was experiencing, torn between different bands and attempting to find a musical place in which he could happily exist. The simple, repeating lyrics of, "...I have finally found a way to live, just like I never could before...I know that I don't have much to give, but I can open any door..." remain some of the most soul-bearing and iconic lyrics in history, and the song has been covered by countless artists over the decades. Winwood perfectly captures the essence behind Clapton's song, and the crying, melancholy vocal performance ranks among the finest in music history. In reality, "Presence Of The Lord" was Clapton's only writing contribution to the album, and in many ways, this fact furthers the overall revelation of his state of mind at the time, and makes the meaning behind the song even more powerful.

Though he is responsible for a number of the most beloved songs in the history of music, his work with the very short lived Blind Faith is often overlooked in the overall music history of Eric Clapton. Falling between the end of the supergroup Cream and the formation of the equally impressive Derek and The Dominos, Blind Faith provides a rare glimpse into the internal struggle of an artist trying to find their sound. Almost every song on Blind Faith is a blues-rock classic, yet it is Clapton's sole contribution, "Presence Of The Lord' that is unquestionably the finest moment on the record. Filled with an unparalleled level of passion and frustration, "Presence Of The Lord" presents not only one of Clapton's finest lyrics, but his guitar performance is nothing short of stunning. Turning on a dime from the slow, soulful sound to a heavier, psychedelic solo, Clapton truly channels greatness throughout the song. Similarly, both the vocals and electric piano playing of Steve Winwood are far beyond that of anything else in his career. Truth be told, Clapton would make "Presence Of The Lord" a regular part of the live sets of Derek and The Dominos, and he used a vocal approach very similar to that of Winwood, solidifying how perfectly Winwood captured Clapton's emotions. The rhythm section of Baker and Grech are equally fantastic, and "Presence Of The Lord" is a truly special moment in music history. Though he has created many of the most beloved songs in the history of music, Eric Clapton rarely revealed as much of his soul, nor played as stunning a guitar progression as one finds on the truly indispensable 1969 classic, "Presence Of The Lord."

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