Saturday, February 4, 2012

February 4: Blind Faith, "Blind Faith"

Artist: Blind Faith
Album: Blind Faith
Year: 1969
Label: Polydor/Atco

When writing the history of an overwhelming majority of bands that manage to achieve large-scale commercial success, 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 manages to find a later solo 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.  In fact, it was this band that was formed in the wake of the breakup of Cream, with drummer Ginger Baker looking to find a new band alongside Clapton's guitar.  At the same time, Steve Winwood was facing similar issues within The Spencer Davis group, and after bringing Ric Grech on board, they dubbed themselves Blind Faith.  Though the band only released a single, self-titled album, their 1969 album remains one of the most impressive moments in the entire history of recorded music.

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 on each track, and even when he kicks the songs into a more aggressive gear, his magnificent wah-infused solos somehow fit perfectly into the song. In many ways, the songs on this album serves as a clear precursor to the sound he would perfect with his next project (Derek & The Dominos), yet one can easily argue that "Presence Of The Lord" remains of his finest compositions and musical performances of his career. Similarly, Ginger Baker creates an amazing, grooving backbeat throughout the album, and the chemistry between these two artists has rarely sounded as complete, vaulting the overall sound of the record beyond any possible expectations.

Presenting both ideal vocals, as well as an almost gospel-esque electric piano performance at times, his work within the confines of Blind Faith may very well represent the finest moment of the career of Steve Winwood.  Smooth and soulful throughout, the electric piano progression gives the album an almost "church like" sound,perfectly mirroring the tones of Clapton's playing, and the combination of these sounds makes each moment more powerful than the next, and vaulting the entire album into absolutely unprecedented territory. 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.  With each of the band members contributing to the lyrics, it is amazing to hear how they all work together as a cohesive feel, each one digging deeper into the bluesy roots of their shared music.  Again, "Presence Of The Lord" stands out from the rest, as one can find most philosophical and literal meanings when Clapton pens the phrase, "...I have finally found a way to live, just like I never could before..."  Yet it is the way that Winwood is able to extract every bit of emotion from these words which makes them take life, and there is no doubt that it was his work on this album which cemented his legacy.

Though he is responsible for a number of the most beloved albums 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, and there is not a moment anywhere on the album that is anything less than stellar.  This lack of filler highlights the exceptional talents of the four band members, and they stand as one of the few groups in history who most truly wish had made more music.  There is a passion and spirit that runs throughout the entire album the likes of which have never been matched, and the energy and mood that each song exudes is outright musical bliss.  Along with the dazzling, soulful guitar of Clapton and the similarly impressive piano work from Winwood, the rhythm section of Baker and Grech are equally fantastic, and there are few that will argue their place as one of the finest pairings in history.  Perhaps managing to "out-do" each of their previous bands' work, one can find everything that makes blues-rock so fantastic all throughout the extraordinary 1969 self-titled release from Blind Faith.

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