Repertoire Records (2012)
This album has been brought into sharp focus by the sad loss of Alvin Lee. The Woodstock guitar hero seemed to be more affected than most by the prevailing sweep of punk and new wave in the late 70’s. And while he accrued a solid body of solo work, he never seemed to settle on any particular direction until around 1994 and the much better ‘Keep On Rockin’ album. The latter contributes 7 tracks to this compilation and sounds like a solo career high.
His initial solo work was in the company of gospel vocalist Mylon Lefevre and was recorded while he was still in TYA. The all star line-up included George Harrison who two decades later was to feature again in Alvin’s recording career on ‘Zoom’ and ‘Keep On Rockin’.
‘The Best of Alvin Lee’ pulls together several different line-ups from over 30 years and constructs a coherent whole based round an impressive sequential flow
The double CD opens with 3 tracks from ‘Keep On Rockin’. The title track has a pulsating groove while the more laid back ‘My Baby’s Come Back To Me’ features an acoustic wash with harmony singing. Its probably the closest Alvin gets to the concept of restraint.
He revels on the jump blues of ‘Boogie All Day’ and you can’t help but wonder why he never made peace with himself as a rocker until the late career ‘In Tennessee’, when he played with his hero Scotty Moore. He also rocks out on ‘Rock & Roll Girls’, with a modicum of taste and let’s the rhythm section swing.
Chronologically speaking, there’s a sudden switch back to the early 90’s with the Knopfler sounding ‘Lost in Love’, which finds Alvin looking for a new context for his playing. His guitar is melded with prominent synth lines, in an update of the TYA layered sound.
The live big band arrangement of ‘I’m Writing You A Letter’ comes from the 1974 ‘In Flight’ album and it’s a gem, showing that he was capable of so much more than speed shredding.
The acoustic and soprano coloured ‘Time & Space’ eloquently lives up to its name and is a distant cousin of the beautifully conceived ‘Road To Freedom’. Mylon LeFevre also adds a west coast sounding vocal on the George Harrison single ‘So Sad (No Love Of His Own)’ to offset the Harrison/Lee guitar axis.
The duo also spark on ‘The Bluest Blues’, one of Alvin’s best ever blues ballads and he makes a good fist of The Beatles ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ , while ‘Long Legs’ starts as a slow building drone and evolves into a substantial groove as Alvin constructs a Dave Gilmour style solo.
Thereafter, ‘Ridin’ Truckin’ sounds like an early Doobie Brothers outtake and ‘Can’t Stop’ places the emphasis on song structure with an effective repeated hook. ‘Ride On Cowboy’ also features the amazing Mick Hawksworth on fretless bass, as Alvin busies himself in his favoured power trio format.
The 30 tracks ultimately add to the frustration of what might have been, on a thoughtfully compiled double album that showcases a guitar giant of his era.
Review By Pete Feenstra
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