Monday, June 4, 2018
James Gang Rides Again on MFSL LP
As most music lovers know, there's often a gap between the musicians we know and the songs we've heard. I'll give you an example. 25 years ago I was the manager of a Toys 'R' Us, and I was subjected to a steady stream of Muzak from the store's sound system. I heard a lot of Top 40 hits over and over again. I didn't know who was singing these pop songs, but I actually knew the artists just by pop culture osmosis. I just hadn't put two and two together. Oh, so that's what Britney's voice sounds like. Hmm. Now I know.
My experience with the James Gang is a slight variation on that theme. I knew there was a '60s rock band named James Gang, and a lot of my friends thought they were really good. I also knew Joe Walsh, of course, because of The Eagles and his solo hits such as "Life's Been Good" and "Rocky Mountain Way." Everyone knew who Joe Walsh was back in the late '70s. Up until a few years ago, however, I never knew that Joe Walsh had his major breakthrough with the James Gang. Someone mentioned the trio, which of course included drummer Jim Fox and bassist Dale Peters when they recorded James Gang Rides Again in 1970, and once I had a moment alone I looked them up on the internet to listen to some of their songs. Of course I started off with "Walk Away" and "Funk #49" and instantly thought oh, of course I know these songs. I imagine I just always thought they were early Joe Walsh songs.
Now I don't like The Eagles much, but I've always liked Joe. He's a goofy guy with a great sense of humor and he's a hell of a guitar player. Over the last couple of years I've streamed most of the albums from James Gang--their 1969 debut Yer' Album, for instance, 1971's Thirds (which contains "Walk Away") and this one, which was instantly my favorite. I told myself, "You gotta find some of these on LP when you get the chance."
Last year I heard that Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs was remastering Rides Again, and I was determined to buy it when it came out. Seems like it's been a while since I bought an MFSL LP, even though I probably own close to 100 of them. Just haven't been paying attention, I guess--I'd love to get on their mailing list. Well, I forgot about it until a few weeks ago when I attended a grand opening event for one of my dealers in Mystic, Connecticut--Castle Hill Audio/Video. They have a great selection of audiophile LPs up front, and there it was, right in the front of one of the bins. I knew I wasn't leaving without it.
I'm not sure what I can tell you about this 48-year-old album that you don't already know--it's a nice, tight and surprisingly ambitious album. It's starts off with "Funk #49" of course, which just kicks butt in that early '70s hard rock way, but there's plenty of acoustic songs, string arrangements and even a variation on Ravel's "Bolero." But I'll tell you something--as much as I like Joe Walsh, who is definitely front and center for the entire album, I really enjoy Jim Fox's drumming first and foremost. He's one of those rock drummers who's always doing something special, offering gifts to those who pay close attention. He's a more rambunctious version of Mick Fleetwood, keeping the time but never taking the easy way out. He is the "James" of "James Gang," so he was never going to fade into the background, but he's the biggest reason I like this band at this specific point of my life.
I don't have a garden-variety version of this album, so I can't compare the MFSL. But overall, it does sound clean and compact. It's a 1970 rock recording, which means it sounds a bit muddier overall than something recorded ten of fifteen years later, but you get a clear window into the performances of these three talented musicians. They were kids when this album came out, but they knew what they were doing.