Bernie Marsden: to the power of three

Bernie Marsden: to the power of three

Bernie Marsden: to the power of three is another stupendous album of ingenious interpretations of some wonderful blues music from some wonderful artists.

Bluesdoodles rating: 5 Doodle Paws – another stupendous album of ingenious interpretations of some wonderful blues music from some wonderful artists.

One glance at my reviews of Bernie Marsden’s Kings and Chess albums here on Bluesdoodles will reveal two things: Bernie is a genius composer, player, singer and arranger (as well as a lovely bloke) and that I am a hopeless fan with an obsession for all of his works.

After the excellence of the first two ‘Inspiration’ series mentioned, comes the third which, rather neatly is called Trios. It was trailed by a single release of Black Cat Moan which I reviewed and speculated…”This promises music from blues power trios across the years that have inspired Bernie in one way or another…I have to admit I was wrong when I speculated that the third release would be board-game related: I thought maybe it could be called Queens and pay tribute to the many brilliant female blues artists and kind of hoped to hear Bernie’s genius take on the likes of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Memphis Minnie, Sippie Wallace and dozens of others…maybe the next one Bernie? Instead, we have a mouth (and ear?) watering prospect of his interpretations of Cream, Mountain, Taste (and early Gallagher solo), Hendrix or maybe even Budgie (who did a superlative version of Baby Please Don’t Go) will be the power trios providing some great songs.” I now have the signed with plectrum CD on order. There are only 500 available via Bernie’s website, so hurry along before they’re sold out.

I guessed a lot correctly and some I never thought of but the eleven tracks once again shine with the Bernie magic as he interprets some high-quality music with sensitivity and deference but always being Bernie. The surprise for me was that this was actually recorded back in 2007 to “try out a new studio in Bedfordshire.” Helping out were the bassist David Levy who played with Bernie on the Big Boy Blues release (he also played for many others including Chris DeBurg but we don’t hold that against him) and the late, great Jimmy Copley on drums. Jimmy is a legend; from his early recordings with Upp to Paul Rodgers and sessions with Jeff Beck, Ian Gillan and many more. In 2008 he released a solo album called Slap My Hand which featured Beck, Bernie, Micky Moody, Neil Murray and a Japanese guitarist who he recorded extensively with called Hisato Takenaka known professionally as Char. I bought the album (signed by Jimmy) because of M3…Marsden, Moody, Murray and was rewarded with some brilliant songs…Strange Brew and You Make It Easy with Bernie; Moody doing slide as only he can on Down Home Boy and Jeff Beck imperious as ever on Everyday I Have the Blues and J Blues. Wonderful stuff but, back to Bernie and his new album.

The album opens with the single: his version of the Don Nix song Black Cat Moan, as done by Beck, Bogert, Appice, in 1973, who actually released it a couple of months before Don! It uses the weighty riff and slide from the BBA recording but with a cleaner and more subtle feel: the vocals are also less harsh and his guitar phrasing in and around the verses is revelatory and the solo…simply brilliant. The multi-tracking is seamless and the harmonies are a treat. The bass and drums are equally crisp and perfect for this wonderful reading. Next up is Driftin’ Blues by Peter Green. The original was gorgeous…Bernie adds a touch of the majestic. Any blues lover who doesn’t shiver with awe and delight just isn’t listening closely enough to the distillation of pure talent from the composer and Bernie, Jimmy and David. In fact, I’d go as far to say that I haven’t heard him playing better. Funk #49, written by the James Gang trio of James Fox, Dale Peters and Joe Walsh is still a staple on classic rock radio, and rightly so as the funk fed into the chord work is irresistible: Bernie keeps the funky energy but somehow adds a liquidity in the multi tracked guitars that is simply great and, whilst the band follow the template (thanks for the cowbell) it has a freshness and energy that compliments the original and renews the whole sound. Next is the Mountainous Never In My Life written by Gail Collins, Felix Pappalardi, Corky Laing and Leslie West for the brilliant Climbing! album. Brinie slows it just a little (cleverly, brilliantly fits in two chords from Nantucket Sleighride) and brings a new dimension to the blues-rock style of the greatly missed Leslie West. The between line guitar phrasing and the solo are bewilderingly good.

Outside Woman Blues is from 1929 by blues master Blind Joe Reynolds, famously covered by Cream on Disraeli Gears. A suitably Creamy approach but with a bit more of Blind Joe built in as Bernie’s guitar speaks volumes around the vocals…I am going to be controversial here: the solo far exceeds the quality and feel of Clapton. Can he do same thing with a Hendrix song? Well on Drifting by the immortal Jimi Hendrix, recorded in 1970 and released after his death on The Cry of Love album, he damn nearly does as he plays this ballad with a similar feel but the sound is cleaner and just as touching and shiver-inducing…a remarkable and brave reworking that very few could achieve. He even keeps the backwards guitar that (unbelievably) Hendrix could play forwards. Rock And Roll, Hoochie Koo may have been written by Rick Derringer, but I think it is the brilliant Johnny Winter version (who actually released it before Rick) that infuses Bernie’s reading. Another faithful but brand new reading that stands alongside Johnny’s tall, loud and proud. Having covered some of the best guitarists in the business, Bernie moves to another favourite of his as the Rory Gallagher song,

Same Old Story, is brilliantly interpreted. Bernie has done some unmissable Gallagher ‘tribute albums (try Ballyshannon Blues and Bernie Plays Rory) but this is from Rory’s days in Taste…this is a perfect rendition of a great song with total faith and belief and a Bernie/Rory blend solo with the Rory-ism of scat with guitar that is….sorry, I’ve run out of superlatives! Spanish Castle Magic is again a Jimi Hendrix classic that has the same dream-like quality but, somehow, with a little more weight and ‘groove’…brave and brilliant with David and Jimmy excelling. Now most people covering the great Robin Trower go predictably for Bridge of Sighs with its (relatively) straightforward construct. Bernie has instead gone for the more complex Too Rolling Stoned, especially the wah effects and solos. Guess what? Bernie somehow manages to do it all with such care to reflect the original while bringing his personality to bear…OK, he’s not James Dewar, but his vocal is so strong and carries it off effortlessly and the solo after the “I think I’ll just sit this one out” line is superbly structured and played. Na Na Na written by prolific English composer John Cameron (who also in CCS with Alexis Korner), but it was the Cozy Powell version that hit the charts in 1974 with a certain Bernie Marsden featured on guitar. (This is the latest single from Trios and has a delightful video of some young musicians having a ball doing their best Top of the Pops mime!) Not strictly a trio but, as then, it is still a great slice of rock-pop fun and brought up to date nicely.

I may be an obsessive Bernie fan but every comment, every superlative is objective, unbiased and true…he is that good and this album shows how to interpret brilliant originals in a new and thoughtful way…Each track is immaculate in its inception and execution as Bernie pays due deference to the originals but, as always, adds his unique guitar and vocal styles to make them his.

Bernie Marsden: to the power of three

Tracklisting (Composer)
Black Cat Moan (Don Nix)
Driftin’ Blues (Peter Green)
Funk #49 (James Fox, Dale Peters, Joe Walsh)
Never In My Life (Gail Collins, Felix Pappalardi, Corky Laing, Leslie West)
Outside Woman Blues (Joe Reynolds)
Drifting (Jimi Hendrix)
Rock And Roll, Hoochie Koo  (Rick Derringer)
Same Old Story (Rory Gallagher)
Spanish Castle Magic (Jimi Hendrix)
Too Rolling Stoned (Robin Trower)
Na Na Na (John Cameron)

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(After lots and lots more Bernie (I said I’m obsessive) I let iTunes deliver some unique Strat with Bernie Torme and then a little bit of Backwater Blues from the inimitable Bessie Smith recorded back in 1927.)

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