I’ve been organizing my music the past few days, and listening to records (finally!) with a focus on the ones I haven’t listened to yet (of course!), and yesterday I put on Al Kooper’s You Never Really Know Who Your Friends Are, which I bought in Atlanta last year in October (if that sounds bad, don’t even ask about my DVD collection). I’ve heard bits and pieces via a compilation (Rare and Well Done), but even that I didn’t catch much of, except for a track from his lone album with Blood, Sweat and Tears, the track being “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” (no surprise, coming from me, I think).
I bought this (as well as New York City (You’re a Woman)) because I decided, somewhat ridiculously (but not without good reason) to begin a collection of “session man solo albums”, after having been treated quite well by them a number of times. I’d already begun amassing Chris Spedding, and my love for known-successful solo acts like Leon Russell or Dr. John (who were both in the Wrecking Crew), and I should probably pick up some of Nicky Hopkins’s excruciatingly rare albums, too (I guess they aren’t that difficult to find, but certainly not easy).
Anyway, this was a pretty awesome record, I suddenly discovered: a strange mix of the peculiarities of the Zombies, Harry Nilsson, and the Band, tinged with soul. “Anna Lee (What Can I Do)” has an absurdly grooving rhythm section behind a vocal that has shadows of Richard Manuel’s performance of “I Shall Be Released”, but that rhythm section and a few turns of Al’s vocal give it a much funkier force.
The title track’s skittering rim taps and wood blocks and honky-tonk intro recall a variety of tracks from earlier in the decade, both well-regarded (as if it could have been found on Odessy & Oracle) or just pop-y (think Herman’s Hermits). It fills out and gets the production feel of something from the decade after its release.
“I’ll Never Let You Down” should complete my attempt to illustrate the sprawling variety here: it’s a string-sweetened ballad that wouldn’t be out of place as a focal track in a movie from the time period, except that the bass is too forceful, and the mix of it fills too much, as does the vocal track, which has the quaver of an imperfect singer, rather than a straight session singer lead vocal, even if it is backed by a whole chorus of voices.
And I’d be remiss if I did not mention the semi-surreal moment of hearing “The Great American Marriage/Nothing”, which was very audibly sampled to open “Reality Check” from Binary Star, which is a great opening track itself, with that taut, tense-to-the-point-of-discomfort string arrangement screeching in–a good choice on their part, and a clever piece on Kooper’s.
Seriously, this record is the kind of reason I developed this idea: this is not an album that’s a neat trick because “Hey it’s that guy who played on all of those records!” it’s because this is a damn fine album all on its own, but it’s that much easier to find because of who made it.