George Starostin's Reviews



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Geronimo Springs <> (18.12.2001)

It's probably a generational thing, but I consider all four of James Gang's albums with Joe Walsh essential to any great rock collection. That is because James Gang was (with the possible exception of the Jimi Hendrix Experience) the tightest and most entertaining of all the great "power trios" of their era. And in the beginning they did not intend to be a trio at all.

I am not absolutely sure of the facts, but from stories I have heard, James Gang was originally a five-piece bar band popular with the college crowd in the Cleveland Ohio area in the late 1960's. When Cream played in Cleveland on their farewell tour in 1968, James Gang was booked to open the concert. Just days before the gig, two members of James Gang announced they were quitting, and would not be available to play the show. In panic, Walsh, Kriss, and Fox tried to get out of their contract, but it was too late. They would have to play as a trio. After marathon rehearsal sessions, the now three-piece James Gang stepped onto the concert stage as scheduled. And they were dynamite! The crowd called them back for several encores! Not bad, considering everyone was waiting to see the mighty Cream!

Yer' Album, for all its rough edges, still comes off as an entertaining, professional work. This is because of the undeniable talents of the band's three players, and the outstanding production work of Bill Szymczyk. James Gang and Szymczyk were a match made in heaven. I doubt any other producer, working with this band and these songs, could have produced an album as fun to listen to. I agree with George that the album does lack strong original compositions (that would come with the next album). But what Yer' Album may lack in terms of sophisticated writing, it more than makes up for with tight, powerful ensemble playing. By this time Joe Walsh was already an accomplished soloist. His playing is beautifully melodic on the slower "psychedelic" songs; lean, taut, and fast on the rockers. Just listen to his solo on the Yardbird's classic "Lost Woman". That solo alone puts Walsh in the same league as Townshend, Clapton, Beck and Page. Jim Fox is one of the greatest (and certainly one of the most overlooked) drummers in all of rock. Like many of rock's finest drummers, Fox came from a jazz background. On this album, his playing matches Walsh's perfectly. Rhythmic and controlled on the melodies, yet explosive, quick and flawless in his flourishes. This was the only album on which bassist Tom Kriss would play, but his contribution was outstanding. A fine, melodic bass player, similar in style to Cream's Jack Bruce, Kriss' playing fit perfectly with Walsh and Fox's to establish the group's tight, powerful sound.

Although, to my ears anyway, this album still holds up well and is still a pleasure to listen to, a new listener should keep in mind the era in which it was released. In 1969, hard rock was still something very new. The Who and Cream had already blazed a trail that countless others would follow, forming the genre that would later be known as "heavy metal". James Gang (like Led Zeppelin, Mountain, and other bands of that time) were following on that trail. But James Gang was one of the very few bands successful in searching, experimenting, and building on what their predecessors had already established to create exciting new music of their own. They may not have been totally original. Far from it. But James Gang was still a tight, accomplished, and powerful three-piece band that created music that was, and continues to be, satisfying and fun to hear.


Geronimo Springs <> (19.12.2001)

Rides Again was James Gang's best album. This was the album that made them famous. And no wonder. There is so much to enjoy here. From the irresistible groove of "Funk #49" to the sad but beautiful "Ashes The Rain And I" Walsh, Fox, and Peters showed they were capable of much more than one would expect from a three-piece rock band.

Side one, the rockin' side, is pure dynamite all the way through. "Funk #49" gives white folks a lesson on how to play funky in a rock n' roll band. The groove is irresistible, the guitar playing loose, and yet controlled at the same time. When you feel the bass and percussion, you just have to participate! This was one song that was an absolute must at a party. Put it on and turn it up loud. If this didn't get the chicks to dancing, nothing would! "Asshtonpark" is in a similar groove, but trippier. Kind of a joke tune, something the band probably worked up one day when they were just fooling around with a corny little lick, expanding on it and stretching it out as far as it would go. Great echo guitar from Joe on that one. Then comes the meatier rock songs. "Woman" is another fine example of how this band could work a groove. Hard, metallic guitar over a tight rock groove. I could hear the Stones doing that one. Great song. And then "The Bomber," James Gang's magnum opus, and the best guitar work Joe Walsh has ever recorded. For years the Bolero section was deleted from Rides Again due to some legal hassle. Only the first few thousand copies of the LP had the Bolero, so not many people in the 70's got to hear "The Bomber" in its entirety. Fortunately, the Bolero has been restored with the 2000 release of Rides Again on CD, so listeners can again hear the entire suite, as it was originally intended to be heard.

Side two, the mellow side, is the story of a love affair that sadly ends. Yet, it is a pleasure to hear for its contrast with the joyful noise of side one. "Tend My Garden" opens the side beautifully with a gentle organ and piano interplay. Walsh sounds content and happy, at home with his lover. After the first verse, the bass and drums join in and gradually build into an uplifting crescendo with Walsh's screaming electric guitar. In the last verse, he confesses his need for his lover to share his life. "Garden Gate" is a pleasant acoustic ditty, with some slightly paranoid Lennonesque wordplay. The man and his lover are drifting apart. He is not sure, but he has the uncomfortable feeling the end is coming, he just doesn't know when. "There I Go Again" is a sad, countryish love song in which Walsh deals with the pain of facing the end of the relationship. His lover is still with him. He dreads losing her, but he knows in his heart they will be parting soon. Some very nice pedal steel from Poco's Rusty Young on that one. "Thanks" is one of my favorite songs on the album, a heartbroken man dealing with everyday life after the loss of his lover, but for the time being, trying to find hope that even in a time of pain and loss there is still life, still something to be thankful for, in spite of his sadness. "Ashes The Rain And I" is the most somber and melancholy of these songs. It is as if the man who has lost his lover is finally giving up all hope of happiness. He is alone at home on a rainy night, watching as the last embers in the fireplace burn out. He sees only a life of sadness and loss. The gentle acoustic guitar finally gives way to the melancholy string section that closes the album.

For a hard rock fan, side one is easy to love. Side two is more challenging to the listener, because the emotions involved are in such sharp contrast with the joyful rock and dance tunes on side one. It is interesting that James Gang chose to release the album this way. It is almost as if there are two different albums on one record, the "rock band" album to dance to and listen to for fun, and the "singer-songwriter" album of sad love ballads. One may be tempted to listen only to one side or the other, depending on what one's taste may prefer. But I encourage any listener to give this whole album a fair chance. It is filled with good music, and all of it deserves to be heard.

Joe <> (19.10.2005)

Having grown up in the psychedelic 60s and anti-climatic 70's eras, I feel fortunate enough to experience the best and the worst of the music explosion of these 2 decades. One problem when reviewing certain albums and groups of that era 20-30 years later is that one may not quite grasp the music industries concepts/ideas take place surrounding that groups music and it's impact. For example, the power of the air waves. The 60's mostly were dominated (at least in my area) by commercial oriented pop 40 tunes based AM radio. Obviously, Beatles, Stones, Led Zeplin, Who, Kinks and every other Brittish band your Granfather cared to forget where dominating the airwaves. And only the tunes that the station mgr/dj felt it be waranted to get the airplay. Forget about funky rock/ blues based groups such as Allmans, Paul Butterfield, Joh Mayall, James Gang, Sugarloaf, etc.

Only until late 69/70 did album oriented stations in the FM band start gaining some popularity without so much caring about the 'popular' material and more for the strength of songs that they themselves felt would warrant a spin on a platter. Case in point is the Rides Again album. During it's release the ony song on that album that was given any air time at all ( and I was quite an avid NEW listener to FM during the 1970/71 period ) was "Tend My Garden". Amazing, and yet I was so enamored with the tune and it's catchy organ playing / swirling guitar riffs, and beautifully simplistic bass lines , I had to go get the album to see what else the "Gang" had to offer. Well, after hearing the first side, my jaw just dropped. Couldn't believe this was the same group that composed "...Garden".

I'll never forget this. One day in 1973 I was playing the entire album (at a realistic listening level, of course, even though the liner notes explicitly proclaimed "Made Loud To Be Played Loud"). And my Grandfather was in the same room listening. Somehow during the first side he feel asleep. While thge song "Ashes The Rain And I" was playing he awoke and made a remark how beautiful the song was and asked who was playing it. When I said it was the same group, he nearly had a heart attack LOL!!

In my opinion, Rides Again still to this day doesn't get all the credit it deserves for being what it was intended to be; a compilation of songs a by a talented trio of musicians trying to find themselves during an era where expression and individualism where new and refreshing and not obnoxious and tongue in cheek. I commend you for taking the time to pour thru the songs and forming an unbiased opinion, but I feel this album will never be recognized for anything more than 'Joe Walsh' and the 2 rythmn musicians. And that is a shame.


Geronimo Springs <> (20.12.2001)

It's sad when one of your favorite bands just loses its creative edge. James Gang - so hot, so exciting, so much fun to listen to on their first two albums - just couldn't seem to find their groove on Thirds. Although the album does not compare favorably with Yer' Album or Rides Again, it's not all bad. There are some good songs that are a pleasure to hear. But overall, the album just lacks the excitement that I expected from James Gang.

Thirds begins promisingly enough with "Walk Away," a powerful song that was a radio staple when the album was first released, and which still gets a lot of airplay on classic rock stations today. A kickass rocker, "Walk Away" overshadows everything else on the album. As good a hard rock band as James Gang was, it's a shame they chose to put only one hard rock song on this album. I like "Things I Could Be," "It's All The Same," "Midnight Man," and "White Man/Black Man" too, but none of them are really outstanding. They're just pretty good songs.

Since Joe Walsh left James Gang shortly after the release of Thirds, I think he had simply lost interest in the group. His next album, Barnstorm, is another mellow affair, but overall the songs are stronger and more interesting than those on Thirds. Maybe he felt playing in a trio was too confining. But then, surely Fox and Peters would have been open to the idea of bringing additional musicians into the group. So maybe Walsh was just tired of playing with his old bandmates, and wanted a change. I don't know. I remember how disappointed I was when I heard Joe Walsh had left James Gang.

I still love that band, especially their first two albums. And I recommend their fourth album, Live In Concert, too. That album opens with a version of "Stop" that blows away the one on Yer' Album, and then segues into a smoking rendition of Albert King's "You're Gonna Need Me." Walsh's guitar work on that song is incredible. Jaw dropping. His use of echo on the end of "You're Gonna Need Me" makes the guitar sound like a freight train roaring past. James Gang Live In Concert. Check it out!


mahatma1960 <> (18.11.2002)

Try listening to this one again,Tommys guitar Solos are Amazing i.e. "Come from another time" "Alexis"


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