Tommy Bolin • Great Gypsy Soul

Tommy Bolin
Great Gypsy Soul

CD : 2012

I’ve got to honest on this one, the pre-release hype had me apprehensive to say the least – a group of stellar musicians (Jeff Beck mentioned as a possible contributor) playing alongside Bolin using master tapes 36 years after his death – um, really? This had the hallmark of turning into a potentially embarrassing ‘karaoke’ affair, one of those cringe-worthy tribute CDs that more often than not take away from the artist’s reputation as opposed to enhancing it. Plus there’s been a lot of Bolin output recently and did we really want another release on the back of these?
OK, so Beck didn’t make it, but the featured musicians certainly were of stellar proportion and the results in parts, surprisingly (to me at least), are very good.
The first disc finds the guest musicians adding parts to what is pretty much the original Teaser album with a couple of extra outakes. It kicks of with a frantic version of ‘The Grind’ featuring Peter Frampton. Songs like this and ‘Wild Dogs’ (with Brad Whitford) arguably work best, as the original versions featured Tommy multi-layering his solo spots, so that on the new versions we get the the guests weaving in an out alongside Tommy’s orignal parts. Because I am so familiar with the originals, it took a few listens to re-adjust to the new takes.
Highlights include John Scofield’s playing on ‘Savannah Woman’, a very funky Steve Lukather on ‘Homeward Strut’ and Steve Morse in blistering form on ‘Crazed Fandango’. All songs retain Bolin’s original vocals with the exception of ‘People People’, which features an interesting, almost crooning, performance by man-of-the-moment Miles Kennedy – not my favourite, but interesting all the same.  Personally, I would have preferred a more ‘reggae’ take on ‘People People’ and as much as I like Glenn Hughe’s voice, I think he overstays his welcome toward the end of ‘Lotus’.
Disc 2 is where it really starts happening for me. It comprises of ‘Flying Fingers’‚ and 4 versions of ‘Marching Bag’ (which is pretty much ‘Marching Powder’). Again, on paper it doesn’t look good – 4 versions of the same song? But it’s on these more improvisational tracks that the project really comes to life. Thankfully all musicians compliment each track perfectly as opposed to trying to steal the show, plus it has had the added benefit of introducing me to the work of Nels Cline and Oz Noy.
The tracks sound natural and unforced and apart from some wonderful playing – it sounds like everyone was having fun! These tracks sound like it was all of the musicians, past and present, playing as one, so on that note, I think the project works.
Obviously there will be a lot of sceptics out there, but I for one think ‘Great Gypsy Soul’ is a worthwile inclusion to my Bolin collection.

David Streeten.

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