Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Savoy Brown - Street Corner Talking (1971)

Lineup instability and squandered opportunities sabotage the historical impact of even the greatest bands and artists. It often results in short-circuiting posterity’s judgment and obscures their gems in the deepening detritus of time and innuendo. Savoy Brown’s Street Corner Talking is one of the best examples of this. Once a leading exponent of the British blues boom, enormously popular in the United States, and seemingly destined for great things, guitarist and band leader Kim Simmonds proved unable to maintain a consistent lineup for various reasons and many members departed under a cloud of controversy and rancor. Despite the stormy backstage machinations, Savoy Brown managed to produce an impressive body of work during their commercial heyday and the five piece lineup playing on Street Corner Talking produced one of the decade’s greatest and underappreciated albums.

Blues music runs through the album’s seven songs. The first track, “Tell Mama”, found some radio success as a single and has remained a consistent staple of the band’s live set since its release. Simmonds’ scorching slide guitar gives the track a raucous glow, but Dave Walker’s charismatic and rough-hewn vocals are responsible for much of its magic as well. It’s a memorable opener and the first of the album’s songwriting collaborations between Simmonds and keyboardist/vocalist Paul Raymond. “Let It Rock (Rock and Roll on the Radio)” marks Paul Raymond’s sole vocal on the album and the striding arrangement has just the right amount of impetus without ever overplaying its hand. Raymond’s work on key is the essential ingredient for this, but his burnished and emotive voice confidently carries the song. The blues rises much more to the fore on the slow burning “I Can’t Get Next To You”. The broken soul and binge drinking tone of Dave Walker’s voice works in great tandem with Simmonds’ guitar and Raymond’s keyboard work. The late drummer Dave Bidwell lays down an impressive groove here.

“Time Does Tell” has a surprisingly funky edge keyed, once again, by Bidwell’s impressive drumming. Simmonds has sole songwriting credit on this one, but Walker owns the lyric with a tour de force vocal fueled by varied phrasing and bluesy assertiveness. Raymond’s keyboards frequently double Simmonds’ guitar and adds some extra bounce to the performance. There’s a surprisingly reflective quality in the lyrics setting this further apart from the album’s other fine tracks. The title track is again credited to Simmonds alone and sparked to life by his memorable guitar riff. Blues informs every second of “Street Corner Talking”, but the guitar work and another powerful Walker vocal make everything work on another level. It’s another song that remains a set list fixture up to present day. “All I Can Do” runs too long, clocking in at nearly eleven minutes, but it’s instrumentally quite excellent and shows the fireworks the Simmonds/Raymond partnership conjured musically. Street Corner Talking ends with the blues standard “Wang Dang Doodle”, a song invariably given an extended treatment in concert, but running just over seven minutes here. It’s typical blues laden with sexual innuendo, but Savoy Brown performs it with such lascivious, ebullient glee that disliking it is difficult.

The modern Savoy Brown is a trio act still serving up the same instrumental excellence defining much of the band’s existence, albeit in smaller venues than they packed during their salad days. It’s albums like Street Corner Talking enabling to maintain such a loyal following all these years later and the release still stands the test of time as one of the finest works from this generation of musicians.

Grade: A

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