When British prog-rock legends Jethro Tull originally formed in 1967, the band pursued a musical direction that was more jazz-blues hybrid in nature. With singer Ian Anderson's deep vocal timbre and distinctive flute at the fore, Tull's 1968 debut album This Was served as a showcase for guitarist Mick Abrahams' bluesy fretwork. Several songs on This Was were based on classic blues signatures – witness the similarity of "Someday The Sun Won't Shine For You" to bluesman Big Bill Broonzy's "Key To The Highway" – and the album even included a genuine American jazz classic in Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Serenade To A Cuckoo."
Abrahams left Jethro Tull after the release of This Was, falling out with Anderson over the band's musical direction. The guitarist would subsequently form Blodwyn Pig with saxophonist Jack Lancaster, bassist Andy Pyle (later of Savoy Brown), and drummer Ron Berg, this line-up recording two albums of guitar-driven blues-rock and horn-driven free-jazz before Abrahams' restless muse coaxed him into quitting his own band and pursuing an acclaimed but commercially underperforming solo career. Abrahams would re-form Blodwyn Pig several times through the years and into the new century with various musician friends, but with always featuring the same electrifying blues-rock vibe.
Blodwyn Pig's All Said And Done
In 2001, Abrahams obviously scratched a long-time itch by re-recording Tull's classic debut album almost in its entirety, the sessions later released under the Blodwyn Pig band name in 2004 as All Said And Done. This 2012 two-CD reissue of that album includes Abrahams' take on This Was on disc one and sixteen blues-rock romps with the guitarist backed by various musicians on disc two. Abrahams' re-creation of This Was is daring in many ways, frequently skewing to the original Tull blueprint but just as often veering off the page onto new (and bluesier) turf. Flautist and singer Steve Dondon's rampaging flutework across these songs is in the spirit of Anderson's originals, albeit slightly less electric, while his vocals are a poor substitute for the Tull frontman's familiar black cat moan.
Still, Blodwyn Pig does the material justice, especially on cuts like Kirk's "Serenade To A Cuckoo," which delights in showcasing Abrahams' fluid, jazzy guitarplay and drummer Paul Burgess's light-handed brushwork. "Move On Alone" was the only song on This Way sung by Abrahams instead of Anderson, and the guitarist's warm vocals here show a maturity and casual playfulness absent the original. The rocking instrumental "Cat's Squirrel" was performed by nearly every British blues-rock outfit back in the day, including Cream and the original Blodwyn Pig, and it's every bit the guitar stomp that its always been in Abrahams' capable hands. One of the more prog-oriented tunes from Anderson's trick bag was "Song For Jeffrey," and Abrahams and gang lively it up with the best of them, dishing out layers of virtuoso instrumentation complimented by Dundon's reckless flute.
I Wonder Who
Abrahams throws in two traditional blues tunes among the This Was originals. The first is T-Bone Walker's classic "They Call It Stormy Monday," Blodwyn Pig playing it straight and narrow, the performance honing in on Abrahams' elegant fretwork which expands upon, rather than mimicking Walker's breathless original. While Abrahams' vocals lack T-Bone's distinctive Texas twang, they're deep and soulful nonetheless. The blues standard "Rock Me Baby" (Freddie King version) is interpreted in an interesting manner with Abrahams' incendiary guitar playing off of Dundon's flute before taking off entirely on its own above the heavy bass/drum rhythmic backbone.
Abrahams duck walks his 21st century version of Blodwyn Pig through sixteen smokin' roots 'n' blues performances on disc two of All Said And Done. The disc opens with the boogie-woogie romp "Road Roller," the performance spotlighting Abrahams' jaunty guitarplay alongside Mick Parker's juke-joint piano-pounding. A well-traveled cover of Blind Alfred Reed's hillbilly blues "How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times & Live" is stripped down to its emotional core, Abrahams' strained vocals matched by his elegant guitar playing and Parker's timely accordion flourishes. British blues godfather Alexis Korner is represented by a jazzy cover of his "I Wonder Who," Abrahams and band channeling the spirit of the early 1960s British R&B scene with every smooth-as-silk note, Nick Payn's mournful saxophone blasts adding gravitas to the performance.
McGregor's Engine Reunited
Before joining Jethro Tull, Abrahams fronted a blues-rock trio by the name of McGregor's Engine with bassist Andy Pyle and drummer Clive Bunker, and he re-unites with his old bandmates for two songs here. The album's title track is the first, a muscular rocker with thick instrumentation that relies on Abrahams' scorched-earth guitar licks, the solid-steel rhythmic framework of Pyle and Bunker, and keyboard accents by Dave Lennox. It's a hard-rocking number with plenty of life and energy, and it would have been comfortably at home on mid-1970s AOR radio. The other track is a raucous cover of the Willie Dixon jewel "Let Me Love You Baby," Blodwyn Pig dressing the song's Chicago blues vibe in British blues-rock finery, Lennox's Hammond organ riffs taking center stage alongside Abrahams' rock-solid interpretation of Buddy Guy's original six-string swing.
Disc two offers up some other obvious highlights, including an audacious reading of Woody Guthrie's Depression-era vehicle "Do Re Mi," delivered here with spirited guitar-picking and twangy vocals. A cover of Dr. John's "Victim" captures much of the New Orleans vibe and romantic woes of the original, tacking on Mike Summerland's walking bass line and Graham Walker's energetic timekeeping alongside Abrahams' soaring guitar flights and soulful vocals. The original "Dear Jill" sounds like Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac combined with Marty Robbins, Abrahams' country-styled vocals working well alongside his melancholy fretwork while "See My Way" brings Blodwyn Pig almost full-circle back around to the band's roots in Jethro Tull, the song a curious mix of proggish elements, angular blues riffs, and infectiously melodic lyrical passages, the performance featuring a rich, textured Abrahams guitar solo.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Mick Abrahams and Blodwyn Pig seldom receive the credit due them for their original groundbreaking fusion of blues, rock, and jazz as displayed by 1969's Ahead Rings Out and the following year's Getting To This albums. Even Abrahams' solo debut, a self-titled 1971 blues-rock collection, turned heads as it rivaled Eric Clapton's solo efforts at the time. All Said And Done is a solid, entertaining collection, more blues and rock in orientation with just a few signs of jazzy noodling, and serves as a great introduction to Abrahams' talents. Don't let the Jethro Tull connection scare you away, because Blodwyn Pig definitely falls on the blues side of the fence. (Secret Records, released March 28, 2011)
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