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How's Tricks

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Album Review

A wonderfully tortured Jack Bruce vocal on the song "Without a Word" opens up How's Tricks, the second LP for RSO records by the journeyman bassist/vocalist. Produced by Bill Halverson, who engineered Cream as well as solo Eric Clapton recordings, the material further fuses the all out jazz of Things We Like with the pop found on "Songs for a Taylor." "Johnny B'77" has the quartet driving the melody onto the fringes of rock, while "Time" bares elements Bruce brought to Disraeli Gears, defining his third of the Cream saga. As former bandmate Leslie West had his Leslie West Band out and about in the mid-70s, this quartet is listed as the Jack Bruce Band. It is yet another about-face for Bruce, singing nine more sets of lyrics by Peter Brown, with guitarist Hughie Burns and keyboardist Tony Hymas getting their chance to participate in the songwriting; it's basically well-performed pop with jazz overtones that has the voice of Jack Bruce adding the blues. The reggae of the title track, and the accompanying album art, may have made for some marketing confusion. There's a magician with cards and old-world glitz permeating this show, the band holding a crystal ball on the back-cover photograph. Having left Atlantic for Robert Stigwood's imprint, a bit more direction could have been in store for this important artist. The packaging doesn't have the elegance of Harmony Row, nor does it show respect for the music inside the package. Hughie Burns takes the lead vocal on "Baby Jane," his own composition, and it sounds out of place, disrupting the flow which returns on the exquisite "Lost Inside a Song," where Jack Bruce picks up where he left off. The Steely Dan comparisons are harder to make here, songs like "Madhouse" more hardcore jazz-rock than Fagen and Becker would care to indulge in. "Waiting for the Call" is perhaps the album's blusiest track, with magnificent harmonica-playing by the vocalist/rock legend. "Outsiders" sounds like Roxy Music gone jazz, while the final track, written by keyboardist Tony Hymas and lyricist Peter Brown, is a nice melodic vehicle for Jack Bruce's voice to conclude the album with. Simon Phillips provides solid drumming throughout, and the well-crafted lyrics are included on the inner sleeve. A strange but highly musical and important outing in the Jack Bruce catalog.


Born: 14 May 1943 in Lanarkshire, Scotland

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Although some may be tempted to call multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and composer Jack Bruce a rock & roll musician, blues and jazz were what this innovative musician really loved. As a result, those two genres were at the base of most of the recorded output from a career that went back to the beginning of London's blues scene in 1962. In that year, he joined Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated. Throughout the following decades and into the 21st century, Bruce remained a supreme innovator, pushing...
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