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Living In the Fast Lane

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Album Review

An artist's final album always sits heavily on the shelf, and even more so when that life has been cut abruptly short, becoming an unintended epitaph to what was a still flourishing career. Thus, Living in the Fast Lane has a weighty burden to bear, one that Michael Bloomfield never meant it to shoulder, yet the set does so with remarkable ease. There's a definite joie de vivre found within, partly, one presumes, a reflection of the happiness of reuniting with myriad former cohorts, among them Mark Naftalin and Bob Jones, who both played on Bloomfield's debut solo album back in 1969, and ex-Electric Flag Roger Troy. A gospel choir and an entire band provide backing vocals and a horn section, which hints at the many styles showcased within. The set kicks off with "Maudie," a classic R&B number that brilliantly highlights Naftalin's piano skills, Bloomfield's own keyboard talent, and even more spectacularly his emotive, fluid guitar style, as his leads wind round vocalist Frank Biner, almost engaging him in conversation. On the indeed ragtime-flavored "Watkin's Rag" Bloomfield plays everything flawlessly, of course, even as he attempts to outdo himself in places. That's an instrumental, while on "Big C Blues" he also picks up the mike, defiantly determined to have a good time, as his piano and slide guitar vie for attention. Bloomfield sings out his own frustration at himself on the autobiographical "Used to It," a funk-drenched self-pummeling. "Roots" is equally funky, but in a slicker Temptations style that stresses the importance of knowing where you come from. Bloomfield certainly does and is keen to highlight all the styles that so influenced him within this set. With gospel-flecked blues, country-speckled blues, lavish soul, jazzy ragtime, R&B, and on "Andy's Bad" even a touch of hip-hop, Bloomfield and company showcase blues of many shades, progenitors, and descendents. The musicianship is sensational, the vocalists superb, and Bloomfield is on fire, yet there's no struggle and strain to succeed, just a sublime atmosphere. Fans will insist he made much better sets, and they'd be right, but regardless, this album remains a magnificent achievement, one that's lost none of its power over the years.

Biography

Born: 28 July 1943 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s

Michael Bloomfield was one of America's first great white blues guitarists, earning his reputation on the strength of his work in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. His expressive, fluid solo lines and prodigious technique graced many other projects — most notably Bob Dylan's earliest electric forays — and he also pursued a solo career, with variable results. Uncomfortable with the reverential treatment afforded a guitar hero, Bloomfield tended to shy away from the spotlight after spending...
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