Free-roaming masterpiece of one of rock's nearly men...
Free-roaming masterpiece of one of rock’s nearly men…
Terry Reid was the youngest of a post-war generation of often electrifying British vocalists that included Eric Burdon, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, Steve Marriott, Joe Cocker and Steve Winwood. At 16, he was the charismatic front man of soul stompers Peter Jay & The Jaywalkers who at a spectacular show in November 1966 at the Capitol Theatre in Cardiff headlined by The Small Faces was a raw-voiced livewire, quite the equal of Steve Marriott, then in his raucous mod pomp.
Great things were predicted for Reid when he went solo, although he would always be more popular among fellow musicians than the wider a public, with whom he never really connected. Eric Clapton, for instance, was a fan and Reid supported Cream on a 1968 American tour. The Rolling Stones dug Terry, too, and he opened for them on their 1969 US tour, the one that ended badly at Altamont. Jimmy Page thought highly enough of him to ask Reid in 1968 to join the band that became Led Zeppelin. Reid, however, was committed to a solo career that everyone kept telling him was about to take off and recommended the then-unknown Robert Plant, with whom he shared a talent for high-end shrieking. For the same reason, Reid also turned down a chance to join Deep Purple, the gig going instead to Ian Gillan.
But neither 1968 debut Bang Bang It’s Terry Reid (bizarrely released only in America) or its eponymous 1969 follow-up sold well and Reid was soon in bitter dispute with manager/producer Mickie Most, an old school pop svengali determined to groom him as a suave soul crooner. Reid was looking far beyond the local Locarno and seasons in seaside cabaret, however. He was increasingly drawn by the lure of Los Angeles, where like-minded musical souls were even now gathering in stoned idyll, making the kind of expansive, adventurous music free of commercial orthodoxies he now felt himself compelled to write and record. In early 1970, he quit Britain and moved to California, eventually signing to Atlantic when label head Ahmet Ertegun personally negotiated his release from Most’s restrictive clutch.
The first sessions for the album that was released in May 1973 as River took place in London. A series of long meandering sessions with Yes and ELP engineer Eddie Offord resulted apparently in enough material for three albums, most of which was discarded when at Ertegun’s suggestion Reid resumed work on the record in America with producer Tom Dowd. Even by the unpredictable standards of the time, River, as fashioned by Dowd, defied categorisation, the music a free-associative mix of folk, blues, jazz, bossa nova, soul, rock and samba, Dowd letting the tapes run and allowing Reid therefore to go wherever it was he felt like going, which in most instances was somewhere off the known grid, where only Tim Buckley, Van Morrison and John Martyn were simultaneously venturing.
Album opener, “Dean”, offers immediate evidence of a song-writing style unfettered by conventional obligations to the tyranny of verse and chorus, beginning and end, build up and climax. A skittish guitar lick is followed by Reid’s speculative humming, as if he’s looking for a groove, a moment of lift-off that quickly comes as drums and bass tumble busily in and what turns out to be David Lindley’s slide guitar makes a noise that sounds like bullets whizzing over your head, Reid’s marauding voice a tomcat howl, recalling Tim Buckley’s carnal squawk on Greetings From LA. The cut’s lack of conventional structure is typical of the following three tracks, apparently improvised jams that at times are markedly reminiscent of the funky gumbo that Little Feat served up on Dixie Chicken, released the same year.
The fractured panache of these songs gives way on the album’s second side to a heavy-lidded languor, a kind of stoned euphoria with Reid’s voice at its lithest, slurring phrases, blurring words, oblivious of obvious syntax. The title track, “Dream” and “Milestones”, featuring just Reid’s voice, acoustic guitars and occasional percussion, are nearly all vapour, an evocative mist, a melodic drizzle and spray that primarily brings to mind the aching drift of Buckley’s Blue Afternoon and Lorca, with an echo too on the multi-tracked vocals of “Milestones” the spectacular abstractions of Starsailor and David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name.
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