Wilson and Alroy's Record Reviews We listen to the lousy records so you won't have to.

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Jack Bruce

Reviewed on this page:
BBC Live In Concert - Why Dontcha - How's Tricks - A Question Of Time - Somethin Els - Around The Next Dream

If "Jack Bruce" means anything to you, it probably means "that screechy singer-bass player from Cream." It's a shame Bruce gets pigeon-holed like that, because he's had a remarkably eclectic and adventuresome career, often veering off track but always trying hard to entertain. After getting his start as a jazz-blues player in the Graham Bond Organization, he signed up with John Mayall's blues band, then with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker founded the holy acid-rock trinity Cream, then went 180 degrees in the other direction with Tony Williams' seminal fusion band Lifetime, and ever since has seesawed back and forth between heavy rock and jazz-fusion in a succession of solo outings and all-star power trios. Through it all he's managed to make connections with some of the biggest names in rock music, including virtuoso guitarists like John McLaughlin, Leslie West, Robin Trower, Clem Clempson, and Gary Moore.

Despite his amazing resume, Bruce isn't for everyone. He really does have a pinched and whiny voice, and if you hate it you'll really hate it. His bass playing is melodic and powerful, but if you're like most people you might not ever notice. And his numerous original compositions, often co-authored with lyricist Peter Brown, are really hit and miss: he doesn't seem to be familiar with the notion of a catchy pop song. It also doesn't help that with such an ever-changing succession of players and styles, no two of his albums really sound the same. So in the end, you might want to mull over any purchase pretty carefully.

Bruce's shadowy, confusing, and mostly out-of-print discography has been a nightmare to figure out; I've omitted most mention of guest appearances, leaving in comments only for the most high-profile cases.

Surprise, surprise: there is a Jack Bruce fan page. Another source is the classily presented and detailed Robin Trower home page. (JA)

Until 1965 Bruce's only recorded performances were a few live shows with jazz-blues-R & B fusion pioneers the Graham Bond Organization, which featured Bond (vocals, keyboards, sax), John McLaughlin (guitar) and Ginger Baker (drums). These have been released sporadically over the years under various titles, but are mostly out of print and hard to get. (JA)

In 1966 Bruce joined John Mayall's Blues Breakers, with Eric Clapton (guitar) and Baker on drums once again. He does not appear on Clapton's one full LP with the band, which was recorded before Bruce joined. However, a small number of songs were recorded during the Bruce-Clapton period and have appeared on assorted low-budget "Eric Clapton" and "British blues" compilations that I haven't heard. (JA)

From 1966 to 1968 Bruce, Baker, and Clapton recorded 3 1/2 studio albums and a pile of live cuts as the supergroup Cream. These are reviewed on our Eric Clapton page. (JA)

Songs For A Tailor (1969)
I'm not sure of the backing band, but I've read that this is low-key jazz-fusion, and that guitarist Chris Spedding appears. (JA)

Bruce next formed a new three-man supergroup with Mitch Mitchell (drums) and Larry Coryell (guitar). They toured in late 1969 but never recorded an album. (JA)

Emergency! (Tony Williams Lifetime: 1969)
A proto-fusion supergroup formed by Miles Davis' young phenom drummer Tony Williams, also including Bruce's old colleague John McLaughlin and Larry Young, one of Jimi Hendrix's many jamming partners. Their debut was issued on two LP's (Volume One and Volume Two) that I've read are also available as a double LP. I have the CD version, and it's not very enjoyable and doesn't feature Bruce at all; he only joined the group by the time of their second disc. (JA)

Turn It Over (Tony Williams Lifetime: 1970)
The second and last Lifetime disc, with Bruce now a full-time member. However, McLaughlin had gotten fully involved with the Miles Davis group and a solo career with his Mahavishnu Orchestra, and the group fell apart. (JA)

Things We Like (1970)
I've also read that this dates to 1968, but my best source lists it as being recorded in 1970, after Songs For A Tailor. Supposedly John McLaughlin appears, and it's more of a jazz record than a rock record. (JA)

Harmony Row (1971)
Another solo effort; both Chris Spedding and drummer John Marshall are in the lineup. (JA)

BBC Live In Concert (rec. 1977??, rel. 1995)
As far as I can tell this is the only documentation of Jack Bruce's 1970s association with the famous band leader Graham Bond, who gave a home to Bruce and Ginger Baker in the mid-60s, plays keyboards and saxophone here, and supposedly died in 1973. The other players were mostly early 70s associates - Chris Spedding (guitar), Art Theman (sax), and John Marshall (drums) - and the track listing is almost entirely Bruce-Brown originals from Bruce's first two solo albums, with only "We're Going Wrong" dating back to Cream. That makes me think the album cover is wrong and the show really dates to about 1971, not 1977. Go figure... As for the recording, it's pretty much a mess. The swelling organ, randomized sax lines, wild drumming, and indulgent jazz-blues vibe do vaguely recall both Cream and early King Crimson. But the band improvises all over the place, falling apart completely on the shapeless, 17-minute "Powerhouse Sod"; and Bond's only spotlight is a hoarse, ragged version of the blues standard "Have You Ever Loved A Woman." It's a weird artifact, but definitely not a must-have. (JA)

Why Dontcha (West, Bruce & Laing: 1972)
Probably the best of Bruce's many post-Cream rock supergroups. This time he joined with ex-Mountain members Leslie West (guitar) and Corky Laing (drums) - but the combo went nowhere commercially, despite putting out three albums. It's a shame, because they successfully revive, and even solidify Mountain's blended Cream/Led Zeppelin sound. Bruce and West split the songwriting and gritty, bluesy singing. West demonstrates some good slide and lead guitar technique, with a mastery of exactly the same electric blues riffs that Jimmy Page uses so effectively. And Bruce rises to the challenge with some Cream-style melodicism and fine harmonica and bluesy vocals; you won't hear his classic rumbling-distorted bass sound again on his later albums. The result is completely sincere and thunderously loud, almost as a Cream record and likely to satisfy. The only minus is the monotonous songwriting and lack of anything resembling a new idea; the closest things are a few pleasant, piano-driven ballads ("While You Sleep") and a little Moog synth on the album closer ("Pollution Woman"). (JA)

Whatever Turns You On (West, Bruce & Laing: 1973)
Their second and last studio album. Also in 1973, Bruce supported Lou Reed on his critically acclaimed album Berlin. (JA)

Out Of The Storm (1974)
Another power-trio record, this time with guitarist Steve Hunter. (JA)

Live 'N' Kickin' (West, Bruce & Laing: 1974)
A rather ironic title considering that the band had reunited for one album only. I've seen conflicting information on the date of release, which could have been late 1973. (JA)

How's Tricks (1977)
Bruce always switched off bands quickly, so this one's short lifespan comes as no surprise. The players are Tony Hymas (keyboards) and Simon Phillips (drums), both of whom went on to work with Jeff Beck; and Hughie Burns, the guitarist willing to face the inevitable Clapton comparisons. Bruce sings lead, but I'm not sure about writer's credits. In some places producer Bill Halverson goes for an orchestrated mid-70s fusion sound that does approach a mellowed-out Beck ("Times"; title track; "Something To Live For"), but more frequently it's just tidy, medium-strength 70s pop-rock ("Johnny B'77"; the leaden "Baby Jane"; "Madhouse"). Both Bruce's bass and Burns' guitar are kept mostly in the background, putting Hymas' synth and piano lines at center stage. But Hymas doesn't have any ideas either, pumping out just a few of his jazzy, high-speed solos ("Outsiders," which also has a smoking bass line); and that leaves you stuck listening to Bruce's over-emotive vocals ("Without A Word") - just as little range as in the Cream years, but not as many amusing mannerisms. It's only on the slow, off-the-shelf Chicago blues "Waiting For The Call" that Bruce breaks out the harmonica and leads the band through an early Cream reprise. There's nothing embarassing here, but there's nothing too memorable either. (JA)

In 1978 Bruce guested on John McLaughlin's solo album Electric Guitarist. (JA)

Over The Top (Cozy Powell: 1979)
Bruce backed drummer/Jeff Beck crony Cozy Powell on this solo record. Like most everything Bruce got involved with in the 70s, it went nowhere. Bruce also appeared on Powell's 1981 record Tilt. Other early 80s guest appearances include Jon Anderson's solo albums Song Of Seven (1980) and Animation (1981). (JA)

At about this point Bruce formed another supergroup, this time with Clem Clempson (guitar). I believe there was at least one release in 1980, but I don't know the details. (JA)

B.L.T. (B.L.T.: 1981)
Yet another supergroup, this time featuring Bill Lordan (drums) and famous Procol Harum guitarist/Hendrix imitator Robin Trower. Bruce sings, but the material is almost entirely by Trower and Procol Harum lyricist Keith Reid - the major exception is Bruce's "Life On Earth." This was to be Bruce's most enduring post-Cream rock band, and I very definitely want to hear some of their work. (JA)

Truce (Trower/Bruce: 1981)
Within months Lordan was gone, replaced by Reg Isidore. There's more of a collaboration this time, with Bruce and Brown writing three tunes, and teaming with Trower on a fourth; Reid and Trower wrote the rest. The same year Bruce appeared on Allan Holdsworth's album Road Games. (JA)

Back It Up (Trower/Bruce: 1983)
I'm not completely certain what Bruce's role was on this Robin Trower record. Afterwards Bruce seems to have stayed out of the limelight for most of the decade. (JA)

In 1985 Bruce appeared on the all-star Golden Palominos record Visions Of Excess, and also on Ellen McIlwaine's Everybody Needs It. (JA)

In 1986 Bruce appeared on the Golden Palominos' next offering, Blast Of Silence. (JA)

A Question Of Time (1989)
This is a deliberate, but largely successful stab at putting Bruce back in the rock mainstream. The core band is Peter Brown (lyrics), Dougie Browne (drums), Jimmy Ripp (guitar), and P-Funk alum Bernie Worrell (keyboards, backing vocals). But there's a steady procession of big-name guests - Alan Holdsworth, Vernon Reid, Tony Williams, and even Ginger Baker, who's as elephantine as ever on his two tracks - "Obsession" is just like a late-period Cream song, save for the brilliant Holdsworth solos that oddly blend Clapton and Robert Fripp. And both Albert Collins and Nicky Hopkins show up for a deliberate, emotional rendition of Willie Dixon's "Blues You Can't Lose." Not to mention all the instrumental flavoring - clavinet, Ghanaian drum, slide guitar, organ, tabla, and then there's Bruce himself slithering about on a fretless bass. But that's the problem: the record is so over-produced it sometimes sounds like any old medium-strength 80s rock record, despite plenty of hints of Bruce's quirky personality like the shuffling, frizzy, reggae-tinged "Kwela," and the tripped-out, late-60s-esque title track. Whatever the drawbacks, there are enough interesting experiments here to entertain almost any fan. (JA)

Somethin Els (1993)
Jack Bruce has made a lot of records since Cream. But as far as I know, this one includes his only on-record collaboration with Clapton since 1968 - Eric plays lead on the first three cuts. Not only that, Cream collaborator Peter Brown contributes jagged, impressionistic lyrics to seven of the nine tunes. Clapton sounds just like he has throughout the past 20 years, but Bruce's Cream-era vocal affectations are as recognizable as ever despite his pop crooning. The combination is jarringly familiar, evoking two of EC's most dissimilar periods at once. But the better, more inventive material is elsewhere, with Bruce now moving into the same updated classical/New Age/British soul groove as contemporaries like Rod Argent (the piano solo "FM"). Although there isn't nearly as much eclecticism, head-banging rock, or switching off of guest stars as on the last album, it's still inventive, tuneful, and a heck of a lot more interesting than what Clapton's been up to of late. The most notable guest other than Eric is Clem Clempson (guitar). (JA)

Cities Of The Heart (1994)
A live double CD capitalizing on the publicity brought on by Clapton's involvement in the last record. It was recorded at Bruce's 50th birthday party concert, with familiar guests like Ginger Baker, Gary Moore, Clem Clempson, Simon Phillips, and Bernie Worrell - but not Clapton. (JA)

Around The Next Dream (Baker, Bruce, Moore: 1994)
An ersatz Cream reunion record, with Bruce, ex-Cream drummer Ginger Baker, and journeyman heavy rock guitarist Gary Moore. The power trio format usually brings out the best in Bruce, and you'd figure that Baker's wildman drumming would egg him on. But co-producer Ian Taylor seems to have talked them into playing it safe. There's a bunch of overdriven Chicago blues covers ("High Cost Of Living"; "I Wonder Why"), and their by-the-book playing has none of Cream's spirit - even when they blatantly rip off Cream's arrangment of "Crossroads" ("City Of Gold"). Moore, a pallid singer and facile, but utterly unimaginative metal-based pentatonic lead guitarist, gets cowrites on everything and often leads the band, as on his painfully derivative 12/8 soul ballad "Naked Flame." Baker seems tentative and is consistently undermixed, and Bruce seems like he's just along for the ride. Some of the rockers are indeed solid ("Waiting In The Wings," with some Cream-y wah wah guitar; the power ballad "Where In The World"; "Glory Days"), but none of them break ground. Only one number really stands out, and it's also the only one with a Ginger Baker co-write: "Why Does Love (Have To Go So Wrong)," which recalls Cream's psychedelic sound but drags on for seven minutes. What a bringdown. (JA)

Monkjack (1995)
Bernie Worrell is the only backing artist on this one. Supposedly low-key solo piano stuff going even farther in the direction pointed to by Somethin Els. (JA)

That's enough for a lifetime...

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