Gene Vincent's Self-Titled Record on Kama Sutra

Many of Gene Vincent's early rock and roll peers turned to country in the 1970's. Jerry Lee Lewis had number one country hits as he mined the deep vein of country singer-songwriters, and rerecorded old hits in different styles. Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, who recorded some of the wildest rockabilly sides for Coral in the fifties as The Johnny Burnette Trio, became pop singers. Others like Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly, who each had already recorded pop and country songs before they died tragic deaths, would have probably also gone in a much more country direction.

Gene Vincent's Self-Titled record, which was later reissued as If Only You Could See Me Today, has a slight country sensibility, but manages to effectively capture the zeitgeist of the time period, while showing Vincent in a much more adventurous light. Recorded in 1970, shortly before Vincent's 1971 death, at the Sound Factory in Hollywood with members of the Sir Douglas Quintet, the record is surprisingly varied and effective. There are blazing psychedelic guitar solos and organ pops up on many of these genre-bending tracks. Vincent's rock and roll style remains the backbone of the session, but is augmented by studio effects and the playing of these great studio musicians.

Vincent is in fine form. His voice is still cagey and wild, matching perfectly the dynamic range of the songs. He often becomes a soulful balladeer, capable of any style he attempts. The nine minute "Slow Times Comin" is a manic and psychedelic number, written by August Meyer of the Quintet, which is labeled just so on the packaging. Vincent's worn vocals float over the guitars at rapid fire speed. The music is a perfect testament to the times. For those used to Vincent's two minute pop songs, it might seem strange at first, but even for a time period, replete with these sorts of workouts, it stands out, sounding for all the world like The Thirteenth Floor Elevators in a more mellow mood, sans the jug, of course.

The album opens with Mickey Newbury's "Sunshine." Vincent's lovely vocals show his softer side, while the music provides rudimentary background for the ballad. There is even a slight hint of funk in the bass line that fits smoothly with Vincent's new soulful vocals. "I Need A Woman to Love" is even funkier, drifting into Tony Joe White swamp rock. Vincent's vocals recall his earlier work here. In fact, his easy going manner is more akin to Eddie Cochran's ballad persona than his earlier manic style. On "Danse Colinda," a Creole folk number, fiddles take center stage. "Geese" is only one of two tracks that Vincent takes songwriting credit for, along with his wife, Jackie Frisco. The song feels like a lost Swamp Dogg track, perhaps because of its soulful approach and odd subject matter, the plight of geese.

Side Two kicks off with a mellow take of  Bobby Bare's "500 Miles" that captures a soulful, traveling vibe through organ embellishment and thoughtful vocals. "Listen to the Music" recalls many positive message songs of the time period. It's rambling guitars and easy message seem a bit naive now, but the song perfectly captures a mood. "If Only You Could See Me Today" is a standard, loping country rock track with interesting guitar licks that fade out at the end. "A Million Shades of Blue" feels like a Mike Nesmith country Monkees song channeled through a Byrdsian prism. The sweet female backup vocals and catchy chorus make it a standout track. "Tush Hog" ends the album with a seven minute swamp rock workout.

The musicianship is excellent, yet Vincent's vocals and adaptability are what make it successful. While it might not please those looking for Vincent's more rockabilly and rock and roll sides, the album is an exciting offering from a man who was often perceived as limited to that genre, and there are plenty of other places to find those tracks. While it often feels like a product of its time, mixing rootsy southern sounds with psychedelic and electric embellishments, the record could have possibly paved the way for another golden age in Vincent's career. His experimentation certainly wasn't the standard path for ex rock'n'rollers. Vincent still managed to rock; he just did it differently by expanding his musical palette. You won't find any slow country weepers here.


Popular posts from this blog

The Drive-By Truckers and their Southern Rock Opera: Part Four (The Excesses of Touring and Lessons Learned)