955 - Jack Bruce 'Songs For A Tailor' (1969)

My Rating: 3.00 out of 5
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: X
Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums: X
The Mojo Collection:

Chart Peak (UK/US): 6/55

Favourite Tracks: Rope Ladder To The Moon, He The Richmond
Least-Favourite Tracks: Boston Ball Game 1967, The Ministry Of Bag

Very 60s, this one. My first listen was as I cycled alongside the Grand Union canal & within a few minutes I was transported into some kitchen-sink drama; the industrial landscape around the half-finished Olympic stadium faded out into black & white & I half-expected a youthful Rita Tushingham to wave at me from one of the rusty iron bridges. It’s funny how the 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s all have their own distinct signature sounds. Can’t think what the signature sound of the 00s will be though; perhaps an anonymous voice singing through Auto-tune accompanied by the shuffling noise of marketing men rubbing their clammy hands together & the distant rumble of Simon Cowell’s wallet dragging on the ground? But this album is almost the antithesis of today’s music – it’s unrefined, unpredictable and credits its listeners with having more intelligence than a goldfish – all of which makes it refreshingly enjoyable.

It kicks off with Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out Of Tune – all squawking horns & grimy distorted bass like a cross between Blood, Sweat & Tears, Spirit & some wacky incidental music from The Prisoner. The reviews I’d read referred to this album as ‘jazz-rock’ but I’d say ‘art-rock’ was a more accurate description. For me, jazz-rock conjures up images of Miles Davis in kooky shades or John Mclaughlin grappling a guitar with about 27 necks. I suppose I’m confusing jazz-rock with fusion but however you want to describe this record, it’s certainly more about rock than jazz.

I wasn’t all that familiar with Jack Bruce - I know Cream’s big hits of course but that didn’t prepare me for this album which grew on me the more it went on. Unusual chord progressions steer songs like Tickets To Waterfalls into odd directions, yet whenever it seems to be heading too far into the unconventional we get a delightfully melodic line to haul us back from the brink. Having spent my formative years listening to a lot of avant-garde material, I was especially taken with Rope Ladder To The Moon which with its dark acoustic guitars, melancholic scratchy cellos & angular vocal melodies seemed to have more in common with acts like the Art Bears than any conventional rock outfit.

Lyrically it’s rather a poetic album but that’s not to say it’s portentous or overblown; there’s some quasi-psychedelic quirkiness with lines like “The cook’s jumped in the river / The menu smells of feet” (from The Ministry Of Bag) but generally the words seem heartfelt and, to me at least, rather profound. Weird Of Hermiston has “Skies are no longer a comfort / Leaves turning black with the autumn / The corn is hung down with the heaviest weight that I’m feeling” while on He The Richmond Bruce sings “Yes my name it is written in the sand / And it can’t escape your sweeping hand”; worthy of Brian Wilson that one & a league above the standard flimsy pop/rock sentiments. (Having just researched a little further, I’ve discovered that the lyricist Pete Brown also penned the words for Cream’s hits & published poetry too so that explains a lot).

For all its inventiveness, the album doesn’t always hit the mark. Boston Ball Game 1967 is a bit of a mess, The Ministry Of Bag sounds musically like something dragged from the KPM archives & the jam-session second half of To Isengard drifts perilously close to Derek Smalls’ Jazz Odyssey. But I’d gladly listen to any of them on a 24 hour tape loop ahead of anything that Mr Cowell digs up during the rest of this decade.


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