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James Gang - Miami (LP)

James Gang - Miami (LP)

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Genre: rock
Rating: *** (3 stars)
Title:  Miami
Company: ATCO
Catalog: SD 36-102
Country/State: Cleveland, Ohio
Year: 1974
Grade (cover/record): VG / VG+
Comments: minor ring wear; original inner sleeve
Available: 1
Catalog ID: 6339
Price: $9.00

Co-produced by Tom Dowd and The James Gang, by any measure 1975's "Miami" came up short in most categories. With two blatant exceptions ('Sleepwalker' sounding like a dead ringer for Joe Walsh-era James Gang) most of the songs here weren't particularly original, or memorable and while the performances were never less than professional, they were seldom awe-inspiring. That said, having singer/guitarist Tommy Bolin firmly onboard went a long way to helping the band regain some of their creative and commercial footings. While Roy Kenner handled most of the lead vocal, the spotlight was clearly on Bolin. This time out he co-wrote all nine tracks, handled lead guitar, and even took lead vocals on 'Spanish Lover (my choice for the album's other standout performance)'. That said, exemplified by tracks like 'Cruisin' Down the Highway', 'Wildfire' and 'Red Skies' the bulk of the album found the band trying their hand at being a conventional boogie rock. Mind you there was nothing wrong with such a goal, unless you were a band as talented as these guys were.

- 'Cruisin' Down the Highway' had the album's most commercial feel' kind of a feel-good summertime rocker vibe with a catchy Bolin rhythm guitar and some equally nice slide guitar. (Which explains why it was tapped as a single.) The only thing I didn't like was the Jerry Lee Lewis-styled keyboard bursts and the fact the song faded out just as Bolin was really starting to jam. rating: *** stars
- A conventional slice of bar boogie, 'Do It' could have been a Foghat outtake ... Nice beer drinking tune and a nice Bolin solo, but hardly the most original thing they'd ever done. rating: ** stars
- Showcasing Roy Kenner's thick, if somewhat flat voice, to my ears 'Wildfire' sounded a bit like a good Bachman Turner Overdrive tune. Like a good BTO track, this had one of those sledgehammer rhythms that just sort of beat its way into your skull and wouldn't leave. Elsewhere, Bolin turned in some tasty lead slide guitar. rating: **** stars
- Maybe its just my old and beat ears, but 'Sleepwalker' has always reminded me of a Joe Walsh performance. The production effects on Kenner's voice coupled Dale Peters' fuzz bass, and Bolin's thick, sustained chords gave the song a distinctive Walsh-like vibe. Very nice and one of the album highlights. rating: **** stars
- A short blues-shuffle instrumental, 'Miami Two-Step' showcased Bolin's finger-picking and slide guitar moves. Nothing special. rating: ** stars
- 'Praylude' opened up side two with a brief, keyboard-propelled instrumental that sounded almost like a piece of new age music. It then morphed into a segment that showcased some amazing jazz-tinged guitar from Bolin. I don't even like jazz, but found Bolin's performance mesmerizing. rating: *** stars
- 'Red Skies' was a heavy boogie number with another first-rate lead from Bolin. rating: ** stars
- Bolin apparently co-wrote 'Spanish Lover' with Jeff Cook while the pair were in his pre-James Gang project( energy. A beautiful ballad, the song served to showcase Bolin's wonderful voice and his arsenal of guitar effects. Probably the album's one must-hear tune. rating; **** stars
- 'Summer Breezes' was a great song that showcased Bolin's classic slide guitar moves, but suffered from a weak Kenner lead vocal. You literally sat there wondering whether Kenner was going to make it through the song without blowing a vocal chord or suffering an aneurysm. Should have let Bolin handle the lead vocal. rating: ** stars
- After Bolin's 'Spanish Lover', 'Head Above the Water' was the set's most interesting performance. A mid-tempo rocker sporting one of Kenner's best lead vocals and another arsenal of Bolin guitar chops, there wasn't a wasted over the entire four plus minutes. rating: **** stars

ATCO didn't put a lot of promotional effort into the collection. One single was spun off and it did little commercially:

- 1974's 'Crusin' down the Highway' b/w 'Miami Two Step' (ATCO catalog number 7006)

Even with all of the above reservations, I have to admit I really like this album. In fact I like it more than the individual song ratings would have you believe. I'm not sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with Bolin's reluctance to get to showy on the set. Like Duane Allman, Bolin seemed to understand the concept of less-is-more. Well worth checking out, especially since you can still find cheap copies.

"Miami" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) Cruisin' Down the Highway (Tommy Bolin - Dale Peters) - 3:16
2.) Do It (Tommy Bolin - Roy Kenner) - 3:38
3.) Wildfire (Tommy Bolin - John Tesar) - 3:30
4.) Sleepwalker (Tommy Bolin - John Tesar) - 4:01
5.) Miami Two-Step (instrumental) (Tommy Bolin - Dale Peters - Jimmy Fox) - 1:32

(side 1)
1.) a. Praylude (instrumental) (Tommy Bolin) -
b. Red Skies (Tommy Bolin) - 5:59
3.) Spanish Lover (Tommy Bolin - Jeff Cook) - 3:43
4.) Summer Breezes (Tommy Bolin) - 2:40
5.) Head Above the Water (Tommy Bolin - Dale Peters) - 4:18
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