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Keef Hartley Band - Halfbreed

Keef Hartley Band - Halfbreed

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Genre: blues-rock
Rating: *** (3 stars)
Title:  Halfbreed
Company: Deram
Catalog: DES 18024
Year: 1969
Country/State: Preston, Lancashire UK
Grade (cover/record): VG/VG+
Comments: gatefold sleeve; minor hissing
Available: 1
Catalog ID: 6322
Price: $20.00

Drummer Keef Hartley replaced Aynsley Dunbar in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (about half of the United Kingdom seemingly having played for Mayall at one time or another). After a two year stint with Mayall Hartley was either fired, or (depending on which story you subscribe to), Mayall suggested Hartley consider starting his own band. Either way, 1968 saw Hartley forming the cleverly-titled Keef Hartley Band. Recruiting keyboardist Peter 'Dino' Dines, singer Owen Finnegan, guitarist Spit James (aka Ian Cruikshank) and bassist Gary Thain, the group was quickly signed by Deram.

Produced by Neil Slaven and reportedly recorded in just three days, 1969's "Healfbreed" was originally recorded with Owen Finnegan handling lead vocals, but Hartley and Deram executives were apparently unhappy with the results. Sam Holland was briefly brought in as a replacement, but the tracks were eventually re-recorded with Miller Anderson handling vocals. While I've never heard the Finnegan original (there's supposedly a bootleg version available), the decision to use Anderson sure seemed like the right move given the man had a voice that was literally born to sing the blues ... So if you read some of the reviews, this one stands as one of the holy grails of 1960s English blues-rock. I'm not sure I'd go that far in my praise. Musically the album served to underscore Hartley's obvious devotion to the genre, though that devotion wasn't nearly as slavish as John Mayall and some of the competition. Unlike those other acts, the ever eccentric Harley (yes he apparently really did dress up in native Indian gear), was willing to include a variety of non-blues efforts in the repertoire and that gave the album a slightly more diverse and enjoyable feel. There was no way you were going to hear a commercial tune like 'Just To Cry' or an out-and-out rocker like their cover of B.B. King's 'Think It Over' on a John Mayall album !!! The playing was uniformly strong, with Mayall's former horn section (Harry Beckett , Lyn Dobnson, Henry Lowther, and Chris Mercer) adding some nice support throughout the collection.

- If you weren't in on the plotline, 'Sacked (Introducing Hearts and Flowers)' probably left you wondering what was going on ... Opening up with a phone call you got to listen in on a brief conversation where former boss John Mayall fired Hartley. It was obviously staged, but was still kind of creepy. rating: ** stars
- Luckily, the follow-on instrumental 'Hearts and Flowers' picked up the energy level with a vaguely Eastern sounding instrumental passage. rating: *** stars
- That was quickly followed by the album's most rock-oriented performance. Basically an extended jam, 'Confusion Theme / The Halfbreed' showcased some blazing Miller and James lead guitar (I think Miller handled the leadoff section while James' performance came at the end of the track), along with some of Hartley's impeccable drums, Thain's tasty B-3 Hammond, and some surprisingly impressive horns. Normally a jam like this wouldn't have made much of an impression on me, but this was quite good. rating: **** stars
- Showcasing Miller Anderson on lead vocals, 'Born To Die' found Hartley and company diving headlong into standard Chicago electric blues. Their affection for the genre was obvious, but musically the results weren't particularly interesting with James' solos stealing the spotlight. rating: *** stars
- A more up tempo take on the blues (complete with a punchy horn arrangement), the rollicking 'Sinnin' for You' actually packed quite a wallop. Anderson and James were spotlighted throughout. rating: *** stars
- The band's cover of Sleepy John Estes 'Leavin' Trunk' was probably my favorite performance on the album. Miller's vocals sounded possessed and his blazing guitar duel with James was worth the price of admission by itself. Best described as blues for people who don't like the blues ... rating: **** stars
- Kicked along by some nice Gary Thain bass and James' spidery lead guitar, 'Just To Cry' was the album's most commercial offering. A very haunting performance that is hard to shake out of your head. rating: **** stars
- 'Too Much Thinking' found the band returning to a blues motif. The song wasn't particularly original or enticing, but Anderson's amazing vocals largely made up for those shortcomings. rating: *** stars
- One of the best B.B. King covers ever recorded - Spit James' Hendrix-styled wah wah guitar simply makes this track unforgettable. rating: **** stars
- 'Too Much To Take' seemingly ends with Hartley firing Mayall ... ah revenge is sometimes worth waiting for. rating: ** stars

"Halfbreed" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) Sacked (Introducing Hearts and Flowers)' (instrumental)   (arranged by Keef Hartley) - 0:40
2.) Confusion Theme (instrumental) (Keef Hartley - Ian Cruikshank) - 1:05
3.) The Halfbreed (instrumental) (Keef Hartley - Peter Dines - Ian Cruikshank) - 6:07
4.) Born to Die (Peter Dines - Keef Hartley - Gary Thain - Hewitson) - 9:58
3.) Sinnin' for You  (Keef Hartley - Peter Dines - Hewitson - Owen Finnegan) - 5:51

(side 2)
1.) Leavin' Trunk (Sleepy John Estes) - 5:55
2.) Just To Cry (Henry Lowther - Owen Finnegan) - 6:20
3.) Too Much Thinking (Owen Finnegan - Peter Dines - Gary Thain) - 5:30
4.) Think It Over (B.B. King) - 4:59
5.) Too Much To Take (Speech) - 0:32
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