Saturday, January 11, 2014

Jim Kreuger – Sweet Salvation (Columbia – 1978)

Jim Kreuger was a guitarist in Dave Mason’s band for years, but I won’t hold that against him. I just don’t have a lot of time for Dave. I’ve tried, lord, how I’ve tried. Personally, I think Jim Capaldi made more interesting music in the 70’s, and I can live without just about every Jim Capaldi album ever made in the 70’s. For the record, I don’t own a single solo Steve Winwood album either. Do I even own a Traffic album? I actually sell them pretty regularly in my store, so I don’t tend to hang on to them. I definitely think that Traffic made interesting music with and without Dave Mason. Mr. Fantasy is rightfully considered a boomer classic, and their second album was one of the first non-canon hippie rock albums that I owned when I was a little kid. I dug it. I never need to hear “Feelin’ Alright” again as long as I live though. Look, I’m fond of Traffic, let’s leave it at that.
I’m guessing Columbia gave Jim Kreuger and Christian keyboard/synth/arranger/producer juggernaut Michael Omartian about fifty bucks to make this record (it sounds like it was made on the cheap anyway) SOLELY based on the fact that Jim had written the big (his biggest) Dave Mason hit “We Just Disagree”. Jim’s solo record features a lesser version of  “We Just Disagree” and I’m glad it’s there because NOW I know who to thank for the one and only Dave Mason song that I love. I feel bad for Jim though. He wrote a seriously great pop song and he didn’t get the credit and then he puts it on a solo album a year later that nobody would ever hear. Kind of a lost cause. Must have been frustrating for him. The best thing about “We Must Disagree” is that it kinda doesn’t even matter that it’s a Dave Mason song. It’s been on AM and FM radio every day in America since it was released and I’m sure plenty of people have no idea who sings it. ANY pop or country star of the 70’s could have sung it and made it a hit. It’s nearly fool-proof. And I like fool-proof songs. But Jim’s version doesn’t have that shimmer. My favorite part of Dave’s version is actually Jim’s back-up vocals and guitar playing.
And that’s the other thing I really want to make clear here: Jim Kreuger was an AMAZING guitar player. Like, scary good! The best parts of his one and only solo album are the instrumental jams that end some songs and the two actual instrumentals. The end of the faux-Antilles number “Trinidad”  - a sub-genre of pop/rock song that apparently everyone had to attempt in the mid 70’s - is great, and it really makes you wish that the whole album sounded like it. The de rigueur sly racism that was ALSO part and parcel of hot Caribbean summer night songs done by guitar guys is also on display. Jim gets his pocket picked while he’s doing the samba and he tries to explain to the thief that all he has are travelers checks so the thief steals his watch instead and he likes brown women and rum and he doesn’t understand what the brown women are saying to him so he looks it up in the dictionary but he gets the words wrong. The first instrumental “Hotnoggin Country Raga” is reason enough to buy this album for a dollar, it’s just a shame that it’s only two minutes long. For two minutes you get epic bluegrass fusion funk picking and who isn’t a fan of that? Dude should have been a guitar hero, for real.

The second instrumental, “Don’t Call Me Chief”, is a righteous slab of super-speedy salsified Les Dudek disco and this is where having Michael Omartian onboard as producer – he of the legendary Rhythm Heritage and the man behind the anthem of a generation “Theme From S.W.A.T.” – really makes a difference. The actual SOUND of the recording is nothing to write home about, but Jim’s raging guitar and people like Ernie Watts, Chuck Findley, and Nino Tempo blowing their guts out is still a treat to hear. Again, if only the whole album was like this…but it wasn’t. And none of Jim’s other originals can compare to his shot at immortality “We Just Disagree”. There are no good guys. There are no bad guys. But hats off to Columbia for at least giving him a slim chance. Better than none at all.