It’s the time of year for saving money!
Approaching these interesting reissues from Concord Music’s Craft Recordings imprint took a bit of inner focus for me to maintain objectivity. You see, these albums were made by members of the original incarnation of legendary American roots rockers Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) — members other than lead singer, front-man and main songwriter John Fogerty. And there-in lies the challenge: John Fogerty is such a distinctive writer of memorable, hook-filled instant-classic songs, that it is almost impossible to not make comparisons when listening to the music by his older brother Tom and drummer Doug Clifford.
I have thus tried to listen extra closely and appreciate these collections for what they are…
Of the two reissues, Tom Fogerty‘s second solo album, titled Excalibur, fares the best. It’s a real good record and if you are a fan of The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia you probably need to own this as an early incarnation of what became generally known as The Jerry Garcia Band is the backing band here. But don’t go into it expecting this album to sound like Live at Keystone, although it is that same version of the band. Jerry seems to be approaching Fogerty’s music, shall we say, a bit more straight forward, playing more like a session player than on his solo recordings and his work with the Dead, so much of his distinctive sound isn’t quite so apparent. I suspect this was intentional out of respect for Fogerty who was already struggling in the shadows of his hit-making younger brother — the last thing Tom Fogerty needed was a record that would sound like something other than Tom Fogerty.
The results are solid and Excalibur is a respectable, enjoyable early ’70s rock album with a timeless feel. Indeed, it contains some songs that would have no doubt sounded fine on a CCR album had Fogerty stayed in the band. I particularly like the album opener “Forty Years” a bunch. “Face Places People” is a really cool tune which sounds particularly distinct and borderline psychedelic — I especially love Jerry’s over-the-top, effects-driven solo here, a scorching flavor I’ve not really heard him use quite so aggressively (closest might be on “The Wheel” from his first solo album, Garcia). Fogerty does well carving out his own path on basic blues tunes like “Straight and Narrow” but when he veers toward the sort of roots rock sounds of his former band, then the music starts to sound more CCR-ish. That is not a bad thing necessarily but it is worth noting — his voice can sound quite similar to his brother’s, not surprisingly.
The vinyl pressing on thick dark quiet 180-gram black vinyl sounds real nice overall and is probably better than the original; while I don’t have one to compare this too, I do know that Fantasy’s LP pressings from the first half of the 70s especially were often not very good, frequently on thin and sometimes noisy Dynaflex type vinyl.The new disc comes housed in a audiophile grade plastic-lined inner sleeve and features period-accurate brown Fantasy Records labels. The hype sticker on the cover says: “cut from the original analog master” and given the good sound overall on this new vinyl LP I don’t doubt the sticker’s claims. Interestingly there is a Master Quality (MQA) version of the album up on Tidal which streams at 192 kHz / 24 bits (when decoded by an MQA-compatible DAC such as the one I use by Mytek). The Tidal stream of Excalibur sounds good but is a different — brighter sounding — experience than you’ll get from the album version, so it does come down to individual preference.
As warm and fuzzy as Excalibur may feel on vinyl, the companion reissue from this period by CCR drummer Doug Clifford feels a bit… shall we say… crispier… when it comes to the overall sonics. I honestly don’t know why, but Doug Cosmo Clifford took me several plays to get comfortable with the flavor of the recording. That said, I found some genuine bright spots listening to this album and grew to like it (I didn’t initially!).
To its credit, the album features backing from CCR bassist Stu Cook (on rhythm guitar) and legendary Stax session bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn as well as support from members of Tower of Power. It also includes and Doobie Brother (and lead guitarist on Elvis Costello’s debut), the great John McFee (who was probably still with Bay Area band Clover when this album was recorded in 1972). While the album opens on a swinging note with the horn-driven “Latin Music,” most of the songs revolve around basic rock ‘n roll (and some country-rock!) forms. The big stand “ah ha” stand out track for me came at the very end of the record — despite its laid back slacker hippie sounding title, “Swinging In A Hammock” is a cool little slice of driving, near power-pop with a sweet Pete-Townshend like hooky chorus (“as the sun is going down”) that is pretty wonderful. If ever there was a single release from this record, this should have been it!
The album is fleshed out with a number of cover versions including John Sebastian’s “Daydream,” Doug Sahm’s “She’s About A Mover” and Steve Winwood’s “I’m A Man.” Clifford’s voice grows on you after a few listens. But assuming the wiki is accurate, Clifford himself doesn’t even think too much of this record. So while it is in many ways one for CCR completist fans, this record does have its charms. If you want to check out Doug Cosmo Clifford digitally you can also find it streaming in MQA format up on Tidal at this link here. Like Excalibur, the new reissue of Doug Cosmo Clifford comes housed in a audiophile grade plastic-lined inner sleeve, features period-accurate brown Fantasy Records labels and is pressed on thick, dark and quiet 180-gram black vinyl. Doug Cosmo Clifford is an unexpectedly fun little gem of an album.