Live At The Old Waldorf

Mike Bloomfield

Columbia / Legacy Records, 1976

http://www.mikebloomfield.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/17/1998

One of the sad legacies of the blues is that many of its finest players' names are forgotten due to the passage of time. Few recordings may exist of these artists, and less attention is paid to the body of recordings they do have as the years after their deaths pass.

Up until now, one of those names was Mike Bloomfield. Some may remember him for his appearances with Bob Dylan, others may recall his stints with such bands as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band or the Electric Flag. Regrettably, most people would probably respond, "Mike who?"

Pulled from the vaults, the latest posthumous release from Bloomfield (who died in 1981), Live At The Old Waldorf puts Bloomfield in his natural setting - on stage, in front of a hometown audience during a six-month residence. The natural, unpressured setting seemed to be what unlocked the genie from the bottle for Bloomfield, as this disc contains some great blues work, even if the guitar work isn't always on fire as I would have expected.

Most of the selections contained on this disc came from Bloomfield's 1976-1977 appearances at The Waldorf, the only exception being the opening track "Sweet Little Angel / Jelly Jelly," which was recorded in 1974 for a radio broadcast. Ironically, this song is perhaps the best way to open this collection, as Bloomfield and his band (featuring bassist Roger "Jelly Roll" Troy on lead vocals) are firing on all cylinders, bringing a refreshingly modern feel to the classic blues groove. Bloomfields's guitar playing could well be at its best on this medley - by no means a damning of his work through the rest of the album, but a tough measuring stick to live up to.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The remainder of Live At The Old Waldorf features numerous songs written by rhythm guitarist and occasional lead vocalist Nick Gravenites. Of these originals, "Buried Alive In The Blues" stands out as one I would have sworn came from an earlier time period, it's that close to the bone groove-wise. Other Gravenites originals like "Bad Luck Baby" and "Dancin' Fool" (predating Frank Zappa's classic of the same name) are good, but I'd be hard-pressed to say that they're in the same league as "Buried Alive In The Blues".

There are occasional throwbacks to some of the legends of the scene that Bloomfield and crew tackle, such as a moving version of Elmore James's "The Sky Is Cryin'". The funny thing is that no matter if Bloomfield is taking on a "new" song (for 1977's standards) or giving life to an old classic, he is able to merge a respect for the "old school" of blues with a tone that let you know this was blues for the modern day. This is why Bloomfield was successful in his time, and why he is primed for rediscovery today, 17 years after his death.

My biggest complaint of this disc is its overall brevity. Producer Norman Dayron said he chose those performances that stood out among all others from the residency at The Waldorf; this being said, I find it difficult to believe that only eight quality songs from that time period were worthy of release, and that the album had to be fleshed out with a stellar 1974 performance. I would have liked to have heard much more from these sessions, even if it might not have been the most magical - so long as it wasn't sloppy, haphazard playing.

And while these performances are quite good, I do kind of wish that Bloomfield had shed all abandon and just ripped into his Les Paul or Telecaster. Sure, that might not have been keeping with the old feeling of the blues (and would have tipped the hat to the early days of bands like Led Zeppelin), but there is a nagging feeling telling me that Bloomfield was even a better guitarist than these nine songs hint at.

Live At The Old Waldorf is a solid collection of tracks from one of America's forgotten blues artists, and is a fine place to start one's education of Bloomfield and his guitar work. There is another retrospective of Bloomfield presently out on the market; anyone who wants to get more of a general taste of Bloomfield would be wise to check this set out as well.

Rating: B

User Rating: B-


Comments

People who want to experience the excitement of Bloomfield's live performances ought to listen to his "Red Hot and Blue" or Nick Granvenites' "My Labors". Live at the Waldorf is not a bad album, but it does not even rise to the level of Bloomfield's late 70s official albums.








© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia / Legacy Records, and is used for informational purposes only.