The J. Geils Band

J. Geils Band

Atlantic Records, 1970

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Peter Wolf and the J. Geils Band might be best known for their pop success in the early '80s, with hits like "Freeze-Frame" and "Centerfold" that burned their way up the charts at the time. But their career did not always follow the road of pop success; instead, they started out their commercial life in the eye of the blues revival of the late '60s. In the shadow of artists like Paul Butterfield, the group (named after guitarist J. Geils) paid homage to their blues roots instead of the top 40 charts.

Chances are, unless you grew up with the band in the '70s, the only thing you know the J. Geils Band for are the pop hits. To those people, the group's self-titled debut effort from 1970 might be a shocker, as well as a disappointment. No, we have to think outside the box and forget about the band's post-1980 history to approach this album... nope, didn't help too much.

There are some moments on The J. Geils Bandmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 that were truly awe-inspiring, but for the most part, the album sounds like it's captured the opening act instead of the headliner.

The first thing that hits you when you start this album is, "Do we really need to hear the harmonica constantly?" On the album's opener "Wait," it seems like Magic Dick's harp work is heard any time that Wolf isn't singing - in fact, it's used as a lead instrument more often than Geils's guitar work at times. Okay, so there are shades of Big Walter Horton there, but sometimes the harmonica work does dip into levels of oversaturation.

The magical moments of this album don't come often, but they're powerful when they do arrive. Take the instrumental "Ice Breaker," for example. The musicianship of the group (as well as Geils's songwriting talents) are distinctly heard, and this track seems to pass faster than the 2:15 the listing says it runs for. (If there was an argument for making a track longer, I'd make it for this song.) Likewise, their cover of Otis Rush's "Homework" sizzles like butter on a skillet, and makes you wonder why Rush never became a blues superstar until the late '90s.

Unfortunately, the bulk of The J. Geils Band doesn't share in the same level of magic, often sounding like nothing is coming together for the band. (I've seen blues performers have an off-night in concert, and it isn't a pretty sight; forgive me if I don't name names.) A good portion of the other cover tunes, including John Lee Hooker's "Serves You Right To Suffer" and Albert Collins's "Sno-Cone," don't have the same level of energy as "Homework" did. (I'll concede this much; Wolf's laid-back vocal probably is close to the way that Hooker would have delivered it.)

But even some of the originals can't capture the kind of magic that I think the J. Geils Band wanted to capture on this release. Cuts like "On Borrowed Time" and ""Hard Drivin' Man" just don't carry the same oomph as other songs of that era in American music.

It's not that The J. Geils Band didn't know or have respect for their blues elders; they were paying dues to some of these artists long before their careers got revitalized thanks to the next generation of blues artists. But The J. Geils Band doesn't have the same kind of magic that one would expect from an album recorded while blues was enjoying a resurgence in commercial popularity. If you want to hear the band behind the MTV-hype, then check this one out. Otherwise, let's leave this disc for the die-hard fans only.

Rating: C-

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© 2000 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 Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.