Whisky Train : Rich Hardesty and the Del Reys

Reviewlet Larry Pennisi [USA]

Admittedly and with good reason, I have always been enamored of the work of Rich Hardesty after hearing his arcane, tilted and dark versions of A Christmas Camel and Shine on Brightly. Lighter to the touch then comes this version of Whisky Train. Interestingly and perhaps intentionally in light of its history, this is an acoustic, country-like rendition of the Trower-Reid opus that opened the 1970 Home album.

Interesting on its own it is, but what makes it more so is that Keith Reid had stated that the track was originally intended to be a country-like offering until Robin Trower got hold of the words and turned it into the electric blues mass that we have become accustomed to.

Delicately picked acoustic guitar notes open this 2004 take on the 35-year old song accompanied by Rich's husky yet smooth vocal. Things proceed on a restrained Grand Old Opry-esque course until the 1:20 time marker when full band and electric guitars swoop in with drums and slide playing carrying forward. Intrinsic to the original take was BJ Wilson's locomotive breath drumming and cowbell, which while absent here, does not diminish the track's staying power in the blues rock genre.

It's easy to sit back and imagine hanging out in some dark, juke-box drenched roadside bar in Lubbock, Texas as this track winds itself up. Tasteful and considered use of dynamics intensifies the separate sections utilizing an almost Alternative music soft/loud/soft/loud technique. However, regardless of what the music is doing, the vocal remains subdued, tempered and cautious in the best senses of the words. Thus, it creates a stark polarity to the burgeoning, pressing sentiments of the surrounding sonic flora.

In concert Procol Harum, no doubt courtesy of Barrie Wilson who tended to sound as if he was two drummers playing on this track, tended to play this at almost a double-timed speed relative to the recorded Home version. Without the thick, hornlike quality of Robin Trower's guitar and the insistence of BJ's drumming, I am not as taken by the track live as I once was but it still works in that timeless manner that seems to mark the bulk of the Procol Harum canon. This track was also covered by Leslie West of Mountain in past years. I have to give 5 out of 5 Monocles for this great rendition of an old concert classic from the Phase 4 (playing members) version of Procol Harum.

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