Few - including Snowy White himself no doubt - would have thought that a year after leaving Thin Lizzy he would appear on Top Of The Pops again; this time with a hit single from his début solo album, White Flames. I recall Steve Wright's BBC afternoon radio show (surely he hasn't been there all this time!?) was largely responsible for the popularity of "Bird Of Paradise". But the song isn't very representative of White Flames, which is a real melting pot of musical genres. Drummer Richard Bailey (Jeff Beck - Blow By Blow) and Kuma Harada (bass) made a classy rhythm section. The booklet doesn't credit any keyboard players but these were Jess Bailey and Godfrey Wang.
After the success of the single, both "Bird Of Paradise" and "Lucky Star" were re-worked and the lp has its running order re-jigged on the CD - this gives a heavy emphasis on instrumentals at the beginning, which works really well. Musically, I'd describe White Flames as often sounding like: "Snowy White meets Colosseum II, Peter Green and Al Stewart with a contemporary (for the time) feel - a bit of Dire Straits and new wave pop - even Duran Duran and Nik Kershaw - and a bit of retro, with hints of Hendrix and Santana, along with some Thin Lizzy thrown in for good measure (!)". Somehow it all works, and if you think that sounds an interesting mix and haven't come across White Flames before here's a quick look at the CD:
"Open Carefully" - An instrumental, which has a new wave feel (yes, really) to the start and then turns to jazz-rock before Snowy lets rip with a trademark solo, drenched in blues. It leads neatly into ...
"At The Crossroads" - The first part of which is a lengthy instrumental passage; with heavy guitar which gives way surprisingly to a tuneful song and some nice acoustic Spanish guitar (the Al Stewart-y bit). Snowy's vocals are OK, but spoken more than sung - he's clearly a guitarist first and singer second. A decent writer though (another surprise) and very personal-sounding lyrics.
"The Journey Part One" - A slow-burner to start this two-part instrumental (very Peter Green/Fleetwood Mac) leading to ...
"The Journey Part Two" - Where the pace picks up (Colosseum II-style), with Snowy using controlled feedback to great effect.
"Lucky Star" - Not a Madonna cover, you'll be relieved to hear but still a poppy song, which opened the lp Side 1 and could easily have been another single (although at almost 7 minutes long it would have needed some heavy editing). Again the vocal gives way to some jazzy instrumentation and then Snowy jumps in with a very tasteful jazzy blues solo. It ends with some lengthy blues guitar which, for me, goes on too long without clear direction.
"It's No Secret" - Another poppy song but more of a rocker and shorter, with a blues guitar outro which ends all too soon this time.
"Don't Turn Back" - More pop - reminds me of Sniff 'n' The Tears' "Driver's Seat" (which I really like) meets Martha And The Muffins' "Echo Beach" (which I also like) with a sprinkling of Peter Green style lead guitar for good measure!
"Bird Of Paradise" - A very tuneful ballad, elevated by a tasteful blues solo. Not the single version and all the better for it.
"Lucky I've Got You" - A bass-driven pop number. The only slightly weak-sounding track here. Nice lead guitar though.
"The Answer" - A real stormer to end with. I think Snowy contributed more to Thin Lizzy than he often receives credit for and the intro to this track more than hints at this, before he launches into a Colosseum II-style riff and a heavy vocal - no hint of pop here! My favourite of all these.
A bonus is the live track "For The Rest Of My Life" which has a live feel (as you'd expect) but, possibly recorded from the desk, manages to sound like it was recorded in a studio. A bluesy shuffle with a long intro. Nice. But from another time.
The only quibbles from me are that the album always sounded a little under-produced and on the CD there isn't enough track separation time after "The Journey Part Two", or before the bonus track. It doesn't take much effort - just some thought ... and another second or three. It really would improve how the music's presented.
I remember buying the album (on the back of the single) and being really surprised at the blend of styles - all of which appeal to me, so maybe I was bound to like it - although that won't appeal to everyone. Snowy's solos all sound improvised and effortless. I can imagine it was an easy album for such talented guys to make and they enjoyed making it. I'm really pleased to have rediscovered White Flames and the CD is superbly remastered and nicely presented in a digi-pak. There's an informative booklet, which includes a lengthy essay by music journalist Chris Welch and individual track notes from Snowy himself which will make an interesting read.
I'd recommend this album to anyone who enjoys superb musicianship with a blues rock / jazz rock emphasis and a hint of pop. For me, at least, it took "cross-over" music to a new level (whether it meant to or not). Any guitarist asked to play for Pink Floyd and Thin Lizzy had to have talent and White Flames demonstrates this in spades. Although this music will always be a minority interest that can make it all the more interesting to discover. 5* for me - and maybe for you if you're reading this. Well worth a punt.
Snowy White, legendary guitarist - well, legendary if you know a huge amount about rock and make the connection that he played on tour with Thin Lizzy for a very brief period...very very brief, only bested in briefness by Midgue Ure....ahem, start again. Snowy White, articulate lyricist and vicalist who plays a mean guitar. Don't bother yourself with anything else he may have done prior to his "solo" career, it means nothing. He hit the music scene big time with the single "Bird of Paradise" featured here....but of course it isn't the best track on the album, it's just the catchiest tune, single fodder. Almost everyt track here stands up well to sole scrutiny as a "classic". Anmd unlike many other guitar playing artists, he actually plays his guitar quite a lot. Doesn't just pad out the album with a lot of daft amateurish singing (erm, move aside Eric), but actually plays his guitar! Must-have music for any serious collection.
I love Snowy White and this is my favourite album of all of the Blues Agency/Snowy White recordings. Many other people far more knowledgeable than I am have reviewed this and expertly itemised the tracks on this album and gone into huge detail so I won't. They have also covered his history with Thin Lizzy and again I therefore won't. White Flames has probably the best known track Snowy ever released in Bird of Paradise which is also one of the reasons why I love it so. Having said that its a great album all the way through. It is as expected a very guitar based album but its a stripped down album which sounds to be clearly enjoyed in the making. It is not a blues album in the straight sense but its certainly not pop and its not a straight rock album either. Its a fusion and its all just wonderful. This is my 4th copy as 3 others have been borrowed over the years and never returned back. I think that says it all.