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3-and-a-half stars ---- near miss box-set of brilliant and influential guitarist.......
on 4 February 2014
This 3CD + 1DVD set has been a long time coming and Al Kooper has to be congratulated at least for his persistence with Columbia records in persuading them to get this set out. It is a shame really that it has come out hot on the heels of the tremendous and bar raising 7CD (!) Duane Allman box-set of last year (2013) which was just about perfect and consequently highlights the flaws with this set. Straight off the bat I have to say I am a huge admirer of Michael Bloomfield and reckon he was right at the top tier of guitarists in the 1960's and hugely influential on the psychedelic guitarists of the late '60's (just listen to "East-West" or his live performance of "Maggie Farm" backing Dylan at Newport and psych-guitar starts there!). The music on these CDs is spread over 3CD's but each CD only plays just over an hour which means almost an hour of potential playing time is lost - for a collector's set such as this and since Bloomfield was in his element on live guitar jams how come the free space wasn't filled up with some more examples of his live prowess such as "Moon Tune" or "Blues On A Westside" to name but two [or even better unreleased live material; there is plenty out there]?
More of Bloomfield's session work such as provided on the Duane Allman set would have also been welcome since he was arguably one of the most in demand session guitarists of the mid- to late- 60's after playing with Dylan. A whole disc of session work would've been welcome instead of the patchy final music disc (#3) which contains post-60's work which frankly doesn't do Bloomfield any favours sounding much diminished in performance and especially sound quality (he was playing club dates by this point with sadly his demons catching up with him). It would have been better to solely concentrate on Bloomfield's peak years from '64-'69; a harsh judgement perhaps but there is more than enough primo material in these 5-years to fill up six-discs yet alone three.
The music selections here in the main are excellent, including a couple of mid-60's Dylan ringers [esp. "Tombstone Blues" with Chambers Brothers backing vox], provided one doesn't include the post '69 work which with the exception of the poignant Dylan '80 reunion only weeks before Bloomfield's death is expendable and it would have been better to fill this space with higher quality peak period music (for example, where is the scorching "Work Song" by the Butterfield Blues Band?). However the closing, unlisted track, "They Just Don't Make 'Em Like That Anymore", is a travesty being a synth-and-drum machine vocal tune by Al Kooper, presumably intended as a 'tribute' to his fallen friend? If so he really shouldn't have bothered since synth'n'drums [esp. a pseudo-polka rhythm!] really don't fit in with the remainder of the set and frankly the tune is crap - any sensible editor would have told him, "sorry Al this doesn't work, if you want an untitled track how about another unreleased live track with lashings of Bloomfield guitar or even some studio dialog featuring the great man?" It is a real pity that this horrifying track has been allowed to stand thereby marring what in general is a fine attempt at summarising Bloomfield's art (despite it's manifest flaws - too much unused space and lacklustre '70's tracks instead of more primo '60's work).