November 23, 2011
River(Atlantic Records 1973)
Yes, it has been a long while since last these digits tapped upon this long neglected space. My husbandly duties and newfound role as father have understandably detracted from the importance of rambling aimlessly about albums that tickle my fancy. However, the little dude is sleeping through the night and leisure time has become a vocabulary word in my lexicon once again. I ain’t gonna sell you the Brooklyn Bridge and say this is going to become a daily ritual again, but these lips can promise that I will pop out of the groundhog hole now and again to share what puts a spring in my step these days.
If I were ever to be locked in a basement full of a paunchy fellows playing word association games involving 70s rock albums, I imagine I would immediately belt out a sprightly “Swagger!” when Terry Reid’s River came into earshot. By no means do I invoke this term as means of conjuring an image of a Robert Plant-esque figure slithering and wailing against a throbbing backdrop of bass, guitar and drums. I associate swagger with Reid’s River in a different manner because he tackles each of its songs with such overwhelming confidence and mastery. He knows he is the shit and that his ballads are awash in seduction and languorous moments while the bluesy stoner anthems possess that waggle of the hips and sweaty aura Mick Jagger perfected before sinking into parody. Plus, there is a southern-rock via 60s English folk vibe that does not really exist anywhere else but here and my most fantastical dreams. River’s got a special kind of strut that catches your ear right off the bat and makes you wonder why this dude is a footnote and Rod Stewart is still jiggling his mole onstage for cash money.
What separates Terry Reid from the cadre of Doug Henning look-a-likes with sleazy intentions and a full-throated warble is his grounding in the blues. Yes, Reid’s bread and butter is 70s rock and roll replete with all of its stadium-sized ambitions and grand gestures, but there is something world-weary and bruised about even the most rambunctious tunes here. It’s a warts and all melange of 70s country-rock, bluesy come hither, Stax soul and hoary 70s rock cliche all at once. Since all of these individual parts comprise most of my daily listening, River is an unadulterated synthesis of all that plasters a shit-eating grin on my face when music just coalesces into something larger than the moment and my universe becomes copacetic via a simple song.
Listening to River, it is kind of surprising that Reid never left a bigger imprint upon the musical landscape. Considering his pedigree as a near-frontman for both Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple and songwriter for hits by the Hollies and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, you would think the payola machine would’ve thrown a few bucks in his general direction. It’s a shame that some of the most brilliant musicians fall into the dustbin of lovable losers, also-rans, outcasts and should’ve been something specials that populate my daily soundtrack. I get why Tim Buckley, Moondog and Hawkwind never quite set the world on fire, but River’s obscurity endlessly puzzles this tattered mind of mine. Hell, any album that opens with a tune that invokes a sleazy nexus of boogie-rock, r&b and a backwoods honkytonk, then finishes with its polar opposite, a slow-motion folk meditation on mortality and lost love is more than okay in my book.