December 21, 2012
Barnstorm (1972 ABC Records)
Let me preface this review by disclosing that my wife once smoked a joint with Joe Walsh at Woodstock ’94. This is one of the multitude of reasons why I love her, but want to make it known that this trivia has in no way influenced my devotion to Joe Walsh.
No amount of soap and water could wipe away the stench of the Eagles. Yeah, I dig a couple of their songs whenever they happen to pop up like a whack-a-mole in my daily existence. I kind of nod my head at first, but something about them always triggers me to grab that rubber mallet and forcibly beat it back into it’s sleazy hole. Dude, I cannot even begin to express how I cannot stand everything to do with the collectively nauseating vibe of Don Henley and Glenn Frey and how it befouled all who ever picked up an instrument in that band. However, their is one notable and hypocritical exception to this cardinal rule, the stone-cold coolness of one Joe Walsh. Joe Walsh was kind of a skeeve and embodied that whole lackadaisical longhair lothario vibe they exuded on their hits, so he made perfect sense as a later addition to the band circa Hotel California. However, his work prior to the Eagles is so far superior to what came after he was tainted by tunes telling tales of dark desert highways with cool wind in one’s hair.
First, you cannot beat the skeevy ambiance of the James Gang. They were positively one of the best hard rock bands of their time and the triumvirate of Yer’ Album, Rides Again and Thirds might be one of the best trios to listen to whenever the sun is shining and a cold brew awaits your yearning hand. They were equally adept at libidinous guitar anthems as well as the slow and smarmy blues with a liberal sprinkling of 60s country-rock. However, Joe Walsh’s solo debut, Barnstorm, takes the cake as it amplifies all that was great about the James Gang and lathers it with plenty of weirdo flourishes that make it something entirely his own and uncopied since. It’s practically kaleidoscopic in comparison to its past and future as Walsh captures lightning in a bottle and writes the album of his career. Barnstorm is kind of a conundrum. One-half is happy to improve on the formula of the James Gang, but the other half wants to take a nap in the corner with the Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers and dream of prog-rock future together. Unsurprisingly, my heart is forever entwined with the latter vibe.
The opening track “Here We Go” signals that Walsh has his sights set on something more epic than the James Gang. To be honest, it kind of sounds like a southern-fried Yes for the first half until Walsh unfurls one of those riffs where you can almost imaging the wind blasting his hair into the air as he begins to strum its central chords. Even stranger is “One on One” which is brittle paean to missing the innocence of youth that is a mostly piano-driven prog ballad complete with one of those farty synth solos that give way to an interlude of fluting that echoes into the ether. It’s a weird track, but kind of gorgeous if you decide to get down with where they are cming from here. On the other hand, “Turn to Stone” almost serves as a forgotten signpost for the beginnings of heavy metal if you erase the stoned and mellow chorus from the incessantly chugging riff that erupts throughout it. Lyrically, it’s a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about avoiding confrontation until the cork pops out of the proverbial bottle, but it’s delivered with enough lunkhead devotion that you kind of feel like rooting for this red hot mess in the song. Barnstorm is many things, all of them excellent.