Canned Heat • Boogie With Canned Heat

Liberty/Pure Pleasure PPAN LST7541
180-gram LP
1968/2011

Music

Sound

Quicksilver Messenger Service

Capitol/Pure Pleasure PPAN ST2904
180-gram LP
1967/2011

Music

Sound

by John Crossett | September 10, 2011

ollowing on the heels of giants is never easy. No matter how talented you are, you never quite measure up. In the late 1960s, Quicksilver Messenger Service was one of many bands to follow the successful path paved by the Grateful Dead -- which would acquire legendary status in a few short years -- and come off the worse for it. They were a band that could enthrall live audiences with their musicianship, but that appeal never translated into big sales of LPs. That was a shame, as they really were quite good -- more than worthy of greater public attention.

It’s with real pleasure that Quicksilver Messenger Service, the band's debut LP, has been reissued. The band was a rock outlet for folk singer/songwriter Dino Valente, best known for "Get Together," which was included on Jefferson Airplane's first album and a top-ten hit for the Youngbloods. A collection of songs that would later be classified as folk rock, the album is replete with catchy tunes and skillful playing right from the opening number, "Pride of a Man," which has one of the best guitar solos I’ve ever heard. If this is what the band could accomplish in the studio, I can just imagine what West Coast audiences were privy to live.

Canned Heat took a different and more difficult path: playing the blues and mixing in rock beats. They were treading ground already trod by those on the Chicago electric-blues circuit, so it is little wonder that the group, founded by a pair of blues historians and record collectors, Alan Wilson and Bob Hite, found it difficult to compete with the real thing, especially when the real thing was in its prime. Still, as evidenced by inclusion in the roster of bands asked to perform at both Woodstock and Monterey, Canned Heat was the real deal. Boogie with Canned Heat, the group’s second and most successful album, gives ample evidence that they had the chops, just not the luck, needed to hit it big. "On the Road Again" was destined to become a classic, highlighting all that was right with Canned Heat, as well as what wasn’t. Wilson and Hite could write and play, but they just couldn’t compete with their influences. Still, it’s good to have this album reissued so we can reassess the band for what it was.

Sonically, I’d give the nod to the Quicksilver Messenger Service LP over the Canned Heat, although not by much. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Quicksilver Messenger Service had the talent and know-how of the folks at Capitol Records behind them, while Canned Heat had the smaller group at Liberty Records. Or perhaps it was just happenstance. Nevertheless, while both rely on electric instrumentation, which limits our ability to discern the true accuracy of the recording, the guitar work in particular is cleaner and clearer on Quicksilver Messenger Service, together with a slightly better sense of space and a warmer tone. In contrast, Boogie with Canned Heat has a raw edge that underscores its bluesy style.

Neither of these LPs is close to demo material -- rock from that era didn’t have audiophile values as a priority -- but both will appeal musically to their respective fans. These reissues make the music come alive as never before.

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