on March 3, 2006
"Try It Before You Buy It" is a great lost album by Mike Bloomfield and Friends. It was originally slated to be released in the mid-1970s, but Columbia/CBS decided against it. In many ways, if one looked at Bloomfield's commercial potential at the time, one can understand the decision. His first solo offering for Columbia, "It's Not Killing Me," had been an absolute disaster, critically and commercially. And the public and critics were right: "It's Not Killing Me" was characterized by poor material, uninspired playing, and lousy vocals. Other Bloomfield efforts for the label had been disappointments as well: "Live at Fillmore West", Nick Gravenites' "My Labors", and the "Live Adventures of Bloomfield and Kooper" had disappointing sales, and at the time their music failed to gain strong critical support. Projects at other labels were similarly troubled. Bloomfield's playing on the "Fathers and Sons" LP with Muddy Waters had been strangely undistinguished, and Atlantic Records' early 1970s revival of The Electric Flag failed to generate much excitement. Only "Super Session" from 1968 had achieved financial and critical acclaim for Bloomfield, but by the mid-1970s that seemed ancient history.
Sadly, Columbia/CBS made a bad decision in refusing to release the album, as Mike Bloomfield and Friends put together a first-rate effort. This CD-version contains the album as originally conceived by Bloomfield and colleagues. Many of the performances were eventually released in the late 1970s on albums that Bloomfield and Norman Dayron issued on smaller labels, such as Takoma. It is a revelation to hear them in their original setting. The album opens with a fine rendition of "Been Treated Wrong" (issued as "Orphan Blues" on later releases), which includes some spirited vocals and great guitar playing by Bloomfield. "When It All Comes Down" is a mellow song with vocals by Nick Gravenites and excellent, if somewhat rushed, Spanish-influenced guitar by Bloomfield. With more skillful production, the song probably could have been a commercial hit. "Lights Out" again contains effective lead vocals by Bloomfield, as well as rocking drumming by George Rains and some lively horns. "Baby Come On," featuring another vocal by Bloomfield, is probably the weakest song on the album. It is not terrible, just slight. A more worthy substitute would have been "Woodyard Street," recorded at the same time but not issued until the "Bloomfield" anthology by CBS in 1983. The next two songs -- "Shine On Love" & the gospel-oriented "When I Get Home" feature the strong, passionate vocals of Roger 'Jellyroll' Troy, who also played bass. Troy's outstanding vocals are also heard on three other songs: "Midnight on the Radio," "Your Friends," and "Let Them Talk." For those who got to see Mike Bloomfield and Friends perform live in the early to mid-1970s, Troy's singing and bass playing were often highlights of the concerts. Mark Naftalin and Barry Goldberg also provide solid support on keyboards throughout the entire album. George Stallings, a fine saxophone player, sings the lead on the funky, if now dated sounding "Try It Before You Buy It." "Tomorrow Night" features Bloomfield's wispy vocals. It should be noted that Bloomfield wrote much of the material, and that on songs such as "Tomorrow Night" he was clearly trying to move beyond blues into the sort of musical space occupied by eclectic writers such as Randy Newman. This ambition is also apparent on his Takoma and other albums of the late 1970s, and a source of controversy between those who favored him as a blues/rock guitarist and those who were willing to see where Bloomfield wanted to go.
Overall, this is a fine recording by Bloomfield and Friends. It deserves better than its past history. Hopefully it will be re-issued one of these days soon.