Wednesday, May 4, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 862: Creedence Clearwater Revival

It feels like a long and disconnected week and it is only Wednesday. On the plus side I’ve had a creative surge, getting work done on my book, working on my second original rap song (because, why not) and even playing a little guitar on the side.

What I haven’t done is write a music review, and that is because this next three-CD set was a mammoth undertaking and I just finished listening to it tonight.

Disc 862 is….Ultimate Creedence Clearwater Revival
Artist: Creedence Clearwater Revival

Year of Release: 2012 but featuring music from 1968 - 1972

What’s up with the Cover? Four guys from the Land that Fashion Forgot. From left to right the members of CCR (based on this cover are): Farmhand, Heartthrob, Undercover Cop and Proto-Hipster.

How I Came To Know It: I’ve known CCR all my life, but I could never figure out which album to buy. I went on an album listening binge recently and didn’t like any of them quite enough. Enter Sheila, who bought me this compilation for Christmas. Exactly what I needed!

How It Stacks Up:  Best Of albums and compilations don’t stack up!

Ratings: Compilations also don’t receive a rating.

It is hard to believe the amount of creative energy Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) crammed into the five years they were together in the late sixties and early seventies, but a compilation like this one underscores the point well. Two discs, forty songs and very little filler (there is a third disc, but I’ll malign that later).

In the course of those five years, CCR made seven albums (including three in 1969 alone). Today that would be unheard of or (as is the case with Green Day’s “Uno”, “Dos” and “Tre”) ill-advised. While no single CCR album has ever stolen my heart, there is easily enough quality content to justify a multi-disc set.

The band is a skillful blend of gritty riffs from the blues, bombastic rock guitar licks and the easy laid back feeling of country. The music is both relaxed and raw. The guitar is perfectly in the pocket of the tune, yet grimy and organic at the same time. It is the musical equivalent of Cal Naughton Jr’s Jesus in a tuxedo t-shirt: wanting to be formal, but also here to party.

CCR is keenly aware of its mixed musical heritage, and this compilation includes a host of their various blues and classic rock covers. Whether playing old blues tracks like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” classic fifties rock like Little Richard’s “Good Golly, Miss Molly” or old-time classics like “The Midnight Special” they skillfully navigate the space between paying homage to the original and recreating the song in their own image. For the most part, I preferred the CCR cover versions, with the exception of “Suzie-Q” which starts off OK, but descends into an aimless nine minute wander.

For all that, my favourite tracks remain CCR originals. I remember hearing these songs on a.m. radio growing up, and hearing them again was like having an old friend stop by for a visit (where I grew up people used to stop in unannounced. It was a thing).

These songs take all the elements of their influences and mix them into a gumbo of southern boogie woogie that is very hard to resist. My advice is not to bother.

The compilation starts with “Proud Mary” which is relaxed and easy. No, I didn’t find myself wishing for the Ike and Tina Turner version. The CCR version is more homespun and relaxed, but no less beautiful. Like the Dude from the Big Lebowski (also a fan), CCR knows how to not get ahead of themselves. Let the song unfold, free and easy.

The next track is the raspy, gritty “Born on the Bayou” which shows that the same basic structure of “Proud Mary” can be reimagined into a song that is thick with urgency and rebellion. Even “Bad Moon Risin’” was enjoyable, despite being seriously overplayed for the past 40+ years.

On this particular listen, the songs that stuck out for me most were “Lodi” and “Someday Never Comes.” Both songs have a folksy quality to them, and a feel of lost opportunity, regret and disillusionment.

John Fogerty’s pronunciation is bizarre at times, and I’d like to think it is his strong Louisiana accent, but apparently he’s from California. For most of my life I have thought “Wrote A Song For Everyone” was “Rush On For Everyone.” On “Bad Moon Risin’” he growls “don’t gawr out tonight” which is good advice if there are werewolves about, but underscores why college boys don’t heed the advice of the local hillbillies. It is hard to respect being told not to ‘gawr out’. Or maybe they just thought John was telling them “There’s a bathroom on the right.”

The third CD in this particular compilation is a bunch of live tracks which the accompanying booklet breathlessly tells us were mostly recorded…in Europe! How exotic! Unfortunately, the live tracks just sound like the studio tracks, only drunk and a little sloppy. The already overlong “Suzie Q” is extended another whole two minutes. The final selection is a song called “Keep on Chooglin’” which is apparently how CCR describes their rhythm but I think a better usage would be “This song almost made me choogle all over myself.”

Even this gratuitous display of disc-shittery could not take away from the positive experience I got listening to the previous two discs, and the many amazing songs CCR’s legacy has left us. I wonder what they would have accomplished if they’d stayed together another five years, but maybe we should just be happy that they went out on top.

Best tracks:  Proud Mary, Born on the Bayou, Fortunate Son, The Midnight Special, Run Through the Jungle, Bootleg, Pagan Baby, Down on the Corner, Lookin’ Out My Back Door, Long As I Can See the Light, Lodi, Someday Never Comes (yes, that’s 12 songs, but I had 40 to choose from).

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