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BLACK WIDOW

Black Widow

 

Heavy Prog

2.98 | 45 ratings

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3 stars The Best Gets Saved Until Last

The biggest problem with music in 1971 is that there was so much great material released then. Albums like this one were deleted early from record labels catalogues and became rare simply because they didn't match up to other releases of the time. The big problem with Black Widow's sophomore album is that it feels like there was a rush to get it to market - why else name your SECOND album after the band? Why else fill an album with obviously derivative material when it was clear that the band were capable of something altogether greater?

Black Widow, then, is an album of some interest to proggers - especially those keen on the Hammond-driven grooves of the early Seventies, but on the whole, rather unremarkable. It's where it gets interesting, however, that it does get REALLY interesting.

The Music

Tears and Wine is an organ-riff driven heavy rock track stemming, as so many early 1970s hard rock bands did, from the sound of Spooky Tooth. Despite the near 9-minute timing, don't expect any Prog in here, though - two riffs trade places throughout to create a song with a couple of sixties-flavoured instrumental sections over a third riff;

To kick the song off is a bluesy riff, with flavours of Cream based on a descending motif. A new idea switching between bass and sax gives a funky edge to the verses which are topped with bluesy singing and the ever-present Hammond. The bass puts in a nice walking style idea, but one ends up wishing for a little variation in this.

The third riff is a bit cheesey and immediately makes me think of the Christmas carol "Jingle Bells". It has a second section which is broken down nicely and followed by some Buffalo Springfield style harmonies, which will immediately make some think of Yes. I'm reminded specifically of the Spooky Tooth song "Sunshine Help Me" at this point.

The whole shooting match is repeated, then a new groove is introduced, which is extremely Small Faces in style, reminiscent of some of the music on "Ogden's Nut Gone" - I keep expecting them to break into "Rene, the docker's delight...", the resemblance is so strong.

But instead, this kicks into a "Jazz-inspired" groove (ie, a swinging drum beat with walking bass lines rooted in a single chord) with pentatonic noodling a-plenty exposing at least three licks, but not developing any of these ideas - just having fun, rocking out and playing until it's time to stop.

And that's the difference between "Vanilla" Rock and Prog Rock - and what puts this into the entertaining Rock category. "Heavy Prog" this most certainly ain't.

"The Gypsy" - makes me think of the many, many other bands who wrote songs about gypsies. This is, of course, the romantic notion of gypsies that was widely held in the early 1970s, not the car-park occupying garden-raiding reality that so many of us see these days.

Again, this is mainly based on grooves, and there seems to be a strong Uriah Heep influence here - and some interesting fluttering flutes - dropping frequently into boogie-woogie styles. The wah-driven solo adds a nice flavour, but is peculiarly uninteresting as soon as you listen to what is being played. I don't get much of a Gypsy flavour from this piece, but the flavours are enjoyably closer to Prog in the verses - if only they'd dropped the silly boogie sections which feel altogether too tacked on.

"Bridge Passage" is a curio - it clearly serves the purpose, in that it's a short piece of music that provides a transition to the next song, but works better as an intro to "When My Mind Was Young" than any kind of link.

The harmonies in the verses are strongly Buffalo Springfield in flavour, giving strong hints of Yes, with pedal points driving to chorus passages that are more Beach Boys in style. I suppose you have to give them credit for the wide range of influences - but I'm not quite convinced it all hangs together well. We then have a rock and roll style bridge, which is altogether too jaunty for my tastes and crowned with lyrics of pure cheese.

Skipping quickly through the last verse, which exposes nothing new, it's on to "The Journey", and I'm cringing already. The material has gone from reasonably strong heavy rock to something altogether more limp-wristed and derivative more than influenced. A lumpy, disjointed and unconvincing piece that should have remained in the outtakes bin.

"Poser" begins with a big crashing chord, a bit Deep Purple in style - we're expecting a big chunky riff to drive this piece, and we do, indeed, get a riff - but it's hardly a monster, and the guitarist is not exactly Ritchie Blackmore - putting him towards the back of the mix kinda amplifies this. The verse gets into a nice familiar groove with strong flavours of Free - it's not altogether bad, but there are a number of other albums you could buy to hear music very similar to this.

The big difference comes around 2:30, with some more of the great flute that's been sorely missing from most of this album - why only include it in a few tracks when it's such a strength? More than a nod and a wink to Ian Anderson here, with the fluttering and vocalisations - but it does work extremely well to produce a great sonority - if only the band would change the riff!

The guitarist then shows off his real weak points by playing. Some awfully executed rhythm hits preceed a solo that goes up to 0.11, then back to the verse/chorus for the end. Skip on through... there's only another pentatonic solo you won't miss!

"Mary Clark" sounds like a different band - at last, something a bit different to the typical 1970s style heavy grooves. This is altogether more sinister than anything that's gone before - and reminds me strongly of early Blue Oyster Cult. The contrasts between the verse and chorus sections are great, the bass drives well, and the stripping down of the music provides a real sense of urgency in the dramatic twists in the lyrics, which are surprisingly poignant and very dramatically delivered. Overall, this song has the feel of a late 1960s psychedelic song that has "grown up". At last, something progressive - but alas! MUCH too short!

"Wait Until Tomorrow" is another surprise - it's more like an early Motorhead or even UK Subs number - very heavy/punk rock in style with heavy, powerful and, dare I say it, original riffing. The vocal harmonies are amazingly like Van Halen and the entire song is not just proto, but heavy metal in style - the sax solo just gives it more of a proggy flavour, reminiscent of Hawkwind. The verses are worthy of comment too - almost rap, they are delivered more than sung.

"An Afterthought" is exactly that - heavily crowbarred in (presumably deliberately, but artistically dubiously), with plenty more of the fluttering flute - it's a great idea, and the flautist plays it well, but it's overdone, as it's the only flute idea presented here.

We exit the album with the grandiose-titled "Legend of Creation", which begins along the lines of "In the Court..." - and you'd expect the big riffs for the choruses, but instead it's back to the somewhat unimaginative grooves that this album started out with, and strong flavours of early Yes, but with rather poor execution in the drums. Some nice organ and bass duetting soon turns into a bit of a farce - the bassist unable to live up to the early promise, and the organ buried in the mix, and the two forgetting about their duet as the bass tries to run the show, and boredom sets in by 3:00 as the same few ideas are repeated ad nauseam. 30 seconds of this ticks by, then it's back to the verse/chorus leading to the predictable guitar solo section - but this time, the guitarist feels some inspiration, and it's not just pentatonic noodle - there's some nice Santana-esque work moving into some interesting places for the first minute or so before the ideas run out. Why the tape had to continue rolling to capture the rest of the non-starting stuff, I've no idea - presumably to fill the whole 40-odd minutes or so.

Summary

A good early 1970s Heavy Rock album with a couple of truly standout pieces - "Mary Clark" and "Wait Until Tomorrow". If it wasn't for these two, I'd say that this album was entirely optional for any collector of that era's music - but the two tracks by themselves are well worth investigating by Proggers.

Somewhere between "Good, but non-essential" and "Excellent addition to any prog music collection" - your collection won't suffer without this album, but "Mary Clark" and "Wait Until Tomorrow" really are excellent additions. The rest is take it or leave it groove rock with proggy leanings.

Certif1ed | 3/5 |

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