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Spooky Tooth - The Last Puff ( Featuring Mike Harrison) CD (album) cover

THE LAST PUFF ( FEATURING MIKE HARRISON)

Spooky Tooth

 

Proto-Prog

3.29 | 20 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
3 stars This is another one of the many semi-interesting albums that came out around the time I was moving out of the familial nest into my own apartment so several of the songs from it always take me back to that magical era of innocence and wonder when the world was mine to give. I really didn't know much about Spooky Tooth but my prog-minded friends had played a few choice cuts for me from their earlier records and I liked what I heard. But this LP was getting some prime airplay on the more renegade FM station broadcasting in North Texas and I was intrigued enough to invest my meager funds in this album. I must've played side one hundreds of times. While it's not exactly greatness and not really very proggy, it has a cool aura about it that represents well the climate of bands liberally mixing all kinds of musical genres together, a trend that was prevalent as they traversed the cusp of those two heady decades.

In my research for this review I found out that this offering was pasted together utilizing shredded bits and pieces of what was left of a group that had put out two well-received progressive rock albums and then imploded. Only half of the original six members were still hanging around and I get the impression that vocalist Mike Harrison, guitarist Luther Grosvenor and drummer Mike Kellie were gallantly doing their best to fulfill the group's contract obligations to the label and make the most of a mess. Usually these fractured situations end up producing awful crap that only serves to bring disgrace upon said combo's legacy but "The Last Puff" doesn't belong in that category. It ain't bad at all. Harrison brought in Henry McCulloch, Chris Stainton and Alan Spenner from Joe Cocker's Grease Band to flesh out the sessions and, considering the circumstances, they did a bang up job.

One of the cuts that garnered a spot in heavy rotation on the radio in 1970 was their terrific, dark take on "I Am the Walrus." Beatles music was still somewhat of a sacred cow in those days and few groups outside of the progressive rock scene dared to fool around with anything written by Lennon/McCartney for fear of incurring the wrath of the Gods but the ultra- slow, macabre atmosphere these guys created drew listeners in immediately and without protest. Mike's voice is perfect for the grey mood of this delightful Hammond-laden dirge because he sounds like a man dancing along the jagged edge of insanity throughout. Another big difference is the lack of all the lush orchestration and odd incidental sound effects that colored the original. This is a late-night, no-frills, six-piece rock & roll outfit version that would be right at home being performed in a smoky, dimly-lit cabaret bar at 2am. It has a tough, metallic heaviness to it that is superb and rarely achieved. One of the finest Beatles covers ever in my book.

Original keyboard man Gary Wright had long since moved on to form the short-lived Wonderwheel ensemble but he left behind an excellent tune entitled "The Wrong Time" and it's the highlight of this project. It features a sublime rock guitar riff that's one of my favorites from that era and the all-female chorus packs a strong punch every time it comes around. The rhythm section of drummer Kellie and bassist Spenner maintains an infectious groove that manages to both flow and drive at the same time. Luther's Jimmy Page-ish blues/rock guitar solo and interspersed licks blaze a fiery trail through the number and his gutsy tone is to drool over. Next up is an obscure Joe Cocker ditty called "Something to Say" and although it takes a while for the band to settle into the proper feel, Harrison's soulful rasp carries the load admirably until they do. They eventually find it and hit their stride when the repeating hook line arrives and the swaying, gospel-styled chorale sends it soaring into the wild blue yonder. The musicians then lock firmly into a piano-led, Traffic-like stroll to the fade out that makes me feel like being outside on a sunny spring day.

Speaking of Traffic, side two begins with "Nobody There At All," a song that gives off a palpable Dave Mason folk/rock vibe but, unfortunately, there's nothing that really stands out. It just sorta lopes along for four minutes. David Ackles' "Down River" is an improvement but this somber, sentimental girl-that-got-away tune fails to find its footing until much later on when the group finally shakes off their restraints and plays with emotion- fueled abandon. "Son of Your Father" is a decent rendition of that memorable Elton John/Bernie Taupin composition (culled from the outstanding, underappreciated "Tumbleweed Connection" album) yet the track's a little too loose for my taste and it loses its focus quickly. They perk things up with the final cut, Stainton's "The Last Puff," but it's not much more than a two-chord jam throughout which Chris bounces expertly across the piano keys. The fact that it's the lone instrumental causes me to think it was perhaps a demo that never got Mike's vocal added on to it but, since it possessed such a tight and lively groove, they decided to stick it on anyway as the caboose.

In all honesty, other than the first two songs, this is pretty standard rock & roll fare that probably won't make anyone's top 100 album list but I try to keep in mind that 1970 was a very exciting but confusing year in popular music and groups like Spooky Tooth working on both sides of the Atlantic were trying to figure out how they were going to survive in the new decade and a lot of albums released in that timeframe were hit and miss at best. As for me, even with its flaws, "The Last Puff" brings back some fond memories of my first taste of unfettered freedom and that's enough reason to cherish it as a memento. 2.6 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |

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