This article originally appeared in Issue 10 of Crawdaddy in June, 1967
The first of these two albums is by far the best. It is very likely the finest white blues album ever made. The rhythm section, John McVie, bass, and Hughie Flint, drums, know exactly where the front-liners Clapton and Mayall are at, and play directly into them. The result is that Clapton and Mayall always have a solid floor on which to walk, which makes for a tight, unified, coherent, and above all, tense feeling. As a lead guitarist Eric is really every bit as good as people have been saying he is. Melodically he comes up with just the gutsiest riffs ever to be played on a Les Paul Gibson guitar. On this album he’s basically playing short phrases and dragging and choking individual notes for long periods of time, like on “Key to Love” and “Have You Heard.” But when he cuts loose, he cuts loose—as on “Steppin’ Out.” He is also very funny, as the switch to “Day Tripper” in the middle of “What‘d I Say” demonstrates. And all the while John Mayall is just wailing away with screamy vocals patterned largely after Buddy Guy’s singing. His best efforts come on “All Your Love” and the first two cuts cited above. There are a few weak spots, but they really aren’t worth mentioning; anyone who cares at all about the blues is cheating himself if he hasn’t heard this album. Cherish it, because these four musicians aren’t going to make another one.
Unfortunately, Eric’s own group, Cream, isn’t as successful on their first time around. The three men in the group are all individually exceptional. And on the cuts where everything does jell, the music they make is beautiful. But there is too much chaff, too much unfulfilled experimentation, to make this a really first-rate album. Things like “l Feel Free,” “N.S.U.”, and “Sweet Wine” just aren’t very good songs to begin with. And regardless of how fine a drummer Ginger Baker is, “Toad” is just another drum solo.
Even so, on the cuts where everything works they come up with very solid results. The mostly instrumental “Cat’s Squirrel” doesn’t seem like much first time you hear it, but the more you listen the more you dig. It’s amazing how a buildup based on such simple phrases can reach such a high level of intensity. The other two cuts that are especially noteworthy are traditional blues, one a Robert Johnson tune (“Four Until Late“) and the other by Skip James (“I’m
So Glad”). To appreciate Cream’s performance, it’s best to forget those facts and think of the tunes as things completely new. (In other words, purists won’t dig these cuts.) On both tracks there are lovely harmonies, some fine finger-picked guitar, and on “Four Until Late,” a sort of good-timey feeling. Cream maintains a certain earnestness in their attitude that keeps it all from turning into Spoonful-type lightness. “I’m So Glad” is the best cut on the album. Here all three musicians, Jack Bruce, bass, Baker, and Eric, blend vocally and instrumentally into a model of intense restraint. Baker, who is basically great, shows just how much a drummer can add to the performance of this kind of material. And the singing on this cut grows in feeling until the cut arrives at a perfect conclusion.
The main point Cream has to worry about is finding the right material for its sound. It‘d be a drag if they began to feel that they had to write all their own tunes, because the weakest items on this record are the originals. There’s no doubt they have the talent, it may just take a while for them to find their bag. Until they do, Fresh Cream has enough good Cream on it to be well worth your attention.