First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2007, Volume 14, #4
Written by John Metzger
Although it is best-known for penning the countercultural anthem Going Up the Country, a song that forever will be connected with the harmonic convergence of 1969’s Woodstock Music & Arts Festival, Canned Heat was, first and foremost, a down-and-dirty blues outfit with an improvisational heart. Fusing older fare with previously unreleased material, Instrumentals 1967–1996, the ensemble’s latest compilation, provides a clear demonstration of Canned Heat’s collective prowess. Considering the overarching theme that binds the selections together, however, the set understandably will be a chore to absorb for all but the group’s most fanatical followers. Fortunately, its title is a bit of a misnomer, and the vocal tracks that are sprinkled throughout the collection help to mitigate the monotony of the affair.
For the record, more than half of Instrumentals 1967–1996 was recorded during the first five years of Canned Heat’s existence, while the rest of the cuts are performed by latter day incarnations of the group. Not surprisingly, the early material is more adventurous, which is both a blessing and a curse. The sprawling medley Parthenogenesis is a perfect example. Henry Vestine’s wicked guitar licks, special guest John Mayall’s stirring piano runs, and Alan Wilson’s Eastern-tinged jaw and chromatic harp accompaniments are superb. Yet, because the track is edited so poorly, it not only lacks focus, but it also feels overly pretentious. Elsewhere, the band swings its way through Skat, and it suitably transforms Robert Johnson’s Terraplane Blues into a heady groove. By comparison, the more contemporary fare on Instrumentals 1967–1996 is conservative, which further highlights how much Al Wilson and Bob Hite are missed. While their experimental tendencies sometimes led Canned Heat astray, their exuberant energy always managed to keep things interesting.
Instrumentals, 1967–1996 is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box