Friday, May 21, 2021

Classic Rock Review: Blind Faith's Blind Faith (1969)

Blind Faith's Blind Faith
Blind Faith was one of the classic rock era’s first ‘supergroups’, comprised of members of the chart-busting blues-rock band Cream (guitarist Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker) and prog-rock pioneers Traffic (singer/keyboardist Steve Winwood) and Family (bassist Ric Grech). Growing out of informal jam sessions by Clapton and Winwood in the wake of the break-ups of their previous bands, Blind Faith was never really built to last. The same ol’ tensions that helped Cream crack-up surfaced again and Clapton’s artistic restlessness found him increasingly isolated while on tour, where he spent more time with opening act Delaney & Bonnie than his own bandmates.

Clapton jumped ship after the last tour date, hooking up with the aforementioned D&B and associated musicians that would later become Derek & the Dominoes. The remaining members of Blind Faith formed Ginger Baker’s Air Force but, after a single album with the mercurious drummer, Winwood rang up his former mates in Traffic and the re-formed band recorded its classic comeback LP, John Barleycorn Must Die. This isn’t to say that Blind Faith didn’t accomplish anything during their lone year of existence – the band’s much-ballyhooed debut concert was played in front of 100,000 fans in Hyde Park in London, and their self-titled debut disc would top the charts in both the U.S. and the U.K. They stirred up a bit of controversy as well over the artwork of the British release of the album, which featured a photo of a topless eleven-year-old girl. A bog-standard group photo graced the front of the U.S. album release.

Blind Faith’s Blind Faith

As successful as the album may have been commercially, it received mixed reviews at the time as rock critics like The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau and Rolling Stone magazine’s Ed Leimbacher slagged the band’s efforts. Regardless, the album has withstood the test of time as not only one of the best works of the classic rock era but also representing a creative highpoint in the musicians’ careers. Blind Faith, the album, only offers us six songs but they run a collective 40+ minutes, which was actually long for the vinyl era. Album-opener “Had To Cry Today” is a Winwood original that is indistinguishable from past and future Traffic tunes save for Clapton’s savage riffing and the band’s stunning instrumental jam, which extended the piece to almost nine minutes.

Winwood’s “Cant Find My Way Home” is one of three bona fide gems on the album, the band weaving an intricate, soulful combination of blues, rock, and jazzy prog with wistful vocals, elegant filigree guitar, and uncharacteristically subdued drumwork by Baker which, combined with Grech’s underrated bass playing, creates a melodic rhythmic backdrop for Winwood’s haunting vocals. A cover of Buddy Holly’s “Well All Right” brings a contemporary prog-rock complexity to the rockabilly legend’s three-chord pop, although Winwood’s lengthy piano solo breaks whatever spell the band had woven with the song.

Baker’s “Do What You Like,” which runs 15 minutes and dominates the album’s second side, is perhaps the only misstep here. The Afro-funk-flavored performance mirrors what the drummer would creatively expand upon with Air Force (and with his work with African legend Fela Kuti), but while it’s not without its charms, it wears out its welcome here with too much meandering. Two shorter songs would have been more effective. The album’s other two treasures can be found in Clapton’s “Presence of the Lord” and Winwood’s “Sea of Joy.” The former is an ethereal, Gospel-tinged number with gracious Winwood vocals and somber keyboards while Clapton lights up the instrumentation with a soaring, innovative, and appropriately-toned guitar solo. The latter song is in a similar vein, with deft guitarplay, a sympathetic rhythmic track, scraps of wiry fretwork and autoharp, and truly otherworldly vocals by Winwood.

Although Clapton disliked his short time with Blind Faith, his friendship with Winwood continues to this day, and both men are justifiably proud of the music they made together. Both have enjoyed solo careers of varying degrees of success, and both are Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees (Clapton with The Yardbirds, Cream, and solo and Winwood with Traffic). Blind Faith was but one notable stop along the journey for two classic rock legends. (Polydor Records, 1969)

Buy the CD from Blind Faith’s Blind Faith

Blind Faith 1969
Blind Faith 1969


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