Baldry again enlisted the help of long-time friends and former bandmates Rod Stewart and Elton John to produce the new album. The first time around, Stewart’s productions were featured on side one of the original vinyl LP release, while John’s work was featured on side two. With Everything Stops For Tea, however, John’s production shines clearly on the first side, while Stewart’s seemingly rushed efforts hold down side two. Whereas on the first album, the best performances spanned the entire disc, here the highlights mostly come from John’s side, which offers up an inspired mix of material. Like with the previous album, an all-star cast of musicians was used, John utilizing his road-tested touring band, including guitarist Davey Johnstone, while Stewart used friends and former bandmates like the underrated guitarist Sam Mitchell, and Jeff Beck Group drummer Mickey Waller.
Long John Baldry’s Everything Stops For Tea
Opening with the folksy “Come Back Again,” Baldry’s twangy vocals sound
uncannily like a cross between the Band’s Levon Helm and singer Leon Redbone.
Johnstone’s guitar playing is superb here, capturing a Nashville country vibe
without discarding Australian songwriter Ross Wilson’s original folk-blues
roots. Baldry cranks it up for a raucous, R&B styled cover of Willie
Dixon’s blues classic “Seventh Son.” Johnstone adds gospel-tinged piano and
slinky guitar here while John Lennon cohort Klaus Voorman unwinds a deep,
funky bass line for drummer Nigel Olssen to punctuate with his subtle
percussion. Baldry is joined by John on backing vocals for the traditional
folk standard “Wild Mountain Thyme,” the singer really nailing the song’s
winsome lyrics with a fine vocal performance which is assisted by Johnstone’s
spry mandolin picking.
One of John’s most inspired song choices for the album can be found in the New Orleans classic “Iko Iko,” which Baldry delivers with reckless aplomb. The performance starts out low and slow, just Ray Cooper’s syncopated percussion and Baldry’s quiet vocals, before the volume and the temperature rises and the singer starts jumping ‘n’ jiving above a soundtrack that features Johnstone’s banjo and Olssen’s lively drumbeats. Altogether, they capture the sound and spirit of New Orleans R&B in a little recording studio in London. “Jubilee Cloud” is the last of the five John-produced tracks, the song a rollicking bit of blues-rock with folkish undertones driven by Ian Armit’s honky-tonk piano and a solid Voorman/Olssen rhythmic backbone. Baldry delivers a strong, Southern soul styled vocal performance while Cooper throws in a bit of chaotic percussion.
You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover
The Stewart side opens with the comedic title track, itself introduced by an
odd, entirely British spoken word bit before rolling into Baldry’s old-school
crooning. It sounds a little strange to American ears, but I’m sure the U.K.
audience adored it at the time. Not to be outdone by his colleague John,
Stewart throws in his own Willie Dixon song, the boogie-woogie favorite “You
Can’t Judge A Book (By the Cover),” originally a hit for the great Bo Diddley.
Baldry does the song right, knocking out an energetic performance with
improvised lyrical asides, backed by Armit’s manic piano-pounding and
part-time Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Weston’s serpentine fretwork. The other
highlight of side two is Baldry’s take on the traditional British folk tune
“Mother Ain’t Dead,” which features a sublime performance by the singer on
guitar, accompanied only by Stewart on banjo and backing vocals.
This CD reissue includes a number of bonus tracks, including two radio spots produced by Warner Brothers to originally advertise the album. More interesting is a live performance of Baldry’s original “Bring My Baby Back To Me” from the 1972 Mar-Y-Sol Festival in Puerto Rico. An unabashed electric blues song with a suspiciously hypnotic circular guitar riff (think Hill Country and R.L. Burnside), Baldry channels his best Howlin’ Wolf Delta blues growl above the scorching fretwork and swaggering drumbeats. A haunting cover of Neil Young’s melancholy “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” (mistakenly credited to Leadbelly?) features singer Joyce Everson, as does the folk-blues rave-up “I’m Just A Rake & Ramblin’ Boy,” which features a beautiful duet between the two singers above Baldry’s nuanced acoustic guitar.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
Less bluesy and spontaneous, perhaps, than It Ain’t Easy, the following
year’s Everything Stops For Tea nevertheless has its moments. Baldry’s
voice is in fine form, the backing musicians are definitely inspired, and
Elton John’s production, in particular, is subtle yet confident. These two
early 1970s albums, originally released by Warner Brothers Records, represent
the cornerstone of Baldry’s immense musical legacy in England, and provided
the singer with a modicum of commercial success and popularity in both the
United States and Canada. Both albums are highly recommended for the curious
who want a taste of this talented and admittedly eclectic artist. (Stony Plain
Records, released April 24, 2012)
Also on That Devil Music: Long John Baldry's It Ain't Easy album review
Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Long John Baldry’s Everything Stops For Tea