Sunday, November 1, 2009

Elderberry Jak - Long Overdue (1970)

West Virginia has never exactly been a hotbed of great rock & roll music, but a number of burnished gems have been extracted from this famous coal-mining region down through years, few and far between as those may have been. Of the few, Elderberry Jak's sole 1970 album may shine with the most luster of all, and quite probably still remains the state's most significant and single finest contribution to the hard rock pantheon. And quite a contribution it indeed turns out to be, as this straight reissue from Gear Fab helps us to hear. Elderberry Jak may be all but forgotten outside the borders of West Virginia, but they were, for a short time, something like heroes in their home region (indicated by the admiring liner notes by journalist Tim Lilley), and Long Overdue makes clear that current memories definitely are not infallible. In fact, the album's best moments hold their own rather well against such heavyweights of the era as the Guess Who, Three Dog Night, the James Gang, and Grand Funk Railroad, among others, all bands to which the Jak bears passing or incidental resemblance, and, frankly, at times surpasses. That particularly goes for the singing of Joe Cerisano, an inspiring holler that is every bit the equal of white soul men like Burton Cummings, Robert Lamm, and, especially, Paul Rodgers, even Robert Plant in its more manic moments, though Cerisano never drifts toward the hyperbolic, unlike Led Zeppelin's frontman. The band is nearly their vocalist's match in skill. Tom Nicholas had a chunky guitar tone that was close kin to Joe Walsh's viscous playing. Dave Coombs' basslines are wonderful, near-virtuoso things, while Joe Hartman pounded a novel (at the time) double-bass drum setup that gave the music its devouring rumble. It was an accomplished power-trio equally capable of playing the odd delicate ballad ("Inspired," "My Lady") or breezy, romantic grooves endemic only to the era ("Going Back Home," "Forrest on the Mountain") then letting loose with blood-cooking electric jams like the awesome "Vance's Blues" or the near-metal "Restless Feeling," always shot through with considerable soul. And somehow Elderberry Jak impossibly managed to turn Procol Harum's "Wish Me Well" into a blazing white-hot piece of legitimate funk, only matched on the ofay side of the fence by Grand Funk's "Nothing's the Same." Not bad for four kids from Appalachia

1 Going Back Home
2 Forrest on the Mountain
3 Vance's Blues
4 Inspired
5 Restless Feeling
6 Wish Me Well
7 Mr. Sun
8 My Lady
9 Changes
10 You're the One
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