Recorded in a weekend, this EP comprises four tunes by retro/garage rock band The Greenhornes (best known for their association with Jack White and Brendan Benson) jamming with ex-Animals vocalist Eric Burdon. Given Burdon’s prior love for keeping things a little raw and The Greenhornes naturalistic performances, the results are interesting.
“My name’s Winston Churchill…and I’m having a fucking nervous breakdown” grumbles Burdon during the intro of ‘Black Dog’, as Patrick Keeler leads the band with a crashing entrance, before everyone settles into a classic blues groove that’s a dead ringer for Hendrix’s ‘Who Knows’ (from ‘Band of Gypsies’). Backed by slabs of organ and fuzzy guitar lines, the aging Burdon lets his inner animal loose as he snarls and shouts, delivering each line with a real fire and defiant power; his loudest moments among the best a white blues growler can muster, while his quieter moments (of which are few) have an equally ominous presence.
With cleaner guitar and a very welcome electric piano, ‘Out of My Mind’ finds Burdon turning in a much more thoughtful performance, though never quite managing to eclipse Jack Lawrence, whose wandering basslines are very high in the mix and sound terrific throughout. In the producer’s chair, Brendan Benson seems to have had the good sense to let everything happen naturally, doing very little himself – the “live in the studio” vibes are perfect for both The Greenhornes and Burdon. ‘Can You Win’ pitches Burdon’s fearsome growl against a near funky bass and some reverb-filled guitar lines. Burdon’s voice wobbles, caring not for anything remotely close to perfection, but placed against the quasi-aggressive guitar lines and loud drum parts, this appears to be a yet another perfect matching of musicians from different generations. As they pull things to a close, it’s clear that this is their finest moment – one which you may wish could have gone on for longer.
After three blistering performances, expectations are set high for the EP to finish with a forth. Sadly, the EPs closing track ‘Cab Driver’ is so bad – so offensively bad, even – it comes close to spoiling the good work that’s been laid down previously. So, what’s so objectionable? Over a tune with a distinctly eastern flavour – like a garage band jamming out bits of Sol Bloom’s ‘Snake Charmer’ music – Burdon adopts a cod Arabic accent where (amongst other things) he “sings” about having a tattoo removed that was anti-American, before claiming he has nothing against the English soldiers if they stay lying in their graves. Christ. How this was deemed to be okay in the 21st century is a mystery, considering other racially motivated pieces – such as ‘Doctor I’m In Trouble’ by Peter Sellers & Sophia Loren – are often viewed as being in bad taste. Much in the same way his ‘PC3’ did forty years previously with its themes of police brutality and sexualising the monarch, was Burdon aiming for controversy here? Yes. Was it necessary? No. Should this have been kept private? Certainly.
So, there it is – four tunes recorded in less time than it takes some bands to decide on a drum sound. The off-the-cuff approach yields some excellent results from a great band sparking off an unquestionably edgy vocalist. In places, it could even represent the sound of artists who’d been working together for years. Now, if someone had the foresight – and possibly the guts – to tell Burdon that ‘Cab Driver’ was a bad idea, this EP would have been even better.