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Special Review: Jack Bruce, “Silver Rails”

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Jack Bruce - Silver RailsAs bassist, songwriter and singer for the power trio Cream, Jack Bruce ensured his place in the classic rock pantheon. Yet in a career spanning over 50 years, Bruce’s time in Cream was incredibly brief: 1966-1968, with two very brief reunions thereafter. That Cream existed for such a short time seems almost unbelievable in light of how influential the band’s music became. But both B.C. and A.C. – Before Cream and After Cream – Jack Bruce has been a working musician. His first studio album since 2003 and fourteenth overall, Silver Rails, has just arrived via the Esoteric Antenna label. As on More Jack Than God, that 2003 release, Bruce is in top form, still searching out fresh, new musical avenues.

Bruce and producer Rob Cass have enlisted a top-notch crew of musicians for Silver Rails – including Cindy Blackman Santana, Robin Trower, John Medeski, and Phil Manzanera – and have left plenty of room in the arrangements for them to breathe. In this context, Bruce’s bass work isn’t flashy but is always, naturally, an integral part of the instrumentation. But even an A-list group of musicians couldn’t shine without the right material. Thankfully, Silver Rails is a mature, consistent collection of well-crafted songs that don’t wear out their welcome.

Lyrically, “looking back” is one of the themes addressed over the album’s ten tracks. But that Silver Rails isn’t an attempt to recapture the glory days of Cream is evident from the very first track. “Candlelight” lopes at a laconic calypso beat, adorned with stabs of brass and John Medeski’s cascading Hammond organ. Bruce is vocally in fine fettle as he pleads “O help us sunshine,” his urgency matched by an unexpected electric guitar solo from Phil Manzanera.

The album’s diverse stylistic palette also takes in progressive rock with the droning verses of “Hidden Cities,” on which Bruce is backed by vocalists Aruba Red, Chantelle Nandi, Julie Iwahete, Uli John Roth and daughter Kyla Bruce.   “Reach for the Night” (a lyric from which – “Now my train can still sing along those silver rails” – inspired the album’s title) is one of seven songs here co-written with longtime collaborator Pete Brown. Jazz has always informed Bruce’s sensibilities, and “Night” is a moody piece of reflection, with the artist speak-singing the vivid if impressionistic lyrics as Derek Nash’s tenor sax lends the appropriate nocturnal ambiance.

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Written by Joe Marchese

April 28, 2014 at 15:08

Posted in Cream, Jack Bruce, News, Reviews

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