Michael Bloomfield – The Gospel Truth

by | Oct 29, 2021 | 0 comments

‘The Gospel Truth’ is a two compact disc compilation recently released by Sunset Boulevard Records. The collection reveals a diverse conglomerate of LP cuts, rarities, as well as an entire unreleased live performance from the ‘Guitar King’, Michael Bloomfield. It was in the 1960’s that Michael Bloomfield cultivated his legend. He began working his trade in the blues clubs of Chicago and continued by disseminating his substantial stringed influence across records by Bob Dylan, the ‘Paul Butterfield Blues Band’, Janis Joplin and his own ‘Electric Flag’.

By the 1970’s Bloomfield had retreated from the legend. He found solace from his demons of insomnia and varying addictions by recording at home and playing in small clubs. Bloomfield took a deep dive  into his endless well of influence while retreating back to his roots. He recorded guitar lesson LP’s, he also released a series of small label solo records in the 1970’s. Along the way he compiled an impressive band of pals including former ‘Butterfield’ bandmate Mark Naftalin, Bay area bassist John Kahn and saxophonist Ron Stallings all whom appear on this collection.

Disc one of this set, subtitled, ‘Best of Acoustic and Electric Sessions’ reveals a strata of American music ranging from early 20th century rags, waltz’s and traditional blues from electric Chicago to acoustic Delta. Bloomfield was skillfully adept at any and all genres. As sonically illustrated on this collection, Bloomfield also played jazz, funk, Dixieland, pop and straight rock and roll to amazing effect. These two discs will appeal to new converts to the Bloomfield legend as well as to long time admirers of his guitar work. Most if not all of these solo records have been out of print for a number of years. Sonically upgraded, speed corrected and lovingly curated, this collection; while not a complete discography offers a number of essential highlights.

On the set, many tracks originate from Bloomfield’s 1977 LP Analine and glisten with homespun virtuosity. The others are pulled from the grooves of his recordings for ‘Tacoma Records’, Michael Bloomfield, Between the Hard Place and the Ground, and Crusin’ for a Brusin’.  Bloomfield’s ascendant slide excursions on the various instrumentals contained within are otherworldly. The moody, cinematic cover of  Duke Ellington’s ‘Mood Indigo’ and the ethereal slide guitar drenched instrumental ‘At the Cross’ are of note. His famed three fingered leads on blues cuts are stunning. He fingerpicks, flatpicks and plays piano. Bloomfield sometimes played all of the instruments on his recordings including the title track of this collection. The song which in the ‘rock room’s opinion encapsulates this personal approach to the creation of music with stunning results. While not lacking in abilities as a songwriter, in the era covered by this set, Bloomfield often found himself exploring traditional and gospel songbooks in more fascinating ways.

Also included on the diverse opening cd are heavy horn driven funk grooves delicately explored by Bloomfield and his bandmates. ‘Papa-Mama-Rompah-Stompah’ is particularly frisky, highlighting splays of silly stringed Bloomfield licks. A souped up version of the weary ‘Junkers Blues’ hails from his underrated final 1980 recording, Crusin’ For a Brusin’ and stomps around the room in a good way.

Additional exceptional performances include the slow burn of the smoky electric blues cover ‘Guitar King’ and the lacy contrast of Bloomfield’s dreamy reading of the early 20th century ‘Hi-Lo Waltz’. Bloomfield’s instrumental prowess and ability to play anything that has strings is on full display. Not to mention his obvious and multifarious layers of deep musical knowledge. Elevating this opening track list to stunning heights is the rare inclusion of a 1963 recording with Bloomfield playing guitar sideman to blues pianist Eurreal “Little Brother” Montgomery for an intimate two man set at a small Chicago venue, the ‘Fickle Pickle’. An additional and unique audio glimpse of Bloomfield as a blossoming youngster in his most comfortable element, a blues club.

A stellar audio bonus in the form of the second disc is a ‘Michael Bloomfield and Friends’ show from the Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino on February 19, 1971. This long time circulating soundboard recording sounds even better to these ears in its official capacity. The concert was a triple bill featuring Bloomfield and his band, Fleetwood Mac, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Bloomfield’s friends for this show included the aforementioned John Kahn on bass and Mark Naftalin on keyboards. Also joining Bloomfield is Ron ‘Rev’ Stallings on saxophone and vocals, John Wilmeth on trumpet and Skip Prokop on drums. The band is groovy loose and Bloomer’s is in particularly fine fettle.

Bloomfield while not a vocalist by trade would let loose once in a while on his solo records as well as in concert. He does the same on this set while sharing vocal duties with Stallings. One thing that cannot be denied is while Michael was not a ‘singer’ by trade, his absolute investment and awareness of the blues idiom is masterful.

Highlights are plentiful in the live set that runs slightly less that an hour. Bloomfield is content to act as band director. But when they time is right he steps up from the back line of amps for run after run of snaky and classic Bloomfield riffing. The ‘Friends’ set includes a unique and cool attempt at the Beatles cut ‘You Wont See Me’ and a chooglin’ ‘Booker T’ like rendition of ‘Statesboro Blues’. All of which contain crisp, clothes line hung clean riffing by Bloomfield.

The majority of the live set moves in similarly celebratory fashion with churning R and B numbers. But it’ s the red light and blues numbers where Bloomfield disseminates his most substantial string bending of the evening. ‘Poor Kelly’, a song Bloomfield heard done by Big Maceo and Tampa Red is played as patient as a tortoise. Bloomer’s opening licks are perfection. A few of the clearest cleanest blues expressions to be pulled from his endless well of influence. No flash here, all organic substance and a respectful and thought out expression of sound. This is the quivering tone that made Bloomfield his name. Michael also decides to take the lead vocals on this blues with an impressive call and response between himself his guitar and Naftalin.

The closing ‘Drifting Blues’ surpasses ten minutes and is another sneaky display of Bloomfield live and in the moment. ‘Drifting Blues’ is one of a few foundational blues standards, and in typical fashion Bloomfield investigates each and every way his strings can tell the tale. Following a boozy horn spot by Wilmeth and Stallings and a Naftalin keyboard solo, Bloomers slides in with a brisk yet measured solo. It’s intensity soon increasing in grit and melody while promptly guiding the band to an explosive peak.

The new two cd release from Sunset Boulevard Records deftly collects moments from Michael Bloomfield’s ‘lost’ 1970’s solo excursions. The provided scope of the collection illustrates Bloomfield’s work from the era both in the studio and on stage. The set offers a well rounded view of his gifts as a guitar player and interpreter of multiple genres of music. Bloomfield’s personal story is a familiar tale of a musician, ‘too soon gone’, but his musical legacy is still tangible and ably compiled on this set.

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