Sunday, July 21, 2024

Heavenly Cream

A long time coming, Heavenly Cream: An Acoustic Tribute To Cream is due for release on 3rd November through Quarto Valley Records.

Being exactly what it claims, Heavenly Cream: An Acoustic Tribute To Cream features animpressive roster of renowned musicians who knew, or were inspired by the iconic band, rather than being some cheap cash-in, promising to takes listeners on a magical journey — traveling the brief course of the iconic band’s musical life — back to the raw, stripped-down magic of the creativity of band members Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton, and songwriterPete Brown.

A 15-track tribute album, honouring the band’s legacy, it features possibly the final recordings by Pete Brown and Ginger Baker, before their passing. It also features Joe Bonamassa, Deborah Bonham, Malcolm Bruce, Peter Bullick, Nathan James, Bernie Marsden, Maggie Bell, Rob Cass, Clem Clempson, Paul Rodgers and Bobby Rush. There were also invaluable musical contributions from Cheryl Alleyne, Winston Blissett, Moreno Buttinar, Abass Dodoo, John Donaldson, Pee Wee Ellis, Mo Foster, Neil Murray, Mo Nazam, Tony Remy, and Frank Tontoh.

Years in the making, Quarto Valley Records’ executive Mike Carden initially approached Pete Brown, his long-time colleague and friend in 2017 about a different project and out of that meeting came the concept of doing a recording — a retrospective of Cream music – that both mutually agreed to. Brown, having remained friends with Ginger Baker over the years, brought the maestro on board. Following suit came Malcom Bruce (Jack’s son), and the gathering of the incredible talent on the album began to fall into place.

On recording this album, Malcom Bruce said, “I feel very much that in my own small way I’m carrying on a tradition that’s incredibly unique in the musical canon as it were.”

“Quarto Valley Records is honoured to be releasing this all-star tribute to one of the greatest bands in rock history,” said Bruce Quarto. “To have recorded this musical masterpiece with the incredible roster of musicians makes this project unbelievably special. And having worked with legends Ginger Baker, Pete Brown and Bernie Marsden truly takes it to a historical level. When you listen to this album, you can feel the passion that went into the project and hear it pouring out of every note. Enjoy!”

Formed in 1966, Cream quickly became known for their explosive impromptu live performance style of high-volume blues jamming, extended solos and flashy instrumental showmanship. But there were their short-lived studio recordings too, and this new album thankfully does not ignore those songs.

Often considered the world’s first supergroup, albeit that title was first described for the spin-off Blind Faith featuring Clapton and Baker. Cream were formally introduced to the world as a “group’s group” in the weekly music papers of the times. Collectively, they blended rock, blues, psychedelic rock, and a hint of jazz to create a unique sound that would go onto pave the way for many other music genres in their short time together.

Formerly lead guitarist with The Yardbirds, and then playing in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton was approached by drummer Ginger Baker to form a group focused on expanding the blues-jazz sound. He accepted the invitation with the caveat that Bruce play bass guitar. The rhythm section had previously played together in both Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated and later the Graham Bond Organisation, and despite past hostility between Bruce and himself, Baker agreed.

1966 debut album, Fresh Cream  reached the top 100 album charts in both the United Kingdom and the United States, but still owed much to what was then termed the British blues. The following year’s Disraeli Gears (1967) found additional songwriters brought on board, most notably Peter Brown who would go onto develop an extended relationship producing lyrics for Bruce well into the latter’s solo career, more so the actual songs evolve beyond measure as did the performances captured on record by the individual players and the fast-developing sound recording techniques and instrumentation that was becoming available.

Disraeli Gears broke into the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. Its second track, Sunshine Of Your Love, highlighted the smooth transition from blues to a more psychedelic sound,  touted by critics, and much covered in later years, and as a single reach gold status in the United States, with over 500,000 units sold. They trumped that with 1968’s Wheels Of Fires – first released as separate studio and live albums, then as a double album, to two records – that became the world’s first platinum-selling double album, with over 1,000,000 units sold.

By the end of that year, Cream decided to call it a day. The members would go onto have careers separately, or in differing duo-collaborations through the years, even as RSO Records fed a still rabid listening public’s desire via many live or compilation releases long after they had disbanded. Their musical influence went further, from progressive rock acts such as Rush to having established the live jam band sound subsequently popularised by groups such as the Allman Brothers Band.

In 1993, Cream was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, and the trio gathered to perform for the first time in 25 years at the induction ceremony. A Lifetime Achievement GRAMMY® Award followed in 2006, but more significantly, the band got together for a reunion — first for four nights at Royal Albert Hall in the spring; later for three nights at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in the fall.

Jack Bruce would leave us in 2014, Ginger Baker in 2019, Eric Clapton wields his guitar to this day. Peter Brown, co-writer of many of the band’s classic songs passed away in May this year, but while recording the album, he had confessed, “It took me a long time before I would attempt those songs. I grew up in Jack’s shadow, like Malcolm did as well, you know. I’m not trying to be Jack. No one will ever be Jack.” He added, “Eventually I felt, well, they’re my songs as well and eventually, I grew into those songs that Jack and I wrote.”

Recorded at Sensible Music and the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London,  Heavenly Cream: An Acoustic Tribute To Cream as passionately produced and mixed by Rob Cass.  

A full track listing of the songs featured, alongside contributing singers and musicians is listed as follows: ‘I Feel Free’ (Deborah Bonham – Vocals, Bernie Marsden – Guitar, Malcolm Bruce – Piano, Neil Murray – bass, Frank Tontoh – Drums), ‘White Room’ (Pete Brown, Vocals, Clem Clempson, Malcolm Bruce – Guitars, John Donaldson – Piano, Mo Foster – Bass, Cheryl Alleyne – Drums, Helen Hardy, Holly Morrison – Backing vocals, Calina de la Mar, John Smart, Laura Fairburst, Naomi Fairhurst – Strings, with string arrangement by John Donaldson), ‘Theme For An Imaginary Western’ (Pete Brown – Vocals, Clem Clempson, Malcolm Bruce – Guitars, John Donaldson Piano, Mo Foster – Bass, Cheryl Alleyne – Drums, Helen Hardy, Holly Morrison – Backing vocals, Calina de la Mar, John Smart, Laura Fairburst, Naomi Fairhurst – Strings, with string arrangement by John Donaldson, ‘We’re Going Wrong’ (Malcolm Bruce – Vocals and string arrangement, Clem Clempson – Guitar, Cheryl Alleyn – Drums, Calina de la Mar, John Smart, Laura Fairburst, Naomi Fairhurst – Strings), ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ (Joe Bonamassa, Bernie Marsden – Vocals, guitars, Malcolm Bruce – Piano, Neil Murray – Bass, Ginger Baker, drums, Abass Dodoo – Percussion), ‘Deserted Cities Of The Heart’ (Joe Bonamassa- Vocals, guitar, Bernie Marsden – Guitar, Malcolm Bruce – Bass, Moreno Buttinar – Drums, Abass Dodoo – Percussion), ‘Sweet Wine’ (Nathan James – Vocals, Bernie Marsden, Mo Nazam – Guitars, Malcolm Bruce – Bass, Ginger Baker – Drums, Pee Wee Ellis – Tenor saxophone, Henry Lowther – Trumpet, Abass Dodoo – Percussion, Rob Cass, Andy Hodge – Backing vocals), ‘Tales Of Brave Ulysses’ (Nathan James – Vocals, Bernie Marsden, Mo Nazam – Guitars, Malcolm Bruce – Bass, Ginger Baker – Drums, Pee Wee Ellis – Tenor saxophone, Henry Lowther – Trumpet, Abass Dodoo – Percussion), ‘Crossroads’ (Bernie Marsden – Vocals, guitar, Joe Bonamassa – Guitar, Malcolm Bruce – Piano, Neil Murray – Bass, Ginger Baker – Drums, Abass Dodoo – Percussion), ‘Take It Back’ (Maggie Bell – Vocals, Bernie Marsden, Tony Remy – Guitars, Malcolm Bruce – Piano, Winston Blissett – Bass, Frank Tontoh – Drums), ‘Spoonful’ (Bobby Rush – Vocals, harp, Bernie Marsden, Tony Remy – Guitars, Malcolm Bruce – Piano, Winston Blissett – Bass, Frank Tontoh – Drums), ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ (Bobby Rush – Vocals, and harp, Maggie Bell – Vocals, Bernie Marsden, Tony Remy – Guitars, Malcolm Bruce – Piano, Winston Blissett – Bass, Frank Tontoh, – Drums), ‘Badge’ (Deborah Bonham, vocals, Bernie Marsden, Tony Remy, Peter Bullick – Guitars, Malcolm Bruce – Piano, Neil Murray – Bass, Frank Tontoh – Drums), ‘Politician’ (Pete Brown – Vocals, Bernie Marsden, Tony Remy – Guitars, Malcolm Bruce – Piano, Winston Blissett, – Bass, Frank Tontoh – Drums), and finally ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ (Paul Rodgers – Vocals, Bernie Marsden, Mo Nazam, Mareno Buttinar – Guitars, Malcolm Bruce – Bass, drummer currently unrevealed).

Sadly, prior to the release of the album, bass player Mo Foster passed away this July, followed by guitarist Bernie Marsden this August. The latter, however, is featured on the first single to be released from the album, and that, perhaps unsurprisingly, is ‘Sunshine Of Your Love.

Listed among, Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Sunshine Of Your Love’ was co-written by Bruce and Brown, its distinctive riff said by many to herald the arrival of heavy metal but covered by a diverse range of artists in the past, not least, the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin.

How different can the song be from the countless cover versions from the past, you ask? Slight, but pleasantly so by virtue of its arrangement. Marsden and Bonamassa trade vocals, much like Bruce and Clapton did on the original, and the riff itself is etched in stone, while the drum pattern so often played incorrectly on the beat in covers is here likewise as it should be, played by Baker himself, performed in counterpoint, though forgoing African rhythms for a slightly more Native American feel to suit the somewhat slower acoustic rendition. The guitars themselves extend into warm lazy country blues slide soloing, but what really embellishes this song is the piano accompaniment of Malcolm Bruce – As with his father he implicitly understands the nuances of chord structure and in an understated manner achieves much melody and range within the spaces of its three fundamental chords.

Sunshine Of Your Love’ is available on all streaming platforms by clicking here and you can check out the video right here at RAMzine

Heavenly Cream: An Acoustic Tribute To Cream will be available as a double 180 gram limited edition cream-coloured vinyl, on CD and digitally on all platforms as of 3rd November from Quatro Records. It ican be ordered in advance by clicking here.

Paul H Birch
Paul H Birch
RAMzine Senior Writer - Writer of fiction, faction and fact, has edited several newsstand magazines. He declares himself a hack for hire but refuses to compromise on the subject of music.

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