TOMMY BOLIN: NAKED VOLUME I

Text by Mike Drumm

With the release of Naked the undervalued powerful songwriting talents of Tommy Bolin are put front and center. As you see, this two CD collection is all about songs. Call it “Bolin Unplugged,” as that is the vibe here. Masterfully culled from the Bolin Archives by Bob Ferbrache, Naked Volume I is, for me, a very compelling emotional journey through the heart and soul of Tommy Bolin. Bob and I decided on the concept of a first disk of the “best” of Tommy’s acoustic demos — a number of which were recorded on the deck I helped Tommy buy in 1973, with the second disk being supposedly less developed ideas tied together with some solo electric guitar noodlings of Tommy’s from his tapes. I say supposedly because as it turns out, Disk 2 is as interesting a listening experience as Disk 1.

Truth be told, many of the 20 songs on Disk 1 have been on various other Archives releases, but here they are presented in an exclusively acoustic format, sequenced for maximum enjoyment — the ultimate Bolin acoustic mix tape — and to my ears nobody could do it better than Ferbrache. As with all of our CDs, Bob has gone back to the master tapes, and digitally de-noised them, and sonically treated them for maximum fidelity. The results are impressive when you consider the “home” recording style of these tracks recorded in the early to mid seventies. As all Bolin fans know, he was deeply gifted and this set reconfirms that fact — albeit in a format he was not famous for — acoustically.

The album begins with the first of two versions of “Brother Brother” contained in the set — they were edited together for the now discontinued Ultimate box set. This precursor to “People People” has a vulnerable tone to it — a feeling that comes through on many of these tracks. This vulnerability is the complete opposite of the “kick-ass” of Tommy’s electric guitar band vibe. To me this is the honest revealing of the depth and quality of Tommy’s artistry.

Second is the delicate “Young Girls” followed by version one of “The Meaning of Love.” After a couple of listens, this track just stays stuck in my mind — I can’t get it out! Next is the eerie and powerful “Jump Back” with that great acoustic riff, and lyrics that speak of major heartbreak, and almost imply Tommy’s ultimate demise in a manner reminiscent of Post Toastee. This one sends shivers up the spine — it touches close to the emotional bone. This could have been a Kurt Cobain song — the same emotional impact is present. “Gypsy Moon” is next. This is another song that sticks in the mind. Luckily for the listener, the message here is more upbeat than “Jump Back.” Melodically, the tune has an R&B feel to it.

One of Tommy’s most memorable tunes “Alexis” is next. The James Gang classic with Jeff Cook lyrics, benefits from some slight reverb, and has a slow southern gate to it. In it, Tommy’s acoustic lead playing is showcased to wonderful advantage. “Celebration” is another R&B-flavored tune, with Tommy providing a delicate falsetto vocal — so different from his band style. Funny, the melody reminds of stuff the Bee Gees did for Saturday Night Fever — but this was done well before that album was written! Just another example of the breadth and width of Tommy’s writing style.

Next is the memorable acoustic “Someday We’ll Bring Our Love Home.” It’s double tracked guitar intro confidently leads to Tommy’s light and airy vocal speaking of the hope that his relationship could someday be brought “home.” The guitar work is again, quite noticeable in all it’s “wooden” glory! “You’re No Angel #1” begins with delta blues style slide, unique in Tommy’s recorded works, and stands out with it’s slow blues treatment. “You’re No Angel #2” is next, and in it’s up tempo, is completely different, showing how Tommy used the demo process to catch the vibe he felt was appropriate for the song. “Teaser” follows — again, completely different from the album version. This treatment is slower, and somewhat mysterious.

My personal favorite, “Slow Driver” is next. This is a great compelling song, as Glenn Hughes and the Tribute Band proved when they worked it up as a full band track — just a shame that Tommy never had the chance to do the full band version of it. “Road To Walk” appears for the first time on Naked Volume I. With some scat singing, we see that the lyrics about going it “alone” were incomplete, but again, the song is definitely another gem. “Free Spirit” also appears on Naked Volume I for the first time. This tune is country by golly! Proving that Tommy truly was comfortable in any genre. “Evening Rain” is next. As with “The Meaning of Love,” this song is huge, and once in the subconscious, it just won’t let go! Speaking of “The Meaning of Love, Version 2” is next. It sounds like mandolin is featured along with acoustic guitar, making it unique in Tommy’s recorded library. The song is great, as already discussed. “Lady Love” debuts on Naked Volume I. It is another song of heartbreak, slow and stripped down. “Heartlight,” the Energy song debuts here, and is a true rarity in it’s stripped down simplicity. Another debut is “That’s The Way,” the second country song on Naked Volume I. Gram Parsons had nothing on this cowboy! Disk 1 wraps up with “Wild Dogs.” This Bolin staple is sublime in it’s acoustic form.

Disk 2 is truly unique. First, all of the songs have never been released before, and Bob Ferbrache has done a masterfully creative job of weaving the songs, plus some solo Tommy electric guitar noodlings into a true archival gem. As some of the Archives members know, Bob knew Tommy back in the day, was a huge fan, and got possession of copies of many of Tommy’s personal Archival recordings back in the late seventies. He knows this material better than just about anyone. Well, Bob has also become Denver’s top music producer-engineer, working with the crème of what Colorado currently has happening musically. So his challenge here was to go deep into Tommy’s personal musical archives and find cool song ideas, and other miscellaneous performances that Tommy laid down late in the night, and skillfully create a CD based on these archival memories. Thus we have Naked Volume I Disk 2.

At this point, we have attributed song titles to tracks, but, we are still researching to see what the titles may actually be. For the purpose of this write-up, I will use what Bob has come up with. “It’s Up To You” starts things out. It’s melody reminds me of John Lennon singing “Happiness is a Warm Gun!” The hook is very pleasant, and it features double tracked Tommy acoustic guitar. A keeper. Track two we call “Naked Part 1,” is an acoustic jazz flavored duo between Tommy, and a very good stand up bass player (we don’t know who). It is very lazy at it’s start, featuring the bass player, and as it moves along, we hear Tommy doing some wonderful jazz inspired lead acoustic guitar improvisations — this may be the only such acoustic guitar expression by Tommy on tape! Then the interplay becomes more profound — kind of like an acoustic Spectrum track!

This is followed by “Long Way To Go.” Melodically, this song falls somewhere between folk and country. As with some of the tracks on Disk 1, this clearly could have been developed into a full-on Tommy song. Between this song, and “Gloryland” is 11 seconds of Tommy guitar noodlings creatively spliced in by Mr. Ferbrache (”Naked Part 2”). “Gloryland” has a slight blues feel, with Tommy doing some old style country-blues picking. Next is “Naked Part 3.” This is a cool two minute 41 second multi-tracked gentle instrumental. “Sing With Me” is next. It’s yet another break-up song! Tommy you were in so much pain! It’s no wonder he didn’t develop all of these break-up songs! We couldn’t have taken it. Bittersweet indeed. Next is an 11 second “Naked Part 4” segue of Les Paul-like guitar noodlings followed by the acoustic “Limits,” the Energy song — what a rare jem! “Naked Part 5” follows. This time we get a 4 minute memorable electric guitar instrumental — but played very dry, stripped down and direct. At the end, Tommy picks up the tempo, and takes the melodic theme and goes into overdrive! It’s our boy Tommy!

Then we get “Don’t You Worry About No Cash.” The melody reminds me of a Jonathan Edwards song, as does the party theme. It’s an up fun track. Then comes “Face.” It’s Tommy accompanied by dry electric guitar. This is a darker rhythmic song of fixation on a woman, with the hook of stretching out the word face. It ends abruptly. This is another keeper. “Naked Part 6” follows, a jazzy dry electric 1:07 seconds. “Woman” speaks of the desire to find that perfect love. Again, I am struck by the depth of Tommy’s songwriting skill, and how many wonderful tunes he came up with. This is yet another one. I keep waiting for a song on this disk to “not work,” and they all do! “Naked Part 7” fills 1:18 with more Tommy “jass”, and is followed by “This Is The Way It Is Supposed To Be,” another memorable melody.

Next comes a Ferbrache editing miracle. He has taken three different elements, a version of “Greensleeves,” and “Sooner Or Later,” and “Rainy Day” and put together a wild and artistic 12:38 event. Some psychedelic echoplex feedback drenched passages build and drop into acoustic melodic sections, then go back and forth in and out of the echoplex drones. A salvaged conceptual work that again proves that almost anything Tommy experimented with makes for valid fan listening. Naked Disk 2 wraps up with version two of “Brother Brother” — bookends to another Tommy Bolin Archives chapter of presenting his music to his true fans. We are as proud of this release as any of ours, for it showcases what a marvelous, and sensitive songwriter Bolin was.

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