Thursday 6 May 2021

Cactus - Tightrope (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Blues Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 2 Apr 2021
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After 800 plus rock and metal reviews in two and a half years, I've noticed quite a few trends and one of those is definitely bands coming out of the blue with new product long after I thought they'd gone for good. Cactus are definitely one of those, given that they split up in frickin' 1972 before I'd learned how to do pretty much anything, on account of being one year old. Formed in 1970 by Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert of Vanilla Fudge, they built quite the reputation over four quick albums and vanished into the ether, those two then teaming up with Jeff Beck for another well received album and then a whole bunch of other non-Cactus stuff.

Now, there was a new Cactus band in 1976 that vocalist Rusty Day set up after moving to Florida, but it didn't record anything and Day was murdered in 1982. There was also a New Cactus Band, who put out an album in 1973, Son of Cactus, but it wasn't the son of Cactus at all because there were no members from Cactus in it. Weird. However, Cactus did finally reform, in 2006 after a thirty-four year gap, with Appice, Bogert and guitarist Jim McCarty. They released an official album, Cactus V, that year. This is the second album since then, though the line-up has depleted until Appice is the only original left.

Nowadays, the guitarist is Paul Warren, who has quite the resume, initially as a session player at the Hitsville studio, where his very first recording, Papa Was a Rollin' Stone by the Temptations, reached number one and won a Grammy. Surely, that's why it's the one cover here, but it's wildly different in this version. He was a member of Rare Earth and was a mainstay behind Richard Marx and Rod Stewart. He's also played for artists as varied as the Ventures, Ray Manzarek and Tina Turner. He sounds fantastic here and, while everyone in the band is clearly capable, it was easily his guitar that stood out for me first. His solos in All Shook Up and especially Poison in Paradise refused to allow me to pay any attention to anything else, but clearly he can play anything.

The vocalist is Jimmy Kunes, as he's been since the 2006 reunion, meaning that he's spent more time in this band than anyone except Appice, a heck of a lot longer than the year he spent in Savoy Brown. He's good, because his voice fits wherever this band goes. While they're fundamentally playing blues rock, it drifts into funk and soul on songs like Elevation and Papa Was a Rolling Stone and psychedelia on Suite 1 & 2 and Wear It Out, and his take on Joe Cocker's raspy genre-hopping serves him well with this mix.

And that leaves the rhythm section of Appice on drums and Jimmy Caputo on bass. The former is a lot more obvious, as you might expect from someone with his experience, which is both varied and rather extensive. Much of it is rock, from Vanilla Fudge through Cactus to King Kobra and Blue Murder, but he has played with Jan Akkerman, Stanley Clarke and Sly Stone, among many others. He's utterly reliable throughout, but he gets some great moments to shine. The highlight may be late in Third Time Gone, but there are some really neat transitions in the Beatles-esque Suite 1 & 2 and some great interaction between drum and bass in Preaching Woman Man Blues. The drums drive Headed for a Fall.

It's been a long time since I've listened to early Cactus and, not having realised they got back together and released new material, I haven't heard Cactus V or 2016's Black Dawn. Clearly I should track them down, because there's a lot going on in this album it's all accomplished. Initially, it simply sounds old school, good old school but old school, and we wonder if they're going to bring the sound up to date at some point. The more the album runs on, the more varied it gets and the more the songs stand out in no uncertain terms from each other. Eventually, we realise that it isn't only a good old school album, it's a good album period, and it's often a great one.

And I'd love to see these guys live, even if Appice is, holy crap, 74 years old now. This band sounds fresh and in good vigour. I have a feeling that they'd blow most young bands off the stage.

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