It seems like an odd decision for a band like Deep Purple, who have spent the past half century as one of the most influential bands to any genre of rock and metal, to release a covers album but, a million copies of their past three original albums behind them, they seem to be happy to have fun with old material. And I do mean old material, as the average release year of these songs is older than Deep Purple itself, who formed as far back in 1968.
The mean is 1965 and the median is 1966, if you're a statistics fan. If we count the final medley as a set of five source tracks rather than the one it's presented it, then the sixteen on offer include no fewer than nine from the sixties, along with four from the seventies, two from the fifties and one from the forties. That earliest song is Let the Good Times Roll, a 1946 hit from Louis Jourdan & His Tympany Five, while the most recent is Little Feat's Dixie Chicken, from 1973. I'm in my second half century now and I was only two years old when that came out.
First up is a decent cover of Love's 7 and 7 Is, though it's not as effective as the one by Billy Bragg (wow, it sounds odd to hear myself saying that) on the Rubáiyát compilation put out to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Elektra Records. This take isn't bad at all, but Ian Gillan struggles with the punky transition at the end of the verse. It's a likeable and up tempo piece to kick this off and it sets the stage well.
It gets better from there, even against the odds, given that next up is Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu, a joke song by Huey 'Piano' Smith in 1957 that refused to quit, made still more famous when Johnny Rivers covered it. It sounds great here, much better than it ever should have been and it really perks things up. Oh Well is the Fleetwood Mac classic, such an iconic song that it can't be easy to put a fresh stamp on it without a complete reinvention. Purple absolutely nail it, kicking into gear gorgeously after its famous intro, and they wrap it up well too, drenching it with spaghetti western menace.
These are all good songs interpreted well, but Jenny Take a Ride! is an absolute gem. This is an old Mitch Ryder classic that I know I've heard before because it was used in the Joe Namath movie, C. C. & Company that was shot here in state, but I couldn't remember it. So I found it on YouTube, discovering that it's much weaker than this version, which truly rocks. It also gives opportunity to every member of the band, not just Gillan on vocals but Steve Morse on guitar, Ian Paice on drums, Roger Glover on bass and especially Don Airey on keyboards. This steams along with all the oomph that the original didn't have and, while it feels more like a Gillan song from the heyday of his solo band than a Purple song, it's easily the first highlight of this album. It isn't the last.
The next is Dixie Chicken, as Gillan may well have been singing this in the shower for thirty years. I remember him playing it on the Friday Rock Show when he stood in as host for Tommy Vance, as an all time favourite of is. It highlights just how much these songs are favourites of the band, not just things they think might work done by Purple. It's very hard not to move to this, because they get a groove going that really gives respect to Little Feat without just copying what they did.
Not everything works and not everything feels like Deep Purple. Shapes of Things could be anyone covering the Yardbirds or even later Jeff Beck, and The Battle of New Orleans, written by Johnny Driftwood back in 1959 but best known through the Johnny Horton cover, is light years away from anything I've heard Purple do in any of their many incarnations. Nobody hearing this take who is blind to who did it would ever guess that it was Deep Purple, not least because that's not Gillan at the mike, it's both Roger Glover and Steve Morse, not people known for their vocal talents.
I wasn't much fussed by Lucifer or White Room, though they're done well enough. The former is an obscurity by Bob Seger back in his Bob Seger System days and I don't know why they hauled it back into the limelight. White Room sounds great but it's too close to Cream, not adding anything new to make it worthwhile. I much preferred Let the Good Times Roll and Watching the River Flow, the latter a Bob Dylan cover that ends with a loose piano section for Airey.
It's Caught in the Act that impressed me late on and that's the closing medley that's mostly shorn of vocals until it wraps up. The band simply blister through a string of classics, from Going Down to Dazed and Confused via Green Onions and Hot 'Lanta, before Gillan steps back to the mike for the immortal Gimme Some Lovin'. Airey's contribution lends this more of a Blues Brothers feel than a Spencer Davis Group vibe but that's fine. The medley approach kind of did that anyway.
And so this is a worthwhile covers album, albeit an unlikely one. I was wary of this sort of release coming from a band like Deep Purple but most of their selections are inspired ones and they have a heck of a lot of fun with such old material. When Rockin' Pneumonia sounds this good, you know they care about it, and that goes all the more for Jenny Take a Ride! and Dixie Chicken. And, when a band formed in 1968 can just have a blast playing a song from 1946, we know we should pay a lot of attention. Don't dismiss this. Take it in the spirit it was offered and simply enjoy.