When Randy Bachman decided to record a solo album with guest singers, one of his first calls was to his old Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO) partner C.F. (call me Fred) Turner. The two got together and recorded Rock and Roll is the Only Way Out. The results so pleased them that Bachman shelved the solo album and BTO was reborn. Except, Robbie Bachman and - how was this allowed to happen? - Blair Thornton objected to the use of the name and sued (Thornton is often erroneously referred to in media reports of this as “an original member“). So Bachman & Turner was born.
“…people are saying this album sounds like it was supposed to be released in 1977,” Bachman has said of Bachman & Turner, the new album that was released Tuesday. “That’s what I was trying for. People… don’t want… Fred doing a rap/hip-hop kind of thing.”
There’s a lot in that statement, not the least is that the album sounds like 1977, when BTO was on the down side, instead of 1974, the middle year of their three best albums. In 1973 BTO released their very good, but rough debut album, followed the same year by their breakthrough Bachman-Turner Overdrive II. In that one year Blue Collar, Takin’ Care of Business and Let it Ride were written, recorded and released. The next year they replaced the third Bachman, Tim, with Thornton and released Not Fragile. Roll On Down the Highway, You Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet and Rock is My Life were on that album. In 1975, it was Four Wheel Drive, and Head On, adding the title track, Hey You, Take it Like a Man and Lookin’ Out for #1 to the canon. Other than the 1976 single, Down to the Line, that was pretty much BTO. Saying Bachman-Turner sounds like 1977, then, is a back-handed compliment.
Yet it’s also accurate. After Four Wheel Drive, something changed in the BTO sound. They approached melody different, the guitar took on a new tone. The difference was there, hard to define, but they weren’t the same band that recorded Takin’ Care of Business. So it is with the new album. It is loaded with good songs, bereft of great ones.
The album is often hard rocking as Can’t Go Back to Memphis, I’ve Seen The Light and the above mentioned Rock and Roll is the Only Way Out remind one of that old BTO adage, “you ask do we play heavy music, well are thunderheads just another cloud?”
Can’t Go Back to Memphis, however, suffers from vocals that are run through what sounds like an old blues harp microphone. I’ve Seen the Light as well as Moonlight Rider and Rollin’ Along all benefit from Turner dropping his Fred persona and singing like C.F. Turner of old. So much so that Moonlight Rider and Rollin’ Along are the albums best songs.
Rollin’ Aling, was in fact pre-released as a single. It is the albums signature piece and, as Fred Turner said of it, the continuation of Roll On Down the Highway. That’s a fair description and it is as enjoyable a song.
Moonlight Rider, on the other hand, is Turning Japanese meets The Letter. The opening is reminiscent of Turning Japanese‘s signature lick, but the song melodically is The Letter to a tee. The two combine to make a great rock and roll song.
According to a CTV report, “an early listener… told Bachman… Find Some Love, was ‘the greatest Led Zeppelin song since Led Zeppelin.’” It’s true too, it is eerily familiar to when Zeppelin covered Harlequin’s I Did it For Love… No, wait, that can’t be right. Find Some Love doesn’t bear superficial comparison to Led Zeppelin, but again, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad song. It is a hard rockin’ guitar song with the soul of a pop song, very reminiscent of fellow CanCon rockers Harlequin. Slave to the Rhythm is in a similar vein, a pop song dressed up as a rocker.
BTO wasn’t one for ballads, at least not in the traditional sense. When they slowed it down, Bachman’s jazz sensibilities emerged, and some real gems that combined a jazz feel and harmonic structure with a slow rock beat produced some of BTO’s best songs. On this disc the role falls to Traffic Jam. As nice harmonically as Blue Collar or Lookin’ Out for #1, melodically it is not as consistent, and because of this doesn’t work as well as the those earlier pieces.
While there is much good in the new Bachman-Turner album, it is not flawless. If you wrote a 70’s sitcom called That’s What It Is, then Bachman & Turner have a theme song for you. That’s What It Is is bad disco, done by guys who obviously don’t get disco. Try the Theme from Rocky (Gonna Fly Now) meets the barf bucket and your close. Repo Man is of another category of bad: boring and dumb. Waiting Game features a lousy vocal performance by Bachman, and Neutral Zone is just that, blasé and neutral. It’s not that it’s a bad song, but when was the last time you listened to “that song that didn’t bother you that much?”
Bachman-Turner is a good, not great album by a couple of guys well past their prime who have found a way to tap into that prime and come close. By 1977 standards, it’s an OK rock album. But today’s, it’s far above average.
1. Rollin' Along
2. That's What It Is
4. Find Some Love
5. Slave To The Rhythm
6. Waiting Game
7. I've Seen The Light
8. Can't Go Back To Memphis
9. Rock 'N' Roll Is The Only Way Out
10. Neutral Zone
11. Traffic Jam