Listen Up: Wednesday, May 1, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
The Yardbirds

Birdland (Favored Nations Entertainment)

By Ken Shimamoto

Ask your grandpa: Back in the ’60s, the Yardbirds were so cool they didn’t even know it. Their bastardized Brit R&B spawned legions of garage-snot American imitators. They were perverse enough to graft Indian-sounding scales and mock Gregorian chants onto pop tunes. Their piledriver rifferama foreshadowed metal. They serially employed lead guitarists Eric Clapton (before his blueswailing apotheosis with John Mayall), Jeff Beck (the original rude-noise avatar, who returns for one song on this c.d.), and Jimmy Page (in pre-Led Zep psychedelic daze). It didn’t even matter that next to contemporaries like Jagger, Burdon, and Van Morrison, singer Keith Relf (RIP) sounded like a guy with only one lung (which in fact he was).

Strictly speaking, Birdland ain’t their first outing since 1968, as is claimed. Rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja and drummer Jim McCarty, both present here, reunited with bass player Paul Samwell-Smith in the ’80s outfit Box of Frogs, and McCarty was later involved in something called the Yardbirds Experience. New lead guitarist Gypie Mayo, bassist-vocalist John Idan, and harpist Alan Glen are workmanlike substitutes for Relf and the guitar triumvirate.

What you get here is half reworkings of Yardbirds classics with stellar guests and half new material. Predictably, the oldies win out. The visiting axe-slingers — including finger-tapping Italo-Americans Joe Satriani and Steve Vai (at whose studio most of this was recorded), ’70s studio studs Skunk Baxter and Steve Lukather, Queen’s Brian May and Guns ’N Roses’ hairhead Slash — burn brilliantly, but none eclipses Beck or Page’s memory. The version of the much-covered “For Your Love” with Goo Goo Doll Johnny Rzeznik doesn’t work nearly as well as, say, Santana’s outing with Rob Thomas did. Best of the new tracks is the heartfelt Relf homage “An Original Man.”

For Yardbirds collectors and guitar fetishists only.


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