BY STEVE WILSON
When Chris Wilson took Roy Loney’s place at the microphone with the Flamin’ Groovies he was all of nineteen years of age. He became the voice and face of the band, as well as Cyril Jordan’s new songwriting partner.
Few of the songs he and Jordan created reached audiences until Shake Some Action was released in Britain in 1976. By that time the Flamin’ Groovies had morphed. With Loney they were part Stones, part Lovin’ Spoonful, more informed by Dr. Ross and Gene Vincent than the jingle-jangle power pop (heavy on Beatlesque, British invasion markers) that the Groovies later practically created as a genre.
On Shake, Now, and Jumpin’ in the Night, the trilogy of albums for Sire Records that the Groovies cut between 1976 and 1979, they forged a sound that leaned on pealing, gorgeous guitar sounds, derived from Harrison and McGuinn much more than Keith Richard’s grit. And Chris Wilson’s vocals, while urgent and authoritative, were more Lennon than Jagger. The kid who smoked through Jordan-Loney’s “Slow Death” in 1971 was still an expressive singer, but he was a bit manicured to fit in with the band’s emphasis on plangent harmonies.
On Chris Wilson’s new solo album, It’s Flamin’ Groovy!, you hear the range that he can cover as a singer, alternately leaning on the late Seventies approach he’s best known for, but also embracing the gap-toothed, shaggy haired kid who howled through “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (also hear the aforementioned “Slow Death” and an early, driving demo of “Shake Some Action” on the Norton release, Slow Death/Amazin’ High Energy Rock n’ Roll 1971-73!).
As a senior rocker Wilson still has the same assets and liabilities as lyricist he had with the Flamin’ Groovies; he can be simple, but effectively pop poetic, at the same time he can lapse into cliché that’s … clichéd. On his new album, some of Wilson’s most resonant performances are on virtual ready-mades. “All the Action” is descended from “Shake Some Action” in more than name, and the sound is still Beatles, Byrds, with a dash of (honestly) Paul Revere and the Raiders. His Groovies pals Jordan and bassist George Alexander guest on this track, as they do on “Sweet Anne,” a tasty dash of Exile on Main Street derived Stones-love. “She Satisfies” rhymes ‘good vibration’ with pretty much anything that rhymes with vibration, all set to a guitar figure that’s a stepchild to “Doctor Robert.” “Heart in Her Hand” sustains a girl as music as muse metaphor to a lick that’s pure “Rosalie” (Bob Seger).
“Last Roll of the Dice,” with its Sticky Fingers murk features a nice guest spot from Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher. “Down to the Wire” and “Semaphore Signals” also have that Stones-leaning-on-Gram Parsons vibe, the sound that frankly helped lead a generation or two of rocker punks to country music.
A dash of Celtic Zeppelin animates “Bad Dreams,” garnished with “Kashmir” strings, while ‘Heroin’s” familiar ostinato drives “Feel Your Love,” a song which Wilson sings with depth defying what the beyond dull title of the song would suggest.
It’s Flamin’ Groovy! holds some mild surprises, some predictable treasures, and while it’s rarely revelatory it also rarely disappoints. Anyone who’s enjoyed Chris Wilson’s stamp on the Flamin’ Groovies will get a kick out of the performances here. And hearing him kick up his heels with his predecessor Roy Loney on “Gamblin’ Man,” squares the circle.
Roy Loney and Cyril Jordan have played recently with backing from various A-Bones and Yo La Tengo members, while the Loney-Wilson-Alexander version of the Groovies has reconvened in the last two years for festival and touring dates. The latter is presently recording a set of brand new Flamin’ Groovies tunes, which will be welcome to fans, as is Chris Wilson’s It’s Flamin’ Groovy!.
DOWNLOAD: “All The Action,” “She Satisfies”