Dave Mason – Certified Live + Let It Flow

January 01, 1970

(BGO
Records)

 

www.bgo-records.com

 

Singer, songwriter,
and guitarist Dave Mason first came to prominence as a valuable member of the
late-1960s British rock band Traffic, formed with drummer Jim Capaldi and Spencer
Davis Group alumni Steve Winwood. Mason’s on-again/off-again status with that
band would be represented by Traffic’s first two albums, after which Mason
would begin an extended period of roaming that would see him record with Jimi
Hendrix on “All Along The Watchtower,” perform with Eric Clapton as
part of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, and appear on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass before jumping back
into Traffic for the 1971 tour that resulted in the live album Welcome To The Canteen.

 

Mason
launched his solo career proper with 1970’s Alone
Together
, a collection of rock ‘n’ soul similar to the ground that Delaney
& Bonnie were then plowing, even going so far as to share a hit song with
his friends in “Only You Know And I Know.” The artist’s relationship
with his label, Blue Thumb Records, was as poor as that with Traffic, however,
and it wasn’t until Mason jumped ship to Columbia Records that he’d begin to
regain the ground lost with poorly-conceived Blue Thumb releases. After a pair
of studio albums for Columbia that received varying critical and commercial
reception, Mason went the live route with 1976’s Certified Live, reissued by British archival label BGO Records as a
two-disc set with 1977’s Let It Flow album.

 

The performance
captured on Mason’s Certified Live has often been downplayed or outright shunned by critics in the past, but
listened to with fresh ears some 35 years later, the collection holds up remarkably
well. Mason delivers a solid, often times inspired performance of both early
originals and well-placed cover songs. Released as a then-trendy double-album, Certified Live was the result of years
of steady touring by Mason and crew, a chore that was only beginning to pay off
in record sales and chart position.  

 

The set
opens with what would become Mason’s signature song, Traffic’s “Feelin’
Alright.” Although not as fluid or claustrophobic as the performance he
delivered with the legendary British band in 1968, this version displays a sly,
funky undercurrent. Mason picks up the pace a little and infuses the song with some
nice chicken-scratched fretwork in front of drummer Rick Jaeger’s lively beats
and Mike Finnigan’s energetic keyboard flourishes. The muscular “Pearly
Queen,” a Mason co-write with former bandmate Steve Winwood during their
Traffic partnership, is more indicative of Mason’s early solo work. Mason’s
guitar flows and ebbs with certainty, his growling vocals riding atop a solid
wave of stabbing keyboards and rolling drumbeats.

 

Culled
from his 1974 self-titled Columbia
debut, “Show Me Some Affection” is the sort of blue-eyed soul that
Mason played as part of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, the song a
foreshadowing of the sort of commercial material that would drive 1977’s Let It Flow up the charts. Mason’s
nimble vocals are combined with Finnigan’s Southern soul-tinged keys and scraps
of melodic guitar. A cover of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” is a
clever combination of the scribe’s folkish original reading and Jimi Hendrix’s
explosive re-interpretation; while Mason’s vocals lack the soulful gravitas and
excitement of Hendrix’s, his fretwork here is delightfully explosive, and when
combined with rhythm player Jim Krueger’s solid instrumental backdrop and
Jaeger’s big beat drums, it makes for an electric performance.

 

The
remainder of Certified Live runs the
gamut from solid to dynamic rock ‘n’ roll. A cover of the Eagles’ “Take It
To The Limit” is an odd choice by any standard, but I guess that Mason
liked the song, although he has a difficult time re-creating that band’s
Canyon-bred high lonesome sound. Mason’s original “World In Changes”
offers a much more complex and interesting performance, acoustic guitar strum
threaded alongside Mason’s gruff vocals while bassist Gerald Johnson and
drummer Jaeger keep a rhythm flowing beneath Finnigan’s chiming keyboards. The
song offers some exciting signature changes that veer dangerously close to
prog-rock turf while Mason’s vox are a fine British approximation of Southern
soul.

 

The Muscle
Shoals sound of “Only You Know And I Know,” from Mason’s 1970 solo
debut, was a Top 20 hit for both Delaney & Bonnie and for Mason, and for
good reason. The song’s energetic flow is provided by Krueger’s nimble rhythm
guitar, Finnigan’s gospel-tinged keyboards, and constant heartbeat drums riding
above a funky bass line. A cover of the Spencer Davis Group gem “Gimme
Some Lovin'” sorely lacks Steve Winwood’s blessed vocals, but is provided
a mid-tempo re-imagining here with waves of keyboards, swinging rhythms, and
backing harmony vocals, all delivered with an indomitable rock ‘n’ roll spirit.

 

While Certified Live didn’t provide Mason and
Columbia Records the career boost they both hoped for, the album only slowly inching
its way up the charts to number 78, it did provide the perfect breather from
the road that Mason needed to re-charge his creative batteries. The result was
1977’s studio effort Let It Flow,
which would prove to be his best-selling album for Columbia, yielding the biggest hit single of
his career in the classic rock standard “We Just Disagree,” which
rose to 12 on the charts as it drove Let
It Flow
to Platinum sales status.

 

While Let It Flow isn’t widely considered to
be Mason’s best studio album – that honor would go to Alone Together, with his self-titled 1974 set a close runner-up –
it stands solidly in the artist’s top five efforts. The LP opens with the lofty
“So High (Rock Me Baby And Roll Me Away),” the second single from the
album evincing a new “soft rock” aesthetic with imaginative acoustic
guitar, harmony vocals that sit in a deep melodic groove, bits of subtle
hornplay, and solid, tho’ not overpowering rhythms. Written by guitarist Jim
Krueger, “We Just Disagree” is the loss-leader here, the hit driving
a million copies of Let It Flow out
the door. It’s a good song, too, with an infectious chorus, a truly melancholy
vibe, sparse instrumentation, and fleeting, nuanced fretwork. Krueger’s lyrics
are nifty, too, memorable and emotional, sticking in your head much the same
way a frozen burrito sticks in your gut hours after eating.

 

Let It Flow has plenty to offer aside from the
obvious 800-pound chart-topper; Mason’s original “Mystic Traveler” is
the sort of folkish, ethereal hippie construct that was the foundation of much
of Traffic’s catalog. Mason’s vocals here are appropriately wistful, the song’s
lush instrumentation creating a cool, cosmic, out-of-body outer-space ambiance.
The Southern-fried funk of “Takin’ The Time To Find” sounds
hopelessly out-of-date in 1977, but Mason imbues the song with a soulful
quality with smooth vocal chops, a can’t miss chorus, some jazzy fretwork, and
Finnigan’s spacey keyboard riffing. If it had been released as a single,
“Takin’ The Time To Find” might have followed “We Just
Disagree” up the charts.

 

As it was,
“Let It Go, Let It Flow” was the third minor hit single from Let It Flow, crawling and scratching its
way up to 45 on the charts. Built in the same vein as “We Just
Disagree,” the song offers up an energetic vocal performance and a
hook-laden chorus bolstered by an inventive guitar riff, spry keyboards, and
rambling drumbeats. The forceful “Seasons” might have made another
good single, the radio-friendly mid-tempo rocker featuring vocal harmonies
courtesy of Stephen Stills and the angelic Yvonne Elliman, wide slashing guitar
solos, chiming keys, and bits of well-placed horn. Another Krueger composition,
“What Do We Got Here?,” is a sprawling slab of blue-eyed soul with
Krueger’s understated vocals and fanciful orchestration not unlike some of Isaac
Hayes’ work at the time.

 

Dave Mason
would spend much of the 1980s trying to duplicate the modest success that he
enjoyed during the previous decade. He would jump on various trend-driven bandwagons;
try his hand at synth-pop; even going so far as to record a duet with Michael
Jackson, all to no avail. A brief stint with Fleetwood Mac during the 1990s
only tarnished his good name, and it wouldn’t be until his 2008 “back to
basics” effort 26 Letters 12 Notes,
his first album in over a decade, that Mason would grab back some of his
creative mojo. For a while, though, coming off his often-tumultuous
relationship with Traffic, Dave Mason sat atop the 1970s-era classic rock
mountain. Certified Live and Let It Flow are welcome reminders of the
artist’s talents and vision. 

                     

DOWNLOAD: “Feelin’ Alright,” “Pearly
Queen,” “We Just Disagree,” “Mystic Traveler” REV.
KEITH A. GORDON

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