Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Bayou Country

Now, this is the Creedence Clearwater Revival I was looking for! CCR's second album, Bayou Country, opens with the droning organ of "Born on the Bayou" emerging from the blankness of silence like a cloaked figure stepping out the thick swamp fog and into the sharp focus of morning light. That figure then proceeds to play a cyclical, deep-fried electric guitar riff calling out from the past like all timeless classic rock riffs. A vibrant mix of hand and kit percussion joins the bass to form the rhythm section as CCR chug-a-chugs into its laid-back, hazy groove. Then comes the casual shout of John Fogerty's voice, riding the groove and calmly belting out one of those immortal opening lines from the blues lineage: "Now when I was just a little boy, / standin' to my daddy's knee..." It has the grand sound of a moment of heraldry, signifying the arrival of a great band discovering its eternal sound, while somehow also sounding paradoxically like he's just continuing a story that he's been telling all his life.

That's the appeal of Creedence Clearwater Revival in a nutshell. They didn't create a sound so much as tap into something already extant and primal. That they were based out of the Bay Area is of no mind; CCR stand tall as an early titan of Southern Rock. Departing from the psychedelia of the late '60s and taking their cues from their British blues-rock peers, they simplified rock 'n roll to it's barest elements and, in doing so, found something universal. It had only been 11 years since "Good Golly Miss Molly" first hit the charts, but the music world of 1969 was changing so rapidly that CCR's cover of Little Richard's signature rave-up feels like an entire generation had passed before they breathed new life into the classic. That is, of course, probably a ridiculous statement to make, but part of the CCR mystique is this mythology about them.

They existed as a rock band for less than half a decade. As I flesh out my knowledge of them by listening to their discography, I find myself actually hearing the songs that I had supposed existed. I knew about a dozen of CCR's more famous tracks before diving into their catalog. For Bayou Country, that means "Born On the Bayou" and "Proud Mary." I imagine most of you know those two songs, too. They are the easy peaks of this album, and they deserve their legacy. So listening to the lengthy blues workouts "Graveyard Train" and "Keep On Chooglin'" or the electric-acoustic rock hybrid "Bootleg" is like opening a wrapped present whose contents I'd correctly predicted. I knew the CCR sound more than I knew their actual songs. I imagine it's why I was thrown in reviewing their first album. I was expecting this when I heard that. Now that I'm hearing what I was looking for, it's a more comfortable fit.

That doesn't mean this is a stellar, amazing album. It's very good, but not a stone-cold classic. For one, it's too short. There's only seven songs, and I know this is a problem that will recur as I continue through the Creedence catalog. They preferred two or even three short albums a year, instead of larger releases less often. It does mean there's more CCR to digest from their incredibly short period of productivity. It also means there's less margin for error or, in relative terms, less room for mediocre. Besides the two aforementioned classic hits, much of Bayou Country is exactly what I'd expected. No bad songs on here, but not any hidden classics either. Here's the thing, though: with CCR, they hit on something so wonderful that mediocrity is still worth seeking out. It's why I've decided to acquire their full back catalog. Bayou Country is the first real link in a chain of classic albums that, altogether, are greater than the sum of their parts. It's what I find romantic about listening to a full discography, throwing light into all the back corners of a band's work. It allows greater context both to respect their hits more fully and also to illuminate their legacy in rock history. I look forward to the next one.


Post a Comment