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First Base – Babe Ruth (Capitol/EMI)

If you don’t have this in your collection, either disc or

vinyl or on your iPod, you should. Finding a copy might take a bit, because this six-song classic is from the early 1970s. Like a quality wine, though, age only improves the product and First Base – especially for a debut album – fits the bill. Babe Ruth played the Cisco Bluesfest this year, shortly

after re-forming with all the original members - minus drummer Dick Powell from the First Base sessions - and releasing a new album called Que Pasa. Haven’t heard it, but suspect the passage of time has changed their style and sound somewhat. The band had a short career – four albums in three years

- before personnel issues and a revolving door of members caused them to implode. They were never a big name, but this debut shows the diversity, depth and musical styling they were capable of. Far more than the “progressive rock” label they were tagged with: for an English band, First Base has a distinctly south-western American feel to it, unlike say, early Genesis, Gentle Giant and others they were lumped with. First Base starts out with one of their signature tunes -- the

pulsating, driving Wells Fargo. It’s a six-plus minute scorcher anchored by a pounding guitar riff and some impressive soloing from band leader Alan Shacklock, along with wailing saxophone from guest Brent Carter. Most impressive of all

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is the vocal power of Jennie Haan. She belts it out like a young Janis Joplin, with all of the passion and intensity of the late, great Texas blues-rock singer and as wide a range. This is nicely illustrated on the song that follows, the brilliantly building The Runaways. What starts out as just Haan’s plaintive vocals and some piano intensifies, adding cellos, oboe and other instruments, layering and swelling the sound to a crescendo until it all slowly recedes to fading cello alone. The band tackles Frank Zappa’s instrumental King Kong

in one live take – no overdubs or re-recording. They do a fine job of it, although the production/mix is such that you never do hear the drummer’s “classic comment” at the end. Great guitar and piano work here propelled by the rhythm section in full flight. A searing cover of Jesse Winchester’s intense Black Dog – building slowly and majestically until Haan is literally screaming the vocals -- is followed by The Mexican, a musically innovative but powerful interpretation of Enrico Morricone’s classic soundtrack For A Few Dollars More. Their version became a club hit for rappers and hip-hop DJs long after its release, which shows how perpetuating, or downright strange, the music industry is. The album ends with The Joker, nearly eight minutes of

straight-on power rock and roll. Haan and Shacklock trade and share snarling vocals and the band thunders right along behind them, closing a classic debut album in fine form.

OOOO ½ out of five

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Dec. 31 2010

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