Lou Bond - Lou Bond

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2010-03-15

Sometimes an artist's work lies in wait an age before it is reevaluated and classic status is conferred upon it. Fragile acoustic troubadour Nick Drake wasn't recognised as one of the great songwriters of his era until after his suicide. More recently, Arthur Russell's myriad experiments in disco, country'n'western and cello-and-vocal tone poetry have gained a hip status which seems to grow each year. Now belated greatness has come knocking at the door of 1974's Lou Bond. Originally released on the Stax imprint We Produce, it failed to reach a substantial audience and faded into a long stretch of obscurity, despite containing 'To the Establishment', an underground classic sampled by Outkast and Prodigy.

It almost seems a forgone conclusion that Lou Bond will now reach the kind of audience it deserves, although painting it as a true lost classic is a bit of a stretch. It can't really stand shoulder to shoulder with the two albums it most obviously draws inspiration from: 1969's Hot Buttered Soul by Isaac Hayes and Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, released a year before Lou Bond. It lacks the smoothness and confident sexiness of the former, and, while obviously owing a debt to What's Going On, 'To the Establishment' and 'Why Must Our Eyes Always Be Turned Backwards' lack the passion and urgency Gaye tapped into on that incendiary record. Instead, the album's protest songs come across as sad laments from a man who'd like to change the world but knows he'll never have the power. This is not to say that they are not also stirring and beautiful; 'Why Must Our Eyes Always Be Turned Backwards', in particular, can stand tall with the cream of socially conscious 70s soul. The moment when Bond sings a snatch of 'America the Beautiful' before releasing an anguished wail is spine tingling.

However, this gentleness gives a clue as to why Lou Bond failed to connect in the tense, politically volatile American of the 1970s. Often, as on Bond's gorgeous, fluttering reading of Jimmy Webb's 'Lucky Me', which opens the album, the sound, complete with the obligatory 70s soul horns and strings, is closer to the spectral folk of Nick Drake than that of any hotheaded insurrectionist. Such lush instrumentation, coupled with Bond's creamy falsetto, makes Lou Bond an ideal Sunday morning record, but as the pace becomes more sedate in the latter half of the album, things get a little dull. The string-swaddled 'That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be', a song about growing up and succumbing to the ties of domestic stability, feels as safe as a white picket fence, blunting the impact of Bond's complex and questioning lyrics. It's followed by 'Come Down, Snob', another pretty but overlong song on which Bond tries and fail to find anything new to say about prejudice, pollution or social change.

Thankfully, the album's greatest moment is saved right until the end; a live medley of Al Green's 'I'm So in Love with You' and the traditional spiritual 'Motherless Child'. The performance is brief and Bond is accompanied only by a gently strummed acoustic guitar. He starts the song speaking in tongues and ends it with an impressively sustained falsetto croon that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Throughout the album, Bond's vocal, while not always pitch perfect, is a compelling instrument. Like Tim Buckley, he is able to produce some frankly disturbing, uninhibited goose-like honking one minute, and captivating falsetto swoops the next.

Lou Bond might not quite turn out to be the unearthed gem it first appears, but it is still an undoubtedly good soul record, a revealing document of the time it was made in, and a must-have addition to any soul lover's record collection.

Richard Morris

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