- by Ljubinko Zivkovic Rating:10 Release Date:1973-08-14 Label: Atlantic
One of the best known songs American singer/songwriter Tom Rush wrote was “No Regrets”. In retrospect, having in mind the career he went through compared to one he could have had, it seems that Terry Reid is humming this tune quite often. You are considered as one of the greatest voices around in the Sixties and Seventies, are offered a singing job with Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple (turned both down, even recommending Plant to Page), support Cream and The Rolling Stones on their US Tours (including Stones at Altamont), have ten official albums issued in your career, one of them a stone cold masterpiece, and arm the beneficiary of nothing except screaming recommendations from other musicians, a few critics, and even fewer fans. Still, it seems Reid is oblivious to all this, even though there is one classic of his that deserves more than just a footnote in the Led Zeppelin history. That classic Reid recorded is River. Sounds like quite a generic title that can describe anything, but it is actually one of the more precise album titles around. And here’s the brief story.
After quitting Peter Jay & The Jaywalkers, another footnote in the history of the British beat boom, Reid was ushered into a solo career by pop hit chaser Mickie Most, making two albums that were a complete mismatch between Reid’s booming, wavering voice (think Van Morrison, Tim Buckley and John Martyn all rolled into one). Recommended to Atlantic boss Arif Mardin by no other than Aretha Franklin, Reid started the sessions for the River album in London in the late Sixties with Yes producer Eddie Offord. Yet another mismatch. Seeing Reid as one of his pet projects, Mardin sends him to Los Angeles to work with one of the key Atlantic producers of that time, Tom Dowd, and a set of incredible session musicians that included the guitar master David Lindley and jazz percussionist Willie Bobo.
The two sets of sessions actually produced material for more than three albums, but Reid opted mostly for the California stuff and came up with an absolute stunner. When I said that River is a precise title for this album, it has only partly to do with the fact that from the introductory “Dean” to concluding “Milestones,” the album has this flow (no pun) of a continuously rolling music that is so precisely constructed it sounds just like a loose jam session. But even more so, while a lot of albums build up their atmosphere from a looser, gentler material to more crescendo-creating music, on River Reid went in a completely different direction - from funky, countrified first side (“Dean”, “Avenue”, “Things To Try”, “Live Life”), to rolling down, slowly flowing into that sea Bossa Nova and acoustic jazz of the second side (“River”, “Milestones”, “Let’s Go Down”). Most of all, that flow absolutely sounds natural and beautiful. Throughout, Reid’s voice and lyrics sound like complete ramblings with no rhyme, yet ones that have complete logic and reason. The musicianship is exceptional not just because Reid had exceptional session men at hand, but because they themselves seemed to draw pure enjoyment from these sessions, something that is often really hard to extract from hired hands.
In all, River can easily stand up shoulder to shoulder with masterpieces that are more (Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks), or less (Tim Buckley’s Blue Afternoon) recognised, while Reid still remains in the shadows even though it is obvious that guys like Michael Franks have made million on copying his Tropicalia flavoured links of the title track. The attempts to revive this masterpiece with its reissue in 2002 or surfacing of The Other Side of The River album in 2016, which included previously unpublished songs and alternate versions from the River sessions with equally incredible material, have again made to wider impact. But this stuff is so good, it has to work at some point, it is worth every note of it.