It’s hard to imagine a band like Fleetwood Mac being popular today, the Peter Green era lineup I mean, playing their white working class blues, with a passion and conviction that belied their age. The Pious Bird of Good Omen was compiled in late 1969, as a way of cashing in on the imminent release of Then Play On, which was released just a couple of months later. The cover, although controversial for its time, depicts a heavily pregnant nun holding a stuffed Albatross, a very Pythonesque image I must say, one which may not be to everyone’s taste, but quintessentially English all the same, and perhaps a sly wink to their recent hit which had a similar reference.
The edition of the album I own is from The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions box set, meaning that it not only contains additional tracks but that some material has been remixed, and some even omitted from the original LP, which just doesn’t make any sense if you were buying the album separately to the box set itself. But I do sort of understand where the producers were coming from, in that they obviously didn’t want any duplication of material. So in their place we get several previously unreleased takes of “Need Your Love So Bad”, which sounds good in theory, but doesn’t really work on an album level.
Based on all the studio banter between the band members clearly this is aimed at those people who obsess over every inch of tape that remains extant in the vaults. It’s fun to hear once or twice, but after a while the listener just wants to hear the song, and what a song the first track turns out to be. “Need Your Love So Bad” would establish Green as one of the pre-eminent blues players of the day, in that delicious BB King style and which proves that sometimes less is more when it comes to expression. I’m sure that Green never rode much less had ever seen a real country pony in his life, but his “Rambling Pony” is a convincing facsimile of early rural blues.
There can be no denying that guitarist Jeremy Spencer had a penchant for Elmore James, whose imitation of the late bluesman was not only slavish but practically bordering on worship. And Robert Johnson’s “I Believe My Time Ain’t Long” is a case in point. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because for many blues hungry audiences in London hearing this stuff live, or on record, would be pretty exciting. “The Sun Is Shining” is another Elmore James infused number, although done rather convincingly. What they may lack in authenticity the band more than make up for with conviction.
The instrumental “Albatross”, written by Green, was a popular hit on the radio, selling something like a million copies. And I’m not surprised, because listening to this is akin to watching a sunset while standing on the beach. Imagine The Ventures in slow motion. The song has a peaceful, timeless quality to it that I never seem to tire of. And speaking of timeless, Green’s immortal “Black Magic Woman” is next. Santana’s version might be the most famous, but there’s nothing like hearing the original, in all its bluesy, basic glory. Mick Fleetwood sounds as if he’s playing by the seat of his pants, literally, trying to stay in the saddle, while Green lays down some of the finest licks of his entire career.
We have two Danny Kirwan penned tunes, the first of which is first “Jigsaw Puzzle Blues”, an innocent bluesy instrumental, and the more than decent “Like Crying”, a somewhat predictable pop-blues song with some ‘white boy wants to sing the blues’ vocals by Danny himself.
Now, all you Peter Green heads out there, get ready to bar up, because next are four versions of “Need Your Love So Bad”. Why there are four takes I have no idea. I guess it all comes down to musical archaeology. Fascinating on first listen; interesting on the second, and downright boring on the third. Now don’t get me wrong on this, I enjoy the odd outtake of Miles Davis or Ornette Coleman, but how often can the listener sit through multiple versions of the same tune, no matter how good the playing? However it does give one an insight into the process of recording was concerned, in the days before pro-tools and other such sophisticated technology. Still, Green’s touch and tone is a delight to behold, and one I never tire of.
Whether anyone needs really this album in their collection is difficult to say, since most of these tracks can be found on other compilations, especially the Green ones, which are perhaps the ones which ultimately matter in the end. Though if you bought the box set, this is obviously one of those anthologies which might have been something of a cheap pre-empt at the time, yet now should be considered as more of an essential curiosity. An artefact by a band whose talents far outweighed their confidence.