Before Marc Ford found fame and heroin with The Black Crowes, he was lead guitarist of Los Angeles based blues-rock power trio Burning Tree, whose influences drew heavily from late ‘60s early ‘70s psychadelia, namely the likes of Cream, The Yardbirds and Jimi Hendrix, which was in almost complete contrast to many of their cock rock contemporaries at the time, such as Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, and the ghastly Poison. Doni Gray (drums) and Mark Dutton (bass) were the band’s backbone and while no Jack Bruce or Ginger Baker, are formidable musicians in their own right.
The vigorous title track is all pounding drums and blistering guitar. Ford has never been known for his singing ability, but on here he demonstrates himself as being more than capable (imagine Keith Richards only on fewer cigarettes). “Wigs, Blues and High Heeled Shoes” is a high adrenalin country rocker, while “Fly On” has Ford proving that he was already one of the best guitarists around (no wonder The Crowes wanted him). “Mistreated Lover” and “Masquerade” may not necessarily be great songs but do have some sublime playing, as does “Playing in the Wind”, where Ford gives a guitar lesson capable of blowing Slash right off the stage in terms of style and sophistication.
Ford roasts the frets on “Last Laugh” (including a riff taken from “Purple Haze”), tugs at the old heart strings on the country-rock of “Crush”, followed by the near latter day Zeppelin sounding “Same Old Story”. The best tune is arguably “Baker’s Song”, one of those melancholy country-flavoured rock ballads that were extremely popular amongst many a hair-metal band in the late ‘80s early ‘90s. Although unlike Poison et al, this is the real deal, because Burning Tree weren’t a trio of hard rock misogynistic poseurs. “Baby Blue” has some particularly fine moments, especially around the four minute mark, when Ford breaks out into a soaring guitar solo that would have made even Eric Clapton pull over to the side of the road.
“Baby Blue” and album closer “Turtle” are inspired though not necessarily all that memorable, which isn’t to say that they aren’t worth listening to – far from it. Ford has a tone and touch which is as visceral as it is intelligent.
Burning Tree’s self titled debut is, above all else, a guitar album. The songs are good, though not great. Yet the sheer quality of musicianship more than compensates. For anyone interested in hearing Marc Ford in his pre-Black Crowes days, this is where to start, whose impressive instrumental skills were already clearly in place. It may not quite be the masterpiece that some say, but it does have merit, enough to be recommended by this modest critic. I own the original CD release; however there is a newly remastered edition containing bonus tracks recorded live at the Marquee, London, England in April 1990. Ford is the obvious star here, despite the gifts of Gray and Dutton, a guitarist whose natural flair would later take The Black Crowes to a whole other level that may not have been possible without him, akin to when Mick Taylor joined The Rolling Stones.
My own theory is that had Ford not been recruited by The Crowes, Burning Tree would have remained little more than an indie jam band, impressing everyone with their incredible musical abilities, yet never really making all that much of a dent on the music scene as a whole, despite their talents.