James Gang – Bang

Tell me, how many bands today could get away with an album title like that? Not too many, that’s for sure. But we are talking about the ‘70s, a time when chauvinism was still prevalent and feminism was only just beginning to make its presence felt. However all that bra burning women’s lib stuff was obviously lost on James Gang when it came to choosing a name for this LP. Released in 1973, Bang was their sixth album and the first to feature young guitar prodigy Tommy Bolin, who was recommended to the group by former member Joe Walsh as a potential replacement for Domenic Troiano.

On opener “Standing in the Rain”, Bolin’s guitar playing provides an early glimpse into his future, and while not a brilliant song in itself, it is Bolin (who also wrote the tune) who manages to take what would normally be your fairly standard rocker and transform it into something special. On the Zappa sounding “The Devil is Singing Our Song” Bolin once again delivers a strong performance, as does Roy Kenner on lead vocals. The band attempt to write a song for radio with the energetic “Must Be Love” where, you guessed it, 21 year old Bolin is the star. “Alexis” (another Bolin composition) is arguably the record’s highlight. Full of light and shade, Tommy’s vocals and guitar are superb throughout, and remind the listener of what he would go on to write and record for his first solo LP Teaser.

Co-written by Bolin and Kenner, “Ride the Wind” is the sort of hard edged rocker that would become so prevalent by the late ‘70s, while “Got No Time For Trouble” is a pleasant and engaging country-rock number, with an extended instrumental solo by you know who. The Gang go a Capella on “Rather Be Alone With You (Song For Dale)”, one of those ‘yes I love you baby, I really do. At least until the next groupie comes along that is’. The funky pre-disco “From Another Time” is just the kind of early ‘70s rock number many groups were churning out at the time. However it does have one redeeming feature however, namely an absolutely scorching guitar solo, where the VU meters must have been in the red and caused the engineer to reach for the fire extinguisher.

“Mystery” is an obvious attempt by the band at writing an orchestral/piano mini-epic, in the style of The Moody Blues (who were better at that sort of thing anyway), and I reckon they just about manage to pull it off, even if it doesn’t really quite fit with everything else on here.

Bolin would remain with the group for one more album, Miami, before being poached by Deep Purple (unsurprising considering his mountainous talents), though despite his virtuosic contributions, James Gang were never really destined to conquer the world. And as such, would soon fade into relative obscurity after Bolin’s departure the following year. Bang may not be their best LP, but it certainly isn’t their worst. Yes, both the title and cover are extremely suggestive, even offensive, that much can’t be denied. But if the listener can put all that aside, this is the sort of album many groups of the era were recording by the dozen, with one exception – they didn’t have Tommy Bolin, whose brilliance alone is enough to justify having it in your collection.