Following an extensive, and no doubt exhaustive tour of Europe and America with Tony Williams’ Lifetime, a super group of sorts which also featured John McLaughlin (guitar) and Larry Young (organ), Jack Bruce returned to his home in Chalk Farm, London, and set about focusing on his next solo album. As Jack explained: “I wrote and put together a whole series of songs in one afternoon. I wrote all the music… and in the order in which the songs would appear on record. It took a while to get the lyrics together, but it was a very natural and easy process.” Helping him with those lyrics was long time friend and collaborator Pete Brown, who was more than happy to contribute as he had done previously during Bruce’s days with Cream.
In January 1971, Jack Bruce walked into London’s Command Studios with guitarist Chris Spedding and drummer John Marshall to start recording sessions proper. The result, Harmony Row, is yet another genre defying outing, and one which Bruce would later describe as his favourite LP. “The title came from a street in Govan in Glasgow, the city I grew up in,” Jack remembered. “The cover photo was taken around the corner from Harmony Row in a stretch of tenement buildings that was a mile long.”
The album begins with “Can You Follow”, and has Jack alone on piano and that voice, one of the finest of its generation. It segues into “Escape To The Royal Wood (On Ice)”, a song that is not quite pop, not quite jazz, but something else entirely. Along with lead vocal, Jack also plays piano, keyboards, bass (naturally) and percussion. The progressive jazz-rock of “You Burned The Tables On Me” is what Cream might have resembled if they had of remained together beyond their brief two and half years tenure. The near mystical “There’s A Forest” soon transitions into the epic “Morning Glory”, on which the whole band soars together in majestic flight, followed by the exquisite and tender “Folk Song”, where Jack’s vocals rise up gloriously into heaven. Bruce and friends get down to business on “Smiles and Grins”, another difficult to describe jazz-rock excursion that has some wonderful moments throughout, especially the last half minute or so, where piano, church-like organ, and other instruments all coalesce into one magnificent whole.
The lively “Post War” is one of the album’s most blues-oriented tracks, courtesy of Bruce’s harmonica playing, and Chris Spedding’s choppy guitar. It’s a song which would have benefitted greatly from the likes of Eric Clapton, although Spedding is no slouch, managing to pull off some extremely tasty licks. “A Letter Of Thanks” is a mixed bag, musically speaking, one which isn’t quite sure what it wants to be, which isn’t to say that it doesn’t work. “Victoria Sage” has more superb vocals by Bruce, as well as piano, and swelling organ, played of course by Jack himself. It’s a song which may not hit the listener immediately, but after a few spins, like most great art, it begins to bond with your DNA. Last track, “The Consul At Sunset,” is a Spanish oriented number (or is that Mexican?), with castanets, piano and guitar all complementing each other beautifully.
The 2003 remaster has of course several extra tracks, the most notable being an alternate take of “You Burned The Tables On Me” (which includes an electric piano track that was omitted from the final mix), and earlier versions of “There’s A Forest” and “Can You Follow”, each of which provide a fascinating insight into their development.
Harmony Row is without doubt a major work by a major artist. That it failed to register with many of the same people who were fans of Cream is unsurprising, considering Bruce’s eclectic approach and style. By the early Seventies, fans of Rock wanted their guitar solos loud and long, which meant that an LP such as this could never compete with the likes of Layla, released at around the same time. But Harmony has plenty of virtues of its own, more than enough to reward any fan of who perhaps remains to this day one of Rock’s most influential bass players ever.