It was the sad news of Jack Bruce’s passing that pushed me toward what is now his final studio album, 2014’s Silver Rails. I wasn’t too worried about hearing it, but I’m glad – bittersweet/silver-lining – that I did. For it’s a solid effort. Okay, it’s not a career high, it isn’t about to replace your copy of Songs For A Tailor but you get a very good snapshot of the aspects of Bruce’s career, his musical passions. You get glimpses of the jazz and blues that informed his work with Cream and that had him earning a crust long before that band.
There’s also a rekindled writing relationship with Pete Brown (lyricist across many of Cream’s finest moments) and it works well. Silver Rails builds to a crescendo, the album moving through the decades and musical styles, so that a couple of softer ballads – where Bruce’s voice is a bit weak, nearly breathless – provide the only posthumous clues that this could have been anything approaching a last album. For the most part it sounds like a musician reborn in fact.
Drone has a huge wash of fuzzy bass on a politically charged song. And for Keep It Down
there’s even a nod to Eric Clapton’s guitar sound and its importance in Bruce’s career with some Clapton-lite lines. A shame Eric couldn’t have been persuaded to perform the duties. If there’s anyone specialising in Clapton-lite these days it’s surely EC himself.
No Surrender ups the ante guitar-wise, trading Clapton’s tone and feel for a Hendrix-ian wig out.
The quieter non-rock songs – like the lovely Don’t Look Now – are actually the real highlights though. Showing Bruce hadn’t lost any sense of his way with distinct phrasing, of holding court within a song.
He was a real talent and it’s nice to hear him reconciled with music. Now that he’s gone.