It’s hard to say how Jack Bruce’s career might have panned out if he’d accepted the offer to join Marvin Gaye’s band in 1965. Instead, he got married and joined Cream, after which he had the freedom to follow his singular and often obstinate muse.
He remains as influential to generations of aspiring bass players as his Cream mate Eric Clapton is to budding guitarists, but it’s not quite the same. Their platinum album collections do not compare. Record companies found it hard to categorise Bruce, usually opting for the catch-all label ‘jazz’. “I don’t play jazz,” he retorted. “I play Jack.”
Cream is the launch pad for this two-CD set (they haven’t bothered to set it up with anything from the Graham Bond Organisation), with eight tracks including their barnstorming set opener NSU; their chirpy single I Feel Free; the slow-building dramatic We’re Going Wrong that extends his fine tenor voice; and Sunshine Of Your Love, the song that arguably laid the template for heavy metal. But As You Said, Bruce’s most individual contribution to Cream, is strangely missing. As is anything from Cream’s 2005 reunion.
The four tracks from Songs For A Tailor that got his solo career off to a flying start probably come closest to defining Bruce’s diverse musical character, particularly the surreal pop of Theme From An Imaginary Western. His pop sensibilities are also to the fore on Can You Follow from 1971’s Harmony Row, while the jazz rock of Morning Story and You Burned The Tables On Me point the way forward.
Three years later Bruce got his derailed career (courtesy of the drug-addled West Bruce & Laing) back on track with* Out Of The Storm*, which adds a dark edginess to his songs. The breezier How’s Tricks was a transitional step to nowhere as the follow-up, Jet Set Jewel, was shelved for 25 years. The acerbic title track, featuring some of Pete Brown’s most incisive lyrics, makes that decision look even stupider now than it did then. The same goes for ’93’s Somethin Els, although the delay was only half a dozen years.
Still, at least this collection ends appropriately with four tracks from last year’s Silver Rails – featuring guests John Medeski, Phil Manzanera, Robin Trower and Bernie Marsden – that’s as diverse as Songs For A Tailor, and which features the Margaret Thatcher ‘tribute’ Rusty Lady.