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James Gang: Bang - Album Of The Week Club review

Tommy Bolin's James Gang bandmates have claimed he was at his best when high... and on Bang the chemical dependency produced fine results

James Gag - Bang
(Image: © Flashback)
James Gang - Bang

James Gang - Bang

(Image credit: Flashback Records)

Standing In The Rain
The Devil Is Singing Our Song
Must Be Love
Alexis
Ride The Wind
Got No Time For Trouble
Rather Be Alone With You (Song For Dale)
From Another Time
Mystery

Led by guitarist/singer Joe Walsh, The James Gang were a hard rockin’ outfit who had no problem filling out their music with only three players. When Walsh left the group at the height of their popularity to form Barnstorm, the rhythm section of bassist Dale Peters and drummer Jim Fox decided to soldier on, and expanded the group to a quartet with singer Roy Kenner and guitarist Domenic Troiano. 

After a pair of disappointing releases, Troiano left. At the suggestion of their old pal Walsh, Tommy Bolin was invited to saddle up and ride with The James Gang.

Peters recalls Bolin relocating to their home base of Cleveland, Ohio: “He was great. He just seemed like the right guy, played the right way – a spectacular guitar player. Tommy was actually relatively quiet, but the drug thing was hideous. He’d get up in the morning and take, like, 20 aspirins just to get going. When he was high he was great. But when he wasn’t he was just miserable."

Despite Bolin’s growing chemical dependency, there’s no denying that the two albums The James Gang recorded with him, 1973’s Bang and 1974’s Miami, are among the group’s finest, and are arguably among the most underrated rock releases of the 70s.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in September 1973

  • Over-Nite Sensation - Frank Zappa
  • Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert - Eric Clapton
  • The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle - Bruce Springsteen
  • Crazy Eyes - Poco
  • Faust IV - Faust
  • In a Glass House - Gentle Giant
  • Vagabonds of the Western World - Thin Lizzy
  • High on the Hog - Black Oak Arkansas
  • Hello! - Status Quo
  • It's Only a Movie - Family
  • Nice 'n' Greasy - Atomic Rooster
  • Sweet Freedom - Uriah Heep
  • Ten Years Are Gone - John Mayall

What they said...

"Even if Bolin's wistful Alexis doesn't fit with the other tracks it's a highlight, as is the opening rocker Standing in the Rain where conmen ("Your note said you went to Charleston/But I know you went to New Mexico") and cretins ("You left behind a dead father/A sick mother and 4 younger kids") are forced to face up to love. Bang feels less like a band album and more like talented studio musicians on the loose, but die-hard fans of either the Gang or the late Bolin will enjoy it, if only in fits and starts. (AllMusic)

"There’s no doubt that Tommy was still refining the art of songwriting, which would receive the full glare of the spotlight on his two solo releases, Teaser and Private Eyes, but the songs that he contributed to James Gang are pieces of priceless rock freshly drawn from the earth of rhythm and rhyme." (The Ripple Effect)

"Roy Kenner serves up arena rock vocals and the steady and under-rated rhythm section of Peters and Fox make this an absolute must-have. Tracks like Ride The Wind, Got No Time For Trouble and the Bolin-lead Alexis never garnered much FM fanfare but as are as relevant and as genuine as it gets. Bolin's guitar work is in the next stratosphere offering solos as tasty as a barrel of KFC." (RateYourMusic)

What you said...

John Davidson: I'd always associated James Gang with Joe Walsh so it was a bit of a surprise to find that this album featured Tommy Bolin in pre-Deep Purple mode rather than Walsh and that they had produced two albums with Roy Kenner on vocals and with a different guitarist post Walsh before this one.

On balance it's not a bad thing. I certainly prefer Roy Kenner's vocals to Walsh's and the guitar playing from Bolin is at least on a par .

The album starts off reasonably strong with Standing In The Rain and the Devil Is Singing Our Song. Slightly funky, slightly country but most definitely early 70s American guitar rock.

The mood is mellow (as Ted Nugent used to say) and overall the album is a fairly lightweight affair but it is lifted from Bread-like MOR territory by the excellent fretwork of Tommy Bolin.

This is most apparent on songs Iike Alexis which frankly start out a bit limp but which kicks into gear half way through and ends with an excellent guitar solo.

It is telling that Bolin is involved in or leads the writing on every song bar one (it is no coincidence that it is the only near clunker on the album) a vocal harmony song called Rather Be Alone With You (Song For Dale).

Another Time is the most overtly funky song on the album, but is again lifted by Bolin's excellent lead guitar in the second half - where he gets a bit Santana-ish.

As an album its not startlingly original and sits alongside the Doobie Brothers, Grand Funk Railroad etc but it's certainly not bad.

I must say I enjoyed this and while I'm not planning to buy it nor do I expect to add it to my regular playlists I'm certainly happy to have spent a couple of hours listening to it for the club.

I'll give it another few listens before settling on a score... most likely a 7.

Alex Hayes: If the intention behind the Classic Rock Album Of The Week Club's first choice for 2021 was to nominate something that was maybe a tad more obscure amongst the membership than usual, then it certainly worked on me. Although familiar with the Joe Walsh era James Gang, this 1973 effort was brand new to these ears.

Like other reviewers have already pointed out, my personal main draw with this album was that it gave me the opportunity to check out the skills of the sadly departed Tommy Bolin on some music other than Come Taste The Band, that underrated Deep Purple opus still being my only prior exposure to his talents. Bolin's musicality is definitely one of the album's strong points and Alexis is a stand-out track for me here.

Bang ultimately consists of pretty typical, early 70s American Rock. It's an enjoyable listen, if a little lightweight, and ambles along pleasantly enough. It didn't exactly blow me away, the a capella Rather Be Alone With You (Song For Dale) just didn't work for me for instance, but will very likely give me the impetus to dig out James Gang Rides Again and Come Taste The Band for a spin, or possibly even Teaser for the first time. A decent start to the new year and either a 6 or 7/10 (leaning towards the latter).

Michael Kay: Aside from the Joe Walsh era hits that everybody knows, I don't know the James Gang from, well, the James Gang. As such, I find it somewhat anonymous but enjoyable early 70s rock'n'roll.

While he doesn't have as distinct a voice as Joe Walsh, Roy Kenner is a confident singer and the rhythm section is good. But I guess the big draw (pun not intended) is the arrival of guitarist (and songwriter and singer) Tommy Bolin. As a non-guitarist, subtlety is often lost on me, so I prefer his Deep Purple album or his two solo albums, but I generally like his playing here. I really like his voice, but he doesn't sing lead much here. I do recognise his songwriting, especially on Alexis and the last two tracks, From Another Time and Mystery.

Must Be Love is my favourite track (although I liked it better when I thought Kenner was singing Monkey Love. Kenner's lone solo songwriting credit, Rather Be Alone With You, is a catchy campfire a capella and foreshadows his future in jingles. Kenner's wordless vocalising on opener, Standing In The Rain is really cool too. 

I also really like Ride the Wind with its use as a lyrical hook of John Buchan's quote, "It's a great life, if you don't weaken," even as the namecheck of Jonathan Livingston Seagull shows the song's age. Looking at the album credits, everyone but Bolin plays percussion - and I'm guessing that's because they're all playing on From Another Time, my vote for the best Santana song not actually by Santana. Finally, I like the melancholy closer, Mystery, which sure sounds to me like Bolin sings lead even though the credits I found say otherwise.

This is the kind of album that I'd expect to hear on the stereo at a good ol' dive bar. At first, I wouldn't be paying much attention, but, by the end of the album, I'd be asking the bartender, "Who was that?" That's kind of the role that this club plays for me now.

Mark Tucker: Tommy Bolin took them to a whole new level. His playing is superb as are the songs he co wrote. The first of two excellent albums.

Kevin Miller: I’ve never heard this album. Wow. I love it!

Johnathon Hoskins: Tommy Bolin at his very best. The next album Miami was almost as good.

Deb Jay: This is a new one for me and enjoying listening to it. Have say that the third song Must Be Love (I thought it was Monkey Love they were saying at first) is a direct rip of Foxy Lady.

Carl Black: Never heard of this album or band, so I'm going in blinder than the three blind mice on a bender.

I'd imagine that the studio floor was covered in empty beers cans, wine bottles and recovering people. The haze from the band smoking the devil's lettuce must have been so thick, you could have cut the atmosphere with a cricket stump.

It grooves along, a bit aimlessly to be honest. But I think that's the point . Stand out track was the very unusual Rather Be Alone With You. The rest drift into one but if you're of the persuasion to dabble in the "Wacky Baccie" then this is a cool soundtrack.

TJ Caruthers: James Gang's Bang is an album cover I remember seeing as a little kid and the band name never really connected to rock music to me for some reason. Joe Walsh – even though had left the band as this is their first release without him – seemed to have left his essence, because I thought of Joe Walsh in the opening track without knowing if he was in this band. 

The intro was cool as with the song. The second track wasn't bad either. They reminded me of Grand Funk Railroad meets Peter Frampton, with a dash of Rush's Working Man harmonies thrown in with a little funk. I can understand why people liked this band but I also heard why the band had two modest "hits" out of so many LPs. Maybe too much mashing of different styles during an era of really good music. I'm not saying these songs are bad... just not as good as a lot of other stuff back in the early to mid 70s.

Gary Claydon: A laid-back, extended jam of an album which was often the way with The James Gang but even more so here than usual. Nothing wrong with it but, ultimately, it's fairly ordinary. Worth a listen as a curiosity piece but there is better pre-Purple Bolin material. His playing is the main attraction here and, as you'd expect, it is top notch. The rest of the band are fine, seasoned musos, and I preferred Kenner's vocals to those of Joe Walsh, but it's the six-string work that stands out, although the songwriting is pretty average. An occasional lights-off, chill-out listen that doesn't engage enough to encourage repeated plays.

Bill Griffin: Much like my previous exposure to The James Gang is confined to the Joe Walsh era radio hits, my exposure to Tommy Bolin is confined to his solo track Post Toastee, all of which I like but never compelled me to explore further. This album follows in that vein; I like it but not enough to explore either Bolin or the band further.

Brian Carr: Once again, Classic Rock guides me to not just an album I’d never heard, but a band with whom I’ve had very little listening time.

James Gang’s Bang was a mixed bag for me. There were moments that I loved. The Devil Is Singing Our Song has a great riff, especially when it kicked into the heavier gear. From Another Time, following the percussion opening, kicked into Al di Meola-type fusion a few years prior to Elegant Gypsy. Album closer Mystery was another standout track for me. As others have noted, Tommy Bolin really shines throughout Bang.

Other tracks reminded me of the Eagles or, I’m wanting to say Head East - laid back, jangly seventies stuff. I don’t really dislike artists like that, and it looks like much of James Gang’s output, including Bang, predates many of the albums of which it reminded me, but ultimately left it a little disjointed for me. I liked the overall vibe, though, and there’s plenty of killer guitar work to make me want to revisit the album and other James Gang releases.

Final Score: 6.98⁄10 (119 votes cast, with a total score of 831)

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