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Ray Manzarek/Roy Rogers – Translucent Blues

Blind Pig Records

12 tracks – 58.52 minutes

The two main protagonists need little introduction. Ray Manzarek was the co-founder and keyboard player with The Doors and Roy Rogers (not to be confused with the cowboy) is a master slide guitar player who has recorded for many years in his own name as well as producing CDs by John Lee Hooker. The other players on the CD were: Kevin Hayes, drums, formerly with the Robert Cray band; Steve Evans, bass, from the Elvin Bishop Band, and George Brooks, tenor saxophone, who has performed with John McLaughlin.

The title is a little misleading as it evokes (at least for me) images of tranquility and light so you might expect a quiet, jazzy album. Not at all! This is a mostly upbeat CD with some quite heavy tracks. The music is collaborative, both Ray and Roy bringing material they had been working on separately, as well as some lyrics supplied by a range of writers such as Jim Carroll, poet Michael McClure and the late Warren Zevon who supplied the lyrics to “River Of Madness” just before his death. As with The Doors, lyrics are at times somewhat opaque, conveying a feeling rather than a statement.

The two main players share the vocals and Ray Manzarek leads off on the first track “Hurricane”. Of course, Ray did not sing in The Doors as Jim Morrison was there, but here he handles the vocals well, evoking something of Morrison’s style of deep baritone. The keys are to the fore on this cut at the start but Roy’s slide cuts through after a minute or so, adding a touch of the Delta to the song which is quite menacing, both in tone and in content. Roy Rogers is, to my ears, a less comfortable singer than Ray, but he takes the lead on the next track “River Of Madness”. This is the longest track on the CD at 7.09 but it’s an interesting one, Warren Zevon’s lyrics pay bitter-sweet homage to LA while the music changes pace a number of times, Ray’s keys leading the changes and Roy producing some nice flourishes on slide.

“Game Of Skill” reminded me musically of “Love Her Madly”, especially in the piano stylings, but Roy’s searing slide soon moves us on to a tougher song. “Fives And Ones” is not a look back at a similarly titled Doors song, but concerns the need to keep some cash in your pockets in the harsh cityscape that Roy describes. Ray’s piano again takes us in a jazzier direction, only to be headed off at the pass by Roy’s screaming slide notes. “Kick” is a slower piece with some excellent sax featured. The electric piano (or is it vibes?) add to the jazzy feel. I cared less for the lyrics, which I take to be about kicking a drug habit, than the music. “Tension” features both singers with Roy’s slide everywhere, accentuating the lyrics and the tune. The middle section is quite different to the main refrain, almost a country mood, whereas the main tune is more of a rocker and moves along at a fast pace. Once again Ray’s singing is very reminiscent of Jim Morrison.

There then follow three tunes with the word ‘Blues’ in the title. Roy sings “Blues In My Shoes”, a song that lyrically is more direct than most on the CD. It is also definitely a blues, albeit an uptempo one. “New Dodge City Blues” sounds like it should evoke the Old Wild West and indeed it does! Ray takes the lead on a very piano led piece which definitely sounds like it could have been a cut on the last Doors LP “LA Woman”. The lyrics all seem about bad guys and everything going to hell but it’s an exhilarating ride through this dark panorama. “Greenhouse Blues” starts in delicate manner with some picked acoustic guitar and piano backdrop behind Roy’s vocal and a beautifully structured tenor sax solo which takes us into jazz territory. Even after several listens I still don’t know what the lyrics are about, but the playing is great!

“Those Hits Just Keep On Comin’” is a great title, but does not mean what you might think, as Roy is having trouble with his love life and the ‘hits’ here are the blows that he suffers when his girl betrays him with another guy! Musically this is a fast paced shuffle that really gets the toes tapping.

The last two tracks are both instrumentals and demonstrate two quite different sides to this group. “As You Leave” starts with mournful sax and elegant piano chords, a slow ballad whose tune reminded me of “Autumn Leaves”. It is probably more like what I had expected from the album title, a very pleasant and well played piece. “An Organ, A Guitar And A Chicken Wing” gives plenty of space to the three soloists, organ, sax and guitar, on a piece that I suspect may have been inspired by Jimmy Smith’s “Back At The Chicken Shack” album as the organ drives the music along on a real swinger.

Overall there is plenty to enjoy here for a wide variety of music fans. The playing and production are first rate and I expect that the album will be very successful.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.

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