JEFF BECK — Truth (review)

JEFF BECK — Truth album cover Album · 1968 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Chicapah
In the late 60s most of us fledgling rock and roll guitarists had come to the conclusion that the Holy Trinity of the Fretboards resided in England and had evolved from the Yardbirds into deity status. There was God, Eric Clapton (of course); the Son, Jeff Beck; and the Holy Ghost, Jimmy Page. (Despite having experienced Jimi Hendrix we still didn't know what galaxy he was from). We devotedly devoured every riff that we could get our hands on and prayed for more. By the end of 1968 God had seen fit to bestow us with three fantastic albums from Cream, the Ghost was finishing up his stint with the YBirds (while developing Led Zeppelin) and the Son was unleashing his solo project upon the masses. One thing that all three titans had in common was a deep-seated love for "da blues" and every one of their bands' debut LPs were dipped heavily in that genre, moving in a more eclectic rock direction later on. Jeff Beck's "Truth" was no exception.

"Shapes of Things" was a great way to start the album because it gave us something we could identify with yet it made it clear that that this wasn't pop fare. The slower, heavier sound was what we were craving and it was guitars, guitars and more guitars all the way through. The unknown Rod Stewart was nothing short of a revelation because no one else sounded like he did at the time with that unique rasp that made him sound like he'd been singing in smoky bars for the previous 20 years. "Let Me Love You" is a rocking blues number in which Jeff oozes a guttural guitar tone that sounds like it crawled out of a swamp. "Morning Dew" is more in the experimental direction but it suffers from a very loosely performed track by the band. However, Beck's wild wah-wah display goes a long way in saving the song from becoming a total disappointment. On the back of the album cover Jeff offered a few choice words for every cut. For the next tune, Willie Dixon's "You Shook Me," he claimed it's "probably the rudest sounds ever recorded." That's debatable but honestly descriptive. It's obvious that Beck wasn't interested in generating clean, precise notes from his instrument and his intense playing on this number made his every admirer's hair stand on end. As Jeff noted, "the last note of the song is my guitar being sick. Well, so would you be if I smashed your guts for 2:28." That's exactly the rebellious attitude we'd been hoping for.

"Old Man River" is a curious inclusion but it serves well as a respite from the blues parade. Most likely a showcase for Stewart's expressive vocal, the booming timpani gives it a feeling of grandeur instead of Broadway camp. Just in case we thought Beck could only play hard and loud, a very short acoustic rendition of "Greensleeves" is injected for sensitivity purposes. "Rock My Plimsoul" is another traditional blues progression but drummer Mick Waller does play around with the beat, adding some interesting accents. Jeff shows that he's not necessarily a stickler for authentic blues guitar techniques because what he does here is definitely a portent of unorthodox things to come. The call and answer segment between him and Rod near the end is excellent. "Beck's Bolero," with Jimmy Page credited as ghostwriter (sorry, I couldn't resist the pun) is as far from the blues as you can get as Beck puts on a virtual guitar clinic. Guest Keith Moon's drums fit the bombastic mood perfectly. The live "Blues De Luxe" follows and it's nothing more than slow blues but that doesn't keep it from being spectacular. Nicky Hopkins' piano ride (especially when he tickles the upper ivories) is one of the best you'll ever hear and Ron Wood's bass work rivals Jack Bruce as far as expertly filling in the holes. They saved the best for last, though, with a seminal version of Dixon's "I Ain't Superstitious" that provided a lot of clues as to where Jeff's music was headed. While Clapton and Hendrix had mostly used the wah-wah to accent the beat, Beck treats it as a tone modifier, allowing him to express feeling and emotions much like a vocalist. As he commented candidly, the song is "more or less an excuse for being flash on guitar." (Hey, if you walk the walk you can talk the talk.) The group was able to capture a very "live" atmosphere in the studio for this one, complete with a big, noisy concert ending from Waller. Play this track at high volume for best results.

I've often wondered why this band didn't become as wildly popular as Led Zeppelin would just a year or so later when they were both playing basically the same bluesy style. Part of the answer lies in the fact that Mickie Most's production left a lot to be desired and, therefore, the album isn't as consistent as it should have been sound-wise. (Listen to the out-of-proportion guitar lines that barge in and out of "Old Man River" for proof.) Also, Led Zep would incorporate more of a rock feel to their music and that appealed to a broader spectrum of listeners. Nevertheless, "Truth" still stands tall as a landmark in the evolution of adventurous electric guitar stylings. It was here that Jeff Beck showed us all that the sky was the limit when it came right down to it. A good "English blues" record and a must have for all guitar historians.
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