1971, Music

New York City You’re a Woman (1971) by Al Kooper

Al Kooper fascinates me. He had a bizarre career: writing a hit pop song, becoming Dylan’s keyboardist, turning into a jazz rock pioneer and then having a career as a record producer. But despite my fascination, this is the first proper solo album of his I’ve heard. Maybe I’m disappointed because I was expecting something very different. Maybe I’m disappointed because, much like Kooper does here, I have mythologized his life a little too much. I don’t know.

Reviews I have read compare this to Elton John around the same period. I have no idea if that’s apt or not (though the cover suggests it), having not heard his records. [Note: I have since heard many Elton John records.] For me, the touchstone on at least two of these songs (“John the Baptist” and “Nightmare #5”) suggest The Band to an extent that would border on plagiarism if they were better songs. (He even sings like Richard Manuel on them!)

And that’s the fundamental problem here. (Well, one of them.) Al Kooper, as much as he is a great performer, is not a great songwriter, as far as I can gather. He copies from Robbie Robertson here, and he copies (poorly) from Bob Dylan there – mostly in his attempts to mythologize his own life – and apparently he also copies from the John/Taupin songbook. (Though I wouldn’t know about how much he copies John/Taupin and I’m not sure they were established enough at this point, though they were established enough for him to cover them.) His attempts to be original don’t hold up. And the covers just further testify that he couldn’t get enough quality material together.

But this is not my kind of music anyway. Kooper emphasized his singer-songwriter side but also his Baroque Pop and Blue-Eyed Soul side, over the parts I liked most about his earlier music.

Ah well.

5/10

  1. “New York City (You’re a Woman)” (Al Kooper) – 5:20
  2. “John the Baptist (Holy John)” (Kooper, Phyllis Major) – 3:34
  3. “Can You Hear It Now (500 Miles)” (Traditional, arranged by Kooper) – 3:27
  4. “The Ballad of the Hard Rock Kid” (Kooper) – 4:19
  5. “Going Quietly Mad” (Kooper) – 3:54
  6. Medley:
    1. “Oo Wee Baby, I Love You” (Richard Parker) – 1:59
    2. “Love Is A Man’s Best Friend” (Irwin Levine, Kooper) – 2:24
  7. “Back on My Feet” (Kooper) – 3:22
  8. “Come Down in Time” (Bernie Taupin, Elton John) – 4:39
  9. “Dearest Darling” (Bo Diddley) – 3:55
  10. “Nightmare #5” (Kooper) – 3:00
  11. “The Warning (Someone’s on the Cross Again)” (Kooper, Phyllis Major) – 3:00
  • Al Kooper – piano, organ, guitars, mellotron, harmonium, vocals
  • Paul Humphries – drums (tracks 2-4, 6-9, 11)
  • Bobbye Hall Porter – percussion (tracks 2-4, 6-9, 11)
  • Lou Shelton – guitar (tracks 2-4, 6-8, 11)
  • Terry Kath – guitar solo (track 3)
  • Carol Kaye – electric bass (tracks 2, 4, 7, 9, 11)
  • Herbie Flowers – electric bass (tracks 1, 5, 8, 10)
  • Bobby West – acoustic and electric basses (tracks 3, 6, 8)
  • Roger Pope – drums (tracks 1, 5, 10)
  • Sneaky Pete Kleinow – pedal steel (tracks 4, 11)
  • Caleb Quaye – guitar (tracks 5, 10)
  • Various combinations of Rita Coolidge, Venetta Fields, Clydie King, Donna Weiss, Julia Tillman Waters, Edna Wright, Maxine Willard Waters, Lorna Willard, Edna Woods, Claudia Lennear, Dorothy Morrison, Robbie Montgomery, Jessie Smith, Robert John, Michael Gately and Jay Siegel – backing vocals (tracks 2-3, 6-9, 11)

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