When I was younger, I was utterly fascinated by Kooper’s career: how he went from a successful songwriter to a less successful session guitarist to one of the best rock keyboardists of his era (or, perhaps, ever) and the major creative force behind some interesting ventures in the late ’60s. But, for whatever reason, it took me ages to get around to his solo stuff.
Now that I have found my way there, I’m not sure what’s changed. Either Kooper is less effective as a solo artist or I’ve gotten older and less tolerant of his worst traits.
In many ways, this record feels like what would have happened if Child is the Father to the Man had been a solo record. It opens with a ridiculous sample collage and string section overture that just screams “It’s the late ’60s! I have to innovate!” Such an overture really would have been an innovation a couple years prior but, by 1968, it feels obnoxious, not particularly artful and like he is just begging for someone to take him seriously. Given the kind of music on this record (“American music”), it’s hard to understand why it’s here.
Kooper imbues his originals and covers (almost always good covers) with a little bit of artiness but it’s like he isn’t sure he should be doing it. The recording of the man (whoever it is) at the end criticizing his decision to exclude drums and bass from a track feels bizarre and odd, especially given that Kooper didn’t have the courage of his convictions to omit bass and drums from the entire album (which might have been something).
Basically, though the songs are catchy and well performed, I feel like he sometimes indulges in his worst instincts and I think he is someone who benefits from collaborations.
PS Those string arrangements are sooooo indebted to George Martin.