Tommy Bolin is one of those prodigious players who won’t stand with Page or Beck (with whom he played his final show) in terms of popularity or sainthood. Instead, his legacy as a guitar player’s player places him alongside other lesser known aces like Shawn Lane and Rory Gallagher. Bolin’s playing is unmistakably American. It features riff-oriented tunes with biting slide work, ripping solos and sing-along hooks. His blues-rock work would sound perfectly natural on, among other things, the Dazed and Confused film soundtrack. His playing not always displayed electric fortitude as many of his tunes lean on the melodically pensive side, thus revealing his jazz influences. Both of these identities are explored on the punchy Great Gypsy Soul, a tribute album featuring some of nastiest players in the world.
Great Gypsy Soul is produced by Greg Hampton and superman himself, Warren Haynes. Using outtakes from Bolin’s solo debut Teaser, released in 1975 (Bolin would be dead a year later), players like Haynes, Peter Frampton, Derek Trucks, Brad Whitford, Sonny Landreth, Joe Bonamassa, and John Scofield create a seamless patchwork including Bolin’s original vocals and playing. The standout tracks are “Teaser” (with Haynes), “Savannah Woman” (with John Scofield), “Smooth Fandango” (with Derek Trucks), and “Lotus” (with Joe Bonamassa, Glenn Hughes, and Nels Cline). The second bonus disc features work by all of the guests in a four piece rock opus entitled “Marching Bag.”
Aside from being outstanding tracks, these tunes encompass the spectrum that Bolin’s playing transcended. “Teaser” is a straightforward, good time rocker with an air of nostalgia around it. It makes you want to cruise around in a Camaro and sneak away with the girl next door. Haynes’ bottleneck work flows smoothly with the groovy saunter that was laid down nearly forty years ago. “Savannah Woman” with Scofield is a sultry, Latin-infused jazz tune. Scofield runs his fingers across this tune with expertise and flavor. “Savannah Woman” proves why “Sco” is a card-carrying member of the elite club for those to have played on at least three Miles Davis albums. “Smooth Fandango” is an instrumental that weaves its way from checkpoint to checkpoint. Although a terrible cliché, Trucks’ playing truly needs no introduction. His scorching slide work shrieks against a jazz-fusion backdrop that features angular, Monkesque drums and piano work. An incredibly complex texture is built as Trucks’ raga influence climbs with American guitar grooves, dissonant harmonies, 70’s AM radio synth, and a bebop foundation. “Lotus” is a bittersweet and ambient piece with reggae impressions that explodes during its raw and turbulent chorus. It grows the whole time, blossoming into a showcase of tone and chops. Bonamassa is a monster. Glenn Hughes, who was in Deep Purple with Bolin post Machine Head and is in Black Country Communion with Bonamassa, wails throughout. And Nels Cline proves that he is tremendously underrated as a balls-out player due to his sometimes subdued and marvelous work in Wilco. Clines belongs here.
Great Gypsy Soul is billed not as a tribute album per se, but rather as “Tommy Bolin and Friends.” This makes sense, as the album sounds less like a tribute album than it does a party. Bolin’s songs are rare in the sense that they would sound just as meaningful if played in a club or in an arena. This is a testament to the colors touched upon by his diverse “friends.” Tommy Bolin died young and left so many without an opportunity to hear him play his (too) few songs. But decades later, Great Gypsy Soul verifies that his playing still comes to life, and as evident by this album and the great performances on it, can inspire life too.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Savannah Woman
– Smooth Fandango
The Big Hit
Review by Jason Bank