You'd think this is just the right band for me to hate: they combine the worst aspects of southern rock (half-written songs, endless soloing) with prog (flutes, endless soloing). And yet, for a couple years when I was younger, I had great affection for this record. Listening to it now, I'm baffled.
The only conclusion I can come to is that there's a definite homey quality to these songs that makes you want to appreciate the personality behind the songwriting. There's a sense of wry self-deprecation in the lyrics that's unfortunately undermined by some macho ramblin' man posturing, but it's still heaps better than the same type of b.s. delivered by Lynyrd Skynyrd or the Allmans, for whom irony is an adjective ("that meteorite seems less stony and more irony"). But musically, these boys take an underdeveloped idea and drive it into the ground.
I have to confess my great weakness as a critic: I don't get guitar solos. I mean, I appreciate a snappy 8- or 16-bar break; it can liven up an arrangement, serve as a focus for the energy in the track, even establish a second theme. And I certainly appreciate how a bad solo can wreck an otherwise excellent song. But once the guitarist goes longer than about 20 seconds, I really can't judge if he's doing well or not. It all seems kind of pointless, actually.
And Mr. Toy Caldwell, lead guitarist for the Marshall Tucker Band (none of whose members are named Marshall Tucker, by the way) certainly likes to indulge himself in solos. There's one that's pretty striking -- the way he leads off "Ramblin'" has a great jazzy quality - but I honestly can't tell you anything about the rest of them. And the rest of the band doesn't do much to help him make things more interesting. George McCorkle is actually a pretty decent picker on rhythm guitar (especially on "Fire on the Mountain"), but he just plays the same old progressions, and the rhythm section is competent but undistinguished. Doug Gray is a lead vocalist of remarkably anonymous quality: he sounds just like the guy in the country band playing at your local bar, and the melodies he's given to work with are the same old country/12-bar tunes all the other southern rockers turned in. The one element that really makes the MTB stand out is the flute of Jerry Eubanks, but a little flute goes a long way, and this group was never one to use a little of anything.
It's not that this record is bad so much as it's bland: there's nothing there to hold your attention (unless you're one of those people who can actually follow a three-minute guitar solo), except for one great moment, which is the piano solo in "24 Hours at a Time", a brilliantly skewed bebop line out of nowhere flown into the middle of a country-shuffle. I can't tell you how weird it sounds, and yet so effervescent in the midst of more guitar sludge. Put that on a loop tape, and you've got some good listening.
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