Vanilla Fudge embrace 1967 all over again

vanilla-fudgeVanilla Fudge
“SPIRIT OF ‘67”
Purple Pyramid  (CD)

3 stars

By Lee Zimmerman

Back in the day, Vanilla Fudge built a formidable reputation out of reinterpreting the music of others. It seemed a fairly simple formula at the time — take a well-known rock or soul standard, add some bombast, a dose of psychedelia and repackage it for the world. At least it was enough to allow them to make their mark; their sonic assault on the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” turned that track into an FM smash, enough to help them achieve headline status (Led Zeppelin was their support act on the Brits’ first tour of the U.S.) and even influence their peers (legend has it the Beatles were so taken with Fudge’s first album that they locked themselves away for an entire weekend, dropped acid and listened to it repeatedly). Clearly then, any attempt to deride them as merely a cover band misses the mark. For Vanilla Fudge it was as much about their sound as it was others’ songs, and in those heady days of the late ‘60s, that was all it took to make a profound impression.

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Now, some 45 years later, the band has regrouped (bassist Tim Bogart is the only original member to opt for retirement) and so we find keyboardist Mark Stein, drummer Carmine Appice, guitarist Vince Martell and new recruit, bass player Pete Bremy, revisiting their classic formula, as well as several standards from the year of the band’s birth – 1967. It’s a risky proposition — after all, “Whiter Shade of Pale,” “I Can See For Miles,” “Last Train to Clarksville, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Tracks of My Tears” and the like are all well inscribed in the collective consciousness. And yet, for better or for worse (depending on one’s perspective), the Fudge has made each their own, mostly by adding additional passages and magnifying them into a symphonic state. Consequently, these songs are transformed entirely and able to stand on their own. Whether or not they will ever substitute for the originals is anyone’s guess and purely a matter of individual taste, but credit is due the band for making the attempt regardless.

The album’s one original entry, “Let’s Pray for Peace,” gives the disc a powerful coda, and its timeless message — as simple and straightforward as it seems — is clearly well intentioned. Sadly, the fact that plea is still needed all these decades later is the main reason “Spirit of ’67” remains as timely as ever.

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