Nothing charms this music geek more than a classic rock guitar album does. You can pour over Clapton, Hendrix, Page like a rock ‘n’ roll scholar studying the Dead Sea scrolls and keep coming up with the same clichéd answers year-in year-out. We can visit modern rock Internet writings in the shape of, say The 10 Biggest Classic Rock Douchebags; a mean-spirited sledgefest of popular music with very little in the way of specifics to back up the relentless character assassination; or shallow generalisations about the character of musicians available to anyone with access to Google. Horse-manure writings by odious infantile trolls where you wish the ghost of Lester Bangs would piss on these turds. Sorry, all this systematic subsidiary byplay leaves one exhausted these days. We need to find a new idiosyncratic musician to explore via a turntable and a crackly needle. Bring on life’s simple pleasures in the form of rock giant Joe Walsh’s undervalued, yet finest solo outing: So What – yes, the answer to my prayers!
Joe Walsh first came into the focus of the rock and roll spectrum as the leader of American power trio the James Gang, one of the most underrated, and indeed, hard rocking bands to emerge in the late-60s. By the time their superb second album came out in 1970 (Rides Again), the James Gang were supporting the likes of The Who, The Kinks and Led Zeppelin. Walsh however, dissatisfied with the bands limitations, lost interest by Thirds (1971) and left the band, relocating to Colorado to release Barnstorm (1972), eventually receiving commercial recognition with The Smoker You Drink the Player You Get (1973). A refreshingly colourful character, unpretentious, all round good guy and notorious hard partier, this is the guy who invented hotel room trashing and rock star excess. It’s a wonder Joe survived LA and the mid-70s let alone his days as Bernie Leadon’s replacement in the Eagles. In 1975 he would release the underrated So What album with the remnants of the Barnstorm outfit, including contributions from his Eagles pals and long time drummer Joe Vitale.
While no huge departure, So What features tender moments alongside the rock outs, pulled off with his usual supreme ability. The best moments here aim for studio expansion and provide a meaty, at times, laid back sound with Joe creating guitar figures and anchoring dirty riffs as they occur to him – yet never shambolic. Turn to Stone originally featured on his solo debut gets the remodel treatment, becoming a rollicking anthem in the same vein as the timeless Rocky Mountain Way. So too Time Out returns to that style, layering slide and standard lead to perfection over a straight ahead rhythm track and his typical wise-ass wit. The spacey County Fair is another gorgeously melodic mid-tempo workout, building and fading, blending electric punch and acoustic rhythms all firmly rooted in the 70s. All Night Laundry Mat Blues is filler but fun, but Joe tones down his court jester persona elsewhere by delivering touching ballads: Help Me Through the Night is an album highlight, and the heartrending ballad Song for Emma dedicated to his late daughter – a moving album closer.
Many of these songs would appear on the all-kinds-of-fun live album You Can’t Argue With a Sick Mind (1976) albeit in looser formats. Walsh would famously go on to join the Eagles that year for the colossal hit Hotel California, but he was never better here. They don’t make rock stars like this anymore: as fluid, creative, melodic and intelligent a guitarist as anyone in rock history, and on So What, Walsh displays all of this and more. No rock fan should be without it.
- Welcome to the Club ∗∗∗∗
- Falling Down ∗∗∗
- Pavanne ∗∗∗
- Time Out ∗∗∗∗∗
- All Night Laundry Mat Blues ∗∗
- Turn to Stone ∗∗∗∗∗
- Help Me Thru the Night ∗∗∗∗∗
- County Fair ∗∗∗∗∗
- Song for Emma ∗∗∗∗