Whenever I'm on a road trip I like to play rock n' roll and play it LOUD
. Now I know I can't sing but when you're driving down the Pennsylvania Turnpike at 65 mph, I'm not annoying anybody but myself.
I mention this to make a point about Try Livin' It
the new album by guitarist Hiram Bullock. Hiram can't sing either. Not a lick.
That doesn't mean he doesn't try. God knows he tries over 11 wack tracks of funk-rock sludge. Bullock's reputation as a competent, if not spectacular, guitar slinger comes from his work with David Sanborn, The Brecker Brothers, Bob James and Jaco Pastorius. Bullock says of his reputation as primarily a jazz musician, "I never considered myself a jazz player. I'm not going to play a five-minute obligato solo, I'm not trying to impress anybody with amazing chops or anything like that. I'm just trying to play music that I like and hopefully has a good vibe."
Mission only half-accomplished. Bullock may be happy with his rock direction, but it illustrates why sidemen at times have less interesting things to say musically than the artists they play with. Bullock has built his reputation in jazz, but there isn't a glimmer of jazz to be found on this CD. As a guitarist, Bullock is okay. Nothing very special happens here. He could probably play lead guitar for many rock bands. But as a vocalist Bullock reminds me of what a critic once wrote comparing Jimi Hendrix's fiery fretwork to his merely adequate vocals, "How could such a great hitter be such an average outfielder?"
From the beginning track, "After the Fall" to the merciful end of "Summer Feeling", Bullock's flat, weak vocals croak from the speakers like a constipated bullfrog. Almost as bad are Bullock's limp lyrics which sound like they were made up on the spot as this example from "Wild In the Streets" painfully drives home:I got eyes, they be workin'/But even Ray Charles could see that you look fine/When you walk through the room going back and forth/The heads all turn, like at the U.S. Open (they're following the "bouncing balls")
Ugh. Ripping into a musician's work isn't my idea of a good time. Bullock probably put a lot of heart and soul into Try Livin' It
, but there are too many incidents that just when there's a dim glimmer of a promising groove flickering he opens his mouth and stomps the life out of it with his weak vocal yelping.
A lot of Bullock's friends and family will probably find a copy of Try Livin' It
in their Christmas stockings, but I'd be amazed if it finds a wider audience outside of that select group. "Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar" was the name of a Frank Zappa album. That's good advice and Bullock should have heeded it before he opened his mouth standing in front of a microphone.