Old/New Albums: Average White Band’s “Person To Person”

averagewhitebandThis is a first for me in this blog series. Person To Person is a live album, and I’m curious if it might’ve been a better experience had I chosen a live album by a band I was more familiar with. If only because I’d have a fuller understanding of the studio incarnations of the tunes and could view the live versions through that prism.

But here I am, listening to a concert album from 1976. It’s not a bad record. It certainly shows that the band could easily recreate the magic funk they had done so well in the studio. And as almost all live shows do, it gives the band room to breathe on all their tracks, giving longer spaces for the various band members to solo.

This is shown most effectively in the band’s best-known song, “Pick Up The Pieces.” The version on this album is notable for a couple reasons. First, it runs over 18 minutes long. Even on live albums, very few current bands would bother putting an 18 minute song on their record. The length of this tune kind of betrays its age, back when people would want to listen to an instrumental for this long.

It’s not that it’s a bad song, it’s just really long. You’ve got to be in a very specific zone to jam out to an instrumental piece for that long. Bands in the ’70s loved letting their songs loose in this long form kind of way. Led Zeppelin, Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead. But I was a little surprised to find a band like Average White Band, not commonly categorized as a “jam” band, doing the same thing.

The other interesting thing about this song is that it is actually culled together from several different live shows on this tour. Since it features several members doing solos, they recorded several different shows and each member was able to choose the specific solo they wanted to featured from a specific show. It’s all spliced together and sounds fluid enough that I wouldn’t have noticed had I not uncovered it in doing research.

But there are parts of this album that could’ve been tightened. I would’ve rather heard another original cut from the band than a 10-minute cover of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” to close the album out. The long cuts of “T.L.C.” and “Pick Up The Pieces” also could’ve been shortened and left more room for other songs.

There are some awesome tunes on here though too. “Cloudy” and “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” are both slices of almost Bee Gees-level tightness in the soul/pop arena, and “I’m The One” and “Love Your Life” both have sample-ready horn parts (Exhibit A: A Tribe Called Quest’s “Check The Rhime”). But ultimately I’m left with the feeling that I’d enjoy the studio versions a bit more. A little more palatable than 18 minutes of the same song.

Top 3 Tunes:

  1. If I Ever Lose This Heaven
  2. I’m The One
  3. Love Your Life
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