John Kay's distinctive voice cut through radio with hits like "Magic Carpet Ride" and "Born to Be Wild." But on this LP there is none of the menacing growl found on his version of "The Pusher." What you will find here is Hank Williams' classic "You Win Again" with Kent Henry on simulated steel guitar, Hugh O'Sullivan on electric piano, George Biondo on bass, and the drummer from Lou Reed's Rock & Roll Animal band, Pentti "Whitey" Glan. The album was produced by the great Richard Podolor, who brought listeners Hoyt Axton and Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World." There is no Hoyt Axton here, but there are tunes by Richard Farina, Robert Johnson, Hank Snow, Patrick Sky, and the aforementioned Hank Williams, along with four Kay originals. To hear Kay droning "Christ will be our darling, and fear will be our name" on Farina's "Bold Marauder" is pretty chilling. Henry's acoustic guitar takes a back seat to Kay's dulcimer, and producer Podolor is on jaw bone and tambourine. This is a serious attempt by Kay to break away from the hard rock persona he established with Steppenwolf. That he pulls it off is impressive. Two years prior to this, John Phillips had a Top 40 hit with "Mississippi" on this same label, Dunhill, so it's not like the elements weren't in place for the lead vocalist from a superstar act to branch out. It's just that a six-minute composition like Kay's "Two of a Kind" was not going to get substantial AM radio airplay. Having Podolor perform on mandolin and organ with Kay providing vocals and guitar suggests that they were having fun more than looking for a hit single. If country radio had a tough time accepting Olivia Newton John, well, Steppenwolf's lead vocalist was not about to cross over as quickly as Brenda Lee. With just Biondo on bass and himself on harp and bottleneck guitar, Kay delivers a great version of Robert Johnson's "Walkin' Blues." This album is not what you'd expect, and that's part of what's so special about it. When Grace Slick does her own version of the Starship's No Protection on her Software album (and should be commended for such a bold move) and when Neil Young gives the world Trans, they shake things up. John Kay was not a star on the same level as Slick and Young, which makes his leap all the more admirable. The best track on this excellent album just may be Kay's own composition "Somebody," featuring the full band and gospel-style vocals from Marsha Jo Temmer, Joan Sliwin, and Alexandra Sliwin. Hank "Singing Ranger" Snow's "I'm Movin' On" comes as close to Steppenwolf as this album gets. Kay says that his version is closer to Ray Charles than Snow, but this track gives the artist and his fans that trademark snarl and a nice dark production. At three minutes and ten seconds, and with the nick of Three Dog Night's song "Liar" at the beginning, it's too bad radio didn't pick up on this fine work.
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