Reissued at last, now the world can finally catch up...
Chris Jones 2003
Much is made of the failures of Terry Reid's career. The man who turned down the vocalist slot in Led Zeppelin (and recommended Robert Plant to Jimmy Page); the man who as a teenage prodigy had his early albums irreparably mangled by manager/producer Mickie Most; in short a man who many name-drop as the artist who fate dealt a bad hand. Yet, few people actually mention his triumphs. For, following a seemingly endless search for a sound and working methodology to suit his incredible voice, Reid did strike creative gold by the early 70s and River was to be his masterpiece.
High profile tours in the US throughout the late 60s supporting the likes of Cream and the Rolling Stones (Terry was at Altamont on that fateful night) honed his craft into something almost totally new at the time. On his journey he'd befriended legendary multi-instrumentalist David Lindley of psychedelic world music pioneers, Kaleidoscope (coincidentally one of Jimmy Page's favourite bands), whose slide work graces River. An incendiary live turn was captured on film during the 1971 Glastonbury festival and it showed how Terry's funky folk blues was evolving into a similar abstraction that Van Morrison had stumbled over with Astral Weeks.
It's this jazzy abstraction that makes River such a treasure. With Lindley in tow, Reid made his first attempt to capture his muse in London with Yes's engineer Eddie Offord, but too much 'looseness' made the results somewhat frustrating. Only the freeform acoustic tracks, ''Dream'' and ''Milestones'', survive from these sessions and, while the meandering scat style is hard to grasp at first, the whole ambience is insidious, just as the theme of the river and its journey pervades the whole album.
Moving to America and working with Atlantic Recordsüber-producer Tom Dowd, the album became a yin-yang experience, with its first side a bluesy electric trip through just three prolonged jams, and the second featuring the two aforementioned tracks plus two other acoustic beauties (''Live Life'' and the sublime ''River'').
Lindley's guitar work is as fluid as Reid's way with words. Phrases and lines become mere sounds in Terry's mouth. To call these tone poems 'rambling' is to misunderstand the deeply charged emotion and pioneering spirit that marked the turbulent recording process. The river theme is perfectly mirrored by song structures that flow, ebb and never, for one instant, remain static. Of course, the Reid jinx wasn't lifted by this wonderful album. One more classic (Seed Of Memory) was to follow in 1976 and then it seemed as if Terry and the world reconciled themselves to never being as huge as he undoubtedly deserved to be. His influence on subsequent artists was, however, significant. Just try listening to Robert Palmer's Sneaking Sally Through The Alley after this album! Reissued at last, now the world can finally catch up...