Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Canned Heat

  • Hallelujah [Liberty, 1969] B-
  • Vintage [Janus, 1969] E
  • Future Blues [BGO, 1970] A-
  • Historical Figures and Ancient Heads [United Artists, 1972] C-
  • The Very Best of Canned Heat [Capitol, 2005]  

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Hallelujah [Liberty, 1969]
The best Canned Heat lp solely because it contains four (of 11) cuts by Alan Wilson, who has one of the great freak voices and writes songs to match. As usual, it is dominated by Bob "Rastus" Hite, who must have been responsible for Rolling Stone's suggestion that the next Canned Heat album be called "Yassuh Boss." He is most offensive on one of those "introducing the band" jams ("Henry shoah does have the feelin', yeah") and on another exercise in solipsism called "Canned Heat." I am sure I only forgive him his version of Fats Domino's "Big Fat" because I don't happen to know the original. Still, Wilson's talent is too peculiar to fill an album. I wonder what should be done with him. B-

Vintage [Janus, 1969]
I don't care how much you like the group, this collection of three-year-old tapes, rechanneled for stereo and running all of 23.12 minutes (that's right, it's really an E plus) insults your income and your intelligence. Are there really white blues scholars who want to know what the Bear sounded like when he was pure? Ridiculous, and sad. E

Future Blues [BGO, 1970]
However much sense Alan Wilson's death meant in his life, which was never happy, it was inappropriate to his art, which until the end continued to thrive in that strange, mildly affectless, ruefully blissed-out dreamscape he discovered in country blues. On this record his creative force, never imposing but always there to be enjoyed, is at a peak, and the rest of the band finally coheres--Bob Hite sounds like himself, and Harvey Mandel sounds like he and the rhythm section were made for each other. The first side, which runs through Wilson's "Shake It and Break It" and the painful "My Time Ain't Long" before climaxing with Wilbert Harrison's "Let's Work Together," is the prize. I'm very sorry there won't be more like it. A-

Historical Figures and Ancient Heads [United Artists, 1972]
The most honest thing about this automatic boogie is the title: what can you do when Little Richard sounds as false as Bob Hite except contemplate the past? C-

The Very Best of Canned Heat [Capitol, 2005]
Canned Heat was the most authentic of the '60s white blues bands because it was formed by two genuine blues collectors: big friendly baritone Bob Hite, nicknamed Bear, and weird scrawny tenor Alan Wilson, nicknamed Blind Owl. Appropriating likely tunes from Chicago bluesman Floyd Jones and songster Henry Thomas, Wilson scored two unlikely 1968 hits before OD'ing in 1970, and lead vocalist Hite charted with Wilbert Harrison's r&b strut "Let's Work Together." There have been many more distinguished white blues singers than Hite, who died of a heart attack after a gig in 1981, the same killer that took guitarist Henry Vestine in 1997. Doomed though it was, however, Canned Heat's cheerful hippie vibe reflected their pleasure in going public with the music they'd helped rediscover, and that pleasure is still audible. [Blender: 3]  

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]

See Also