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C.A.T: Wheels of Fire

Cream – Wheels of Fire (1968)
In honor of the event “Hippiefest 2008”, which I attended on July 12th to see Jack Bruce (See “The Ottman Prophecies” for the full story) I decided to do a Cream album for this week’s classic album and why not an album that recently enjoyed it’s 40th anniversary? Cream’s psychedelic blues opus “Wheels of Fire” easily the most experimental album of their brief but memorable run.

Working closely with future Mountain bassist Felix Pappalardi, who would act as producer while also playing viola, bells, organ and brass on the album, Cream cut this epic double album Wheels of Fire. Spawning such hits as the poetic, wah guitar infused “White Room” and Clapton’s legendary rendition of Robert Johnson’s legendary blues standard “Crossroads” this would prove to be an impressive work from this band and era.

Musicianship here is nothing short of brilliant, as all three members show off their skill as the cream of the crop of British blues. Blues numbers like “Sitting on Top of the World” the Bruce penned “Politician” and Booker T. Jones’ “Born Under a Bad Sign” are stunning pieces chocked full of old Slowhand’s flawless guitar solos, Jack’s energetic bass lines and incredibly precise drum work from Ginger Baker. Not to forget the well layered vocals fronted by Bruce’s powerful Scottish howl and the obserd but memorable lyrics of Pete Brown.

One of my favorite aspects of this album is addition of more instruments to build up Cream’s already powerful sound. The ringing church bells of “Those Were the Days”, the morose violin work on numbers like “Deserted Cities of the Heart” and “As You Said” which accompanied by unique de-tunings and classical instruments like glockenspiels or bells sounds like a precursor to some of Led Zeppelin’s more acoustic, string based ventures and what can I say about “White Room”? It quickly became a great 60s rock standard.

Wheels of Fire may feel a tad exhausting by the time you reach the live portion of the album, but it’s completely worth wait for a number like “Crossroads”. Bruce and Baker’s rhythm is a dizzying orgy of immense grooves while Clapton shows us why so many call him a god. I could see why some could find this album too busy or complicated, but I say it’s a triumphant rock venture and once in a blue moon I still find myself coming back to it.

Favorite Tracks: “White Room”, “Deserted Cities of the Heart”, “Crossroads”

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