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Guitar Man

Elektra 75047
Released: November 1972
Chart Peak: #18
Weeks Charted: 29
Certified Gold: 11/21/72

On the basis of their prodigious string of hits, which began in 1970 with "Make It With You," Bread had probably accumulated several treasure chests filled with pieces of eight. It goes without saying that they are the current lightweight champs of AM rock, having succeeded such worthy L.A. wimp titleholders as the Association and the Turtles. Their ballads, sung by David Gates, who possesses pop's most floating tenor, are capable of evanescing from the tinny-sounding speakers of the car radio. Perhaps "Souffle" would have been a more felicitious choice of name for the band.

Significantly, Bread has never reached the Top Ten with a knockout rocker. Their sole attempt, "Mother Freedom," was a worthy effort but the faithful were not ready. Consequently Gates returned to his ballad book and the hits started coming again.

Guitar Man, which is Bread's fifth LP, includes no such hard-rock stab at the upper echelons of the charts, but it does clearly illustrate that the band is beginning to shake their arses a mite more, while retaining its strong soft-rock identity. To their credit, Bread has recorded its most satisfying work to date, although there are still kinks to be ironed out.

Strangely enough, the album's opener, "Welcome to the Music," is a vacuous dud which is designed to welcome us to the "show," a la Sgt. Pepper. The title cut should never have been placed in second position.

When Bread plays one of its immensely enjoyable, tightly paced concerts, they commence with a pair of lead guitarist James Griffin's hard rockers, such as "Don't Tell Me No" or "Fancy Dancer." While the Griffin tunes are not terribly strong compositionally, they do cook (pushed expertly by Mike Botts' drumming) and feature Griffin's slightly harsh vocals and intelligently edited guitar solos. Most importantly, the contrast in style provides an ideal setup for Gates' dulcet tones. But while Bread bungled the programming of the album they are guilty of few other miscues.

I could have done without the voodoo hoodoo of "Tecolote" and the dull, didactic cornpone of "Make It by Yourself" (Mott the Hoople should record a song by that name as an ode to the joys of the poor man's harem) but there is some worthwhile material here.

Gates' vocals always tread the fine line between the saccharine and the sublime but he always manages to pull it off, as in the title tune, "Sweet Surrender" (great lyric), "Didn't Even Know Her Name," which closes the album on a melodramatic note but is pleasing nonetheless, and "Aubrey," apparently destined to be the group's next single. And multi-instrumentalist Larry Knechtel, former studio man par excellence, is as formidable a player as Gates is a singer. Knechtel, incidentally, is the Guitar Man.

Whether or not Bread will ever rock & roll its way to a gold 45 remains to be seen. However, if you go to see the Guitar Man and confreres the next time they are in your town, you'll not only be treated to some of pop's most gorgeous ballads, you'll hear a most estimable rock band, as well. The proof is in this record.

- James Isaacs, Rolling Stone, 2-15-73.

Bonus Reviews!

Good, free-swinging, almost happy-time sounds abound here. The material isn't all that terrific, but Bread often surmounts it, as in their extremely fine performance of "Guitar Man." I confess this is one group whose music goes in one ear and out the other for me. I enjoy it moderately while I'm listening but I can never get very involved. Sorry.

- Peter Reilly, Stereo Review, 6/73.

Spotlighted here is the recent smash "Guitar Man," as well as their new fast chart winner, "Sweet Surrender." However, in addition, the dynamite program offers equally potent fresh material such as David Gates' ballad beauty, "Yours for Life," and the touching rhythm ballad "Make it by Yourself."

- Billboard, 1972.

Guitar Man stands out thanks to the title track, "Make It By Yourself," "Fancy Dancer," "Let Me Go" and Larry Knechtel's "Picture in Your Mind." * * * *

- Steve Holtje, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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