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Road Food
The Guess Who

RCA 0405
Released: May 1974
Chart Peak: #60
Weeks Charted: 26

Burton CummingsDismissed by snobbish critics as a clockwork singles machine, the Guess Who have continued selling albums and filling concert halls even after the hits stopped coming. They are part of no trend: As Canadians who chose to remain distant from both American and British rock cultures, they hover perpetually on the sidelines, continuing to evolve a unique brand of rock, admirably represented on their 11th RCA album, Road Food.

The Guess Who - Road Food
Original album advertising art.
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Road Food is filled with leader/singer Burton Cummings's intriguing variety of musical styles and bizarre lyrics. It is also thankfully free of filler. The music ranges from the blithe pop sound of the title track and "Star Baby" to the light jazz feel of "Straighten Out." Many songs evoke the pop/R&B styles of the Fifties and early Sixties, notably "Don't You Want Me" (with its Shirley & Lee piano), "Pleasin' For Reason," and the amusing "Clap for the Wolfman," a potential single with cameo interjections from the legend himself. The antique flavorings are subtle: The ambience is contemporary, with skillfull playing, smooth harmonies and Cummings' nonpareil vocals.

Lyrically Cummings mixes distorted snatches of classic rock & roll songs, sardonic commentary on the travails of touring, and tantalizing, if meaningless, images. "Hurricane wonder boy scratchin' for the scrunge now" or "Well, have you ever seen a Madras monkey/ Have you ever seen an Orlon eel?" reach the heights of whimisical absurdity, but "Don't You Want Me?" (redone from a previous LP) is a ridiculously exaggerated and bloodthirsty jealousy number.

The murky images come together in "Ballad of the Last Five Years," a moody, melodic blues higly reminiscent of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks monoliths: It's a haunting climax for a first-class album from one of rock's most consistently fascinating maverick bands.

- Ken Barnes, Rolling Stone, 6-20-74.

Bonus Review

The last Guess Who album I heard was #10, and, although I admired some of the lines in the lyrics, I had no idea what the songs were about. I much prefer Road Food, which contains some very funny and perfectly executed burlesques, among them a slaughtering of mid-Fifties jazz vocals in "Straighten Out," a series of violent threats to a girl friend with perky rhythms á la Fat's Domino's version of "Jambalaya" called "Don't You Want Me," and a trio of songs about touring, disc jockeys, and being in the music business as a performer. "Road Food" (the tune) is about the grisly hangers-on a band is likely to meet on tour -- drunks, perverts, small-time amateur chippies. "Clap for the Wolfman" features the salutations of Wolfman Jack, now one of New York's leading disc jockeys after a long career on the West Coast.

After enjoying Guess Who's comments on the music business and what is laughingly termed rock-and-roll these days, I couldn't help but wonder why, if they dislike the whole silly mess so much, they don't get out of it. It seems to me that the group will have to either come to terms with their place and station or chuck the whole job. But that may be a long time away. In the meantime, their recorded complaints are highly entertaining.

- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 9/74.

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