has been stubbornly reticent about the distiribution of his catalog in the wake of the CD and the rise of streaming services, so the issue of his early output on Heavy Music: The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-1967
is a sign of astute archiving. Ten tracks on a single disc isn't usually a treasure trove, at least on the surface, but the reality is this constitutes a comprehensive collection befitting its title, its music remastered by Robert Vosgian (for at least a modicum depth), a package adorned with vintage graphics (right down to the design of the vinyl record label) plus a well-written set of liner notes that covers not just the history of the artist's work, but outlines a clearly-defined backdrop against which it is set.
Slight as it may sound to some, "Heavy Music" is that Seger song referenced in so many reviews and articles leading up to and beyond his breakthrough in 1976 with Live Bullet
(Capitol, 1976) and Night Moves
(Capitol, 1976). And rightly so, particularly when the Detroit native was excoriated for the overly-polished likes of Stranger in Town
(Capitol, 1978): the rough-hewn soul in the singing on this cut, combined with such propulsive backing, is the polar opposite of that product. With the titlesong's "(Part 2)" ideally sequenced as the penultimate cut on this collection, hearing the frontman once again urging his band to ratchet itself up to his own level of intensity proves the impact of first half was no illusion.
"East Side Story" isn't much less dramatic, only in a different way. There's a story to be told here, laid out with increasing suspense that emanates from the musicianship as much as lyrics til it all ends, seemingly abruptly, but actually with a supreme logic. Here is a time when Bob Seger was willing to leave something to the imagination, confident his listeners could hear between the lines and equally proud of the chops of his band. While this tune may offer the most universal interpretations, "Chain Smokin'" is equally vivid in its portrayal of struggles with nicotine.
In contrast to the original voice on those tracks, "Persecution Smith" is all-too-reminiscent of Bob Dylan
circa Highway 61 Revisited
(Columbia Records, 1965), specifically its title song. It's readily simple to identify the skewed vocal intonations, the near-absurd depiction of the characters and even the hell-bent lead guitar that might be more potent if it wasn't borrowing so heavily from Michael Bloomfield
, American's first guitar hero. "Vagrant Winter" was released two months later, in April 1967, and shows just how fast Seger was making progress as a songwriter and singer: it only slightly echoes the The Rolling Stones
' "Paint It, Black."
That single's flip-side, "Very Few," is quasi-balladry suggesting its author was not yet comfortable with the vocal expression of tender sentiment: it is exactly the kind of track designed for B-sides of single, to make sure the A-side got the proper rotation. Likewise the novelties coupled in November of 1966: composed by Seger's long-time manager, Punch Andrews, "Florida Time"is patently derivative of the early The Beach Boys
paeans to cars and carefree living, right down to the falsetto background singing, while a similarly baldfaced imitation, but a markedly affectionate demonstration thereof (as duly observed by essayist Jim Allen), is "Sock It to Me Santa,"homage to the 'Godfather of Soul,' James Brown
Englightening without ever sounding dated, at least within the high points of its roughly twenty-five minutes of playing time, Heavy Music: The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-1967
recalls an era when Bob Seger wasn't too careful for his own good. As a result, the repeated hearings it compels reaffirms just how timeless are these self-produced sounds from a man who elevated the appellation 'journeyman' to a high prestige.