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Wednesday 12 June 2024

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Luther Grosvenor. Under Open Skies. Remastered & Expanded

Mar 6, 2023

Best known for his tenure as guitarist in Mott The Hoople under the non de plume Ariel Bender, prior to his madcap alter-ego, Grosvenor was a talented and respected player who had made his name with bluesy progressives Spooky Tooth in the late sixties and early seventies. Such was the esteem in which he was held he was rumoured to be on the Rolling Stones radar to replace the late Brian Jones.

Spooky Tooth were critical darlings, yet despite that, success was patchy and disillusioned the group  split in 1970. Grosvenor was immediately offered a solo deal by the Spooky’s  label Island and despite no pedigree as a writer turned in this promising collection released originally in 1971. A period piece for sure, it’s a record that highlighted a deal of versatility. Without the straight-jacket of band politics it allowed Grosvenor to really stretch out. Encompassing hard rock, folk and even country, Grosvenor showed he had the chops in abundance, his playing lending subtlety to quieter numbers and displaying the incendiary fire that became his trademark in his hard rocking days with Mott and Widowmaker.

Whoever sequenced this album though did it no favours by placing Ride On as the opening track – a fairly lame directionless jazz tinged effort. It’s followed by an altogether different beast and a definite highlight in the form of the acoustically driven ‘Here Comes the Queen’. A tune that later surfaced in Mott The Hoople’s live set, it sways along with goodtime vibes and some fine dobro playing that put you in mind of Ronnie Lane or McGuiness Flint and with a slightly stronger hook could have been a hit.

Followers of the hard rockin’ supergroup Widowmaker, which featured Steve Ellis ( Love Affair ) alongside Grosvenor, will be familiar with ‘When I Met You’. Always a storming track live, here we find the original and to my mind a rawer and more potent version which features a blistering outro that demands the listener to turn up the volume.

By way of contrast we find the reflective folk of ‘Love This Way’. This captures some fine acoustic playing that could easily be mistaken for an outtake from Led Zeppelin 3, which was also released during this era, on an introspective tune that bears comparison with Jimmy Page. Tasty.

Sadly, the rest of the album is a mish-mash of ideas that fails to hang together in any cohesive way. It’s a pity that the promise shown in flashes was not allowed to flourish on a second solo record. Shortly after its release he joined Gerry Rafferty and company in Stealers Wheel for a short stint, before donning his stack heels and sequined beret and joining Mott The Hoople for the final days of glam rock. Widowmaker was his last shot at the big time and where his development as a writer deserved more – but that’s another story.

Lyndon Noon

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