Mike Sponza is a bluesman with a sense of adventure, some impressive collaborators and a great feel for his work. Made in the Sixties was released in the UK on November 23rd and is bold, if not audacious, in what it does.
The album has ten songs, one for each year of the sixties. Given the iconic status the decade has in both our wider cultural life and in the development of sophisticated modern music, this is some challenge. That the album pulls it off is even better. The first track ‘1960 – Made In The Sixties’ opens with drum and brass and the lyric “It was a great time for beginning” and the album closes with ‘1969 Blues For The Sixties’ in the video link below and the ending lyric, “I’m looking at my life/I see the sixties everywhere”. For all ten tracks I’ve been hooked.
Conceptually the album takes us through the decade good and bad “On the one hand the glamour and swing, and on the other, the dark and problematic side” is how Sponza describes his album. He covers the darkness of the Cuban missile crisis on ‘1962 – A Young Londoners Point Of View On Cuban Crisis’ “we didn’t even know in the far off days/Just how close it came to cancel our best decade” and JFK’s death on ‘1963 – Day Of The Assassin’; by contrast, he merges many images of the sexy sixties, most obviously a cartoon of Honey Rider on the CD and the name of Pussy Galore on the title of ‘1964 – Glamour Puss’, someone for whom “all the traffic halts”; the summer of love is treated to a Dana Gillespie vocal on ‘1967 – Good Lovin’’.
Musically the album works by keeping to a consistent style (it could have developed from, say, simple blues in 1960 to sophisticated blues in 1969 in line with the decade’s musical growth) which references the later years of the sixties – that intensely creative period, post-Revolver, Disraeli Gears, Are You Experienced et al when blues drove rock forward and combined with soul, jazz, gospel, Latin influences to move us from the black and white of early rock and roll to a more colourful soundscape as music paralleled the development of visual media.
Lyrically it’s also subtle and equivocal, the sixties are seen as both dark and glamorous. Dylan’s influence is referenced not just for his impact on lyrics but his wider musical development on ‘1965 – Even Dylan Was Turning Electric’. This is another lovely song with Eddi Reader providing vocals on a track that has an arrangement that brings to mind some of Joe Cocker’s best.
Made In The Sixties is an album I’ve really enjoyed listening to. Joe Cass’s production alludes to the style of the sixties and the tracks would grace any soundtrack from the era – just look at the video below: big house, white sports car, mini dress, shades, retro mic, 7” single, alcohol as sophistication – but this is a modern blues-based album with Sponza taking us through the decade in music which is simultaneously refined and just great fun to listen to.
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‘1969 – Blues For The Sixties’ – official video: