Average White Band: Cut The Cake (Atlantic)

Hamish Stuart (guitar, vocals), Alan Gorrie (bass, vocals), Onnie Mclntyre (guitar), Roger Ball (keyboards, alto and baritone saxophones), Malcolm Duncan (tenor saxophone), Stephen Ferrone (drums, percussion), Ray Barretto (congas). Produced by Arif Mardin.

THE AVERAGE WHITE Band’s last album, and particularly the success of ‘Pick Up The Pieces’, the track which became a smash 45 on both sides of the Atlantic, established the band’s credibility as r&b musicians. There’s still a suspicion, however, that at least some of the acclaim for the AWB was based on the fact they are white. Like Joe Bugner, the band’s importance was inflated through novelty value, without a proper assessment of the AWB in an r&b context.

It would be a great pity if white-men-singing-the-blues became the only criterion for judging the band. The AWB are excellent musicians who have moulded a number of influences, especially from James Brown, into their own characteristic style. And it’s good enough to be accepted by the r&b audience – their new album’s high position on the American soul chart as confirmation of that.

AWB’s debut album; Show Your Hand, showed their potential although maybe they tried too hard to achieve some kind of “authenticity” as a soul group, a factor which was largely eradicated by the time of their second album and the band’s label switch to Atlantic. Indeed, ‘Pick Up The Pieces’, which was not even the stand-out cut from that album, was a compulsive tune surely destined to become a standard r&b instrumental.

This new album, however, is a disappointment compared with the general quality of music on Average White Band. The AWB’s style, while distinctive, also tends to be inflexible. This hardly mattered when the band were coming up with tracks like ‘Got The Love’, ‘Person To Person’ and their version of the Isley Brothers’ ‘Work To Do’ on the previous album. But Cut The Cake contains few songs on that excellence and, with weaker material, the horn-dominated style of the band tends to become a little wearisome.

Simply, the songs on Cut The Cake are not strong enough to sustain an album. If Average White Band had an immediate feeling of familiarity, most of the songs on the new album are still somewhat anonymous, despite repeat playings. There are exceptions, of course. The title track, particularly, with its staccato rhythm and neat guitar riff embellishing an uptempo, makes it as one of the few highlights.

And ‘It’s A Mystery’, a love song which relies on the singer’s emotional commitment rather than the lyric, also works well, with a delicate conga beat supplied by salsa star Ray Barretto adding to the texture of the music.

But too many of the slow numbers which dominate the album, sink into sameness, dragging out standard AWB riffs almost to the point of tedium, especially on the second side. There are also up-tempo numbers like ‘Groovin’ The Night Away’, but they are not sufficiently interesting to pull the album together.

Coming after Average White Band, this album fails to live to expectations. As an r&b album, indeed, it rates pretty average.

© Rob PartridgeMelody Maker, 19 July 1975

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