Since the dissolution of Cream in 1968, Jack Bruce has released a stylistic array of albums delving into the rock, jazz and classical genres he touched upon as a member of that seminal power trio. The personnel he has enlisted for his latest release, Silver Rails, is representative of that eclectic approach. They, along with the multi-instrumentalist/composer/vocalist himself, integrate the genres in a complementary fashion similar to Bruce’s writing collaborations.
Recording at Abbey Road Studios in London, no doubt accounts for the splendid clarity and depth of the sound here and it almost distracts from the unusually low-key start of “Candlelight” with its reggae rhythm accented by horns. The forlorn air of that song’s lyrics continues thru much of Silver Rails, but with “Reach for the Night,” the mood becomes incrementally brighter with each successive track. Written with well-known lyricist Pete Brown, “Fields of Forever” reads particularly autobiographical and is further noteworthy as one of the few tracks here without the deceptively unobtrusive participation of keyboardist John Medeski, with Bruce a co-member of the Tony Williams tribute band Spectrum Road.
Drummer Cindy Blackman Santana also partnered in that ensemble and she sits at the kit on one of the more compact arrangements here, the hard-hitting quartet alignment of “No Surrender.” In marked contrast, Santana also aids Medeski in deftly maintaining both the odd time signature and ambiance conjured up with the presence of multiple vocalists on “Hidden Cites;” A tribute to Rob Cass’ production savvy that the esoteric atmosphere on that cut comes to a clearly-defined conclusion and that it’s followed by the comparatively straightforward “Don’t Look Now,” where Bruce’s familiar falsetto voice makes its debut; here too Medeski’s organ and Mellotron complements the leader’s dominant piano playing
Guitar isn’t particularly prominent on Silver Rails, so when it does appear, even fleetingly so on that cut, it catches the ear as distinctly as the credit for Robin Trower’s contribution on “Rusty Lady” catches the eye. Not surprisingly, the latter’s blues-drenched solo on that cut is appropriate to the riff at its foundation (not to mention the obliquely bitter tone of Pete Brown’s arcane imagery). The album’s superb pacing continues with Bruce singing at the ivories with only Tony Remy on acoustic guitar for the haunting “Industrial Child.” A duet in a wholly different realm follows on “Drone,” where the bassist chants along with his instrument and Milos Pal on drums.
Because so little of this music is predictable in the least, the distinct singularity of the ten cuts on Silver Rails may come across as indecipherable as the front, back and inner cover art. Yet with each one so well-wrought, Jack Bruce has only set a challenge to listeners the likes of which he has continuously set for himself during the course of his career: asking them to stretch beyond the proverbial comfort zone where lies the unusual satisfaction of music that simultaneously defies and exceeds expectations.