Sunday, September 24, 2006


by Wayne Robins

The rock scribe life is full of guilty pleasures, and this season mine is "Cactus V." That is, Cactus, roman numeral 5, the first new album by this hard rock band since 1972. Cactus, whose self-titled debut album peaked at No. 54 in 1970, was an unintentional parody of a super group. Perhaps their lack of modesty caused a bit of a backlash. Even now, the
Cactus Web site declares that the band was called "the American Led Zeppelin," but the source of the claim isn't clear. They were more like Bloodrock with a better logo.

Drummer Carmine Appice, a talented percussionist with no small ego, and bassist Tim Bogert had been in Vanilla Fudge; guitarist Jim McCarty, one of America's first, modest guitar heroes, had a most honorable career with Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. The original singer was the late Rusty Day, and the whole project seemed pointlessly over the top. After a few more albums and numerous personnel changes, Bogert and Appice teamed up with Jeff Beck, and I remember Epic Records throwing a huge gala at the Rainbow Room for the Beck, Bogert, Appice band after its hyped but hopeless debut at Radio City Music Hall.

Anyway, I thought I would play "Cactus V," released in July on a label called Escapi Music, for some comic relief. I got more than I bargained for: it kind of became my pet rock, my go-to album, as enjoyable and addicting as Tetris used to be on Game Boy. The singer is now Jimmy Kunes, who at one point sang with Savoy Brown. Smartly, Appice, who guides this project, has kept the sound and spirit of the band frozen in time. Appice, Bogert and McCarty had always been great players—it was taste that had always been a concern when running their own show. (One virtue you could never accuse Vanilla Fudge of having was restraint.) Their chops are indisputable, though, and Appice and Bogert were the dynamic rhythm section for Rod Stewart's band during an important piece of the 1970s.

They still play with drill team precision. Time has obviously not only made them more tasteful players; it's placed Cactus in a whole new frame. These songs have a solid foundation. "High in the City" could have been Foghat or Foreigner, and "Doin' Time" is as streetwise as Ludacris, in a completely different environment. Compared to the faceless, screaming, undisciplined metal bands of today, these guys sound like wizened delta bluesmen. So what if the lyrics are are as in-bred as ever. "Muscle and Soul" sounds like a tribute to an extremely fit Bada-Bing club dancer; "The Groover" is "no ordinary woman, she's no ordinary dame." And "Cactus Music" is about, well, Cactus music: "We supply the feeling, you supply the need...We are built for comfort, we are built for speed."

Original they ain't, but they make good on every boast. Guest harmonica player Randy Pratt keeps the blues snaking throughout, and the good time feeling of this old time rock'n'roll is so contagious, I'd call it the comeback of the year.

Google News

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?