Review Summary: Spirit's final release before Randy California's untimely demise. A warm and engaging collection of blues standards and original material from a sadly underrated musician.
If you were to mention the name 'Randy California' these days most people would hazard a guess that you might be referring to a new fly-on-the-wall TV series about the underground sex industry in The Golden State. Such was the lack of recognition that guitarist and songwriter Randy Craig Wolfe achieved during his career. Randy was the archetypal nearly man. Nearly a member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the age of 15. Nearly famous for the opening passages of Stairway To Heaven (which was stolen by Jimmy Page from the Spirit song 'Taurus' and never credited). Admired for his songwriting skills and guitar prowess but never quite making it into the big time before his untimely drowning at the age of 45 while rescuing his son off the coast of Molokai in Hawaii.
'California Blues' was the last album to be released just prior to Randy's death and is, as the title suggests, mainly a blues driven affair. Randy was an effortless player and this is immediately apparent on the title track opener with its slide guitar fills and lead flourishes. Rachel Andes provides some wonderfully homely vocals that suit the earthy bluesiness of the music to perfection which is exemplified on 'The River' with its rolling country twang. The utterly beautiful ballad 'Call On Me' also features a wonderful vocal contribution from Andes as she takes up a duet with the main man himself. The album also includes some live blues standards including a great version of Hendrix's 'Red House' and the Spencer Davis Group's 'Gimme Some Lovin' as well as a passable rendition of Robert Johnson's 'Crossroads'.
Randy's band Spirit released 14 albums spanning a 30 year period from the late 60's to the late 90's covering a whole range of styles from psychedelic and proto-prog to hard rock, blues and jazz. While nothing remarkable when compared to some of the more experimental albums that Spirit released in their early days this is still a very enjoyable collection of songs. There is a warm and endearing earthiness to the music, especially in the Randy California penned tracks, which makes for an undemanding yet engaging listen. Blues fans should certainly give this a try.