(All Album Reviews by Phil Jackson)
By the time of Overdog recorded between October 1970 and January 1971, the Keef Hartley Band had adopted a more overtly rock/ funk groove with less jazz (although this is still very influential). The first thing that strikes you is the vivid sound and Overdog is a very ‘immediate’ album that it’s impossible not to move one or two body parts to!
The band lays out its intentions early on with the funky Santana like opener “You Can Choose” with some great ‘chukka chukka’ and guitar solos from Miller Anderson and a brass arrangement by Dave Caswell. Anderson is developing as a guitar player and a writer as his guitar fills the catchy “Plain Talkin” prove. Beginning deceptively quietly with some Spanish flavoured acoustic guitar picking “Theme Song” reminded me at times of Chicago Transit Authority at full tilt. The 8 minutes not only features two drummers- Hartley joined by none other than Jon Heisman to thunderous effect- but a flute solo by Johnny Almond and an electric piano solo by Mick Weaver. It is no surprise that this track was chosen for the Deram collection Legend of a Mind.
There is more irresistible ‘funk’ on the title track and a concise guitar solo followed by an exquisite Weaver Hammond organ break. Another track chosen for the Legend of a Mind box set was “Roundabout” which revisits the jazz rock approach of previous works and proves what a dexterous bass player Gary Thain was and what an able substitute Peter Dines was on keyboards (Mick Weaver couldn’t make the sessions). The rousing interplay between tenor sax and trumpet is outstanding and Miller Anderson proves once again what a powerful vocalist and gifted a guitarist he was especially in the ingenuous blues-rock riff that starts and ends the number. If “Roundabout” is probably Anderson’s finest moment than it may also be Keef Hartley’s- it sounds as if there is two drummers on there but in fact there is only one!
The instrumental (with a little dialogue added in) “Imitations From Home” favours a more sedate approach with Jon Heisman on congas and some wistful trumpet from Caswell. “We Are All The Same” is a necessarily tranquil way to conclude the album given the high octane stuff that has gone before, a thoughtful ballad with backing vocals from three female singers whom Keef had been impressed by on the Val Doonican Show on TV!
There are two very worthwhile bonus tracks, both sides of a Deram single released in 1971- “Roundabout (Part One)” and “Roundabout (Part Two)”. Keef Hartley himself writes sleeve notes for the booklet that Overdog would be a more dynamic album than the three preceding it and he certainly succeeded in his goal of letting the musicians ‘flourish in a more creative environment’. Keef relates how he listened to bands like Jethro Tull, Ten Years After and Rory Gallagher warming up in the Marquee which was near to Trident Studios where three of the tracks for Overdog were recorded and how much this inspired him.
Overdog is an excellent sonic and visceral experience for anyone into classic jazz rock with obvious similarities to the musical direction taken by bands like Colosseum and also, in the introduction of a more ‘funky’ element, the music of Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express on albums like Second Wind and Closer to It. If you need any convincing start with “Theme Song” and take it from there- terrific stuff!