From the Record Shelf: Alone Together

Dave Mason’s “Alone Together” (1970) leapt off the shelf at me, and not just because it’s on marble vinyl and Mason autographed it when he played downtown Albany’s Alive at Five summer freebie concert series. Maybe because I think it’s his best.

Mason recorded “Alone Together” after touring with Delaney & Bonnie, an influence as clear as the earlier (mid-1960s) smash impact of Chicago blues on the Rolling Stones, Cream and other British bands. In fact, it’s a perfect echo that Eric Clapton personifies, as a member of blues power trio Cream, a touring member of Delaney & Bonnie and Tulsa shuffle enthusiast himself. 

“Alone Together” hit early in Mason’s up-and-down solo career, usually with solid but unremarkable bands. Meanwhile, he periodically stepped into a brighter spotlight with top-shelf collaborators, then just as quickly stepped back out.

The mercurial Mason joined and left Traffic three times, recorded on “Electric Ladyland” with Jimi Hendrix, then toured with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, all in the 1960s. In the early 70s, he recorded with George Harrison, who’d also toured with Delaney & Bonnie, as did Eric Clapton. A few years later, Mason became second guitarist in Derek & the Dominoes with Clapton but quit after recording a few songs and playing a single live gig before Duane Allman replaced him. After making solo albums and leading his own bands in the 1980s, he joined and left Fleetwood Mac in the mid-1990s, then quit a tour with Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band after rehearsals.

Mason’s 15 studio albums, six live sets, 12 compilations, plus several Traffic albums, include a full-album project with Cass Elliott, a song with Phoebe Snow and dozens of other sessions, most in the 1970s.

Dave Mason played the Union College Memorial Chapel in Schenectady, NY, in October 1972; six years after Jimi Hendrix played the same stage. Michael Hochanadel photo

The “Alone Together” album credits (using original spellings and with selected credits added) list Leon Russell (Delaney & Bonnie’s bandleader), Delaney & Bonnie themselves, Jim Capaldi (Mason’s bandmate in Traffic), John Simon (The Band’s producer), Jim Keltner (every great LA pop-rock record of the 70s, the Traveling Wilburys, Little Village), Jim Gordon (maybe as many top sessions as Keltner, Derek & the Dominoes), Chris Ethridge (the International Submarine Band, the Flying Burrito Brothers), Carl Radle (Delaney & Bonnie, Derek & the Dominoes, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, the Concert for Bengladesh), Larry Knectel (soon to found Bread), John Barbata (Jefferson Starship), Rita Coolidge and Claudia Lennear (both members of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends), Don Preston (Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention), Mike DeTemple, Jack Storti, Lou Cooper, Mike Coolidge, and Bob Norwood.

Eric Clapton isn’t in these credits or on the album, confusing listeners who thought Slowhand had played the guitar solos; no, it’s Mason. 

Mason produced “Alone Together” with Tommy LiPuma, and recorded in Los Angeles at Sunset Sound and Elektra Recording Studio with engineers Bruce Botnick and Doug Botnick; mix engineer was Al Schmitt.

“Alone Together” seems to zig-zag stylistically among Tulsa -time rockers (the Delaney & Bonnie/Leon Russell influence), bluesy pop (ala Clapton), quiet troubadour tunes and psychedelic guitar (Hendrix). Song by song, and most could have been hit singles, it traces a troubled emotional through-line in perhaps a single relationship. 

“Only You Know and I Know” – The album opens with this cautionary tale as mid-tempo Tulsa shuffle. A kicking bass line sets up laced guitars including a discrete interstitial acoustic, then an electric guitar solos with repeating triplets into a chorus with fine harmonies. As coda, an even better electric guitar solo revs up all the cool stuff from the first.

“Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving” – Lush acoustics beckon us into a dark night of the soul where dreams are hammered low and the troubles we try to leave behind crawl into the suitcase anyway.

“Waitin’ On You” – Tulsa time again, with beautifully-balanced keys and guitars; then harmonies carry us toward hope that is not easily won. There’s a cheerful, spunky break, then a chorus pledges to build happiness, if possible…

“Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave” – Another chiming keys and guitars tag-team, but also another roller-coaster accusation, in a stately build. Then a wah-wah electric guitar injects a mournful feel as the drums shift things up. Guitar and vocal join in a fatalism that edges into guarded optimism that the despairing opening returns to ice up again – beautiful pain.

SIDE 2

“World in Changes” – A crisp, meshed-acoustics intro, with organ edging into a fat-back groove. The vocal declares love a two-way street, like an announcement of something new. Then a powerful, surging organ solo pushes an upshift, cueing a falsetto vocal with exuberant whoops.

“Sad and Deep as You” – Slower, contemplative and just as emotionally complex and soft-spoken without drums or bass, this layers a gentle vocal on a firm piano line, positing the eyes as metaphor, tool and weapon.

“Just a Song” – Another warning, this soft-rock cautionary tale cruises mellow, a mid-tempo stutter-step shuffle spiced with banjo. Sweet women’s voices repeat Mason’s phrases declaring consolation and independence and “oooh” beautifully in the seams.

“Look at You Look at Me” – What a great build! Organ and piano chug under a plaintive vocal, then guitars shimmer to pick up the beat, the piano catches up and the vocal opens like a heart. The chorus – “I’m feeling, up I’m feeling down…but now my feet are on the ground for everyone to see” – curls with riffs that carry into an “All Along the Watchtower”* groove. Mason plugs in and hits full flight under the unguarded vocal admitting “I need you every day.” Mason takes it back down to acoustic guitar and piano before the electric edges in, takes over and guides the band’s lift-off echoing both “Sad and Deep as You” and “Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving.” Mason’s beautiful tone and graceful phrasing carry such emotion you want the fade to keep going since it soars to a ghostly but serene voice at the end.

Dave Mason at the Union College Memorial Chapel, Schenectady, NY. Michael Hochanadel photo

If the early songs feel edgy, like rocky waters, “Alone Together” glides into shore in a satisfying, mature resolution, noisy and proud. But, what else lurks on that misty island, that emotional land-fall?

  • Mason is entitled to evoke “All Along the Watchtower.” He played acoustic 12-string guitar on Hendrix’s immortal Dylan cover the year before he made “Alone Together” and recorded it himself on “Dave Mason” (1974, reissued 1995). On “Alone Together,” he echoes the ecstatic acoustic guitar chug that helped push Hendrix’s version. Also, check the new composite tag-team Playing for Change cover, featuring numerous artists who’ve played here including Warren Haynes, Cyril and Ivan Neville, Bombino and Amanda Shaw. 

From the Record Shelf: Accept No Substitutes

Son Zak suggested I grab and gab: pick out, listen to and talk about an album. So I picked a buried treasure, Accept No Substitutes, a half-forgotten masterpiece by Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. It’s a 1969 classic from the mid-south by way of LA, a record Jimi Hendrix described as “Call it spiritual, and leave it at that.” I’ve loved it since the summer of Woodstock.

Acceptmay be less well known than Motel Shot, a later effort whose bulging talent roster boasted British superstar Eric Clapton. “Slowhand”/God jumped the sinking ship of Blind Faith to sail instead on the soul-gospel-R&B wings of the loose crew of flyover-state pros Mississippian Delaney Bramlett recruited from LA’s Wrecking Crew studio gang. An elastic ensemble, Delaney and Bonnie’s “Friends” featured top talent including George Harrison, Duane and Gregg Allman, Dave Mason, King Curtis and more. Clapton once said Bramlett taught him how to sing. This album shows those lessons in Delaney’s confident soulful swagger. Then-wife Bonnie – likely the palest ever Ikette (background singer in Ike and Tina Turner’s Revue) – more than holds her own with power and subtlety. 

Like the Mad Dogs and Englishmen touring juggernaut he launched a few years later behind Joe Cocker, and with some of the same players, Leon Russell was the guiding principle shaping the Friends as keyboardist and arranger.  But here, the hit-record aim of LA studio cats animates the music more than the laid-back Tulsa shuffles that dominated his later music, while also miraculously retaining a proud regional tang.

Acceptis a glorious monster of deep soul. 

Only Dan Penn’s exhortation “Do Right Woman” stretches past five minutes and most tunes hit it and quit it in around three. They’re righteous radio-ready blasts of concise power. 

Like “Do Right,” many songs urge better behaviors, but without preaching or pretense. They deliver their wisdom from the neighboring barstool, not the pulpit. Huge sonic generosity confers a welcoming acceptance that renders the album title deliciously warm, un-ironic. 

There’s a dancefloor beat under nearly everything. Voices and horns mass into choirs with soloists standing up amid muscular harmonies. They shake out their robes and reach for the stars; most later became stars. The Friends on Acceptinclude future luminaries Jim Keltner, drums; Carl Radle, bass; trumpeter Jim Price, organist Bobby Whitlock and saxophonist Bobby Keys, guitarist Jerry McGee and singer Rita Coolidge. But the album is less about star-time than about speaking to us since these masters play with such low-key, well, human-ness and a well-oiled command of sounds that, like The Band’s music, predates commercial trends of the time. It helps that Keltner’s drum sound feels way clearer and cleaner than most percussion engineering of the time. 

The opening “Get Ourselves Together” enlists the listener in the vibe right out of the box. More than reminding us that we’re all in this together – a lesson compelling enough in these times – it announces that we’re doingthis together; active and energetic. Just try to listen passively to Accept– can’t be done.

Next, “Someday” revs the sonic-righteous force with a tempo shift in the middle that carries your pulse with it, inside it.

“Ghetto” is Delaney at his most powerfully plaintive, riding Russell’s choir-loft piano like sun sparkling on moving water, until women’s voices edge their way in, pushing him into falsetto, then shouts, as strings gang up on us for a minute.

A march beat chugs foursquare under “When the Battle Is Over,” Bonnie’s voice answering Delaney’s power in “Ghetto,” This time, stirring women’s voices lock to bluesy piano-and-guitar chords before Delaney knocks on the door, walks in, sings his piece (or peace?), both challenging and decorating Bonnie’s lead. On its face “Battle” may seem a simple, obvious report on the battle of the sexes – and Delaney and Bonnie divorced three years after this album hit. So the next three tunes – “Dirty Old Man,” “Love Me a Little Bit Longer” and “I Can’t Take it Much Longer” – deliver pleas powered by defiance more than desperation. In “Dirty Old Man,” Bonnie warns, “Darling, listen here” and growls strong in accusation.

If “Do Right Woman” is the album’s moral fulcrum, its last two tunes bear enough heft in exultant forgiveness to balance it. The pulsating “Soldiers of the Cross” waves the flag of united action, in humility, before breaking out into “This Little Light of Mine,” Bonnie leading in proud exhortation. After its up-and-down dynamic, you wipe sweat from your face and marvel that this great band drove us so hard in just a few breaths over three minutes.

Where to go from there but “Gift of Love” with its serene mid-tempo benediction reassuring us that “love is everywhere.”

As it fades, Bonnie’s voice rings in the choir behind Delaney’s comforting words.

Fast forward 44 years in a future post.