At the age of 21, Marshall Chess left college to join his dad and uncle at the blues and jazz colossal Chess/Cadet Records. Eager to push the business into a modern sound, Chess started Cadet Concept, where genres were blended and sprinkled with psychedelic vibes. The experiment ended shortly after the business was sold in 1969. However, before the doors closed in 1970, the stunning self-titled album from the nine-piece jazz/blues/rock band Archie Whitewater was released.
The first four songs vary in style from twangy blues to hippie jazz to folky twinges. The group has a rotating cast of lead vocalists, and all avoid the over-singing/soul-shouting that a lot of other bands of that era fell victim to. On the fifth cut, “Friends and Neighbors,” the album takes a turn from solid to sublime. The song floats along with the guitar and Fender Rhodes playing chords propelled by light, tasteful drumming. The lyrics are a mix of beauty and melancholy, leaving me wondering if it is a sad or a sweet goodbye.
Side B starts with an effortless blend of blues and rock on “Country to the City.” The fast pace and energy of the following song, “Home Again,” set the stage perfectly to bring in the next tune, the impeccable “Cross Country.” The bass, drums, and Rhodes start playing into the top of the tune where the magic between keys and trombone takes over. If you have heard “Chapter 13″ by Common, you will have an “ah-ha” moment.
The song’s abstract lyrics are delivered in a way that feels both melancholy and uplifting. The structure of the song is unique but somehow delivers in pop-like efficiency. After the first verse/chorus combo, the vibes get a solo, the sax gets a solo, then we come back around for another verse/chorus before the song sadly resolves at just over three minutes.
The rest of the album doesn’t match the heights of “Cross Country,” it but has moments: “Lament of The Walking Dead” is eloquently somber. “Seacoast” is a trippy, tranquil meditation on the ocean before the side ends with the instrumental “Hulk.”
The dustbin of history and dollar bin of many a record store have evidence of bands that did their best to mimic the “horn rock” superstars of the day. Thanks to Marshall Chess’s pursuit of new and exciting sounds, we get to enjoy Archie Whitewater’s pursuit of something more earnest and unique.