Ian Gillan was one of the foremost vocalists of the heavy metal style of rock that emerged in the 1970s, earning his greatest renown as a member of Deep Purple, though he also led bands named after himself…
At this point in his career, Ian Gillan really has nothing to prove to anyone in the rock world. He's created one of the most successful bands in the history of rock & roll, and has aged with a grace and class few of his contemporaries can rival. So it makes sense that Gillan's Inn is a relaxed affair and offers up a simple set of rock & roll without pretense or a bloated concept. Taking a cue from Santana's latest releases, a nonstop onslaught of guest appearances fills the rooms of Gillan's Inn, including Def Leppard's Joe Elliott, Joe Satriani, Roger Glover, Steve Morse, Jeff Healey, Uli John Roth, Ronnie James Dio, and Goo Goo Dolls pinup boy Johnny Rzeznik. The result is a 14-song session that's as much inoffensive fun as it is straight-ahead blues-tinged rock & roll.
First Blood harks back to the glory days of the '60s blues-rock boom – Mike Henderson and the Bluebloods' gritty sound is far from original, but years on the Nashville bar band circuit have honed their skills to a razor-sharp point, and the record is refreshingly raw and direct, distinguished by rock-solid musicianship.
In the mid- to late '70s, Michael Henderson had a reputation for being a quiet storm-oriented singer. R&B fans associated him primarily with romantic material, whether it was with Norman Connors ("Valentine Love," "You Are My Starship," "We Both Need Each Other") or on his own ("At the Concert," "Take Me, I'm Yours," "Be My Girl," "In the Night-Time"). But the success of the quirky "Wide Receiver" in 1980 reminded Henderson's admirers that he was also quite capable of delivering an aggressive funk jam. Nonetheless, romantic soul ballads and slow jams remained a high priority for him, and they dominate 1981's Slingshot (which was originally released on vinyl LP by Buddah before being reissued on CD by The Right Stuff in 1995 and Funky Town Grooves in 2011).
Within a refined setting of easy listening pop ballads and lightly funky up-tempo selections produced by Al McKay, Henderson proves himself an assured vocalist with mastery of clarity and phrasing. The problem here is the material isn't challenging enough – it's often formulaic and derivative of other early-'80s releases. Even a contribution from Stevie Wonder, "Crush on You," wanders into oblivion. But the singer's debonair tone and elegant, polished diction makes the weaker sound stronger. A perfect example is the mid-tempo "I'd Rather Be Gone," which suffers from a sleepy melody and clichéd rhythm arrangement.
Listening to Sketches of Life is something like finding a diamond midway through a box of Cracker Jack. It starts off with some typically easygoing midtempo quiet storm action that offers more cinders than real fire, but then it suddenly explodes with soul, jazz, and fusion – and some of the leader's finest performances this side of the old Crusaders. Henderson's trombone turbulence finds willing support from friends old (saxman Wilton Felder) and new (Rob Mullins, Dwight Sills), and these all-stars stretch the limits of the pop side of jazz. Especially impressive is Lee Oskar's bluesy, Toots Thielemans-styled harmonica playing. Henderson could do just fine without the rap and chant, but otherwise, he leads a fun-filled cruise through adventureland.