James Gang: Thirds


APRIL 1971 (41 YEARS AGO)
James Gang: Thirds is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 4/5
# allmusic 4/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Thirds is the third studio album by James Gang, released in 1971, and is the last studio album led by Joe Walsh. “Walk Away” was released as a single, making the Top 40 on at least one national chart, reaching #51 on the Billboard Hot 100, the best placement of a James Gang single. The album reached Gold status in July 1972.
On the liner notes to the LP version of this 1971 album, Joe Walsh is credited with “guitar, vocals, and train wreck” for his work on the song “Walk Away”. The third element was a wry commentary on the multi-tracked, cascading lead guitars that clash as the song fades out.
Thirds would be James Gang’s final studio recording with singer/guitarist Joe Walsh. From the soul/gospel inflections of “White Man/Black Man” to the string arrangements of “Again,” and the country rock of “Dreamin’ in the Country,” Thirds was the band’s most diverse outing to date, but the centerpiece was the rocker “Walk Away,” which remains one of the band’s best-known tunes. Walsh would soon walk away himself, replaced by Domenic Troiano, and later by Tommy Bolin, so Thirds is the last waltz for the classic version of the James Gang, whose popularity would soon begin to decrease even as Walsh’ own star continued to rise, on his own and then with the Eagles.
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE REVIEW
By no exertion of the imagination are James Gang the greatest rock and roll band ever to walk the face of the earth or anything (although some maintain that they are the greatest rock and roll band ever to have walked the face of Cleveland, Ohio), but they are capable of some nice little treats every now and again.
As a lead guitarist Joe Walsh ain’t gonna cure any cripples, for even though he possesses sufficient restraint and expertise with his wall of amplifingers and arsenal of electronic doo-dads to make your average heavy-trio guitarist pass out from envy, he scarcely ever fails to stick a few bars of hackneyed doodlings in before and after his moments of genuine inspiration, invention, ingenuity, insouciance, and/or industry.
Nevertheless, he writes pleasant little tunes that he sings in a pleasant little voice. “Walk Away,” for instance (wherein the Gang bang and bash in a manner more reminiscent of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre than of their namesakes), is catchy, tuneful, and capable of inducing the uninhibited to perform the funky chicken, skate, hitchhike, or other teenage dance. And even though Joe is no terrible shakes as a balladeer, his slower tunes “Again” and “It’s All The Same” nonetheless emerge slightly enjoyable owing to the pretty horns and pretty acoustic guitar riff they’re endowed with, respectively. Pretty.
“Midnight Man,” though, is Joe Walsh at his best when all is said and done. Never mind that in several ways it’s an unblushing, ahem, ripoff of “Nowhere Man” — can anyone deny that the Hawaiian guitar and background singing are real, real nice? Furthermore, what I personally love most about it is how, after Joe’s sung two verses about how he’s the midnight man, blah blah, a young lady with a fabulous silky and completely expressionless 1962 voice comes in to sing the third verse to the midnight man, or, in this case, Joe. It’s so fucking cute your mind will fall out.
Mine did.
Right after “Walk Away” there’s a pleasant supper-club background jazz work-out featuring Jim Fox on vibes (no pun intended) called “Yadig,” which for no discernable reason makes the reviewer yearn to say, “James Gang In A Mellow Mood At The Club Relaxez.”
I should mention drummer Jim Fox’s “Live My Life Again” because it’s the only interesting words on the album (and, debatably, the worst guitar solo). Perhaps Pete Townshend, who’s reportedly an admirer of both, could introduce King Crimson’s lyricist to James Gang. It’d be worth a try.
The rest of the album is just kinda real negligible, albeit listenable, except for bassman Dale Peters’ “White Man/Black Man,” a real no-two-ways-about-it embarrassment in the form of an overproduced plea for Greater Understanding between the races so that we can all Live Together. In that Mr. Peters’ other contribution to Thirds, “Dreaming In The Country,” is the obligatory shitkicking throwaway, it might be judicious of Walsh, Fox, a concerned roadie, the group’s manager, Bill Szyczyk, or the president of ABC Records to throttle him the next time the look in his eyes says, “I gotta new ‘riginal!”
Thus it can be seen that, although James Gang are by no exertion of the imagination the greatest rock and roll band ever to walk the face of the earth (outside Cleveland, Ohio), they are capable of some nice little treats every now and again. Bless them.
~ John Mendelsohn (July 22, 1971)
TRACKS:
All songs by Joe Walsh, except where noted.
“Walk Away” – 3:32
“Yadig?” (Jim Fox, Dale Peters, Joe Walsh) – 2:32
“Things I Could Be” (Fox) – 4:18
“Dreamin’ In The Country” (Peters) – 2:59
“It’s All The Same” – 4:13
“Midnight Man” – 3:29
“Again” – 4:04
“White Man/Black Man” (Peters) – 5:38
“Live My Life Again” (Fox) – 5:25
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