With two Elvis Presley covers and totaling 30 minutes, the listener cannot be faulted for feeling shortchanged. Luckily, the music makes up for it. Those two Presley songs aren’t straight renditions; “All Shook Up” is turned inside out, while “Jailhouse Rock” packs quite a punch. In between, “Spanish Boots” shows off Rod Stewart as a premier shouter, and “Girl From Mill Valley” is a gorgeous tune by Nicky Hopkins that doesn’t need any words.
Side two is all heavy, with only the slightest shift in dynamics. “Plynth (Water Down The Drain)” beats a riff into the blues, and “The Hangman’s Knee” is a slow stomp through the familiar folk image. More of a marathon is “Rice Pudding”, a collection of riffs and jams on same in and out of 4/4 and 3/4, under several overdubbed guitars, cascading up into an glorious frenzy that cuts out abruptly, as if the tape ran out.
Such an ending only underscores how short the album is, how quickly it was recorded and how little material they had. (Of the bonus tracks on the latest CD, two are alternates of the Presley songs, one is another one of those interminable blues standards everyone did in those days, and “Throw Down A Line” is an attempt at a single, foisted upon them by their manager, with a verse that to these ears sounds like Steve Marriott singing with Dave Mason-era Traffic.) Nonetheless, Beck-Ola is great as long as it’s around. The band itself didn’t last much longer, Rod and Ron Wood heading for drunker pastures and Beck chasing his own ideas of progress. In the heyday of the Maxell tape, this album and its predecessor made a perfect pair, capturing lightning in a bottle before everyone’s catalogs became more complicated.
The Jeff Beck Group Beck-Ola (1969)—3½