Hardin & York – ‘Can’t Keep A Good Man Down: The Hardin & York Anthology’ (2021)
After leaving the Spencer Davis Group keyboard player/vocalist/songwriter Eddie Hardin and drummer/percussionist Pete York formed a two piece band that released four studio albums between 1969 and 1974 and continued to perform together periodically until York’s death in 2015.
Cherry Red Records has supplemented the four albums with studio outtakes and live recordings in a new six disc boxed set on the label’s Grapefruit Records imprint.
Disc one centers around ‘Tomorrow, Today’. the duo’s debut album, released in 1969. The highlights of the album include the LP’s title track, written by Hardin while still a member of the Spencer Davis Group, a piano driven rocker with vocals reminiscent of Steve Winwood, leading to comparisons with Traffic recordings as well as those of Procol Harum due to Hardin’s keyboard style and the group’s usage of string arrangements. Another strong track is this set’s title track, another Hardin composition, a bluesy piano driven tune with vocals again bringing Winwood to mind as well as a gorgeous piano and guitar interlude. The eight minute plus ‘I’m Lost’ written by Hardin and Spencer Davis is a mellow, melodic, melancholy song featuring Hardin’s Hammond organ. The jazzy six and a half minute ‘Mountain Of Sand’ swings, with flute and horns supplementing Hardin’s organ. ‘Candlelight’ is an organ driven psychedelic number, regal sounding with thundering bass. Bonus material on the disc comprises six tunes from a June 4, 1969 BBC radio session, among them takes on ‘Tomorrow, Today’, ‘Candlelight’ and ‘You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down’.
Disc two opens with four outtakes from ‘Tomorrow, Today’ including a rousing cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Rock’n’Roll Music’ before moving on to the six tracks from 1970’s ‘The World’s Smallest Big Band’. ‘Just A Case Of Time’ is a mid-tempo soulful number with a gentle piano intro and delicate melody. ‘Love, A Song For You’ is a sparse sounding piano driven tune with a jazzy feel and plaintive, almost mournful vocals. The album’s highlights, however, are its two longest tracks, the nine minute ‘The Pike’, a heavy organ and drum number, showing the power Hardin and York could produce and bringing Procol Harum at their best to mind, a fine example of prog rock at its earliest, and the ten minute ‘Northern Medley’ an organ and drum instrumental interpretation of The Beatles’ ‘Lady Madonna’ and ‘Norwegian Wood’ which the duo had been playing live for some time. The disc closes with two radio session takes and the studio outtake ‘Parking Meters’ with its Traffic/Spencer Davis Group vibe thanks to Hardin’s organ and Winwoodesque vocals.
Disc three consists of ten tracks recorded live in Germany, six of which were released without the duo’s knowledge or permission on a bootleg LP. “The Pike’ and ‘Tomorrow, Today’ are taken from a December 31, 1969 gig and are fine performances, but were not included in the counterfeit release as are recordings of ‘Cowboy’ and ‘Everyone I Know’ both giving off a Procol Harum vibe, the former including a tasty organ solo by Hardin. The bootleg album centered around a twenty four minute take on ‘Lady Madonna/Norwegian Wood’ which features lots of improvisation and many tempo changes as well as an extended drum solo by York. The LP closer was a driving, five minute take on a medley of ‘Jailhouse Rock’ and ‘Mean Woman Blues’.
Disc four comprises four tracks recorded live at The Marquee Club in London on June 15, 1971. ‘Freedom Suite’ is a twenty one minute plus tune with three sections, Hardin’s ‘Freedom Shuffle’ segueing into Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ before closing with Hardin’s ‘Freedom’. Introduced as ‘The Boring’ the medley is anything but, with Hardin’s organ front and center and supplemented by punching horns. ‘I Care For You’ is a nearly nine minute piano driven instrumental. Next up is a thirty three minute plus take on ‘The Pike’. The heavy instrumental features Hardin’s Hammond organ, an extended York drum solo and nice usage of feedback. The closer is the Traffic sounding ‘Found Myself Again’ featuring Hardin’s piano and vocals and a tasteful guitar solo.
Disc five opens with the ten tracks from July 1971’s ‘For The World’. The album opener ‘Deep In My Despair’ is a singer/songwriter number with gorgeous piano and vocals as well as string and horn arrangements. ‘Have Mercy Woman’ is a rocker with Hardin contributing piano and bass. The title track is a short piano driven tune with soulful vocals. ‘Extensions 345’ showcases Hardin’s organ with horns and York’s drums yielding a jazzy swing. ‘Cowboy’ features fiddle for flavor while ‘I’ll Be Back Again’ is a soulful piano and organ tune with a pleasant guitar interlude. ‘Natural Gas’ is a snappy rocker with a Hammond organ reminiscent of Deep Purple’s ‘Hush’, a nice lead guitar line and a York drum solo. The album closes with the six minute ‘Take Away Today’, its delicate soulful melody complemented by a gentle flute. The disc closes with four tracks from an April 1, 1972 BBC In Concert show, including takes on favorites ‘Cowboy’ and ‘The Pike’.
Disc six features the 1974 album ‘Hardin & York with Charlie McCracken’ featuring the former bass player from Rory Gallagher’s band Taste. The opening tune ‘Ain’t No Breeze’ has a heavy Hammond riff with McCracken and York locked into a tight groove. ‘Back Row Movie Star’ has a Stevie Wonder feel, Hardin’s piano front and center with horns adding punch to the track’s beautiful vocal harmonies. The LP’s centerpiece is the ten minute ‘Freedom’ with percussion and drum intro before Hardin’s Hammond organ enters and the song flows into space, a real showcase for Hardin’s talent. ‘Wish I’d Never Joined A Band’ is a snappy piano tune a la Steely Dan, while ‘Clubtrop’ returns to the space rock vibe with its synthesizer, before ‘Some Sweet Dream’ has a light/breezy Doobie Brothers/Steely Dan feel and nice drum rolls by York. The light, upbeat piano driven ‘Lovin’ You’s So Easy’ is a fitting closer for the album and the box set, its mellow vibe emblematic of Hardin & York’s body of work.
‘Can’t Keep A Good Man Down’ comes in a clamshell box, each of its six discs in their own cardboard mini-LP replica sleeves. The set comes with a full color twenty four page booklet including complete track annotations, lots of photos including posters, album artwork and other memorabilia and an extensive essay by David Wells. The duo sounds better than ever thanks to the mastering job of Simon Murphy. The box set will appeal to fans of late 60’s/early 70’s jazz rock, classic rock and rock in general and comes highly recommended.
Hardin & York – ‘Can’t Keep A Good Man Down: The Hardin & York Anthology’ (Grapefruit Records 2021)