The Yardbirds: Birdland (Favored Nations)

On hearing this album, my reaction was, “I’d love to check these guys out live,” and I’m betting several pizzas that yours will be similar.

You probably think you’re about to read a review of a remastered counterculture favorite, but this is incorrect. No, friends, this is about the new Yardbirds album, Birdland. Having been unaware of certain musical goings-on of the past decade or so, I concede I was skeptical when I heard there was a brand new Yardbirds disc coming out. But while 8 of the 15 cuts here are reworkings of tunes recorded in their heyday, this is no cynical stroll down Memory Lane.

A little background: the Yardbirds, as all legitimate rock historians know, spawned three guitar legends: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin were initially called the New Yardbirds). Beck is the only one to appear here, and he’s only on one track, the crunching, Bo Diddleyesque “My Blind Life.” However, the current lineup—original members Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty plus newer recruits Gypie Mayo, Alan Glen, and John Idan—attack this set with obvious relish. The plethora of guests, including Steve Vai, Slash, Brian May, and Joe Satriani, add plenty of spice without allowing the proceedings to degenerate into a musical wankoff.

Birdland, which is on Vai’s Favored Nations label, is sumptuous proof that the band which released its previous album of new material during LBJ’s presidency has plenty of gas left three and a half decades on. “Mister, You’re a Better Man Than I,” “Happenings Ten Years Ago,” “Shapes of Things,” and “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” are some of the best new takes on old numbers, but don’t overlook such cool new compositions as “Crying Out for Love,” “Dream Within a Dream,” and “An Original Man.” Birdland’s greatest triumph involves proving once and for all that the Yardbirds aren’t strictly a blues outfit; their sound has always featured healthy doses of psychedelia and Middle Eastern music.

On hearing this album, my reaction was, “I’d love to check these guys out live,” and I’m betting several pizzas that yours will be similar.

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