From the opening wah-wah rhythm guitar of "You Can Choose, and the thundering attack of Thain and Hartley when the group comes in, it's clear that Overdog is a considerably different beast to The Time Is Near.... While the previous album had an energy of its own, "You Can Choose righteously bristles with excitement. While nowhere near the metal-edge of Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, Miller adopts a weightier tone and more "reckless abandon approach to soloing.
That doesn't mean that Keef Hartley Band had walked away from its stylistic cross-pollination of soul, jazz, folk and rock. But even the ever-so-slightly countrified opening to "Plain Talkin' is propelled by a more visceral rhythm section, a more assertive solo from Anderson and some fine organ work from now-regular keyboardist Mick Weaver.
There were comparisons, at the time, between Keef Hartley Band and Colosseum, the group spearheaded by drummer Jon Hiseman, who guests on a couple of tracks here. The link is clear when Hartley takes the compositional reins on a couple of tracks, including the "Enroute section of the eight-minute "Theme/Enroute/Theme Reprise medley, which is a vamp-based jam feature for guest flautist Johnny Almond, whose group Mark-Almond would mine similar turf. He also contributes the Latin jazz-tinged, minor-keyed instrumental vamp "Imitations From Home, with Hiseman contributing some propulsive conga work.
But these tracks represent the lighter side of Overdog, an overall heavier album. Anderson's title track begins with thundering tom-toms and a bass pulse, over which Anderson delivers some processed guitar before heading into flat-out funk territory. "Roundabout —heard here in its original version and on two additional bonus takes—begins with another tom tom-driven beat that features a horn arrangement that, like many of the horn parts here and on The Time is Near..., could easily have fit into any version of British jazz/rock group Nucleus. Ultimately it turns rockier, but never loses sight of the soul component.
The link between Keef Hartley Band and groups like Nucleus is, in fact, not a far-fetched one. The difference is that Nucleus came to rock from a jazz background, while Keef Hartley Band did just the opposite. That there are common meeting points is further demonstration of the remarkably fluid cross-fertilization that was taking place in England at the time. Despite the liberal intermixing of musicians, each group managed to assert its own identity, and while there were other bands examining some of the same musical references, none of them sounded quite like Keef Hartley Band.
That Eclectic Discs has made these two seminal recordings available in 24-bit digitally mastered form from the original master tapes, with informative liner notes and a couple of bonus tracks on Overdog, means that while most of the members of the group have slipped into obscurity, a whole new generation of listeners can hear just how vibrant, unfettered and unbiased the English scene of the mid 1960s to mid 1970s was in general—and how great Keef Hartley Band were specifically.
by John Kelman
1. You Can Choose (M. Anderson) - 5:30
2 . Plain Talkin' (M. Anderson) - 3:23
3. Theme Song/En Route/Theme Song (reprise) (M. Anderson, K. Hartley, G. Thain) - 8:05
4. Overdog (M. Anderson) - 4:20
5. Roundabout (M. Anderson) - 6:07
6. Imitations From Home (K. Hartley) - 3:35
7. We Are All The Same (M. Anderson) - 4:42
8. Roundabout (M. Anderson) - 2:55
9. Roundabout Part 2 (M. Anderson) - 4:18
*Keef Hartley - Drums, Percussion
*Miller Anderson - Guitars, Vocals,
*Gary Thain - Bass
*Mick Weaver - Keyboards
*Dave Caswell - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
*Lyle Jenkins - Tenor Saxophone, Flute
*Johnny Almond - Flute
*Jon Hiseman - Drums, Percussion, Congas
*Peter Dines - Keyboards
*Mr. & Mrs. G.A. Orme (Preston) - Vocals
*Ingrid Thomas - Backing Vocals
*Joan Knighton - Backing Vocals
*Valerie Charrington - Backing Vocals