Whirlwind

Tommy Bolin

Guitarist Tommy Bolin, who died in 1976, is a classic case of the "what if's." Listening to his work with Billy Cobham, James Gang and Deep Purple, as well as his solo albums, it's at once sad and remarkable to think of what he could have accomplished. Like other prolific musicians whose time came too soon, Bolin had germs of ideas and plenty of unfinished business. Now, a portion of those unrealized recordings have surfaced on Whirlwind, a double CD set full of rare and unreleased material.

Produced by Greg Hampton and Johnnie Bolin, Whirlwind is brimming over with jams, snippets of this and that, completed unreleased  songs and extended versions of released songs. If you love Bolin's guitar playing, this collection most certainly meets the requirement with plenty of instrumentals, starting with the funky, jazz-flavored "Cucumber Jam." This is where the "what if" factor hits you in the gut because the guy was just so damn good and tasteful.

The multi-moody epic "Hoka-Hay!," noted as one the guitarist's favorite instrumentals, comes along and knocks you out your chair. The main riff is enough to jolt the nervous system, but then a flurry of leads pushes the envelope even further. "Dungeon" is cast in the same mold, showcasing Bolin's versatile style, albeit with a sweet injection and rhythm and soul. "Red Skies" and "Sleepwalker," instrumentals on the second disc, scale yet other heights, more in the area of refined rock riffs that could have easily been full fledge songs

Of the loads of songs (many of which were intended for his unreleased third solo album) on Whirlwind, the catchy "Sooner Or Later" is probably the best candidate for mid 70s FM staple. Bolin was a notable vocalist and songwriter who would have undoubtedly thrived as a solo artist if he could have churned out songs of this magnitude. "Heartlight" is raw funk and the acoustic "Don't Worry 'Bout Cash" and "Way it's Always Been" are raw heart, whereas "Alexis" is smooth jazz - which just goes to prove you can never put a label on Tommy Bolin.

The centerpiece of Whirlwind is a 26-minute version of "Marching Powder" from Teaser, Bolin's first solo album. Here it's entitled "Marching Bag" and features the guitarist's jazz-rock band Energy, which includes drummer Bobby Berge and bassist Stanley Sheldon (who later found a place with Peter Frampton's band). If this one doesn't convince you of the potential of Bolin's musical breadth, then nothing ever will. Not a minute is wasted as he jumps from fusion flights to funky interludes before heading down a long stretch of heavy space rock. The "what if's" and "what could have been's" that comprise the canvas of Whirlwind will come and go and you slowly melt into the groove and remind yourself that even though Bolin's physical body is no longer of this earth, his musical spirit lives on in recordings like this.

~ Shawn Perry

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