Mountain – Mystic Fire

Mystic Fire

Most rock fans will have heard the often-overplayed song “Mississippi Queen” at some point in their lives. Considering that when this song was released in 1970 by Mountain, it fit right in with their blues-rock contemporaries. The band didn’t even make it out of the 70s intact, though on all fronts it seemed like they were primed for superstardom. Not only did they play their fourth live show ever at Woodstock, but bassist Felix Pappalardi was also Cream’s former producer. The trio only released a few moderately successful albums before essentially breaking up in 1972. After that point, things blur. Pappalardi and bandmates Leslie West (guitar) and Corky Laing (drums) each worked on a variety of side projects and Mountain reunions that never really took off. Then, in 1983 Pappalardi was shot and killed by his wife.
Clearly, Mountain has had their fair share of hardship in their career, but the remaining two members keep plugging along. I guess I have a soft spot for this kind of perseverance, so when I heard that West and Laing had released a new album this year called Mystic Fire, I figured I would check it out. Although I generally enjoy standard blues-rock fare, I really hoped that Mystic Fire would show some innovation on the band’s old 70’s sound. Unfortunately, for me, they seem stuck in the same place they were when “Mississippi Queen” was released.
It’s evident that West and Laing are gifted musicians who’ve got the power-rock thing down pat. The vocals are worn and rough rock standards while the guitar is at its wailing best. Usually, doing what you know best works, but in the case of Mountain they need to expand their horizons a bit. Oddly enough, the tracks that are the most enjoyable on Mystic Fire are each a remake of some kind. These include a rendition the repeatedly covered song “Fever,” which was popularized in 1958 by Peggy Lee, a hard-rock instrumental version of the traditional “Johnny Comes Marching Home,” and a redo of Mountain’s own fan favorite “Nantucket Sleighride.”
The other seven tracks leave me feeling like Liang and West are trying too hard to play out a band that is already well over the hill. It’s a shame that Pappalardi is gone, as he seemed like the glue that really pulled this trio together for their few short years in the spotlight. Even through my disappointment with this album as a whole, I give West and Laing kudos for their determination to continue making music after all these years. I’m also quite sure that many fans of 70s rock will enjoy Mystic Fire much more than I. This album will prove a nice trip down memory lane for some and others will likely enjoy the solid musicianship. If you enjoy class rock or blues-rock in general, you just may find this album a pleasure to listen to. However, if you’re looking for new innovation on a tried and true style, this isn’t the place.