Lifeboat comes from the same blistering lava pool that formed Jeff Beck's Blow by Blow‚ a George Martin-produced jazz-fusion stunner that was wildly different from everything else on "progressive" rock radio in 1975. The decades-apart disc have two things in common: Both eschew long-form jams in favor of structured‚ melody-based compositions‚ and both discs are all-instrumental-- though one would suspect Herring's motivation had more to with his time in bands like Paradox and Jazz Is Dead; Beck mostly went instrumental because he's got an ego you could land 747's on‚ and didn't want to share the spotlight with a vocalist any more.
Lifeboat blasts off with "Scapegoat Blues‚" a tune you shouldn't listen to while driving‚ because you will probably find yourself being asked by a policeman why you were going 130 miles per hour in a 55 mile-per-hour zone. (Side note: The correct answer to that question is not "Because it won't do 260‚ motherfucker!") Herring's guitar fires on full auto as Matt Slocum jumps between organ and clavinet to give the soaring piece all the thermals it needs. This is jazz-rock with the emphasis on rock‚ and it leaves the same kind of first impression the soul of a combat boot leaves on an empty beer can.
Herring gets major backup from old acquaintances: Derek Trucks contributes spooky slide guitar to "New Moon‚" while the strapping foundation from Aquarium Rescue Unit alums Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Sipe lets Herring stay off the hook‚ whether it's on chunky funk like "One Strut" or borderline schmaltz like "Lifeboat Serenade." Additional jazz cred comes from mercurial reedman Greg Osby‚ whose alto does serious heavy lifting on Wayne Shorter's "Lost."
Blow by Blow wasn't perfect‚ and neither is Lifeboat. While Kofi Burbridge's dancing flute adds a wonderful change-of-pace‚ his piano work lacks the weight of Slocum's meatier‚ multi-pronged attack. As a result‚ pieces like "Splash" and "Only When It's Light" are merely good when they could have been great. Jimmy Herring has plenty of projects to play with‚ the most recent being Trigger Hippy. If he ever returns to the work he did on Lifeboat‚ I hope he follow the example of Wired (Beck's follow-up to Blow by Blow)‚ trim the fat‚ and make the nasty parts nastier!