Will you do me a really big favor? I want you to click on the above link and just listen while you read the rest of this post.
What do you hear?
A strong, toe tapping, knee slapping, R&B song with powerfully suggestive guttural vocals, simple, but effective horn work, coupled with torso grinding drums, bass, and an irrepressible guitar? Me too!
No matter how much the vocals try to dominate, the singer is outshined by the guitarist. In fact, the vocals on this track are not the original. This original recording was made in 1966 and before the song was released (sometime after 1970), a decision was made to overdub the original singer with the one you hear today: Billy Lamont. Why would they do that? The artist and producer who released this recording felt the original vocals were too weak.
In spite of the well done vocals overdub, when I listen to this track, I can't help but fixate and groove on the guitar work. For me, the singer is just another background instrument. The guitarist's talent is undeniable and can't be ignored. There is genius beneath the off-handed style of play that serves up those rough hewn, raw, bluesy chords and staccato notes. This genius and magical talent is not fully mature, but holds great promise for the future.
Salty sea air, peaty, and some muted sherry. Very pleasant.
Light, thin taste of green grapes, wide planks of American oak, Granny Smith green apples, very muted sherry notes, salted honey, and then the faint unmistakable aromatic peat and heather that are the signature taste of Highland Park. The unique taste of the distillery is here, but it is faint, or more aptly put: weak and immature.
Minty, malty, wee red licorice, pencil shavings, oak, all enveloped in the mildest of pleasant cigar smoke. Think White Owl or Century Sam. $1 cigars that are your guilty pleasure. And, then comes some stale oak and wasabi that leaves you disappointed.
What do Sweet Thang and Highland Park 10 have in common? Why does listening to one harken the other? There is undeniable and riveting genius in both. In the former there is fascinating guitar playing that was unheard of anywhere else in 1966. In the latter there is that signature aromatic peat and heather that makes nearly all offerings from Highland Park magical. The guitarist has near total mastery of his stringed instrument and similarly there is unquestionable magnificence and beauty lurking beneath the surface of Highland Park 10. The problem for both is that their respective brilliance is youthful and in need of further development. The guitarist and the malt need to age a little more. In the case of Highland Park 10, two more years in the cask is what is needed to unleash the malt splendor that lurks in the form of the great Highland Park 12. With respect to the guitarist, he would only need one more year of musical journeyman maturation before erupting upon the world music scene at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival.
|Jimi Hendrix performing in 1967 at Monterey|
Highland Park make beautiful whiskies. In the past I have enjoyed them all. It was and remains one of my favorite Scotch distilleries. That said, Highland Park 10 years disappoints. It is thin in taste (40% ABV!) and falls far short of the usual high standards that all whisky offerings from this distillery typically exhibit. It hints at greatness that it fails to deliver. You taste some great sherry notes, but they are faint and out of focus. There is nothing offensive in drinking this single malt, as there is nothing particularly flavorful. It suffers from mediocrity. Dare I say Highland Park has truly gone mainstream with this new release? It seems to be an attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator. This malt only reaches for the low hanging fruit.
I am unsure why they would launch a ten year old having such a great stable of landmark single malts like the 12 and the 18. Maybe they are trying to provide a very gentle introduction for whisky newbies to the distillery. If so, I would hardly call the price point "entry level." In Canada, it is $60. For an entry level single malt of this quality, it should be priced at $40.
There is a disturbing trend lately among single malt and blended Scotch whisky producers to lower or even drop age statements entirely. Macallan has done so and on the blended side of the business, Johnnie Walker brand no longer carries an age statement for the Gold label. Some industry observers chock this development up to scarcity of wood, casks and giant demand outstripping the ability to supply. I suspect that those are factors coupled with the desire to enhance profits too. I will never know what caused the owners of the Highland Park brand to launch a 10 year old this year, but what I do know is that it does not deserve the hard won reputation of other releases from this great distillery.
P.S. A word about the recording at the top of this post. Like most musicians, Jimi Hendrix spent his early career playing as a guitarist in backing bands of well known and some not so well known R&B artists like: Little Richard, Ike and Tina Turner, Wilson Picket, Curtis Knight, Chuck Berry and many others. A complete list is here.
There is some debate as to whether or not the above studio recording was a Curtis Knight or Lonnie Youngblood composition and release. One site claims the recording was done in a studio in 1966 in NYC. Lonnie Youngblood is identified as the composer and playing the horns and the artist in charge of the recording. Hendrix was at that time playing with anyone whether as a studio session guitarist or otherwise. I have no doubt that it is him playing guitar. After Hendrix died (1970) the recording was released by Youngblood and his producer who decided to overdub the vocals with those of Billy Lamont.
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Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2014. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission with the exception of the photograph of Jimi Hendrix or the Sweet Thang composition appearing at the beginning of this post. I do not know own the rights to the photograph or song and unfortunately do not know who is the photographer or the rights holder of Sweet Thang. The photograph and song is used here purely for entertainment and educational purposes. No attempt is made to profit from it.