A stonewall classic that should be revered not just by Purple, Whitesnake and Coverdale fans, but by Rock fans everywhere.
David Coverdale is an undisputed Rock God. Depending on your age or your "point of entry", when you hear the name "Coverdale", you will almost certainly think of either Deep Purple or Whitesnake, with fans of the latter drawn initially to either the band's early Rhythm 'n' Blues or its later Hair Metal incarnation.
However you think of David Coverdale, if you think of him at all, it should be with knowledge of the two solo albums he released between leaving Purple and forming Whitesnake. The first of these, 'White Snake', was something of a patchy affair – a set of great, if somewhat experimental songs that suffered from an occasionally muffled or understated production that took some of the shine off. The second, however, the magnificent 'Northwinds', showcases all that is good about Coverdale with none of the cock rock clichés that has occasionally let the man down. 'Northwinds' knocks spots off its predecessor with a set of stronger songs and a smoother, slicker production. In terms of vocal performance alone, it quite possibly stands as the definitive Coverdale album. Never has his voice sounded quite so consistently warm, rich and sensual across a range of tracks, every one of which is a winner.
By the time I discovered Rock music via the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, Cov and Co. were already a couple of albums into a fruitful Whitesnake career. They were ready, willin' and a-love huntin' in ways that, to be frank, didn't mean that much to me as a young thirteen year old. 'Northwinds', however, hit big and true from the off. My introduction came through a local radio show. Steve Tupper's 'Tiger Bay Rock' went out every Sunday night on CBC – Cardiff Broadcasting Corporation – and one week he chose 'Northwinds' as his featured album.
It's a classy, cool and knowing slab of R'n'B and Soul-infused Hard Rock – a superb mix of up-tempo Rockers and heartfelt ballads, imbued or enhanced with sassy backing vocals (courtesy of Doreen Chanter, Irene Chanter and Liza Strike), assorted brass, including Ron Aspery's emotional alto-sax on 'Say You Love Me', Lee Brilleaux's harmonica and, especially, Graham Preskett's "electric string thing" on the exquisite 'Time And Again'. There is a stronger, tighter band feel than on the first album, with guitarist Micky Moody and keyboardist Tim Hinckley now joined by Alan Spenner (bass) and Tony Newman (drums). Like the first album, it is produced by Roger Glover, but the gulf (and improvement) in the fullness, clarity and quality of the sound is astonishing. Recorded at Air Studios, London, in March and April 1977, nearly a year before its release, it's also astonishing to think that at the time Coverdale couldn't even afford a touring band. 'Northwinds' consists of eight self-penned Coverdale tracks, three of which, including the album's Rockier moments 'Queen Of Hearts' and 'Breakdown', are a stunning testament to Coverdale's emerging song-writing partnership with Moody.
Early issues of the album opened with the title track, but from the third run on it switched places with 'Keep On Giving Me Love' which, led by the quirky Funk of a Moody riff, hits a groove that sets the tone for the entire album. "Oh you told me you were burned by holy water, and the Priest forgot the words he was trying to say" croons Coverdale, creating an edge of danger amid the laid back slickness of the music.
While the rockers rock – and in particular 'Breakdown', a track about the end days of Deep Purple – it's the ballads that really stand out. 'Only My Soul' has Coverdale 'crying out for love". 'Time And Again' and 'Say You Love Me' are beautiful love songs, the latter exhibiting some of that preoccupation with metaphorical blindness that, curiously, Coverdale seemed to share with Ian Gillan. 'Northwinds' itself is a giant of a track –a superb vehicle for Coverdale to do what Coverdale does best, and when he opens out as song builds to its gospel-tinged conclusion, you feel the loneliness and pain of a thousand disappointed hearts.
'Northwinds' is not just a proto-Whitesnake album – though it undoubtedly is that – it's the best of the bunch. I still play it with alarming regularity these days, and 'Northwinds' and 'Time And Again' have been frequent 'go to' tracks for me as love and life have ebbed and flowed. It's a stonewall classic that should be revered not just by Purple, Whitesnake and Coverdale fans, but by Rock fans everywhere.