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The British are coming! The British are coming!

The legendary Yardbirds are back

By Simon Umlauf
CNN Headline News

The Yardbirds, left to right: Alan Glen, Gypie Mayo, Jim McCarty, John Idan and Chris Dreja
The Yardbirds, left to right: Alan Glen, Gypie Mayo, Jim McCarty, John Idan and Chris Dreja

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(CNN) -- Okay, rock 'n roll trivia buffs -- in what band did Eric Clapton get his nickname, "Slowhand"?

Answer: The Yardbirds

In what band did Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page play lead guitar at the same time?

Answer: The Yardbirds

What was Led Zeppelin's original name when Jimmy Page started the band?

Answer: The New Yardbirds

Who's coming out with a new album next week?

Answer: The Yardbirds

The Yardbirds are back from a 35-year holiday, this time to write a new page in rock history.

Page and Clapton won't be joining the legendary flock this time. But the new album, "Birdland," won't be lacking the guitar firepower the band was known for back in the 1960s.

Guitarist Chris Dreja and drummer Jim McCarty, both founding members, bring in Jeff Beck and a whole slew of great guitarists to man the guns. Slash, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Steve Lukather and Brain May electrify eight original favorites, such as "Train Kept A-Rollin'," "Shapes of Things" and "You're a Better Man Than I."

Slash with the Yardbirds at March's SXSW Music Fest in Austin, Texas
Slash with the Yardbirds at March's SXSW Music Fest in Austin, Texas

But wait! That's just half of the album.

The other half features seven new songs written by Dreja and McCarty and performed by the new Yardbirds.

You say, "What? New members?" Don't worry; Dreja and McCarty say they chose the new Yardbirds with the same professional scrutiny they used to pick Clapton, Beck and Page for the band in the 1960s. "That was the prime importance [of producing the album], to keep the dignity, the integrity, the edge, the urgency and the energy of the band. We were very conscious of [our absence]," says Dreja in his polite English accent.

New frontman John Idan is from Detroit, Michigan, but his powerful voice is a tribute to the late Keith Relf, who died in 1976 in a freak electrical accident. Idan's voice has a great range that goes from a Relf-ish smooth croon to a gravelly Mississippi blues sound heard especially on the new track, "My Blind Life," featuring Beck on guitar.

With Beck in mind, you can't bring back the Yardbirds without a great guitarist. In comes Gypie Mayo, formerly of the English blues band Dr. Feelgood and forged from the same frenetic steel as previous Yardbird guitarists. "Gypie is perfect for us because he never does anything quite the same twice. He's very innovative. When he blasts the guitar, you never know what's going to come out of it," says Dreja.

A powerful addition to the band is harmonica player Alan Glen, who replaces Relf on the mouth harp and is himself no stranger to the blues scene. When Glen and Mayo let loose the new track, "Please Don't Tell Me 'Bout The News," the combination of the harmonic huffs and guitar crescendos sounds like a runaway train barreling towards a sleepy town.

The new album comes full of surprises. The new track, "My Blind Life," featuring Beck on guitar, is a gritty song that will have blues aficionados talking -- no, raving -- for months.

John Rzeznik from the Goo-Goo Dolls sings the Yardbirds' first hit, "For Your Love," originally released in 1965.

This band is great to hear live, and if you have a chance to catch Slash or Baxter with the 'Birds, that's a ticket you had better buy.

The Yardbirds' American tour begins in May.

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