ALBUM REVIEW: Morse/Portnoy/George – Cover To Cover Anthology

Let’s take a minute to enjoy the great things in life. A cool breeze on a hot summer’s day. The first bite into a crisp apple. Your musical heroes coming together to produce covers of well regarded rock classics.

For those who don’t know who these people are, here’s a rundown. Neal Morse (Vocals, Keys, Guitar) is best known for his work in the band SPOCK’S BEARD and later went on to form the supergroups TRANSATLANTIC and YELLOW MATTER CUSTARD. Mike Portnoy (Drums) is well regarded for his work in DREAM THEATER, SONS OF APOLLO and THE WINERY DOGS. He’s also been a stand-in drummer for most large metal bands. Randy George (Bass) is the most obscure member of the trio. His previous appearances include performances with a whole host of musicians that’s far too big to list here.

Cover To Cover Anthology is, as the name might imply, a selection of covers from bands like JETHRO TULL, GERRY RAFFERTY, STEELY DAN and many more.

Baker Street by GERRY RAFFERTY is best known for the saxophone – so much so that I suspect that a lot of people forget that there’s a whole song around it but I digress. As far as our heroic trio’s interpretation of it goes, it’s a pretty straight cover. It starts in much the same way, the iconic burst of chords with an almost lazy guitar before the saxophone kicks in. There are a couple of things to note here. The original is a full two minutes shorter due in part to the guitar solo on the outro. Morse’s vocals are rather more gravelly than RAFFERTY’s which adds a different feel.

The JETHRO TULL classic Hymn 43 from the legendary album Aqualung is almost represented here, it takes the piano chords from the original and replaces them with heavy overdriven guitars but retains the fills. An obvious thing to note is the lack of flute, which has been replaced with similar licks on guitar instead. This isn’t a carbon copy of the track and neither is it a whole reworking of it, it retains the sentiment of the song but with a slightly different voicing. It’s bizarre hearing it to me as a long standing JETHRO TULL fan as I’m very fond of the original and I was expecting it to be almost sacrilegious but it isn’t. I’m uncertain why it isn’t.

This feeling of ‘this should be wrong’ continues in their version of Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, which despite sounding fuller, feels emptier. Perhaps this is due to my perception of the space between the tone of the lyrics and the weight of the instrumentation. Both songs are nearly identical in terms of their structure (except for the original introduction missing in MPG’s version) but STEELY DAN’s exists as a much tighter thing where vocals, structure and instrumentation feel colder but more unified.

At the midpoint of the first CD there’s a cover of BLIND FAITH’s Can’t Find My Way Home. I don’t have a strong connection to BLIND FAITH and the only song I can recall of theirs is this one. My first exposure to this song was the one by SWANS, which featured JARBOE on vocals. I tried to go back and listen to the original afterwards but it became so cemented in my head that the ‘proper version’ was not a man singing it felt awkward to me. But with this version that’s not the case. Maybe it’s because my taste in music has matured or I’m more open to enjoying new takes on things but the vocals here work. Singing just beyond what appears to be the comfortable limit of his register brings a sense of familiarity to this for me.

This is a honest and true love letter to the bands that came before. It doesn’t push them to their limits but not everything has to be the Dance of Eternity or Stabwound.

Rating: 7/10

Words: Jacob McCrone

Cover To Cover will be released this Friday via Inside Out Music.

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