CD REVIEW: Cover to Cover Anthology (Vol.1-3) – Morse, Portnoy, George

The third of their Cover To Cover series of albums (‘Cov3r To Cov3r’) comes in July 2020 at the same time as the release of ‘Cover To Cover Anthology (Vol. 1 – 3)’, collecting all 3 instalments together over 3 discs., with the first two albums being newly re-sequenced and remastered, and with brand new artwork, created by Thomas Ewerhard (Sons of Apollo, The Neal Morse Band, Avantasia).

Mike Portnoy comments: “Well, here we are…Cover To Cover Volume 3! Been looking forward to finally doing another one of these as I absolutely love the first two we did! In fact, these Cover To Cover albums are some of my favorite albums in my catalog and are always the CDs I give to family and friends to enjoy. Mainly because they help show the music that helped shape myself, Neal and Randy. Everybody expects the obvious Prog classics (or in my case some of the more metal stuff), but the range of artists on these Cover To Cover albums as just as important ingredients! I hope you enjoy listening to them as much as we did recording them!”.

So there you go, he’s explained that then – they play tracks which inspired and impressed them. It is worth remembering that Morse, Portnoy & George go back a long time. To 2003 in fact, and work on on Neal Morse’s Testimony Live project, and since then numerous Neal Morse albums, including three with The Neal Morse Band, and not counting this Morse, Portnoy & George offshoot. No wonder that they sound as tight and impressive as they do. In fact it would seem that this little project is not as random as you might think. As Portnoy explains: “One of the first things myself, Neal and Randy usually start talking about what we can cover when we gather for one of Neal’s solo albums, should we have some leftover time at the end of the session. Most of the songs are rooted in the 60s and 70s and are songs / bands we grew up with.” Explains George, “We all share an attachment for this era of music, so we each throw out song ideas, see what sticks, and record the ones we like the most!”

So let’s take a little walk down Memory Alley and see how they do. It’s worth remembering at this point that cover bands come in many shapes and sizes, and with many reasons for their existence – but not many come with as high a profile as this (which means that there’s more at stake if they get it wrong).

Cover to Cover

So, to conclude in one summary sentence, their “debut” is wholesome and impressive. Ranging from remarkably identical, well produced replicas of some tracks (Badge – Cream, Day after Day – Badfinger), good choice of songs (the live and imho better version of Maybe I’m Amazed (Wings)) and occasional impressive reworking (a chugging Pleasant Valley Sunday rather than the original manic pop). First things first, kudos to Neal Morse, who uses a chameleonic voice to replicate the vocal style on the likes of Clapton’s Badge, McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed, a reasonable Bowie (Rock N Roll Suicide) and he gives a Harrisonesque nasal delivery on his What is Life. Secondly, the choice of songs is impressive, with “forgotten” tracks such as those by Badfinger, Chicago, Cat Stevens and Tuesday Afternoon by Moody Blues, with its nice electric violin, and which incidently segues perfectly into a delicately reworked version of Blind Faith’s I Can’t Find My Way Home. Thirdly, I don’t get any ego in this project. The interest in the songs seems genuine. In fact, like the raucous Who rendition where Portnoy does his best Keith Moon and George likewise John Entwhistle, the rendition of Joe Jackson’s I’m the Man seems to spill over into honest live exuberance (possibly a slight downer for me as I enjoyed the compactness of the original).

Cover 2 Cover

So, what’s so good about this one is that they don’t revisit old ground covered in the first album. Although their diversity and approach don’t hit the spot as many times as in their debut. A good selection of quality ‘new wave’ mixes seamlessly with some respectful nods to prog, a broadening of genre to include some West Coast, and for me hits the spot with my first ever 45RPM purchase, the surprisingly proggy Osmonds single Crazy Horses. Anyone heard IQ cover it too? Shows my early prog tendencies were right. Anyway I digress. It’s almost as if this album is free from any of the tension of the first album trying to walk the line between replica and respect. This album shows deference, but the band seem looser and more openly enthusiastic. Morse’s chameleonic vocals continue but this time the band seem to have assumed more ownership of the songs rather than respectful replication. There’s genuine joy in some of their respectful replicas – the enthusiasm of Boz Scaggs’ Lido Shuffle, the enjoyable subtleties of Police’s Driven to Tears and Steely Dan’s Rikki Don’t Lose that Number, the shuffling The Letter – Joe Cocker, and the prog-out of Jethro Tull’s The Teacher. The classics are respectfully covered (Styx, Jethro Tull and an inspired King Crimson) as are the lesser-known (Lemons never Forget – Bee Gees, anyone?). And Neil Young gets a 10 minute medley rendition (and here’s where covers come to the fore when you didn’t like the original vocalist’s renditions…..). Oh, and Crazy Horses is a raucous cod-progmetal joy!

 

Cov3r to Cov3r

And so we’re up to date. Third album and anthology joint release. More variety. Some well known singles, some obscurities and some from the archives. Whilst the previous albums had some good anonymous guests on horns, sax, violin, flute etc, here we get Jon Davison replicating the unique vocals on the muscular opening Yes track. As respectful as ever, as enthusiastic as always, it’s a solid album which throws up an interesting observation – classic tracks remain classic tracks regardless of performance, but the lesser tracks can’t always be uplifted to higher echelons even with sterling performances. Hence Life on Mars – David Bowie, Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street etc stand out. Other tracks get deserved recognition (It Don’t Come Easy – Ringo Starr, Baby Blue – Badfinger) but don’t necessary cut it fully. That’s not to say that the band don’t doff their caps such as they do with another intriguing King Crimson cover. And this time round they have pleasingly covered one of my not so secret soft spots – Squeeze (sadly never acknowledged as much as they should have been imho). I think they are mellowing with age. No bad thing.

Morse/Portnoy/George – Cover to Cover Anthology (Vol. 1-3)

Cover To Cover:

1. Where The Streets Have No Name (U2)

2. I’m The Man (Joe Jackson)

3. What Is Life? (George Harrison)

4. Badge (Cream)

5. Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCartney)

6. Day After Day (Badfinger)

7. Pleasant Valley Sunday (The Monkees)

8. Tuesday Afternoon (The Moody Blues)

9. Can’t Find My Way Home (Blind Faith)

10. I’m Free / Sparks (The Who)

11. Where Do The Children Play (Cat Stevens)

12. Feelin’ Stronger Everyday (Chicago)

13. Rock N Roll Suicide (David Bowie)

Cover 2 Cover:

1. (What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love & Understanding (Elvis Costello)

2. Lido Shuffle (Boz Scaggs)

3. Crazy Horses (The Osmonds)

4. Driven To Tears (The Police)

5. Come Sail Away (Styx)

6. Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (Steely Dan)

7. Lemons Never Forget (The Bee Gees)

8. The Letter (Joe Cocker)

9. I Saw The Light (Todd Rundgren)

10. Teacher (Jethro Tull)

11. Southern Man/Needle And The Damage Done/Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)

12. Starless (King Crimson)

Cov3r To Cov3r:

1. No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed (Yes)

2. Hymn 43 (Jethro Tull)

3. Life On Mars (David Bowie)

4. Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty)

5. It Don’t Come Easy (Ringo Starr)

6. Baby Blue (Badfinger)

7. One More Red Nightmare (King Crimson)

8. Black Coffee In Bed (Squeeze)

9. Tempted (Squeeze)

10. Runnin’ Down A Dream (Tom Petty)

11. Let Love Rule (Lenny Kravitz)

Line-Up:

Neal Morse – vocals, keyboards, guitars

Mike Portnoy – drums, vocals

Randy George – bass, keyboards

https://www.facebook.com/nealmorse/

https://www.facebook.com/mikeportnoyofficial/

https://www.facebook.com/RandyGeorgeBass/

 

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