VH1 Classic, 2007

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


If the idea of a couple of two-decades-later early-80s arena rockers covering a batch of 60s and 70s classics sounds to you like a prescription for not just disaster, but acute auditory pain, join the crowd.

Jack Blades is the bassist/vocalist from one of my least favorite bands of the MTV era, the AOR hit machine Night Ranger (“Sister Christian” being more or less the apothesis of this brand of shaggy-haired schlock).  Tommy Shaw is the guitarist/vocalist from one of the late 70s’ guiltiest pleasures, the seemingly indestructible arena rockers Styx.  And together, Shaw and Blades have delivered one of 2007’s most pleasant surprises. 

Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” is the perfect opener because it’s simply unbelievable how well this pair of rock hounds pulls it off.  The easy-breezey vibe at the core of the song is reproduced faithfully but with just the slightest addition of a rock edge, and the harmony vocals are simply outstanding.  Believe it or not, when these guys aren’t busting a gut belting out one of their old bands’ odes to bombast, they’re actually pretty good singers.  More importantly, they clearly love -- and respect -- these tunes.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Classic numbers like “Time Of The Season,” “California Dreamin’” and “For What It’s Worth” get similarly faithful and affectionate treatments, with “Time” getting a heavier guitar solo that works beautifully, and “California” getting a more propulsive tempo that lets Shaw and Blades cut loose a bit more both vocally and instrumentally than a straight reading might have.

Where things get extra-fun – at least for a prog fan like me – is when the boys grow a giant pair and take on a couple of trademark prog-rock standards, Yes’ “Your Move” (a.k.a. the acoustic opening section of “I’ve Seen All Good People”) and ELP’s “Lucky Man.”  Shaw delivers probably the best vocal performance I’ve ever heard from him on the former, in the process proving how much more suited his voice is to this sort of harmony-laden acoustic number than hard-rock cheese like “Blue Collar Man.”  Blades does a similarly fabulous job on lead vocals for “Lucky Man,” where the boys stick fairly close to the original arrangement and absolutely nail the sweet acoustic riffs at the core of the song.

Not all the takes are faithful recreations; Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock” gets an interesting treatment where the verses sit on a familiar bed of acoustic strumming while the choruses amp up to power chords.  I can’t say it works all that well, but it’s a lot of fun anyway.  And when they move on to tackle “The Sound Of Silence” they have the good sense to stick closer to the original and lay down some of the album’s sweetest harmonies.

There are a handful of somewhat oddball cuts towards the end: “On A Carousel” isn’t in the same league as the rest of the picks in terms of the quality of either the original or their cover, “Dance With Me” is a nice fit for Shaw but still a mediocre song, and Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” is a pretty bizarre choice stylistically for a couple of guys whose old bands represent everything that the Dan has made a career out of sniping at.

The awkwardness of these few curiosities is easily forgiven, though, on a disc imbued with as much genuine enthusiasm and craft as Influence obviously is.  Messr.s Shaw and Blades, my hat’s off to ya.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2007 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of VH1 Classic, and is used for informational purposes only.