That these musicians’ initials are MPG is appropriate, since many of these covers get more Miles Per Gallon than the originals…
Cov3r To Cov3r / Cover To Cover Anthology (Volumes 1 - 3)
Neal Morse / Mike Portnoy / Randy George
Label: Inside Out Records
Triple disc CD package / multiple format options
Disc 1 – 13 / 61:39 Disc 2 – 10 / 51:54 Disc 3 – 11 / 50:05
So, when you’re an incredibly talented group of musical friends who have already paid tribute to your heroes and influences on an album with the inspired name, Cover To Cover, what do you do next? How about a follow-up album with more covers, with an even more inspired title like, oh, let’s say Cover 2 Cover? Ah, but as we all know, three time’s the charm, so the sequel to the sequel was almost inevitable. But what to call it? The final remaining inspired deviation could only be Cov3r To Cov3r - the distinction being designed for your eyes only, thanks to a kind-of visual dyslexian pun (the effectiveness of which varies with your typeface of choice). So here we’re dealing with three collections of wonderful music - one of which - Cov3r To Cov3r - is brand new. Oh, and the three albums are all included in one grand collection: Cover To Cover Anthology (Volumes 1-3). Of course, the ‘old’ collections are re-sequenced and remastered ...making them also new- and if anyone asks “who’s on first?” the answer is Yes. (Please forgive me - I really couldn’t resist)
The new, third set of cover songs does, in fact, start off with “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed,” a great Yes song that actually was the first track on their Time and a Word album. Morse, Portnoy, and George tear into the song with a furious attack, Morse’s swirling organ buoyed up by some truly phenomenal bass work from Randy and an incredible barrage form Mike on drums. The trio plays like a band possessed, maybe freed up by having guest vocalist Jon Davison (Yes, Glass Hammer) relieve them of any singing chores. Neal cuts loose on guitar in inspired form, and these three men prove to be a formidable instrumental force.
Morse picks up the vocal role again on the next pair of songs - Jethro Tull’s “Hymn 43” and Bowie’s “Life On Mars.” Stylistic shifts are no problem for Morse, Portnoy and George, as they manage to always sound like a ‘real band,’ even when channeling diverse genres and distinct musical personalities. Morse, a vocal chameleon, takes on the textures and nuances of whatever vocalist he covers, while adding his own particular phrasing. In the case of “Life On Mars,” it’s sort of Bowie meets ELO fueled by the energies of Morse, Portnoy, and George - and the effect is powerful. As a matter of fact, that these musicians’ initials are MPG is appropriate since many of the songs they cover seem to get more Miles Per Gallon than in their original form - of course, your mileage may vary....
Even though The Who weren’t on first, they are on fourth - at least in spirit. Portnoy goes full Moon (like in, Keith) on “Baker Street,” while Morse infuses the vocals with passion and George does wonders with not only the bass lines but tasty keyboard flourishes.
The good times of the early 70s are evoked by a joyous, beautiful version of Ringo’s “It Don’t Come Easy,” featuring Portnoy’s Ringo-like fills and fine vocals by Mike and his daughter Melody. Appropriately following-up is “Baby Blue,” the I-dare-you-not-sing-along Badfinger hit, perfectly interpreted.
Sandwiched between the glorious pop of the preceding songs and the pair of Squeeze hits that follow (“Black Coffee in Bed” and “Tempted”), is the heavy, ominous antithesis: King Crimson’s “One More Red Nightmare,” just to flex a little prog/metal muscle.
If this was your car radio (and it might as well be) you’d better be careful with that accelerator because the Tom Petty tune, “Runnin’ Down a Dream” is perfect for speeding down the highway. MPG plays it like it’s a rock ‘n roll party on wheels. The boys cover Lenny Kravitz’ “Let Love Rule” in an appropriately ‘hippy-trippy’ mode, thankfully allowing some feedback to stay in the mix instead of cleaning it up, and letting “let love rule” be the final, beautifully harmonized vocal message on the album.
The above just details volume three of these wonderful cover projects. The first two sets are equally good choices and equally powerful renditions. MPG seem to read the musical minds of the classic rock generation, making these discs a veritable radio station of songs you know and love so much you’d never want to scan for another frequency. Everyone from Steely Dan, The Beatles, Todd Rundgren, U2, Blind Faith, Elvis Costello, The Who and The Police to The Monkees and The Osmonds - and more - are represented on the 36 songs that make up the three-volume Cover To Cover Anthology. The familiar songs will bring a smile and the few songs that might be new to you will open new doors to explore. One thing for sure - you’ll be entertained. You’ll sing along, and you’ll marvel at the level of musicianship that these men bring to the board with such joy and undeniable chops. To engage in a bit of rock ‘n roll blaspheme, let me just suggest that you even might think that some of these covers are better than the originals. Of course that’s just a guess. I don’t know - Third base.
4 ½ tocks
- Bert Saraco - You can see Bert Saraco’s concert photography at facebook.com/express.image