Morse, Portnoy and George in Cover 2 Cover. What do you do to kick back and relax? I'll bet you don't create wonderful covers of great songs. These guys do exactly that on Cover 2 Cover.....

Cover 2 Cover

Morse / Portnoy / George
Radiant Records / Metal Blade
12 tracks / 67:17

Studio patter... High-hats being struck for a count-down. Random comments about Lido Beach from Mike Portnoy... Neal Morse: "It's goin' on the album..."
And why not? This is a relaxed, fun collection of cover tunes by some of the most capable, respected musicians currently creating progressive rock epics for the prog-hungry masses. A bit of casual studio banter is appropriate. We all need some light (someone once said) and we all need some lighter fare every now and then – so do Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy and Randy George. Not to say that the boys were exactly slumming on these tracks – by no means. Cover 2 Cover is 12 songs done well – very well. Some of the treatments might even rival or surpass the original versions (no-doubt a blasphemous statement to this power tiro since they performed the songs as fans of the original music) - you be the judge.

Running the gamut from the challenging Steely Dan ("Rikki Don't Lose That Number") to the classic pre-prog rock of Jethro Tull ("Teacher"), to the unexpected covers of The Osmonds and The Bee Gees ("Wild Horses" and "Lemons Never Forget," respectively), Morse, Portnoy and George manage to replicate the basics while adding their own distinctive touches – sometimes with humor, often with obvious fondness and respect for the material, frequently with passion, but always with an underlying sense of fun.

Morse's chameleon-like vocals transform from song to song, slipping in and out of the timbre of the original vocalist (very noticeable on the Tull song) while adding his own signature sound to make it his own. Speaking of vocals, Portnoy has great fun doing his over-the-top best heavy metal phrasing on "Crazy Horses." By the way – I did the hard work for you - you really don't want to look up the original on YouTube. You're welcome.

Obviously, the playing is superb, from George's spot-on bass playing, to the expected percussive pyrotechnics of Mr. Portnoy, to Morse's dazzling keyboard playing and scorching fret work - often looser and more fiery than normal thanks to the freedom of performing other people's material basically for fun.

Every song is wonderfully done, and one of the delights of an album of covers like this is the discovery of songs that you might have otherwise overlooked. Given a new twist here or another level of passion there, songs like the psychedelia-dripping "Lemons Never Forget," or the stark aural landscape of the early King Crimson song, "Starless," will be introduced to a new population of listeners that might not have otherwise indulged....

There are many wonderful moments throughout Cover 2 Cover but special mention goes out to the jazzy outro on Todd Rundgren's "I Saw the Light," the emotionally-charged delivery of the Neil Young 'rock block' ("Southern Man / Needle and the Damage Done / Cinnamon Girl"), and the explosive cover of "The Letter," which combines the best aspects of the Leon Russell / Joe  Cocker version and The Box Tops' original. Stunning!

The first seven tracks were created during the 2012 Momentum sessions and the last five were done between Lifeline sessions in 2008. Morse, Portnoy and George basically did everything with only occasional help: Paul Gilbert (guitar on "Crazy Horses"), Paul Bielatowicz (guitar solo on "Lemons Never Forget"), Jim Hoke (horns), Ivory Leonard and Danielle Spencer (vocals on "The Letter"), and Steve Royce for the flute work on Jethro Tull's "Teacher" (you wouldn't have accepted a synth on that, right?).

So this is how these guys let off steam. Wow. Great stuff, folks. As Zappa used to say, "not a speck of cereal!"

There's also a bundled version that comes with a very well shot and recorded DVD covering 'the making of' this project. The footage is generous and includes plenty of moments showing the actual recording of tracks as well as tidbits from each member of the band talking about the songs and how/why they wre chosen. Great stuff!
So, until we get Cover 2 Cover II - The Sequel, enjoy!

-Bert Saraco


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