Forgotten series: Tesla – Real to Reel (2007)

Tesla undertook a unique idea in releasing a covers project called Real to Reel.

The releases included music that inspired the band to become who they are, beginning with an initial album that featured Deep Purple, the James Gang, the Guess Who, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Robin Trower, the Temptations, UFO, Uriah Heep, Derek and the Dominos, the Rolling Stones, and Traffic. From the first, they made a great case that when a band is really, truly honest about their influences with such a covers album, the sum is, if not necessarily greater, at least nearly as great as the parts — both in the case of the music they present and the band themselves.

Real to Reel 2 was the completion of the set. The tracks were listed right there on the package with the first disc, along with a space for that missing second disc, but with a warning that to obtain said disc, for free, would require getting to one of their concerts. Neat concept: Free music with your ticket. The band sees ticket sales rise and concert-goers get something extra, “free” with every show. Unfortunately, it was not a very logical way to do things. If the band were to hit every city in every state, there would be ample opportunities for fans to grab these discs. Realistically, however, most bands simply can’t do that.

It was inevitable that Disc 2 would find its way to store shelves, and it was worth the wait: Included were covers of Mott the Hoople, Montrose, BTO, Bad Company, the Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper, Sly and the Family Stone, Peter Frampton, ZZ Top, Aerosmith, Skynyrd, and Sabbath. And they are fantastic covers. The complete set nearly equaled the greatness of Def Leppard’s stunning, surprising Yeah! from 2006, and that’s no small feat: covers albums typically suck.

For example, ZZ Top’s “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” doesn’t sound so drastically different than the waters Tesla typically treads, but some of the fun to be had in listening to this one is hearing Jeff Keith mimic the effect of having two similar-voiced singers handling vocals. And “Shooting Star” could have been a disaster in lesser hands. Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers is blessed with a unique voice that is powerful, yet not showy in a ridiculous way, and few singers seem to be able to handle that subtle combination. But Jeff Keith manages to pull it off; his signature rasp is mellowed here.

And that’s the case with all the songs. Keith and the band do these classics justice not because they try to adapt them to their own sound but because the reverence they feel toward the songs is evident in every one of the songs. What we listeners get is the rare covers album that actually does feel like the band was influenced by the music they chose, rather than what usually happens — the band picks songs that they think will score them points for the cool factor of their choices, or they choose songs that are so common that they say nothing.

Taken as a whole, Real to Reel says a lot – and it is so enjoyable that it may be all many listeners need from Tesla. (I will, however, disagree and say that debut album Mechanical Resonance and sadly overlooked Bust a Nut are must-haves as well.) What’s more, the band saved the best for last: Real to Reel 2 is actually stronger than the first disc in the set. That’s not to slight Real to Reel 1. Fans of the band and fans of classic rock alike owe themselves to invest in both.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Fred Phillips

    I’m a Tesla fan, but I just couldn’t get into these records when they came out. I’d say Mechanical Resonance and Psychotic Supper are the must-owns for me, but I’ve liked just about everything they’ve done. I thought there was some good stuff here, but most of the covers just didn’t do anything for me. Maybe I need to revisit them five years on.