New tribute project from Morse/ Portnoy/ George to include King Crimson, Steely Dan, the Police, Elvis Costello

Cover 2 Cover, the latest tribute album from Morse/Portnoy/George, will include songs from prog legends King Crimson, Jethro Tull and Styx. No surprise there, considering the band lineage of those involved.

After all, the album (due May 22 via Radiant Records) features Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard), Mike Portnoy (Adrenaline Mob, Dream Theater) and Randy George. But that’s just the beginning of where this album will take listeners, as the trio offers what promises to be an entertaining ride through of the back roads of its youth: Cover 2 Cover also finds Morse/Portnoy/George taking on Steely Dan, the Police and Elvis Costello — not to mention the Osmonds and the Bee Gees.

Morse credits his sidemen with helping shape his musical vision: “What people probably don’t realize is that Mike and Randy have great musical minds,” Morse told us, in an in-depth interview. “They are way more than good players.”

This is the long-awaited follow up to 2006’s well-received Cover to Cover, which had as one of its focuses Morse’s early heroes the Beatles — having included Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” George Harrison’s “What Is Life” and Badfinger’s “Day After Day,” which was produced by Harrison and featured his slide guitar.

Morse says the trio’s abiding musical curiosity is what makes collaborations like this one work so well.

“Mike is an amazing gleaner; he’s amazing at picking up the best parts of things,” Morse says. “I think because he’s a fan of not just of mine but all kinds of music, he has the mind of a listener in a way that I don’t. I just kind of do whatever I’m feeling. He can pick out the best sections and put things together with other ideas. That’s what he does in Transatlantic, help us pick out the best things from our demos and put them all together. And it all works. As for Randy, there are many times when we are creating these albums, and you are on a journey. We don’t know where we are going. You come to a crossing, and you know you need to go somewhere else — but you’re not sure how to get there. We’ll venture off and want to get back to where the demo was. Many times, Randy has had the key idea that led us back. As far as personal things, there’s a real bond between us all. A lot of love and appreciation.”

Included songs on ‘Cover 2 Cover':
Boz Scaggs, “Lido Shuffle”
Elvis Costello, “Peace, Love and Understanding”
Jethro Tull, “Teacher”
Joe Cocker, “The Letter”
King Crimson, “Starless”
Neil Young, “Southern Man/Needle and the Damage Done/Cinnamon Girl”
Styx, “Come Sail Away”
The Bee Gees, “Lemons Never Forget”
The Osmonds, “Crazy Horses”
The Police, “Driven to Tears”
Todd Rundgren, “I Saw The Light”
Steely Dan, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Neal Morse. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

NEAL MORSE – TESTIMONY 2 (2011): Morse confronted the triumphs and pain of his tenure and ultimate departure in 2002 from Spock’s Beard. In so doing, he ensured that this wasn’t simply an epic sequel to his initial solo release; in many ways, its grace and striking honesty make Testimony 2 the better record. As it unfolded, the album became a moving meditation on acceptance, on managing change, on embracing the past even as you move on. And Morse did it without sacrificing anything musically: For all of its underlying messages on faith — a conversion to Christianity precipitated Morse’s decision to go solo — 2 remained firmly rooted in the prog-rock tradition, from soaring keyboards to thrilling calculus-equation guitars to classically inspired compositional excursions.

TRANSATLANTIC – MORE NEVER IS ENOUGH (2011): The modern-day prog supergroup Transatlantic is revealed — through antics both during sound check and on stage (Portnoy stage dives!) — to be complete and utter fans of their chosen throwback format. Over the course of this gala release, they revel in all of progressive rock’s dizzying musical intrigues, but also all its fundamental (and, heck, still sometimes fun) excesses. The band has already done much to update a genre sometimes badly in need of a middle-aged facelift. More Never Is Enough shows they came into this with a deep understanding, and an even deeper appreciation, of its outlandishly imaginative, charmingly eccentric history. And they’re not afraid to celebrate that, too.

SPOCK’S BEARD – TESTIMONY 2: LIVE IN LOS ANGELES (2011): Morse joined his former band for three cuts found on early releases by Spock’s Beard. Midway through the current band’s reading of “The Light,” Morse bounds out on stage — just in time for “Return of the Catfish Man,” which charges forward with a gothic menace. Spock’s Beard then makes a crystalline transition into “The Dream,” the delicately moving closing segment of Morse’s very first prog composition. (I can’t help but hear, as Morse sings about a dream that can “stand up in the light,” the first inklings of his eventual turn toward praise rock.) “June,” meanwhile, is a gorgeous intertwining of vocal harmonies and guitars — perhaps the most approachable and emotionally available song he ever wrote for the band.

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.