With names like these, with pedigrees like these, you might be expecting this Supertramp tribute project to become a somewhat academic affair. Instead, these guys sound like they’re having a blast — and it’s contagious.
Producer Billy Sherwood (a writer, producer and member of the 1990s-era edition of Yes) has collected an amazing collection of fellow musicians for the aptly named Songs of the Century: An All-Star Tribute to Supertramp, due August 7, 2012 from Purple Pyramid/Cleopatra Records. Included are members and former members of Asia, Deep Purple, Jefferson Starship, King Crimson, Mr. Mister, Peter Gabriel’s band, Rainbow, Renaissance, The Doors, The Zombies, Toto, XTC and Yes, among others. The drummer throughout is Scott Connor, formerly of Yoso and now a member of Circa with Kaye and Sherwood.
Together, they lovingly recreate, occasionally embellish and generally skip their way through 11 tracks by Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, two of the 1970s’ most consistent but somehow underrated hitmakers. There’s also one bonus original songs that offers its own unique intrigues, but more on that in a moment.
The unqualified highlight arrives midway through Songs of the Century with “It’s Raining Again,” featuring the long-retired Colin Moulding of XTC fame. Appearing with Yes/Asia/Buggles keyboardist Geoff Downes and Sherwood, Moulding strips the song of whatever melancholy it once possessed, transforming it into a brilliant, sun-filled power-pop confection.
Elsewhere, Larry Fast — such an important piece of the initial Peter Gabriel solo albums — adds a kaleidoscopic keyboard interlude to “Breakfast in America” alongside a typically robust handling of the lyric by John Wetton (King Crimson, UK, Asia). John Wesley, a one-time sideman with Porcupine Tree, is nearly upstaged at times on vocals by the bouncing bass counterpoint from Sherwood during “Take the Long Way Home” — until Wesley bursts back to the fore with a scorching solo guitar turn.
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: 'Songs of the Century' producer Billy Sherwood talks about what Supertramp means to him: They "changed my world."]
An out-of-nowhere combination of Mickey Thomas from Jefferson Starship, Steve Morse from Deep Purple and Tony Kaye from Yes join Sherwood for “The Logical Song.” Morse, though his soloing space is remarkably brief, offers an interestingly angular commentary while Thomas, after what had been a very faithful reading, really cuts loose toward song’s end. Mr. Mister frontman Richard Page continues his summer resurgence, following up a celebrated turn in Ringo Starr’s newest All-Starr Band, with his own touching iteration of “Give A Little Bit,” Page is joined by original Yes guitar Peter Banks, who offers a roiling solo in counterpoint.
Sherwood fronts a group that includes fellow Yes alum Rick Wakeman and Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, John Lennon) on an anthematic interpretation of “Crime of the Century,” exploring to the outer edges of Supertramp’s occasional penchant for prog. Renaissance’s Annie Haslem so perfectly mimics the original vocal on “Dreamer” that it’s difficult at times to discern that it’s not in fact Roger Hodgson. She’s joined by former E Street Band and Stanley Clarke keyboardist David Sancious, who offers a series of gurglingly propulsive responses.
Toto’s Steve Porcaro and Nektar’s Roye Albrighton are featured on “Rudy”; Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow, Deep Purple) sings “Bloody Well Right,” while Rod Argent (The Zombies, Argent) fronts the band for “School” — with a notable assist on lead guitar from the Doors’ Robby Krieger.
Finally, Yes fans are also pointed to the project’s bonus track, featuring a partial band reunion of Sherwood (who composed the song), bassist Chris Squire and keyboardist Tony Kaye. From the billowing initial vocal by Squire, “Let the World Revolve” is a joy-filled romp, with Sherwood darting in and out at the mic, and Kaye doodling ecstatically behind on the Hammond.
Does this shimmeringly optimistic aside have anything to do with Supertramp? Well, not really. But it sure was fun. And that, as much as anything seems to be the point here.