The intrigue of compilations like this is when seemingly incongruent artists successfully combine, or when somebody turns a familiar tune inside out. Who Are You: An All Star Tribute to the Who — due October 2, 2012, from Cleopatra Records — offers its share of both.
The set opens with John Wetton, who always sings like his life is in the balance, tearing into the 1982 Who track “Eminence Front.” He turns out to be a perfect fit for the Pete Townshend-sung lyric, and keyboardist Derek Sherinian (Black Country Communion) and founding Judas Priest guitarist K.K. Downing tangle with energy and fire. Unfortunately, the song can’t begin to replicate the original’s thundering groove — principally, it seems, because Wetton doesn’t play on the track. The bass is handled on “Eminence Front,” and elsewhere, by session co-producer Jurgen Engler; Billy Sherwood (Yes, Circa) plays drums here, and on seven other tracks.
Mark Lindsey of Paul Revere and the Raiders adds the perfect dreamscape drama to “I Can See For Miles,” while Wayne Kramer from the legendary Detroit punk group MC5 burns through the signature riff. Former Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman adds an atmospheric portent to “Love Reign O’er Me,” even if Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott can’t match Daltrey’s trembling emotional resonance. Believe it or not, however, those aren’t even this compilation’s strangest pairings: Later, country singer Gretchen Wilson handles the lyric on “Who Are You,” with Randy Bachman (The Guess Who, Bachman Turner Overdrive) sitting in on guitar. Peter Noone of Herman and the Hermits fame also joins Yes alum Peter Banks and Cream’s Ginger Baker for “Magic Bus.”
Elsewhere, I loved the way Nektar’s Roye Albrighton deftly echoed both Roger Daltrey’s ragged howl, and Townshend’s jagged glory, on “Baba O’Riley” while Jerry Goodman (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Dixie Dregs) perfectly mimics the track’s frenetic original violin showcase. Sweet, as always, runs roughshod over things with a blissfully wild take on “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
Todd Rundgren performs with wobbly abandon on “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere,” joined by drummer Carmine Appice on the second of his two appearances — after “Love Reign O’er Me.” Pat Travers turns “Behind Blue Eyes” into a dark blues-rock rumination and Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow, Deep Purple) combines with Mountain’s Leslie West on a heavy-metal redo of “The Seeker,” neither of which is a bad thing at all. But even the appearance of Deep Purple’s manic skinbeater Ian Paice can’t save 38 Special’s too-slick version of “Bargain.”
The album’s high point, however, might just be Iggy Pop’s balls-out take on “I Can’t Explain.” His voice, which sounds like it’s been through a meat grinder and then kneaded with glass, adds a whole new sense of immediacy, of desperate longing, to Townshend’s age-old romantic declamations.
Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on John Wetton, Todd Rundgren, Billy Sherwood, Sweet and Randy Bachman. Click through the titles for complete reviews …
SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: JOHN WETTON OF ASIA, KING CRIMSON AND UK: Coming off a well-received sixth solo project, John Wetton has — in quick succession — reunited with the trio-era members of UK for a tour, then with his blockbuster 1980s prog-pop band Asia for an album and tour. The singer-songwriting bassist stopped by to discuss getting back together with the progressive-rock era’s last supergroup, the enduring joys of collaborating with Geoff Downes and how turning away from alcoholism changed everything.
SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: TODD RUNDGREN: Perhaps Todd Rundgren’s own restive muse — he’s dabbled in every major rock subgenre over the past four decades — simply makes him too difficult to categorize. Maybe Rundgren never stuck with one thing long enough. Somehow, this pop music maverick hasn’t consistently found the wider fame he so richly deserves. At least outside of our crowded listening stations at the Something Else! Reviews Towers. We love us some Rundgren. Let’s count the ways.
SOMETHING ELSE! SNEAK PEEK: BILLY SHERWOOD, “DRONE DECIPHERS” (2012): “Drone Deciphers,” the lead single from Billy Sherwood’s forthcoming solo album The Art of Survival, is a tweeked-out piece of space-age alienation that has more to do with Peter Gabriel than Sherwood’s time in Yes — a very good thing.
ONE TRACK MIND: SWEET, “NEW YORK GROOVE” (2012): Sweet answers the question once and for all: What would happen if some combined the glam of T. Rex, the metal of Slade and the modernity of Jay Z? What’s that? You said you never asked that particular question? Well, Sweet answers it anyway, with an effervescent take on “New York Groove” to open their forthcoming album of mashed-up cover tunes, New York Connection, due April 27, 2012. Original guitarist Andy Scott is continuing the name, and the attitude, that made Sweet such a great party band in the mid-1970s — despite the kind of hard luck and bad times that would have soured most.
BACHMAN AND TURNER – LIVE AT ROSELAND (2012): A DVD/Blu-ray addendum to the earlier two-CD Eagle Rock collection finds Bachman and Turner reclaiming these songs as their own after years of courtroom battles over the BTO brand, even while expertly blending in their more recent duo material. In fact, Bachman’s “That’s What It Is” and Turner’s “Rollin’ Along” fit perfectly alongside familiar radio favorites like Turner’s “Let It Ride” and Bachman’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.”