Cleopatra Records [Release date 30.07.13]
Producer, engineer and multi instrumentalist and sometime Yes member Billy Sherwood has carved out his a niche for himself with a number of wide ranging all star tribute albums, and now it’s the turn of Steve Miller.
As the title suggests, the album focuses on Miller’s commercial period and annoyingly including songs such as ‘Jungle Love’ at the expense of say ‘The Window’, ‘Wild Mountain Honey’ or his take of ‘Mercury Blues’. It’s an album that takes some well known rock artists out of their comfort zone and pushes them into a west coast musical environment. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, with the successes being as surprising as the near misses.
Nektar’s Roye Albrighton for example, stars with members of his band and keyboard players Geoff Downes and Joel Vandroogenbroek on the title track. He nails the essential warmth of a Steve Miller vocal that is lacking in many of the contributions here.
John Wetton delivers a great vocal on ‘Jet Airliner’ – though you’d be hard pressed to realise it was him – as he teams up with guitarist Steve Stevens on an arrangement that benefits from subtle harmonies. The Tubes vocalist Fee Waybill is also well suited to the biting narrative of ‘Living in the USA’ and overcomes an over-elaborate Derek Sherinian synth solo to provide a gritty performance.
And while the above tracks work in terms of emulating the original arrangements, some of the other interpretations offer something vibrant and new. Martin Turner and Geoff Downes for example, transform a poppy ‘Swingtown’, into something with more of a prog feel, while Joe Lynn Turner and Steve Morse beef up ‘Jungle Love’ sufficiently to make a lightweight Miller song palatable.
‘Winter Time’ is the perfect fit for Curved Air’s Sonja Kristina who is paired with original Yes guitarist Peter Banks, but she is not helped by a busy production on a song that demands clarity.
For the rest, there are moments when it sounds as if Billy Sherwood went into the studio and cut the basic track and then called someone up to drop in a solo. This is particularly so on the startling Rick Wakeman synth solo that explodes on ‘Abracadabra’.
Disappointingly the one combination that really promised much, fails to deliver as Rod Argent and Steve Hillage don’t cut it on ‘Rock ‘n’ Me’. The song is simply out of Rod’s range and he doesn’t play any keyboards on it, while Hillage’s sound is simply too eclectic for a riff-driven song such as this.
‘Fly Like An Eagle’ has enough substance to interest fans of the various guests, but die-hard Steve Miller fans would probably be better advised to stick with the source material. ***
Review by Pete Feenstra
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