Inside Out [Release date 24.07.20]
Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy and Randy George. Three titans of modern prog locked together to fight the elements and stride forth on their third covers album, each one bringing their ‘A Game’ as they join forces to pay tribute to the giants who have come before.
As with the previous two outings by the trio, this is another fun excursion into their record collections that mainly hits the mark but, truth be told, occasionally falls short. There can be no doubt about the passion and love as they attack the material, each man truly having a ball and this shines through in the performances.
The album opens with ‘No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed’, where the trio are joined by current Yes vocalist Jon Davison for a frantic run through of the early Yes classic. It’s a great way to kick things off and follow it with a storming ‘Hymn 43’, the Jethro Tull track having new life (locomotive) breathed into it, a heightened sense of swing and feel brought by Portnoy’s usual flair and punch, the guitar solo a fiery treat.
Tackling Bowie’s ‘Life On Mars’ and Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’ were always going to be a stretch of ambition and they almost pull them off but both just miss the target. Sure, there’s the grandeur here and you can’t fault the talent but the vocals on both the originals are iconic and the warm and laid-back vibe of the latter just isn’t here.
Things get back on track with their retelling of Ringo Starr’s ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ and their version of Badfinger’s ‘Baby Blue’ is stellar, capturing the dramatic rock ‘n’ roll / country ballad hybrid in all its Bryds meets Monkees glory.
Having covered King Crimson on previous volumes, their choice of ‘One More Real Nightmare’ was another great choice, the sax work being particularly fine. Again, another misstep with the brace of Squeeze tunes; ‘Black Coffee In Bed’ and ‘Tempted’, neither quite gelling but it’s slam back on form with a powerful and joyful take on ‘Running Down A Dream’, Tom Petty’s frantic rocker.
A laid back ‘Let Love Rule’ gives Lenny Kravitz’s a wonderful lazy, summery feel and finishes the album with a gentle whisper, rather than a scream.
With such a release as this you can but admire their ambition, tackling both legendary songs that everyone knows along with some slightly lesser familiar gems that deserve a much wider audience.
Where it’s sometimes let down is in the choice of widely better-known material as, for most people, the originals are peerless, held in such love and regard that to even try to tackle them is tantamount to sacrilege for some.
With covers albums being divisive at the best times you can add this as a real success in that oft maligned field and a worthy addition to the two previous releases. The lasting impression is of a group of incredibly talented musicians playing songs that have been interwoven into their DNA, going into the studio to write yet another love letter to tracks and artists who’ve meant so much over the years. Well worth investigating. ***
Review by Paul Monkhouse
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