To pinch a quote from fellow TPA scribe Graham Thomas… So the burnin’ question on your lips must be… “Do we need another ELP compilation release?” Well having waded my way through this release, several times now, I’m inclined to say: erm, no, not really. Ten tracks (eleven if you buy the CD) featuring a veritable who’s who in the “progressive” music industry. On paper, it sounds interesting enough, and the assembled cast… impressive indeed.
The compilation opens with Greg Lake’s previous band, King Crimson and the opening section of 21st Century Schizoid Man. Not quite the snarling visceral beast that opened In The Court of the Crimson King, although Todd Rundgren does capture Greg’s venomous vocal delivery. The arrangement here harks back to ELP’s 1998 live album, Then and Now, and in particular the ‘Now’ part, recorded during their ’97/’98 reunion tour. The accelerando tempo change from Schizoid is used to link to a version of The Nice’s adaptation of America, via a little Fanfare. Brian Auger tackles the rollicking organ solo section.
So far so good?
A Time and a Place, from arguably ELP’s finest album Tarkus, is next in the spotlight with Derek Sherinian’s gritty and flamboyant organ grasping the essence of the track, whilst District 97 vocalist Leslie Hunt does a cracking job of the vocals. The man behind this compilation, Billy Sherwood, also let’s rip with some fine bass work.
As a song, I never really fully embraced The Sheriff, one of those quirky pieces from the band, so interesting to see how multi-instrumentalist David Sancious and Mr Sherwood would tackle this one. Initially, Sancious creates a bluesier feel, which works rather nicely, a great choice of sounds during the middle instrumental break is inspired, whilst the once comedic ending is replaced by a jazzier outro. Billy Sherwood tackles the vocals on The Sheriff and sounds remarkably like Randy Newman.
Current fellow “Yes” vocalist Jon Davison does a fine job of Greg Lake’s C’est La Vie, with additional orchestration by Larry Fast and again rather prominent bass parts from Mr S. This is followed by the first of the two, yes two, versions of From The Beginning. As with C’est La Vie it’s pleasant enough, if not a tad perfunctory. John Wesley’s voice didn’t sit comfortably with me, I’m afraid, however master flautist Thijs Van Leer offers a different slant to the track with his deft flourishes.
It is at this point that the wheels start to come off. Patrick Moraz’s performance of Hoedown closely resembles the original studio version, barring the solo section, however the recording here is sonically flat and heavily compressed, although the latter may be more down to working from a download. A missed opportunity, as it would have been far more interesting to see Moraz put his own slant on proceedings.
As with the previous ballads, Still… You Turn Me On is a pleasant enough interpretation, with Steve Porcaro’s subtle arrangement and Sonja Kristina’s vocal delivery agreeable. Continuing chronologically through the album, we return to the ballads with ELP’s anthem Lucky Man, from their eponymous debut. Is that bass guitar getting louder 😉 ? Anyway, Martin Turner’s vocal is pleasing enough to the ear, whereas the Country style guitar licks didn’t do it for me at all. Originally the icing on the cake was Keith Emerson’s wonderful outro Moog solo, sadly Geoff Downes’ is more like a light dusting of icing sugar.
Conversing recently with a friend about this album, the track that caused him most consternation was Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Part 2. Now might that be because Jordan Rudess struggled with the keyboard parts? Perish the thought. Or might it be the choice of Arthur Brown to tackle Greg Lake’s vocal? I must admit I did wince when I first saw this. Brown’s delivery, however, is exactly what you might expect from the god of hellfire. It’s quirky and even a little fragile, but for a guy way closer to 80 than 70, he still possesses a fair set of lungs. Oh, and as for the aforementioned Jordan Rudess, well he is the star of this recording for me!
So that’s it!
Well it isn’t really as I’ve missed a couple of tracks out. Firstly… “Do we EVER need another version of Fanfare For The Common Man?” You guessed, not a favourite, and its endless inclusion on compilations, tributes, etc, beggars belief. Main irritation here is the keyboard bass that, ad nauseam, ping pongs from L to R making it almost unlistenable on headphones. The track features both Aaron and Ethan Emerson, so a fitting inclusion for that reason.
Finally, if you buy the CD version, there’s a bonus track with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performing ELP Suite: Tarkus/From The Beginning/Tarkus (Reprise), previously released on the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Plays Prog Rock Classics…
And there we have it.
With a couple of exceptions one of the major downfalls of this release, for me, are the arrangements, which for the main adhere too closely to the originals. Well produced as they may be, another failing with the underlying tracks is that they feel flat, one dimensional and lack any real spark. So the overall verdict is that this is an ‘alright’ compilation, but given the source material and the grandiose guests, it should be more than just ‘alright’. What might have improved this tribute would be the inclusion of some Palmer(s). Granted it is, as the title says, a tribute to the sadly departed Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, however it was the synergy forged by the three musicians that made the music of ELP.
01. 21st Century Schizoid Man/America (4:18)
02. A Time and a Place (3:19)
03. The Sheriff (3:03)
04. C’est La Vie (4:13)
05. From the Beginning (4:21)
06. Hoedown (3:46)
07. Still… You Turn Me On (2:57)
08. Lucky Man (4:48)
09. Fanfare for the Common Man (6:14)
10. Karn Evil #9, 1st Impression (5:02)
~ Bonus track:
11. ELP Suite:
~ Tarkus/From The Beginning/Tarkus (Reprise) (6:39)
Total Time – 48:40
Billy Sherwood – Bass, Production
Thijs Van Leer
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (track11)