Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy and Randy George come up with the third volume of cover versions as well as rounding up their three efforts into a full anthology.
Release Date: 24th July 2020
Label: InsideOut Music
Format: CD / DL / 2LP (& 3CD anthology digipack in case)
For many fans of Neal Morse and what’s now become the Neal Morse Band, the cover version treats have always been the icing on the cake of any recording sessions. Whenever Mr Portnoy is involved, there’s bound to be the time when they dip into his little black book where he keeps his lists to see which songs they should have a go at.
In fact I wouldn’t put it past the Morse / Portnoy / George trio, who’ve been at this since 2006 (I recall buying the first edition at the Kings Centre gig back in the same year) to almost enjoy doing this more than recording new music. “Come on boys, let’s get these new songs tracked then we can get onto the cover versions…“
The version of The Moody Blues’ Tuesday Afternoon is the one that stands out from that first volume. All totally overblown, full of swing and all the better for it. The way it segues into Traffic’s Can’t Find My Way Home is brilliant.
At the root there’s a genuine enthusiasm and unbridled joy as they check into music by The Beatles, Harrison and McCartney; music with a pop emphasis and as we shall see, not just the obvious Prog stars of their own genre.
Volume 2 was the one that saw the trio thinking further outside the box. Songs by Elvis Costello, Steely Dan, The Police, the AOR of Styx and then the Bee Gees are all tested out.
They throw in the occasional curveball that permits a game of ‘who sang that?’ There are the more obvious choices by the likes of Jethro Tull and a grand ten minute Neil Young medley with a fabulous segue from The Needle And The Damage Done into the grungey Cinnamon Girl riff. And then follow that with the mighty twelve-minute Starless by King Crimson. However to pick a highlight? Has to be the wild version of the wild Osmonds wild Crazy Horses. Apart from the huge Portnoy drum roll at the start and his cookie monster vocal, you can just imagine him thrashing the living daylights out of a Hello Kitty kids drumkit. Great fun.
It’s all very authentic and respectful to the originals with Morse handling all sorts of guitars and Portnoy replicating all the drum parts with his natural ease as well as injecting his incredible style where he can. harmonies? Some belters. If they weren’t creating their own musical magic, they’d be living the dream.
The latest volume sees the choices getting a little bolder and eclectic. The ‘to do’ list is getting well mined. Cleverly named Cov3r To Cov3r, we get a grand into via the early Yes / big country influence of No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed written of course, by Richie Havens. There’s even a cowboy guitar solo mid-song as the trio play with the arrangement.
Progs big hitters, Tull (Hymn 43 is fantastic and matches the brill version of Teacher that’s on Vol 2) and Crimson feature again as the set flits comfortably between the complexities of the prog numbers and the more straightforward singer-songwriter material.
Songs by Bowie and Tom Petty (the more obvious choices, Life On Mars and running Down A Dream) and Badfinger get the cover treatment too. Aside from the Portnoy family having fun with Ringo’s It Don’t Come Easy, The Beatles give way to Gifford and Tilbrook, the modern-day Lennon and McCartney. Acknowledging their creative partnership we get an unprecedented two Squeeze efforts to keep the focus on good songs while still avoiding anything too hefty. There are plenty more Portnoy bands (Sons Of Apollo have doe similar) which can scratch that itch.
The words ‘iceberg’ and ‘tip’ spring to mind. The well is far from dry.
Listen to the trio rocking out on Jethro Tull’s Hymn 43 here: