Remember growing up and putting the first side of “Crime of The Century” on the turntable for the first time? The sounds of the Spaghetti Western stand-off harmonica the children screaming and laughing in the school playground as some majestic piano leads into some anti establishment lyrics. That was 1974. The album, decades later, stands the test of time as one of the great rock albums and forms the basis for “Songs of the Century” tribute.
Davies & Hodgson shared the Supertramp song-writing credits on a 50/50 split for contractual reasons but the reality was in’74 their song writing partnership was already drifting apart. As with the Beatles, Supertramp had two strong voices, each taking lead on their own compositions. Hodgson departed Supertramp in 1983, and has not spoken with Davies for many years, often only communicating through their spouses, but rifts within Super Groups are commonplace and members of Yes and Pink Floyd also faced internal turmoil for decades.
These sad situations for fans seemingly puts the kibosh on the hope of new material but clever producers, like Billy Sherwood, manage to create new opportunities by inviting a stalwart guest list of players to pay tribute to Davies & Hodgson’s writing talents whilst not forgetting the other members of Supertramp; the drummer with the magnificent name of Bob C. Benberg (never shortened!) a woodwind player and extrovert front man John Heliwell and the reserved bassist Dougie Thomson.
In the “School” class re-union of 2012 the aggressive feel of the original version is taken to new heights via the gravelly lead vocal of Rod Argent and a totally mean guitar by Robby Krieger, of the Doors. Bass, keyboards and additional guitars are played by Billy Sherwood himself, who is responsible for producing, recording and mixing all the tracks at his own Studios in LA. Sherwood cleverly brings his “Circa” band mate, the vastly underrated Scott Connor, for all the drums on all of the tracks.
“The Crime of the Century” is in itself such an incredible piece of music that only a few players could take on such a tribute and give it justice, but Rick Wakeman excels in a way which is possibly his best performance in years, whereby Tony Levin delivers a bass line which leaves the judge with only one verdict on possible under par performance; Not Guilty!
Not many vocalists dare to enter the high ranges of the “The Logical Song” but Mickey Thomas of Starship soars into space. Sherwood has utilised his high IQ and applies a logical decision to bring in original Yes Keyboardist, Tony Kaye to support an on fire Steve Morse, who recently played with Deep Purple but has over 47 albums accredited to his name. As Steve Morse left his HQ studio, Sherwood commented “Man can he play” which sums up exactly what can be expected when listening to this exceptional track!
The key role for the producer of such a tribute album is in selecting players who can fit the role, almost parallel to selecting an actor to perform the works of Shakespeare on stage. None surpasses the piano of Steve Porcaro in his incredible performance of “Rudy”. Porcaro is famous for his work with Toto, but here he takes things to a very classical level joined by a strong vocal from Roye Albrighton, a British artist who made his name in the musical “Hair” and even played alongside Hendrix.
Sherwood’s production skills on the opening track “Breakfast in America” adopt an almost Monty Python sound, as fairground keyboards and trumpet sound are pumped out by Larry Fast, who was very instrumental with the early works of Peter Gabriel. The lead vocal on this occasion is given to John Wetton, who seems to get even busier as he gets older.
Also worthy of a listen is the sing a long vocal of XTC’s Colin Moulding on “It’s Raining Again”, a song now always overplayed on British Radio during the summer months, cleverly backed by Geoff Downes nifty keyboard work.
“Give a Little Bit” has been given an almost classical treatment by Peter Banks and a moving vocal by Richard Page. A song such as this is not easy to cover but this version has been treated with a great respect. In the same vein Annie Haslam pays great homage to “Dreamer”.
Billy Sherwood has pulled together some of the greatest names in musical history, all of whom joined with great enthusiasm for this unique idea of a tribute to Supertramp, a band who have bought joy to millions around the globe over the past 40 years; can that be considered a crime?
Reviewed by Tim Price for Rockshot UK August 14th 2012
Songs of the Century: Released on August 15th 2012 by Purple Pyramid Records
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