The original Cover to Cover release from Morse/Portnoy/George was derived from bonus tracks appended to the special editions of Morse’s albums. While I would not deride them as “throwaway,” they were recorded in a spirit of fun, not as purpose-built saleable content. Taken in that light, that first collection was fun and low-stakes. I also liked the second edition, cheekily rechristened Cover 2 Cover. Again, a grouping of songs not initially recorded to stand on their own but as bonus content. Still, the whole was not as easily digested as the majority of the pieces, with the harder-to-swallow bits feeling that much more leaden against the lighter “just for kicks” ones.
As a celebration of Neal Morse’s return to the InsideOut label, after many years on the Metal Blade label and a side trip to the Frontiers Group, the first two covers albums return with a third disc, and this is a problem.
For the first time in this run of releases, I feel like there are songs that, more than not working well in this context, simply don’t work well at all. On the two Squeeze covers – “Black Coffee In Bed” and “Tempted,” respectively – Morse audibly struggles with the soul vibe that singers Glenn Tilbrook and Paul Carrack put down. “Runnin’ Down A Dream” left me scratching my head. This kind of nostalgic mission statement chafes against Morse’s usual milieu of soul searching. More apropos might have been “A Face In The Crowd” or “Straight Into Darkness,” but those were not hit singles, and may be why they weren’t tried out.
And that’s my biggest issue with this third disc, now called Cov3r to Cov3r. I cannot possibly know what the artists were intending here or what their motivations were, but for the first time, there feels like a calculation in the mix. I’ve no doubt they were still doing this for fun. I cannot question their ability to play the music itself. That’s unassailable, but I don’t feel like they are “at play.”
The disc opens with “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed,” sung with guest Jon Davison, now-vocalist for Yes. This track was a standout on that band’s debut record, but was in fact a cover. It was initially recorded by Richie Havens. Maybe there was a bit of fun intended by this being a cover of a cover, featuring a guest vocal by someone who replaced the first cover’s vocalist (Jon Anderson), and it’s not like it is something Morse/Portnoy/George haven’t done before. For ‘2,’ they covered “The Letter” not by its creators The Box Tops/Alex Chilton, but Joe Cocker’s radical reinterpretation. It worked, mostly, because it was the trio jamming it out. For the Yes/Havens cover, incorporating Davison and making that the kickoff track is a conscious act of intention, maybe even a calculation. As a rendition, it is okay, but would I go out of my way to get it? Probably not.
And you do have to go out of your way for this, as it is part of the 3-disc set. Yet those most inclined to get it would be those who have already bought 1 and 2. This is needlessly complicated and the incentive to do so not nearly as strong.
I’ll put it this way. The performances, aside from those moments of dodgy vocal strain, are fine. If someone gifted me this set, I’d happily accept it, even though I already own the first two compilations. But I could not tell someone to spend money on this set, particularly if they own the first two discs also, just to get the third. The set hinges solely on the need to have that third disc, and I cannot vouch for it being an essential.
The full track-listing for all 3 Cover To Cover volumes is below.
Cover To Cover:
1.Where The Streets Have No Name (U2)
2.I’m The Man (Joe Jackson)
3.What Is Life? (George Harrison)
4.Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCartney)
5.Day After Day (Badfinger)
6.Pleasant Valley Sunday (The Monkees)
7.Tuesday Afternoon (The Moody Blues)
8.Can’t Find My Way Home (Blind Faith)
9.I’m Free / Sparks (The Who)
10.Where Do The Children Play (Cat Stevens)
11.Feelin’ Stronger Everyday (Chicago)
12.Rock N Roll Suicide (David Bowie)
Cover 2 Cover:
1.(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love & Understanding (Elvis Costello)
2.Lido Shuffle (Boz Scaggs)
3.Crazy Horses (The Osmonds)
4.Driven To Tears (The Police)
5.Come Sail Away (Styx)
6.Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (Steely Dan)
7.Lemons Never Forget (The Bee Gees)
8.The Letter (Joe Cocker)
9.I Saw The Light (Todd Rundgren)
10.Teacher (Jethro Tull)
11.Southern Man/Needle And The Damage Done/Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)
12.Starless (King Crimson)
Cov3r To Cov3r:
1.No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed (Yes)
2.Hymn 43 (Jethro Tull)
3.Life On Mars (David Bowie)
4.Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty)
5.It Don’t Come Easy (Ringo Starr)
6.Baby Blue (Badfinger)
7.One More Red Nightmare (King Crimson)
8.Black Coffee In Bed (Squeeze)
10.Runnin’ Down A Dream (Tom Petty)
11.Let Love Rule (Lenny Kravitz)