FEBRUARY 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 2


The Test of Time

REVIEWS | Surprising Fred

LAST | The State of the Music Industry


Sound Bites
Grading from A-F

Good Morning, Who Are You?:
This independently released disc by a Canadian/American songwriting duo could very easily find a home as soundtrack material on the acoustic guitar favoring WB network. Jeff Nicholson and Chris Fuller wrote and performed all of the songs on this impressive first effort in the style of lyric intensive, melody driven artists like Love Spit Love and Barenaked Ladies with shadings of James Taylors sense of mood.

Their mid-tempo tracks such as "Way of the World" and "Step On Up" (the disc's best track) are both radio friendly yet meaningful. Intentionally or not, the style of these songs is quite the rage on the popular WB dramas "Dawson's Creek" and "Felicity." Television dramas are featuring and showcasing music that captures the program's theme and mood without overpowering the dialogue or action. The same description could just as easily be written of Surprising Fred.

The disc's song selection and themes form a slice of time soundtrack. Nicholson and Fuller have managed to capture their emotions and convey them to the listener - not an easy task on a first release.

Best of all, Surprising Fred isn't an emotional one trick pony. They mix the melancholy "Not Tonight" with the comical and upbeat "Captain Kirk", which closes out the disc.

The only, almost unforgiveable, mistake the duo makes is utilizing a drum machine rather than a real drummer. At times, the tempo is too perfect, which can affect the feel of the songs. On top of that, electronic cymbals sound too polished and clean, lacking the true warmth that can be felt if not always consciuosly heard. B+

Buy It (this album is only available online)

- Kevin Ridolfi


Standing the Test of Time
The Decade's Best Rock Covers


There's a famous saying that states: "Imitation is the greatest form of flattery".

While I'm sure that many procrastinating students have tried to use this line as an excuse for plagiarizing term papers, in this instance the imitation is both legal and moral. And without a doubt, flattering.

Since the very beginning of American music cover tunes have made their mark. When bands like the Beatles first got together they jammed on songs like "Twist and Shout" and "Mr. Postman". They were plagiarizing, they were, in a way, paying the ultimate respect to their rock and roll forefathers and at the same time fleshing out their own abilities. Each and every decade of music has produced influential artists whose songs have been covered by other bands. Now, the Beatles are themselves the most covered and imitated band in the history of rock. According to some - though the statistics are near impossible to tabulate - "Yesterday" is easily the most frequently covered song ever.

As we near the turn of the century with music once again undergoing a major stylist overhaul, it is extremely interesting to delve into the influences of some of the bands from the last decade. I have compiled a list, in no particular order, of some of the best covers I have heard in the last few years. One word of warning for the rock snobs, there are some bands on the list who weren't exactly trend-setting, but who still performed wonderfully on the mentioned track.

Stone Temple Pilots - "Dancing Days"
The much maligned grunge act, recorded a version of Led Zeppelin's "Dancing Days" on the Zeppelin tribute album "Enconium." The track is hands down the best on a great tribute album with STP showing their varied talents as well as their ability to understand what it takes to make a song sound good.

Mad Season - "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier"
John Lennon has been credited by many critics as being the true father of the grunge movement. His solo work contained the same spirit and edginess as "grunge" would 15 years later. To prove the point, the 1995 John Lennon tribute "Working Class Hero" contained covers by many alternative acts including the Layne Staley (Alice In Chains) led Mad Season. Mad Season captured the emotion of the track perfectly.

Metallica - "Stone Cold Crazy"
At first listen, it seems strange to hear Metallica covering Queen, the art rock band famous for "Bohemian Rhapsody." About halfway through the track all doubts are forgotten because Metallica makes the song their own. The two bands actually have more in common than you might think: intense, unusual lyrics and the confidence to make the music they want to make without caving to outside pressure.

Working Man Tribute - "Analog Kid"
As a huge part of the progressive rock movement in the 1970's, Rush has influenced an enormous number of bands, even outside of the prog rock vein. In 1996, Magna Carta records released a tribute album containing music by artists rather than groups. "Analog Kid", featuring Jack Russell, Michael Romeo, Mike Pinnella, Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan and Brendt Allman, is the best of a quality bunch.

Nirvana - "Lake of Fire"
I will freely admit that I am not a huge fan of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. I feel that they were far too serious and too full of calculated angst. However, their version of this Meat Puppets track from the 1994 "Unplugged in New York" album is outstanding. For once, Cobain's whining doesn't bother me and actually fits the tone of the song perfectly. Much like Metallica did with with "Stone Cold Crazy", Nirvana makes this song theirs.

Mr. Big - "Wild World"
Mr. Big became known for only one song - the hit "To Be With You" - which is unfortunate because that track doesn't really do the band justice. Most of their music has a much harder - and thanks to bassist Billy Sheehan's influence, even progressive - edge. They do revert back to their softer side, however, to record this version of the Cat Stevens classic on the "Bump Ahead" album.

Ugly Kid Joe - "Cats in the Cradle"
This is one of the more unusual pairings: stereotypical rock and roll party animals and the crooner Harry Chapin. Well, they say opposites attract. This song is probably my favorite cover of the early 1990's. Vocalist Whitfield Crane captures the track's emotions well, while the instrumentalists add an edge that was missing from the original.

Filter - "One"
Another odd couple. Filter is best known for their industrial, Nine Inch Nails influenced sound, but they produced a great adaptation of the Three Dog Night standard for last summer's "X-Files Soundtrack".

Guns n' Roses - "Hair of the Dog"
A little known trivia question: what was the last album recorded by Guns n' Roses? Most will say the platinum selling "Use Your Illusion" albums, but the correct answer is their album of punk covers "The Spaghetti Incident?". GNR does a remarkably good job on most of these tracks, but the Nazareth classic stands out from the rest. Of course, Guns n' Roses proved their cover abilities with earlier covers of Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney.

Jeff Healey Band - "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
Just one of millions of the aforementioned Beatles covers. This is the best cover of a Beatles song that I have heard, in large part because Healey doesn't try to become George Harrison. Instead he lets his own substantial talents speak for themselves.

Honorable Mention
Van Halen - "Won't Get Fooled Again" (The Who)

Living Colour - "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing" (James Brown)

Skid Row - "What You're Doing" (Rush)

Def Leppard - "Only After Dark" (Mick Ronson)

Duran Duran - "Thank You" (Led Zeppelin)

The entire Backbeat Soundtrack


KEVIN RIDOLFI of Pawtucket, RI, is the creator and editor of Renaissance Online Magazine. He can be reached at kridolfi@renaissancemag.com

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