Throwback, Tribute, Compilation, Cover album… whatever you may call it; the premise of contemporary artists doing songs from ago will always be met with mixed reviews. Some revel in a modern-day, revamp version of a classic; purists feel some things need not be tampered with. I approach each (and all covers) from the standpoint of curiosity. “Will the rendition be note-for-note or will the artist actively seek to place a personal stamp on it?”
Such was the approach when I received Rick Devin’s album, Old School 2, and quickly realized it was basically an excerpt of songs from the soundtrack of my childhood (thanks in large to my dad’s LP collection and Classic Rock radio formats).
The familiar jangle guitar of Harrison and harmonized vocals of Paul and John open the album with a close rendition of The Beatles’ “Nowhere Man.” Surprisingly, the vocal delivery is spot on, including the backing “Oohs” and “Ahs” and the strum acoustic and electric note work are near note-for-note. No glaring adulterations thus far. Joe Cockers’ “Unchain My Heart” is where liberties are first taken. The backing vocal delivery is reminiscent. However, the dancing lead guitar, addition of backing horn section and noticeable absence of Cocker’s vocal rasp digress from this staple. And not in a bad way. The slightly upbeat tempo, Latin spice and strong horn presence make this one bounce, unlike the original. Having seen him live, I like all things Joe Walsh. Solo work, Eagles standards and James Gang… I’ve heard and grown up with them all. The “Rocky Mountain Way” rendition hits all the original notes in terms of its guitar-driven ethos, fills and constant chug. The effects-laden vocals are also there. What is missing is that Walsh sings in comfort in a higher octave than Devin and the delivery feels strained at times on the higher notes. The squawk box guitar solo at the mid point break again, is nearly to the note, with few to no liberties taken. The vocals are the only facet that doesn’t quite make the cut in terms of originality. When I got to Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” I was sure this would hallmark the one track that wouldn’t hit the nail on the head. I was wrong, in the worst kind of ways. Devin’s time in Brazil has certainly afforded him a clear understanding of Latin music and instrumentation and it shines on this cover. From the backing tropicalia-laced percussion, that trademark swagger that comes with Latin music and the absolutely pristine guitar work; not an easy task to pull off but Devin nails this one, even sounds like a young Carlos. “Layla” plays out with slightly dirtier and fuzzier electric guitar than the Derek and The Dominoes version and again, the vocal range seems to be a bit of a stretch for Devin. However, the intricacies that Clapton brought to the tracks can obviously be duplicated with precision on a note-for-note basis (with perhaps a bit of artistic liberty at the midpoint solo, but who’s counting). CSN&Y’s “Ohio” is a clean rendition instrumentally and the harmonized vocals at the high note chorus helps Devin in the upper end of his range and hitting the notes doesn’t come across as much strained as on prior tracks. Arguably a tie with Santana in terms of my fave album rendition. Seger’s “Old Time Rock And Roll” for me misses the mark and strays too far from the original. The soaring saxophone is about the most authentic of the note work, but the vocals are too far removed from Seger’s rasp vocal delivery, making it sound too much like a cover. “Pinball Wizard” features the original, great guitar tandem of frantic acoustic versus distorted electric chord and the urgent drum work is very reminiscent of Moon’s eclectic, unorthodox playing style. I thought the lyrics would suffer here as well, but there is much redemption on this one and the pristine instrumentation certainly helps.
I feel I have stepped out of my regular approach to review writing on this one in that I like all of the songs on this album and I have heard them for a significant portion of my life; so I know the nuances and intricacies of them all. That being said… I like this album. I like the musicianship, instrumentation and the people Devin surrounded himself in this album’s making certainly, certainly shine. The replications of some of the most iconic songs of the Classic Rock era is not an undertaking for the feint of heart, so there has to be kudos for the oxy to even take on this project. But to do it this well; that’s a whole ‘nother level. There are some misses on the album, but again with this undertaking it is to be expected and definitely forgiven once the body of work is taken into account. Now, if there were just a late 90s Indie project in the works…
by Chris West – firstname.lastname@example.org