REVIEW: MORSE/PORTNOY/GEORGE – “Cov3r To Cov3r Vol.3”
It’s getting old, isn’t it? Endless reboots, re-dos, and reconstructions of the terminally reused. Sure, there have been some classic re-imaginings of some classic songs, films, and games. But they are relatively few and far between. Instead, like sentimental vampires hell-bent on draining the talented marrow from the pop-culture of yesteryear, many artists go down the tribute road, hankering after a little nostalgic indulgence. An experience likely to induce a sigh as bitter as a winter wind, and experience about as pleasant as chewing on a woolly jumper. And while this practice is not confined to any one era, decade or generation, lately we have been gorging on it. Sometimes, in some cases, curiosity is just about worth the investment. This being the case with the Morse/Portnoy/George record, ‘Cov3r To Cov3r.’
A collection of cover songs from, you guessed it, Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, and Randy George. The trio recently announced their return to the Cover to Cover series with their brand-new installment, offering an endearing tribute to the songs that helped shape them as musicians. Featuring renditions from King Crimson, David Bowie, Tom Petty, and Gerry Rafferty, to name but a few, the new album coincides with their Cover to Cover anthology. With volumes 1, 2, and 3 being released on the same day, bringing all installments together over three disks. Even if it risks being another nettled nod to nostalgia.
With new artwork and a remastered, sonic scrub applied, the release might excite and delight anyone with a hankering for all things retro. Others may not be so impressed. Yet when the iconic saxophone solo to Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” kicks in, it’s hard not to want to join in on the fun. With the attention to detail given to the guitar tone solo, and the percussive, playful triangle lingering in the background, M.P.G take good care of these beloved and signature traits before shredding their way through the epic outro in fine form.
Across ‘Cov3r to Cov3r’, individual performances are top-notch. Portnoy sounds like thunder and lightning behind the kit. On the Lenny Kravtiz number, “Let Love Rule,” or “Black Coffee in Bed” by Squeeze, Portnoy performs with such ease you’d think he’d been involved in writing the originals. Morse’s seductively warm voice on “It Don’t Come Easy” by Ringo Starr, plays off against his guitar playing. Which has a gripping bite in contrast to an already impressive rendition of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down A Dream.” If George comes across a little more understated, it’s because he is. But make no mistake, as his presence, and playing, are utterly essential on tracks like “Life on Mars” by David Bowie. Listen closely and you will also discover that he’s often the backbone driving the band forward.
If individual performers are due to their plaudits, collectively ‘Cov3r To Cov3r’ feels more like soloists shining in their moment. Far more than either the band or the songs ever do. The Cover to Cover series is a cute, clever exercise with some genuinely quirky moments, which, in the hands of lesser musicians could have been seriously hard work. Even so, unlike similar projects, such as Metallica’s ‘Garage Inc.’, it lacks that kinetic interplay between band members and doesn’t go anywhere really new or interesting. An absence that is felt throughout ‘Cov3r to Cov3r’. And one that unfortunately dominates it.