CELEBRATING THE TEN-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF ALAN PARSONS LIVE ON TX2 CDS. GETTING OUR FILL OF SOMETHING WE THOUGHT MAY NEVER HAPPEN: ALAN PARSON LIVE!!!

Calling all Alan Parsons fans!  Find this disc, buy this disc!

Calling all Alan Parsons fans! Find this disc, buy this disc!

When I first heard The Alan Parsons Project, I was tuning into a classical music radio station to get my fill of relaxing music.  Little did I know, the station had changed formats and they were debuting the entire I Robot (at the time) LP.  Commercial breaks only from the end of side one to the beginning of side two.

When I first heard those sequenced synth sounds coming through my speakers, not only was I curious as to where my classical music had gone, but also I was very intrigued by what was coming through my speakers!  Ever since that day, I was hooked.  Then I started to hear more and more Alan Parsons songs on this station and others.  Then there were more tracks not only from the I Robot album, but new ones!

Now mind you, this was back in an era when there was no public internet and radio was still free.  So getting information on an artist was reduced to magazines, Creem, Rolling Stone, Circus, etc.  All these magazines stated unequivocally that The Alan Parsons Project was a studio project only.  Never to tour live.  Comprised of the best studio musicians and mates Parsons and long-time musical collaborator Eric Woolfson could muster.  Many of whom were already members of some of Europe’s greatest prog rock, pop and other genre groups.  David Paton of Pilot and Camel, Stuart Tosh of 10cc and also of Pilot, Ian Bairnson of (of all bands) The Bay City Rollers as well as being a sideman for Kate Bush, vocalists such as Lenny Zakatek and Allan Clarke, Dave Townsend and the list goes on and on.  Managing these people, their schedules and comprising a tour when the namesake of the band is one of the most sought after studio whiz-bangs in the industry and his cohort has little to no interest in going on the road (and has a rewarding career as a manager, songwriter and accidental vocalist) proved logistically impossible.  Until many years later…

Now, Alan Parsons comprises a crack staff of musicians who do an incredible job of recreating that studio magic that first appeared to the masses on songs like “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You” and “Time” and “Sirius” which you have heard at sporting events, etc., and an almost seemingly endless list of hit after hit.

This review is of the CD Alan Parsons Live on TX2 which was released here as an import from Holland.  You can also find it through a label called Arcade records.  What you can’t find in the packaging was the line up for the band in 2003 when this was allegedly recorded and released.  This is one of those mysterious import releases.

Fortunately, resources today are better than they were when I first heard The Project in 1977…

According to Alan Parsons website, the band’s lineup from 2003 to 2009 is comprised thusly:

Alan Parsons: Guitar, Vocals, Keyboards, Percussion

Godfrey Townsend: Guitar

Steve Murphy: Drums

P.J. Olsson: Vocals

John Montagna: Bass

Manny Focarazzo: Keyboards

Some readers may recognize at least three of Parsons band members as Townsend, Olsson and Focarazzo are with Parsons right up to this day and were featured in our last review of The Project at Lehigh University in 2011.

Someone who is no longer with Parsons, is Woolfson, who passed away from Cancer in December of 2009.  There is one small bright side.  Shortly before his death, there was a release of a disc called Eric Woolson Sings The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was.  We are working very hard to procure this disc for future review.  I was informed to the existence of this disc by an online interview with Sally Woolfson, Eric’s daughter.

What a wonderful way to honor his memory.

Another way is hearing Parsons repeatedly play the songs Woolfson became an unwitting vocalist for.  “Time”, “Prime Time”, “Old And Wise” and on and on.  Much like he does on Alan Parsons Live.  Let’s dive in!

First up, we have the (unfortunately) over exposed “Sirius” which you have heard at sporting events (as I eluded to earlier), TV shows, and national ads on TV (most recently a Toyota campaign).  This is only really an intro into “Eye In The Sky” and this live version has a few new twists and turns until those oh-so-familiar delayed guitar notes take us to familiar territory.  The audience claps with the time-keeping bass drum.  The version quick mutates into a testosterone rock barrage but as is required by the arrangement, it dies down into “Eye In The Sky”.  Another of those Woolfson guide vocals that ended up making it to the finished version as so many had.

You may have even heard “Eye In The Sky” on FM radio as the continuation of the more popular “Sirius”.  The vocalist Olsson is a little over enunciated for Woolfson’s original vocal.  When the chorus comes up there are plenty of backing vocalists to handle the split lyric sections.  Olsson gives us the ‘I can read your mind’ while the backing vocals fully contribute the ‘Looking at you’ line in counter time.  Otherwise, this is a nearly note-for-note rendition.

Either Parsons rehearsed these musicians to the point of finger and ear bleed, or they are, each and every one, so polished and professional they don’t need constant rehearsing.

Most likely both.

The guitar solo is nearly note-for-note as well up until the second phrase set when Townsend is allowed to stretch out.  This all ends with an all instrumental accent of the title lyric line.

Powerful.

Some midi kicks off “Luciferama” from (at least the ‘Lucifer’ part is) another one of my favorite albums, Eve.  As you would presume, Parsons takes not only the musicianship seriously but also the live sound production.  If there are stringed instruments sections, horns or vocal choirs, all are painstakingly reproduced, but the only midi portion is the introduction part.

The sound of “Luciferama” is no exception with the possible addition of digital effects and the live hall sound, this would be only slightly different than the recorded versions.  They just come to a dead stop for an end.  Very tight, very polished.

“Old And Wise” has some minor audible differences in the main melody live.  Again, the vocals are not as modest as Woolfson’s.  This track from Eye In The Sky is a very different sounding take of this tear-jerking classic.  Sadly, that difference makes it a little less tear-jerking, not quite as stirring as the recording, most likely due to the absence of Woolfson’s innocent vocal.  A beautiful track, just not as haunting as it was with Woolfson.

But that is out of perfectionist Parsons hands.  Also out of Parsons hands, is the slightly overblown sax solo.  Parsons web site does not list the sax player, so we have no one to point the finger of blame.  So unknown sax soloist is out-of-control, yet expert at his craft.  During the solo, the band brings the tempo down to some hits and grinds the take to a halt with the solo.  Nice!

Parsons trips as he announces the wrong album as Turn Of A Friendly Card instead of another Eye In The Sky track, that being “Psychobabble”.  A familiar M.O. of a Parsons intro is beat and bass.  This track is no exception but the rhythm section of Montagna and Murphy keep it so tight the audience clap along with the high hat.  The bass is a smat heavy in the mix though.  But Olsson may as well be Elmer Gantry, the original vocalist on the recording.  He sounds the part.

What doesn’t quite match the recording is the pan flute synth patch.  The notes are spot-on, they just don’t quite sound the same and that is again due to digital reproduction.

I love the solo section on this song when they do it live.  It sounds like  the cacophony you would get if you played King Crimson’s “Requiem” from Beat, against The Beatles “A Day In The Life” mid section change and threw in Todd Rudngren’s “Dog Fight Giggle” from A Wizard A True Star all at once.

Perhaps I should omit that last reference.  Friends of BouleBlog have informed me that Parsons and Rundgren had a falling out over some of Rundgren’s behavior on the “Walk Down Abbey Road” tour a few years back.  I’ll suffice it to say Rundgren is a notorious womanizer by reputation (and first hand experience)…

That cacophonous break snaps to a halt leaving that rhythm section to soldier on as it had in the intro and throughout said cacophony.  The guitar solo then comes in and restores order as it does on the less cacophonous recording.

I may forget from time to time that you the reader may not have heard some of the non-radio played, deeper cuts.  If I blather on as if you are familiar with an old friend, please forgive me.  I have grown up with these songs.  I know them front to back, and have even covered some on various instruments in various bands.

I never covered “Psychobabble” and I doubt I would have come up with the note for syllable ending on the phrase ‘…psychobabble rap’.  Even as Olsson holds out the last note.

A lone bass note starts out “The Raven” from the album that started it all, and was viewed by Parsons and Woolfson as a one-off, Tales Of Mystery And Imagination – Edgar Allen Poe.  Again, everything methodically reproduced with some digital augmentation.  Especially in the vocoding of the lead vocal, it’s a bit fuzzy and they aren’t as clear as the original.  Another disappointment, when the part is due to explode during the chorus, where the vocal proclaims Poe’s infamous line ‘Nevermore’, it’s a touch watered down.

During that same section, where the horns are due to lead the charge, they also a smat watered down and digitized.  Olsson’s vocal is great, powerful even, but the instruments aren’t as powerful as Olsson’s projection.  When the backing vocalists come in, the instumentation is even further drowned out.

This one came up short.

“Time” from Turn Of A Friendly Card has to evoke tears if it is done well.  Olsson is more professional, yet lacks those honest emotions of the songwriter Woolfson.  So this version may not be the tear-jerker it can and should be.  Instrumentally, it is another spot-on version if not a little overplayed.

The duo-vocal isn’t sweet enough.  I love this song and this version just misses tugging at my heartstrings.  It’s a nice enough version, and maybe I am too biased towards Woolfson’s vocals.  With lyrics like ”Till it’s gone, forever, gone forever, gone forever, forevermore’ harkening back to the Tales  album.  Now that Woolfson is gone forevermore, this song has even more pathos to it.

Seemingly a promo tour for Eye In The Sky, another track “You’re Gonna Get Your Fingers Burned” picks up the tempo and promises to be a barnburner.  Olsson is too loud in the mix for some reason.  At points during the take he drowns out the other vocalists.  The instrumentation including and especially Townsend, are drop-dead perfect.  The whole track heats up towards the end into the vocal ad-lib.  The hold note end on the last word of ‘You’re gonna get burned’, classic!

Another deep cut from Ammonia Avenue is the opening track, “Prime Time”.  It starts off with a moody, quiet setting but changes into a major key structure with a light guitar solo.  Another Woolfson vocal, this time there is a great balance between lead and backing vocals.  This track highlights this band’s understanding of dynamic as this is a very important component of this song.

The repetition of ‘Gonna be my time tonight’ leads into a second, not as light guitar solo.  After a chorus, another guitar solo accompanied by a distorted rhythm guitar is added by Parsons.  It closes with a crazed maniacal flailing ending.

“Limelight” from Stereotomy, another deep track, begins with Kalimba-style keyboards to be joined by a lone vocal.  After a half-verse the full, clean band kick in.  The first half of the first chorus punctuates the struggle towards fame by stopping after every lyric line.  Ollson strains to make some of the mid to higher register vocals notes.  I know for certain that Parsons live shows are longer than the twelve songs represented here.  Another item up for acquisition is the Alan Parsons Project Live In Madrid DVD, that, once we get our hands on a copy, will be happily reviewed.  But moreover, the point is, we don’t know how deep into the set list this track appears, so Olsson might be straining as the result of a long night’s work, or if this show were later in the tour schedule, it does take a lot out of one’s vocal chords.  So who knows how long the singer’s voice has been pressed to deliver the line ‘There’s a long way to go’?

As this is another one of those deep tracks, let me clue you in to the lyrical content.  In a nutshell, it deals with a starry-eyed view of fame, fortune and the struggles to get there.  Perhaps success was in the protagonist’s future as the ending signifies (and I hate using that word) a very dramatic, dynamic ending.

After a couple of deep tracks, a familiar favorite is trotted out.  Another Woolfson vocal, this time most likely performed by Parsons (as he liked to cover Woolfson’s vocals at the Bethlehem show in 2011), “Don’t Answer Me” from Ammonia Avenue.  Covering Woolfson’s vocals are Parsons way of paying tribute to the late, great Eric Woolfson.

Since this has turned into a Woolfson tribute review, let’s intersperse some trivia…  Did you know that the song “Kung Fu Figthing” by Carl Douglas, was a direct result of Douglas being managed by Eric Woolfson!  Other notable acts Woolfson had worked with?  A couple of cats named Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, Andrew Loog Oldham, a band called the Tremoloes, and worked as a song writer for The Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithful, Pilot (go figure), Cockney Rebel and Al Stewart among others.  Later, shortly before his death, he devoted his keen ear to musicals developing works such as Freudiana and Gaudi, which was a continuation of his last work in conjunction with The Project.  More on that in a bit.

But for the live version of “Don’t Answer Me”, Parsons is again, not as soft-spoken as Woolfson’s earnest vocal on the recording.  But then a second vocalist (most likely Olsson) with a different timbre takes over for the second verse, who is almost as good as Woolfson, but not quite.  It’s tough to keep score of the players as there are no musicians credits in the packaging.

Damn Dutch!

Musically, it is perfection, right down to the castanet trills.  The only nit-pick I can commit is an overblown sax, but what the hell, it’s live!  A slight slowing of the tempo brings us down to the musical punctuation of the final line ‘Don’t Answer Me’.  Chilling.

The last track on the disc is from the afore-mentioned Gaudi, a Woolfson-inspired tribute to Spanish art nouveau architect Antonio Gaudi (hey, who says we don’t get high intellect on the BouleBlog?).  The track “Standing On Higher Ground” was a minor and final hit for The Project.

It starts off with a bass synth pulse, and is joined by the lone vocal.  The band joins in and again, approaches this track with precise professional perfection.  Right down to the quick tempo fills during the chorus.  After the second chorus, they revisit that pulse intro, this time adding synth hits which yield to an echoing and huge guitar solo.  As they wind the song out, the backing vocals fill out the chorus lyric while the lead vocal ad-libs.  Everyone comes together and the vocals yield to match the lead vocal on the line ‘… standing on higher ground’.  This builds to a three chord, ascending end.

The whole disc leaves you wanting more.  Longer versions of hits you are familiar with.  More songs, even a band introduction would be nice.  But since Alan Parsons live appearances are so rare, we’ll take what we can get.  But not only will we pursue the DVD Alan Parsons Live In Madrid as well as the Eric Woolfson Sings The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was, but I have managed one more recommendation die-hard fans may want to search for.  There was a rumor that one of the Anniversary Editions of the Parsons catalog alluded to, and that was that they are working on releasing the binned album called The Sicilian Defense.  Yes, this was scrapped after not getting enough label support.  Since record labels are as passé as FM radio, there remains the possibility of this seeing the light of day.

I think that would be another fitting tribute to the late musical architect Eric Woolfson.

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