The newest take on some established songs, done Lord Russ style! Photo courtesy Russ Brooks

Lord Russ has a past with this blog. That sounds so sordid, doesn’t it? But that ‘past’ is a good one! Lord Russ found me while I was still with Princeton Record Exchange. He took advantage of my open position that “if you have the balls to accept what someone who knows something about music has to say about yours, bring it!” and brought me his first delightful album Heir Of Mystery! Easily the best “indie” (in the truest sense of the word, Lord Russ’ neighbor, Mark Mulcahy and his band Miracle Legion roadied for themselves on their recent reunion tour, set up, tore down, and loaded out, here’s a band that’s been on TV, David Letterman, Adventures Of Pete and Pete, too numerous to list, having to roadie their own shows because that’s how the record industry is now) disc to come my way this year. The fortunate part of the Miracle Legion show was the availability of two new releases, two double live CDs, one from Miracle Legion, and one from Polaris. The difference being, no Ray Neal in Polaris, his place was filled by another Lord Russ neighbor, Henning Ohlenbusch who played lead guitar and allsorts. The CT/Mass music scene is a very intriguing one. If what Fatso Jetson leader Mario Lalli claims is correct, the High Desert/Wonder Valley scene is dead.

But I digress…

What Russ has offered up for exam is an album of meaningful covers to Russ. Every artist plops out a cover now and again. King Crimson have eternal permission to play Bowie’s “Heroes” as Fripp played that lead part. Utopia did some cracking covers, one of which was a favorite of mine, ? and the Mysterians “96 Tears”. Rundgren himself issued Faithful which was a side of covers (that were meaningful to Rundgren) by the likes of Beach Boys (“Good Vibrations”), Dylan (“You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine”), and doubling up on the Beatles, doing “Strawberry Fields” and “Rain”, and the other side some of his longest running live songs. The moniker Faithful pertains to the fact that Rundgren and company recreated these covers note-for-note, instrument sound-for-instrument sound. Youtube them for examples.

I, too, have released a half cover/half original disc with my band. We covered Devo “Worried Man” (Neal Young Human Highway version) Beatles “You Know My Name”, Mike Nesmith “Lucy & Ramona”, Shaun Cassidy’s version of Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” which was produced by Rundgren.

I guess you could say, it was our faithful homage to Faithful.

Lord Russ is a touch out of his mind thinking I wouldn’t post about his new release Have You Heard! We’ll deal with that other CD at another time!

Now what I have to say next may alienate many people, and may even cost me my friendship with Lord Russ. However, it has significance to the review, so please take this paragraph and any further criticisms into an overall consideration. My bitching has a reason. That bitching is, I do not like a single one of Russ’ choices for covers. I do have King Crimson in my record collection, and even some Beatles (NO MCCARTNEY!, hell, I have a Ringo Starr video of the All Starr band from 86-ish), but I had three too many friends shove Beatles down my throat. I grew up with them, yes. Until I found Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Rundgren, and I went over to the Prog side.

I consider Russ uber prog. I mean, the guy just hosted a Moody Blues tribute show called Voices In The Sky for the 50th Anniversary of Days Of Future Passed. So for Russ to do a Moody cover, obviously meaningful. King Crimson is prog. I just happen to prefer the mid to end period, starting with John Wetton and ending with Adrian Belew. All their new “how many drummers can you fit in one band” bullshit just sounds like STOMP! I will address this more with the Crimson song Russ covers, “I Talk To The Wind”, later on in this review.

The short of it is, Russ and I like many of the same things (I had Days of Future Passed as a youngster, I mean younger than 11), and in the following analysis, you are in for a real treat! I know it was for me.

One more thing, when doing these song analysis, I won’t be focusing on the lyrical meaning or arrangement unless I can recognize a significantly different arrangement on Russ’s part. That would not be a surprise.

SIDE ONE (Yes, Russ has divided the CD into two sides. No longer cute, it is a new necessity with the current resurgence of vinyl, who knows, perhaps Russ has plans to release this on vinyl?)

“Kaleidoscope, Briefly” (Kaleidoscope U.K.) This is one song I can safely say will be judged on Russ’s version as I have no idea who these people are, who let them in here???? But this is where Russ chooses to start the album (more vinyl-speak) with muted harmonics on acoustic guitar with only one lyric line, but that line truly does set the tone for the rest of the album. As does the analog delay repeated to overdrive on the last syllable of ‘minutes’. An effect I personally love, used it many times myself.

“I’d Love Just Once Just To See You” (Beach Boys) This is a band I never really liked. Then, one of the same people who shoved the Beatles up my ass also jammed Beach Boys down my throat. So mine is a conditioned dislike. With a pounding acoustic guitar and vocal intro but during the first verse, all instruments join into the royalty of busy mediocrity. The second verse is a little more sparse, but a dreamy bridge breaks you out of that, it repeats twice. After a minor bass interlude, and in true, “60’s-psychedelic-radio-friendly-production-style” a vocal ad-lib break carries a punch with those BOP BOP BAHH’s ethereally until Russ’s vocal declares “It’s not too late”. Then it’s back to that dreamy bridge but this time with the ‘in the nude’ lyric added. Not wanting to go out on that, Russ throws some analog silliness into an expanded version of the dreamy bridge, replete with reel-to-reel monitored freewheel sounds now and again. Building up to another delay fade ending. But I will say, this is where Russ charms me into liking this song. His version anyway.

“Remember A Day” (Pink Floyd) Same situation, different guy (both named John, by the way) cramming Pink Floyd from both the passive listener angle to being in a band with him and having to learn lame Wall-era tunes in a cover band. Also a drummer I knew when I was younger used to try to get me into them. I used to like Dark Side, especially after learning Alan Parsons had a hand in it. Then it got overplayed on local radio, and every townie zipperhead I come across LOVES Pink Floyd. So I am dismissing the predisposition as Russ’s version begins large, but drum less. Guitar, bass and keyboard are all present for the beginning chord ascension. Even a squeaky, silly synth in there. The next ascension has a sitar sound join in. A crash puts the rhythm section into a mighty strum, but the lyrics cut the time into a fraction, as it leads to a minor key change with booming bass drum, and another cymbal crash brings us round to another schizophrenic verse structure. The minor key change is cut in half for a bridge and Russ knows when to pull instruments and when to add them. I can’t keep up with synths coming in there, sounds coming in from over the other side. It makes me wonder what Russ would do to some songs I could suggest he cover? We build up with an arpeggiated guitar, back into the pounding rhythm section, with a slide guitar lead and some dissonant guitar for a solo break.

Man I hate Pink Floyd.

The post solo verses have the initial vocals pumped UP! But we go into that minor key break with an immediate reverse to the questioning coda. A change at this point is erupting, pounding, starting with acoustic arpeggiations, and ending with literally some form of slide Morris code, with bird sounds that amuse my cats! Acoustic guitar brings in that alternate melody at the end, playing off the dissonant guitar line from before, only to end on one single solitary guitar note.

“Be Here Now” (George Harrison) There is most likely a CD of this in my collection. Given to me by one of the Johns. He had gotten upgraded versions and was cleaning house. While Russ doesn’t have the tonality of Harrison, he does a damn fine job of holding down Harrison’s Eastern-influenced melodies and scales. The second verse has more instruments, mellotron sounding strings come in and the tremoloed guitar is louder. But Russ still clings to those vocal melody ad libs as tightly as Harrison clung to the philosophies of Eastern wisdom. A chorus of voices takes us through to a break, with a low note solo. But the tranquility of that low note solo break is quickly disrupted when along with the break for the ‘Why try to live a life…” portion, a loud, random, low-end synth (?) note blares you out of any transcendental meditation you may have been contemplating. This repeats for the bridge vocal to build back into the verse. Which is nice as it is Russ voice and guitar, showing a very nice ad lib run before the last chorus and bridge, back into a verse, with voices playing the background and that upward vocal ascension that George couldn’t have done better himself. Once this verse is finished, the low end guitar solos out to fade.

“Bluebird” (Paul & Linda McCartney) I hate Paul McCartney. Pure, plain and simple. I had this album when I was a kid. I was young during the post Beatle solo album release era. All Things Must Pass, Plastic Ono Band, Live Peace In Toronto, Ram, Red Rose Speedway… So I may be a touch critical on this. What does Russ have to offer? I mean, I really hope this is meaningful to Russ, because, well, you know… But his version just seems so much more, clean, concise, maybe it was the amount of cocaine the McCartneys were doing that made their version a mess. But when I hear Russ’s, I am not nearly as repulsed! His is a clean, even wholesome version! Because all I can think of when I hear the lyric line ‘I’ll fly in through your door’ makes me think of the character Pidgeon from Mike Tyson’s Mystery Team! An etherial synth ushers in the rest of the instruments. The bass is overemphasized, but you never know, Sir Paul McDouchebag may hear this somewhere and think ‘Well, he’s got the bass part down anyway’… Pretentious fop.

I have to say though, Russ has his version down pat. Harmonies are spot-on, especially when you get to the ‘bluebird’ lyric break where the harmonies saddle-in-line one after the other. Apart from maybe one or two cymbal swells that didn’t go his way, this is a great version down to the slide sitar solo. Russ knows when to introduce new instruments for tension. A full out slide guitar takes you to the final verse break, which is half the length to go into another ‘bluebird’ break, to a harmonized vocal end with bird chirps!

“I Like You” (Donovan) My opinion is, Donovan was innocuous. Harmless hippie. My wife is a different story, save to say, things are tense enough between us without Donovan getting in our way. I can empathize, her mother liked Donovan. My mother liked the Eagles. I only like Joe Walsh. Electric guitar, very much in the style of Mark Mulcahy, starts this out. Falsetto la-la’s start off into the double tracked vocal of verse one. The chorus is similarly structured, unlike the next verse which is entirely different. Synth bass whole notes and thunderous bass drum strikes punctuate the arrangement. Then we end up in the tropics somewhere for a break. HOW DID I GET HERE? We settle back into the Mulcahy-esque guitar and vocals. For you Donovan aficionados, there are plenty of tremoloed sitar lines to bring you back to Donovan’s heyday. We return to the ‘heart-in-hand, out-west’ bit. But this time it’s, bigger. Right up to the line ‘Drugs in your body to fill in the time’. We go back to the bridge which is back in the Bahamas or somewhere like that. Pretty happy music for someone who yet is dead. Back to Mulcahy city guitar, that and the la-la’s tremolo out.


“Mr. Songbird” (The Kinks) Never liked the Kinks, never saw their value, but much like the theme of this review so far, I did like the cover of “This Is Where I Belong” by Queens Of The Stone Age. Unfortunately, this song ain’t doing it for me. Not even Russ’s version can save this due to one fatal flaw in my eyes: The use of a Ukulele for anything other than a beatdown object. He brings in the first verse with his vocal (good part!) and the damn Ukulele (bad part). Fluttering synths accompany the bridge (I think, the damn Ukulele has my head in knots). Even with the snappy descending break, the thumping bass drum and smart bass line, as well as those fluttery flutes that accompany the break lyric (‘Mr. won’t you sing me a song’) might be the best part because I can’t hear the Ukulele as much. Another good part is where it breaks down to that descending break, couldn’t hear it much there either. It’s a shame because Russ’s vocals are working overtime to bring tremendous harmonies throughout this song and so far, this album. We go into a bare bone verse with lyric and damn Ukulele. But then two very optimistic choruses take our minds of the fake, tiny guitar, with slight lyric changes that follow another of those descending breaks, with a lead guitar replacing the vocal on the second set of measures. Then the final lyric changes to ‘Help me keep the devil away’…

“Holiday” (The Bee Gees) I’m sorry, but this song in particular makes me laugh. The whole “dee, dee dee dee, dee dee, dee dee dee, dee dee, dee dee” part reinforces what one of my old childhood friends once said; “That sound like if cats could sing”. How does one go into anything Bee Gee objectively without thinking of singing cats??? A swell of cymbals starts this feline classic, with a tremoloed everything for the first intro chorus with viola or cello for the counter melody. The first verse is almost anticipatory, waiting for it to get bigger. More cymbal swells and mandolin assist the second chorus into an angelic second verse. Midi harps pave the dreamway. Then the absolute epitome of the flavor of this whole review, the irritating original bridge, that ‘dee-dee’ nonsense has been dispatched in favor of a more, psychedelic bridge. An absolute 100% improvement. There! I said it. You heard it here first on the BouleBlog, a cover artist CAN improve upon an original idea, my case stands!!!

Now I’m willing to give the rest of this song much more respect…

Millions of voices sing of millions of eyes. Another dreamway bridge, back to the mandolin-ish chorus. Another break is regal in arrangement with higher voices added. Into a staccato break of “Lonely Days…” and ends on ‘Where would I be without my woman’. Gutsy, unexpected, perfect!!!

“#9 Dream” (John Lennon) While I grew up on Beatles, I had to outgrow them when too many people were into Beatles, and wanted me into Beatles. After forging my loyalty to Todd Rundgren (such as it is) I found an interesting piece of Beatles/Todd Rundgren trivia (two actually): #1, Todd Rundgren was at a bar on the Sunset Strip in the early 70’s and in came Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Mae Pang et. al. Rundgren witnessed Lennon throw drinks in the face of, and accost a waitress at the club. They would exchange a series of letters back and forth through the now defunct Trouser Press magazine. Lennon’s amounted to confessing a like for Rundgren’s music, but denied Rundgren any respect in those letters. Often addressing Rundgren as Rumpelstiltskin, Runtlestuntle, and so on. Rundgren’s points were far more cogent. “How can you cry for revolution when you treat human beings so poorly?” was one of Rundgren’s unanswered queries. The other side of this coin is, I have “#9 Dream” in my collection now.

The ‘S’ consonant sound starts off this very individual version of the Lennon classic, with the first verse being guitar and voice, then faux Klaus Voorman and faux Jim Keltner et al join in the fun. I wanna hate this, but Russ’s delivery of the line ‘Seems so real to me’ eradicates any resemblance to Lennon at that point. No, don’t read it like that, it’s a GOOD thing! Again, with the exception of that Kinks tune, I have dug the shit out of everything Russ has done on the album so far. And that Kinks/Ukulele thing is my hang-up. A dreamy synth punctuates the bridge to the break, which sounds nothing like the original, it builds better tensions up to the ‘Somebody call out my name…’ break, then that break comes in and taxes my subwoofer. You like bass? You’ll love this album.

The track comes to a close before the ‘Dream dream away’ verse. Then starts up demurely into the second stanza, the dreamy synth flutters among my surround system, and we repeat into the second ‘Music touching my soul’ break but with lead guitar and synth fills, the ‘Ah Bawa Kawa…’ part is more punctuated and growing with each repeat, yet fading as the sitar starts to wail.

“Sunrise” (The Peppermint Trolley Co.) This is another one of those “who are these people” kind of situations. I’ll let Russ introduce me to this piece. Nylon string guitar opens to Russ’s doubled and chorused voice for the intro verse, and the bridge shows promise with the delay on ‘Shine’. The break between the verse is snappy but quick. The chorus leads into a crescendo that opens up a real swinging rhythm track over which vocal ad-libs are dressed. Back to that verse structure, into the chorus quickly and the word ‘shine repeats into another snappy ‘nah-nah’ chorus, where the vocal drops out and the track builds slightly to let some vocal ad libs have space to build and fade to some mock-30’s jazz for the outro.

“I Talk To The Wind” (King Crimson) I am not a fan of the madrigal period of King Crimson. That period is from inception, 1969, until the Lark’s Tongues In Aspic and Starless And Bible Black period, 1973, 1974, and now in the post Adrian Belew era, Robert Fripp is returning to the madrigal period, even bringing back Mel Collins into King Crimson. Like anyone can hear him with four drummers (one of which is powerhouse, alternate time drummer Gavin Harrison) bashing away all over the stage.

It IS at this juncture, you readers need to know something about me and King Crimson (another one of those relationship things). In the past, 2007(?), I gave bunny toys to Robert Fripp via his sound person, Biff Blumflumgagne at a Fripp solo gig. I read on Fripp’s wife’s blog that their bunny was chewing on her computer cables, and we were going to see Fripp in the not too distant future, so we ordered them and brought them. Fripp actually posted the pictures on his blog. I read a lot of Crimson blogs. Fripp’s, his wife Toyah Willcox’s, Adrian Belew’s, so on. I published something that I had garnered from reading both Fripp and Belew’s blogs. Well, Belew came back at me, Fripp had no comment, and along with Belew, many fans came at me, some with death threats. Later, whilst apologizing to Belew in person (that’s what that last picture on the right in my blog header is about), I learned what had transpired, and that was the last I read of artist’s blogs. However, I was not 100% wrong! I managed to see Belew with King Crimson one more time in 2008, the second to last show of this leg of the tour. Well that tour finished after that last show because Belew started touring with his own trio, and Fripp was busy suing all the major labels for distribution deprivation for illegal uploading/downloading servers. My correctness comes in that, after Fripp won his suits, he had money, thus he had power. His first act as power-leader was to bin Belew!!! So at this point, Fripp can come to my house set up his rig, teach me every last thing he knows about guitar, Frippertronics, et al, and I could care less about it. Will only be buying Belew or Wetton related KC items, I hope many bootlegs! Up yers, Fripp!

I’m gonna take it easy on Russ, all that isn’t his fault.

Russ stays VERY faithful to the version by Crimson. It seems listening to Russ’s version, his is more organized, coherent, even more World as he adds Tablas to the percussion. Don’t think Giles played Tablas on the original, I think I listened to this album ONCE when I got the CD. His voice is mellow to match the track, but the arrangement is even more dense than Robert Fripp is now! Even to the note-hold verse, it’s very clean, even with the fumbling during that verse that some mics picked up, but Russ don’t care. He’s the honey-badger of cover artists!!! One criticism I can’t let go, those background ‘ooh’s’ should be lower in the mix, and the flute higher. Again, Russ sneaks in a segment from another Crimson song “Cadence And Cascade”, and fades away on that.

“Have You Heard” (Moody Blues) I just plain old outgrew Moody Blues. The reason was best described by Bill Bruford talking about going from an A-tonal, major harmony/melody style prog band with YES, to a minor, diminished, more ominous sounding King Crimson. My musical tastes went in that minor, diminished, dissonant, avant guard, performance, so on. I mean, there are a a lot of diverse acts in my collection, but a Moody Blues album in a collection with The Residents, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, and more along that line?

Highly unlikely.

Sea shore storm and bird effects greet the distant but growing glass bell sounds, a tapping code emerges into the opening whole notes until the staccato measures, into a very open Uke to acoustic guitar series of verses, bridges, choruses, with delightful appointments throughout into the repeating chorus of the title of the album, ‘have you heard’ into harmonized single man choruses, over an over to fade. Uke be damned, Russ’s voice on this disc is worth the price of admission alone. He killed it on this entire disc.

Okay, so maybe he went a little too heavy on the Ukulele, but he went even heavier on the Lord Russ flavor. I mean, I won’t go so far as to say he made me like the Ukulele, but my initial impression was that he was going to make me like these songs, in some cases again. Repeated listening did not hamper said impression. It only made me love the Lord Russ flavor even more. Seriously, if by some chance (nil to zilch) that you are reading this, I love ya, man. I love your Facebook feed/posts, I love your wife’s art work, and I love that you two are so in love.

I can’t say I love this disc. But that’s exactly what Russ wants to hear. I represent a tiny minority of music snobs. This means that Joe-Average-Taste would totally go for it! Especially those who grew up in the era when these songs were popular. I guess what I am saying is, ignore what I am saying and get this disc, especially if you like these artists! Just don’t expect everything to be faithful to the original. It’s available on CDBaby, Spotify, and iTunes (his literal words!).

I also see this disc as a way to let people know where Russ is coming from, musically speaking. His influences, those artists he felt shaped the musician that we know and love as Lord Russ.

I don’t care how he got there. So long as he stays there…

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