by John M. Borack
VARIOUS ARTISTS - DRINK A TOAST TO INNOCENCE: A TRIBUTE TO LITE ROCK
Ah, the '70s - it's the decade that brought us musical movements such as disco, punk, new wave, power pop, yacht rock and its close, personal friend - lite rock. Lite rock was a pretty self-explanatory genre; gentle, soothing melodies and instrumentation that never got too "in-your-face." Some folks remember it by the artists that created the lite rockin’ back in the day– Ambrosia, Christopher Cross and Leo Sayer, for example – while others may be more likely to recall the song titles of the glorious, often schlocky one shots: "Just When I Needed You Most," "Bluer Than Blue" or "Undercover Angel."
Music fan Andrew Curry has a passion for all things lite rock, and he has parlayed that passion into serving as executive producer of a sterling two-disc compilation called Drink a Toast to Innocence: A Tribute to Lite Rock, which features current indie pop artists covering the lite rock treasures of yesteryear. (We haven’t asked Andrew why the collection is named after a line in a Dan Fogelberg song that does not actually appear on the comp.)
If you listened to top 40 radio in the mid-to-late ‘70s, you are no doubt familiar with the original versions of the 27 songs that appear on Drink a Toast- for better (Firefall’s "Just Remember I Love You") or worse (Rupert Holmes’ "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)"). Some of the artists that dress up these lite rock classics here play the tunes relatively straight (David Myhr’s sparkling take of "The Things We Do For Love," Bleu’s "Baby Come Back"), but others often switch things up arrangement-wise: The Davenports magically transform Randy VanWarmer’s aforementioned mope-fest "Just When I Needed You Most" into a jumpy little upbeat pop number (love the happy-happy background vocals), while Willie Wisely takes the Atlanta Rhythm Section’s "So Into You" and turns it into sort of a tribal love fest, replete with sensual moans ‘n’ groans from Kelly Jones. (Speaking of Miss Jones, her lovely acoustic guitar-led reading of "I’d Really Love to See You Tonight" is a highlight of disc one.)
Other faves that jump out are Michael Carpenter’s "We Don’t Talk Anymore" and Linus of Hollywood’s "More Than I Can Say," both of which stay true to the originals but juice up the arrangements with some punchy guitars, vocal harmonies and glistening production; Lannie Flowers’ "Dance With Me," which adds a sort of "Monkberry Moon Delight" rhythmic approach to Orleans’ original number; and a nice version of "Bluer Than Blue" by Wyatt Funderburk, with Mr. F handling all instruments and vocals and managing to remove most all of the song’s schmaltzy sentimentality in the process.
But wait, there’s more! Vegas With Randolph offers up a neat, two-pronged version of the Little River Band’s "Cool Change" – it begins much like the original, with a quiet piano and guitar underneath the lead vocal, but soon enough careens into a powerful, sorta Green Day-like ditty, replete with a kickin’ guitar solo; Cliff Hillis weaves his usual pop magic on "Shake It," which sounds like it was written to order for him; David Soul’s 1976 gag-fest "Don’t Give Up On Us" is rescued and given a swift aural kick in the rear by the talented Lisa Mychols; Mike Ruekberg’s "Believe it Or Not" (the theme song from the TV program The Greatest American Hero, remember?) is a power pop sureshot; Paul Bertolino’s faithful "Just Remember I Love You" is as endearing as the tune is enduring; and Paul Myers’s heartfelt "Wildfire" adds some faintly electronic touches to the proceedings.
There are very, very few less-than-excellent renditions on Drink a Toast to Innocence, and a few of the songs I don’t rank among my favorites are not actually the fault of the contributing artist. For example, I’ve always detested Ambrosia’s "How Much I Feel," so Kyle Vincent’s note-for-note remake, while nicely sung, is lost on these ears. Seth Swirsky’s take of Henry Gross’s "Shannon" doesn’t soar like the original, due to the fact that Swirsky is unable to replicate Gross’s amazing falsetto on the chorus (which, to be fair, is certainly not an easy feat). Matter of fact, there are only two out-and-out dogs here: one manages to make a bad song even worse and the other comes off sounding like bad karaoke, but we won’t sully this otherwise fine compilation by mentioning them by name. Rather, let’s instead focus on the fact that this is one gem of a tribute disc, from concept to execution.
Visit www.monstersofliterock.com for more info or to order. In addition to the CD version of Drink a Toast to Innocence, there is also a limited edition vinyl LP version available, which includes 10 tracks from the CD (and one cut exclusive to the vinyl).