Working Man

Various Artists

Magna Carta Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Tribute albums are often quite dicey creatures. It's often very difficult to recapture the magic of an original song when it's being done years after the fact by an entirely different artist.

One of a series of tribute albums from progressive rock label Magna Carta, Working Man turns the spotlight on Canadian band Rush and gives them the Friar's Club-roast treatment.And, like many tribute albums, the end product has some great moments, but is occasionally spotty.

The lineup of performers reads like a variable who's who of rock: Jack Russell (Great White), Mark Slaughter (Slaughter), Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), Devin Townsend (Steve Vai), James LaBrie (Dream Theater) - and that's just in the vocalist department.

Sometimes, it sounds like certain musicians are trying much too hard. There's no denying that Billy Sheehan is an incredible bassist, but let's be honest, Geddy Lee isn't that flashy - no, let me change that, Geddy Lee doesn't need to show off on the bass guitar. (On the other hand, I would have liked to have heard Stu Hamm stay a little more true to the short bass solos on "YYZ".) Slaughter does his best imitation of Lee's vocals on "Anthem," but since I wasn't crazy about the balls-in-a-vise delivery of the original version in 1974, I can't say I like Slaughter's rendidion.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Two performances on Working Man stand out. Fates Warning, a band I always thought was a hardcore metal band, puts in an absolutely brilliant rendition of "Closer To The Heart," a song which almost perfectly mirrors the original version on A Farewell To Kings. And Townsend's take on "Natural Science" captures the true spirit of a tribute album perfornance: stay close to the original while injecting your own style into it. Unbelievable!

Of course, I guess we should include the version of "La Villa Strangiato," complete with jaw-dropping guitar work from Steve Morse, in the above list, as well as the cover of "YYZ" featuring Hamm and Testament guitarist James Murphy.

Other selections are puzzling in their selection. The only song I don't recognize, "Analog Kid," is given a decent rendition with Russell's vocals and Sheehan's bass. Likewise, I don't know why "Mission" (off of Hold Your Fire) was selected for this project, though Eric Martin (of Mr. Big) does a decent job with the vocals. And as much as I have always said that the obscure selections are good for tribute albums, well - I'm sorry, I've always hated "By-Tor And The Snow Dog" (off of Caress Of Steel), even though Jake E. Lee (Badlands, Ozzy Osbourne) does a great job on guitar, as does Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) on the skins.

Working Man accomplishes its basic task: to pay homage to the original music and musicians with modern covers of their songs. But for the long-time Rush fan like myself, listening to this disc at first is a serious shock, and is not a pleasant one. Had I not given this disc another shake, I would have ripped it completely to shreds. But on subsequent listens, the great performances quickly reared their heads, and I saw much more light at the end of the tunnel.

Still, Working Man is not a disc I'd recommend for someone looking to discover Rush. Instead, first explore their vast catalog, then pick this disc up. If you're a diehard progressive rock or Rush fan, or you just want to hear how some of your favorite artists attacked these songs, then pick this one up by all means.

Rating: B-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Magna Carta Records, and is used for informational purposes only.