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Rewiring Genesis - 2008 - "A Tribute to “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway"

(98:05 2CD, Progrock Records)


*****

Prolusion. REWIRING GENESIS is a project initiated by producer Mark Hornsby and multi-instrumentalist Nick D'Virgilio (Spock's Beard, Genesis-‘97) that started out with a plan to record the tune The Colony of Slippermen in a bluegrass-inspired style which sounded like a cool thing after 10 hours and a few beers at a music convention, from how I read the liner notes on this CD. And when D'Virgilio arrived at Hornsby's place in Nashville, USA, the project started growing, eventually ending up as a complete re-recording of Genesis artistic masterpiece "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway". Progrock Records agreed to release the album, which was issued in November 2008.

Disc 1 (48:12)
*****

TRACK LIST:

1.  The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway 5:25
2.  Fly on a Windshield 2:50
3.  Broadway Melody of 1974 2:21
4.  Cuckoo Cocoon 2:19
5.  In the Cage 8:35
6.  The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging 2:42
7.  Back in N.Y.C. 5:51
8.  Hairless Heart 2:11
9.  Counting Out Time 3:50
10. The Carpet Crawlers 6:22
11. The Chamber of 32 Doors 5:46

LINEUP:

Nick D'Virgilio – vocals; drums, percussion
Dave Martin – bass 
Don Carr – guitars, sitar, banjo
Jeff Taylor – pianos; accordion; whistle
Sam Levine – saxophone, clarinet, flute 
Prentiss Hobbs – trombone 
John Hinchey – trombone  
Steve Patrick – trumpet 
Jeff Bailey – trumpet 
Doug Moffet – saxophone 
Leigh Levine – clarinet 
Pam Sixfin – violin 
David Angell – violin 
David Davidson – violin 
Kristin Wilkinson – viola 
Anthony Lamarchina – cello 
Carolyn Martin – backing vocals
Kat Bowser – backing vocals
Mike Lusk – backing vocals
Analysis. Tribute albums: a type of recordings often met with a minor amount of contempt, at least by the most ardent fans of whatever artist is subjected to such a release. And Genesis has had its fair share of tribute albums of various kinds over the years. Still, to my knowledge it is not common to undertake such an ambitious tribute to a band as assembling a cast of musicians to re-record an entire album, and what is regarded as the band's finest moment in terms of creative and artistic achievement to boot. The original album was issued back in 1974 and received a mixed reception at the time. The tour following the album's release saw to it that the popularity of this creation increased, and as Peter Gabriel left the band after the tour some hardcore fans regard the album to be the last of the "true" productions by Genesis. "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" has grown in stature over the years, and today many consider this to be one of the finest creations made during the heyday of progressive rock: from a musical as well as artistic and creative point of view. It does take a bit of courage to re-record such a creation. And Hornsby and D'Virgilio have to be given credit for attempting to create a different version of it too. It would have been easier and probably more economically satisfying as well, to replicate the original as close as they could, by utilizing modern technology to achieve some effects impossible to create 25 years ago. However, they decided to rearrange many of the songs, some in a minor way and others in a major one. The most striking feature of this rerecorded version is the use of violins, horns and other acoustic instruments, partially taking over the function keyboards and mellotron had in the original production. At times this adds more symphonic elements to the compositions, especially the violin, viola and cello, which are central in this aspect of the recording, naturally enough. Many of the shorter pieces come across as intriguing variations of the original versions due to that aspect, and as such merits to be tagged successful interpretations. A particular feature on the first of the two CDs doesn't come across as very good though, and Back in NYC is a prime example of that, at least as I see it. This song has been rearranged with distinct jazz leanings, as experiments go a daring one and one that probably will be appreciated by some listeners, but personally I find this alternate version to be chaotic, tedious and even boring at times. The flow of the original version is broken apart in this arrangement which isn't a good thing, at least for me. Several other songs on the first CD have leanings towards jazz as well, some even coming close to lounge music in style. I would guess that quite a few will find the alternate take of The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging a bit on the weird side as well, coming across as a piece Bobby McFerrin could have performed in this take, with some reggae elements thrown in for good measure. Overall the first eleven tracks of this double feature come across as a somewhat mixed bag. The songs are established masterpieces, the production and performances are of high quality, but the rearrangements don't always work too well, at least as I see it.

Disc 2 (49:53)
*****+

TRACK LIST: 

1.  Lilywhite Lilith 2:38
2.  The Waiting Room 5:36
3.  Anyway 3:08
4.  Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist 2:32
5.  The Lamia 7:14
6.  Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats 2:55
7.  The Colony of Slipperman 8:41
8.  Ravine 1:56
9.  The Light Dies Down on Broadway 4:12
10. Riding the Scree 3:58
11. In the Rapids 2:34
12. It 4:29

Analysis. The second disc of this tribute project comes across as a somewhat stronger creation than the first one, and in this release contrasts with the original production, where many seem to regard the latter half somewhat weaker than the first one. It could be that the musicians recording the project had become more familiar with the music at this point, or that the work with rearranging the original compositions had evolved at this stage, understanding the originals in a better way, or perhaps a combination of these and other elements. Anyhow, as a whole this second CD comes across as better and more interesting overall. Hornsby and D'Virgilio do take many of the same liberties with the compositions as on the first CD; keyboards and mellotrons are still partially replaced by the same instruments performed by the same musicians, and they still try to explore the individual songs in settings somewhat different than the originals. There's more of an emphasis on the symphonic elements now; violins, viola and cello are preferred over reeds and horns in terms of their dominating placement in the mix, and it seems the compositions to a much larger extent manage to maintain the natural flow of the originals, even when exploring slightly different musical landscapes. The Colony of Slippermen, with its eastern tinged touches, is arguably the most experimental of the alternate versions on this disc, and in this case it works like a charm. Inferior to the original to some degree, but this take does add some moods and atmospheres to the song as well that make it an interesting and compelling listen. The first half of Riding the Scree is another good example of an experiment that works, an energetic and heavily jazz-tinged workout where reeds and horns - in a rare occurrence for the second half of this creation - dominate totally, delivering melodic themes and maintaining drive and energy in a skilled, compelling manner. Most of the other songs are less daring in scope, but do come across as quality versions, the main exception being the atmospheric sound exploration in the first half of The Waiting Room. A very good example of the original being better than the modernized version, despite the many possibilities available today that weren't an option to utilize 25 years ago.

Conclusion. "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" is a classic release in rock history, an album that over time has come to be regarded as one of the classic releases of the ‘70s. A re-recording of this release will bring in quite a few automatic sales, and one may question the motives of any artist that chooses to do so. In this case an effort has been made to explore this album and its compositions in a different light though, which is a daring move, and that effort does add artistic and creative value to this release. The songs are proven quality compositions, the musicians participating are skilled, production and mix are of high quality as well, and overall this is a project that deserves some amount of praise instead of scorn. One may ask if there was a great need for this production though, and furthermore how interesting a purchase this creation really is. Personally I'd recommend this album to people familiar with the original who find the thought of an alternate take on these songs interesting, and those who didn't enjoy the original but would like to give it a second chance might also find this release to be of interest. Others should seek out Genesis' 1974 creation prior to this one.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: February 3 & 4, 2009


Related Links:

Progrock Records
Nick D'Virgilio


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