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Various Artists

Back Against the Wall

Review by Gary Hill

There are few people who haven't at least heard of Pink Floyd's The Wall. I would hazard to say that those who have never heard the album are in the minority as well. Surely it was one of the most popular albums to come out in the 1970's and has had some incredible staying power since. With that in mind Billy Sherwood (World Trade, Yes) has assembled an all star cast of classic and prog records to produce a new version of the CD - sort of a lasting tribute to the album. I have to say that I really burned out on the original The Wall years ago - I listened to it way too much. The good news is that this album has made me remember just what it was that I loved about the album in the first place. I have to say that I find this one to be even better than the original - and that says quite a lot.

Let's have a look at the cast of players that Sherwood put together. First, there are a number of present and past members of Yes in this grouping - Sherwood included in that number. Filling out the Yes alumni set are Geoff Downes (keys - currently in Asia), Steve Howe (guitar), Tony Kaye (keys), Chris Squire (bass and vocals), Rick Wakeman (keys) and Alan White (drums). Three current or past members of King Crimson are on show here in the personage of John Wetton (vocals and bass), Adrian Belew (vocals and guitar) and Tony Levin (stick and bass). Tommy Shaw (guitar and vocals) of Styx and Keith Emerson (keys) are also on hand. Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) contributes both voice and flute to the album. Larry Fast (Synergy, Tony Levin Band, Nektar) is along for some of his trademark keyboard work. Billy Sherwood's brother Michael is also included here as is World Trade drummer Jay Schellen (who has recently joined Asia). Steve Morse of Dregs and Kansas fame and currently with Deep Purple lends his guitar expertise to the project. Gentle Giant is represented here by guitarist Gary Green. Zappa alumni Vinnie Colaiuta is one of the drummers on the project.

The Doors guitarists Robby Krieger is included here, as is "the voice of hard rock" Glenn Hughes (who has worked with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and many, many more artists). Fee Waybill of The Tubes also provides a lead vocal performance. Alex Ligertwood (best known for his work in Average White Band and Santana) also puts his vocal cords to the ready for this one. Steve Porcaro (keys) and Steve Lukather (guitar and vocals) both from Toto are on hand, as well. The Cars' Elliot Easton puts in a surprisingly hard-edged guitar performance. Also included here is drummer Gregg Bissonette, best known for his work with David Lee Roth's band. David Glenn Isley from Giuffria is included on one track and Tony Franklin of the Firm makes several appearances. Journey drummer Aynsley Dunbar shows up on the release, too. Guitar hero Ronnie Montrose contributes a smoking showing. Rounding out the lineup are Bob Kulick, Jordan Berliant, Del Palmerm John Giblin, Jason Chefe and two other notables. First, Jim Ladd, who is a long time radio personality, does a couple spoken word appearances. Probably the most unusual and incredible performance of the whole disc, though, comes from actor Malcolm McDowell. He performs every single character, both through spoken and sung segments in an incredible performance of the song "The Trial". Really about the only negative I have to make about this disc is an incredibly small one. On the original The Wall, there was a spoken phrase "so this is where we came in" that starts at the end of the album and finishes at the beginning. It gives the whole affair a circular setting. While the part at the end is there, I've listened hard, but can't hear the one at the beginning. Either I'm missing it, or it was left out - it is incredibly hard to hear even on the original. Granted, this is a tiny thing, but it was always one of the coolest touches in my opinion of the whole release.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
In the Flesh
This stomping version of the disc opener is fairly faithful, right down to the starting keyboard textures. Adrian Belew provides the vocals here - and at times he's almost a dead ringer. At other points, though, there are some noticeable differences. Rounding out the lineup for this track are Alan White, Keith Emerson, Gary Green, John Giblin, Billy Sherwood and Michael Sherwood.
The Thin Ice
Ian Anderson's unique voice and his flute work both are great additions to this rendition bringing an intriguing new life to the cut. Green and B. Sherwood are still present here, but they and Anderson are joined by Tony Levin and Jay Schellen. The heavy jam later works exceptionally well with the Tull like combo of metallic guitar and flute.
Another Brick In The Wall Part 1
Steve Morse provides some killer lead guitar work n this one, otherwise only Billy Sherwood is featured on this track - taking all the instruments and providing the vocals. This one is fairly faithful, but the textures are a bit new and different. They truly did a nice job of capturing the spirit, but Morse brings a bit more blues to the show than Gilmour originally did. 
The Happiest Days Of Our Lives
This has a more modern texture than the original and works quite well. Sherwood and Vinnie Calaiuto join forces for this one.

Another Brick In The Wall Part 2
Kicking in with the familiar chorus, this time provided by Fee Waybill, this one has a bit of a different texture, but still smokes. Besides Waybill and B. Sherwood, the cut is performed by Ronnie Montrose (with some scorching reproductions of Gilmour's lines) Mike Porcaro, Greg Bissonette. The vocal talents of both Alex Ligertwood and David Glenn Isley and a children's choir complete the picture.

Mother
John Wetton, one of the cooler voices in prog, provides both the bass and vocals on this track. Alan White's drums drive the percussion and B. Sherwood performs acoustic and electric guitars while Adrian Belew's guitar takes the lead. This is another nice updating capturing the spirit of the song, but with a modern texture.

Goodbye Blue Sky
Steve Howe lays down the acoustic guitar line here, expanding upon the original music to make it his own. Besides Howe and B. Sherwood the only person on hand here is Del Palmer on bass. This one has always been a very potent and dark, yet pretty song. They do a great job of capturing that and the cinematic texture of the original.

Empty Spaces
Sherwood is joined here only by Robby Krieger on guitar. They play it pretty true to form
Young Lust
Glenn Hughes provides a killer vocal delivery here, making this rocker over in his own image. The man can truly rock! Elliot Easton scorches out the guitar lines here while the rhythm section of Aynsley Dunbar and Tony Franklin hold down the bottom end. Bob Kulick (guitar) and B. Sherwood on keys round out the lineup. They turn in a cool rock and roll break out on this one. It ends with the familiar phone call.
One of My Turns
Sherwood doesn't show up at all on this one. Larry Fast provides the keyboards and Tommy Shaw's guitar and vocals add to the performance. Jay Schellen and John Giblin provide the rhythm. This haunting, but a bit weird number is poignant and powerful and fairly faithful to the original in the early segments. Tommy Shaw really smokes on the later furious section - and a few variations on the arrangement that pull in a more anthemic prog style show up in the second half.
Don't Leave Me Now
This cut carries forward from the last with Shaw still carrying the vocal. This time he's joined by Krieger's guitar and Geoff Downes' keys. Jay Schellen and Sherwood provide the rhythm section. This psychotic number is pretty faithful and well delivered. The later hard-edged segment is particularly powerful and even more prog oriented than the original.
Another Brick in the Wall Part 3
Steve Lukather (vocals) joins Tony Levin (bass), Jay Schellen (drums) and Steve Porcaro (keys) on one of the few tracks on which B. Sherwood doesn't play. This quirky hard rockier is delivered with style and reverence. They do pull in a cool echoed effect like a part of "Dogs" from Animals to link this into the next song.
Goodbye Cruel World
This starts with what feels like a musical quote from …Dark Side's… "Us and Them". Sherwood provides the keys and vocals and Levin holds down the rhythm in this short duet. Other than the intro, it stays pretty true to its roots.

Disc 2
Hey You
As the pretty guitar chimes in it's provided by Tommy Shaw. John Wetton's vocals are predictably awesome. Wetton also brings his bass to this party and Steve Lukather provides the lead guitar. Geoff Downe's keys are added to the mix and Alan White joins Wetton to complete the rhythm section. Add Gary Green's guitar and Sherwood's vocals and the cast is set. They put in a faithful and very powerful take on this - always one of the most evocative tracks on the album.
Is There Any Body Out There?
Sherwood provides the lead vocals and keys to this one with Adrian Belew brining acoustic guitar to the table. Michael Sherwood provides backing vocals and so far the picture seems quite ordinary. As Ian Anderson's flute is added, though, it brings with it a new and more traditional acoustic progressive rock texture that suits the track quite well. This extended jam moves it to the noises that carry it into the next one.
Nobody Home
Rick Wakeman's piano weaves waves of melody to bring a new texture to this sad, but oh so powerful ballad. Billy Sherwood's vocal and orchestral keys are Wakeman's only accompaniment here, giving him a major opportunity to shine. This one is even more powerful than the original, if that's possible.
Vera
Steve Howe gets the chance to shine here, bringing a new melody with his acoustic guitar. He expands on the original, Billy Sherwood's bass and keys and Tommy Shaw's vocals providing the rest of the arrangement.
Bring The Boys Back Home
This strange and brief track is brought home with an updated sound from the music offices of Sherwood, Sherwood and Schellen.
Comfortably Numb
Chris Squire plays double duty here delivering both the bass and lead vocals while the other half of the Yes rhythm section Alan White helps him hold it down. Jordan Berliant provides acoustic guitar and Sherwood handles the remaining guitars, vocals and keys. This one really feels a lot like it would if Yes were to take a turn at this number. It is probably the most altered track on show here, but it really works very well. Yes fanatic that I am, this one is a standout for me. Squire's vocal outro is very cool. Always a great song, this one is truly amazing here.
The Show Must Go On
Adrian Belew is back to provide the vocals here along with the Sherwood brothers and Vinnie Calaiuto. This one feels to me like a merging of the Floyd original with the Beatles.

In The Flesh
Always one of the most bombastic and frightening tracks on the disc, Keith Emerson's keys are a nice touch here. Sherwood takes the lead vocals with Calaiuto on drums, Green on guitar and Giblin providing bass. Michael Sherwood is also on hand with backing vocals. They play this one fairly true to form, and it (as it always has been) taken out of context is sure to offend just about anyone with its lyrical content.
Run Like Hell
The soaring, frightened sound of this cut is provided by Jason Chefe's vocals and bass, Aynsley Dunbar's drums, Bob Kulick's guitar and Billy Sherwood's keys. This is a very modern sounding rendition of this scorcher. Tony Kaye provides a great keyboard solo over a funky bass pattern. Dweezil Zappa then takes a noisy, but quite tasty solo. This one is quite a bit different than the original, but very good.
Waiting For The Worms
The Sherwood brothers, Levin, Colaiuta, Green, Emerson all return here, while Jim Ladd provides "ranting and raving" This one is another strong one, fairly faithful, but still modernized. Emerson provides a killer keyboard solo.

Stop
Billy Sherwood performs this short piano and vocal duet solo. It's pretty, but sad.
The Trial
Billy Sherwood provides the orchestral keyboards here to serve as the backing for a killer vocal performance by actor extraordinaire Malcolm McDowell. While Sherwood does provide some vocals, McDowell actually sings. Frankly, while I've always loved his acting, I never would have expected this from him - bravo! I like this one better than the original. McDowell plays every character and it is sheer wonderful theater.
Outside the Wall
Sherwood, Sherwood and Schellen provide the backdrop as Jim Ladd returns for the closing narration.
So This is Where We Came In
Sherwood creates a separate little track here for this ambient section that on the original simply tied into the closing piece.

 
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