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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Eric Woolfson

Eric Woolfson Sings the Alan Parsons Project That Never Was

Review by Scott Prinzing

For such a successful songwriter, keyboardist and sometimes vocalist, Eric Woolfson was relatively anonymous as essentially one-half of the Alan Parsons Project.  While Parsons had the initial name recognition, engineering credentials and connections, Woolfson was the songwriter of that multi-platinum project.  While the duo stopped working together under the APP moniker a quarter of a century ago, both continued in their respective fields (Parsons as a producer and Woolfson as a composer of musical theater) with fans wishing and wondering that they might collaborate again.  They never did.  This album’s genesis was the unintended consequence of scraping for leftover tracks and demos for 30th anniversary remasters of several of the APP albums.  Some of those bonus tracks were original demos with Woolfson’s guide vocal (since most of APP’s songs featured different singers on each song); others were left unfinished before vocals were recorded.  As a result of that and years of his fans encouraging him to sing more, Woolfson recorded this collection.  Lucky for us, as he passed away at age 64 after a battle with kidney cancer on Dec. 2, 2009 – the same year this album was released.  The result is a collection of songs that either were originally written for APP or sound like they could have been.  This CD is a must have for the serious APP fan.  There’s a lot here to make it of interest to the casual fan as well.  It should help confirm the name Eric Woolfson as the primary creative force in the Alan Parsons Project.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Golden Key

Immediately, this sounds like Alan Parsons Project, with Woolfson’s instantly recognizable voice.  He sings in a soothing head voice (think “Don’t Answer Me,” “Eye in the Sky,” “Time,” etc.) It isn’t as strong as it once was, but is surprisingly stronger in its upper registers.  This adopts the Phil Spector ‘Wall of Sound’ production that APP utilized for their hit, “Don’t Answer Me.”  There is a very uplifting chorus in this song, which was also included in Woolfson’s musical Gambler and features the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

Nothing Can Change My Mind

Another song that sounds like an APP ballad, this one ended up as part of Woolfson’s Gaudi musical.  There’s no orchestra here, but some sampled woodwinds that are the only weakness on this track.

Rumour Goin’ Round

This track is truly the “Alan Parsons Project That Never Was,” as it is a leftover track from the Stereotomy sessions (the first completely digital album recorded, according to Parsons’ own website).  It therefore features the longtime ’80s lineup of studio musicians that played on most every APP track.  A rough mix - sans vocals - is a bonus track on the remastered version of Stereotomy.  This is a classic number.  The guitar solo by Ian Bairnson is as perfect for this song as any of his work was.

Any Other Day

The expanded remaster of APP’s Eye in the Sky has an instrumental version of this track.  It’s a bit poppier than the rest (which is mostly pop anyway).  Bairnson’s guitars were added over the internet from his home in Spain.

I Can See Round Corners
The more I listen to this album, the more it is apparent that Woolfson should get the lion’s share of the credit for APP’s success.  Almost every song sounds more like classic APP than Parsons’ solo releases.  This song is from Woolfson’s Dancing Shadows musical.  It has a bit of a vocal round; with all vocals provided by Woolfson.
Steal Your Heart Away

Woolfson states in the liner notes that Parsons would have hated this song the most of all of these.  It’s probably my least favorite song here as well, so maybe Parsons was on to something.  It’s very synth-poppy, like an early MTV Aha song.  This sounds a bit like it was written and recorded on a high end Casio, drum machine and all.  It’s the one number I skip over.

Along the Road Together

Another song from Dancing Shadows, this is a gentle ballad with a hopeful lyric.  There’s an emotional fragility to the vocal performance that lends itself to the power of the message, especially knowing that Woolfson died soon after it was recorded.

Somewhere in the Audience

These last three songs are from Woolfson’s Poe musical, and may be the very similar backing tracks, but with Woolfson’s vocal instead of Steve Balsamo, who sings most of the leads on that album.  While Balsamo has a much stronger voice, the song is much more poignant with the composer interpreting it.

Train to Wuxi
This one is the same song as Poe’s “Train to Freedom,” but with about 90% different lyrics.  This is the original lyric that was altered for the song to fit into the Poe musical.  Woolfson is singing in more of his lower register, as opposed to his usual head voice.  This is the one instance where I think Woolfson’s vocal doesn’t hold up to the song.  Perhaps that was the catalyst for using the perfect singer for each song on the APP material.  Woolfson also does a decent guitar solo on this – his one and only one recorded.
Immortal

While Woolfson’s voice can’t reach the heights Balsamo’s does on Poe: More Songs of Mystery and Imagination, he still does a fine job that doesn’t leave the listening wishing he’d found a different vocalist.  Like Edgar Allen Poe, the inspiration for this song and one immortalized by his written legacy, here’s hoping that Eric Woolfson will find similar immortality.

 
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