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Eric Woolfson

Poe: More Tales of Mystery and Imagination

Review by Scott Prinzing

After the Alan Parsons Project called it a day, primary songwriter Eric Woolfson went on to produce several works for musical theater.  He only released recordings of a few of these shows, like Freudiana (an abandoned APP project).  On first glance, this 2003 CD would appear to be the soundtrack for his musical, Edgar Allan Poe, but only 10 of the 17 songs from the show are included here.  Originally intended as a follow-up to the APP debut, but after the Project changed record labels after Tales of Mystery and Imagination, their Poe-themed debut, they went with a more varied approach.  The intervening years resulted in this CD sounding like a mix of songs lifted form APP outtakes and the more Broadway-inclined theatrical work that Woolfson spent the latter two decades of his career producing.

Unlike APP albums that featured a different vocalist on nearly every track, Woolfson teams up with the excellent Steve Balsamo for five of the seven lead vocals; Brighton Festival Chorus and the Metro Voices on the rest of the songs.  While it sounds more like an Alan Parsons Project album than the post APP albums released by Parsons himself, there are a few songs that you sense Parsons might have either nixed or tried to reign in Woolfson’s musical theater tendencies.  Yet overall, it’s a rewarding collection that grows stronger with every listen.

Eric Woolfson died at age 64 after a battle with kidney cancer on Dec. 2, 2009. 

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

Track by Track Review
Angel of the Odd

The collection begins with a classic mellow instrumental opening ala Alan Parsons Project.  This is titled after the Poe story of the same name.

Wings of Eagles

We are introduced to the excellent voice of Steve Balsamo, Woolfson’s choice for the majority of the songs on this album.  This sounds like it could easily have been an outtake from the mid-80s APP albums.  In some ways, it has more of a classic APP sound than most of the material that Parsons has released as a solo artist.  The very memorable chorus should have made this a hit single: “Wings of eagles, voices like thunder / Lifting me up to drink from the cup / And fill me with wonder.”

Train to Freedom

Kicking off with a rhythm track built from subtle train sounds, this cut is probably another one that Parsons might have omitted.  The lyric is a variation of the tune “Train to Wuxie,” that appears on Woolfson’s The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was.  Sung by Fred Johnson, with lots of call and response, it has more of that musical theater feel to it.  Woolfson imagines it as the type of political sloganeering that might have been heard outside of the tavern/polling place where Poe was found badly beaten shortly before his death.

Somewhere in the Audience
This is a beautiful ballad that would fit nicely on any APP album, but leans more to the musical theater end of the spectrum.  It reflects a bit of Poe’s dealing with the loss of his mother at an early age and all the ghostly heroines who died prematurely in his writings: “A rose was plucked / Untimely from the vine.”
The Bells

On first listen, this one appeared the most incongruous, but while it features the choral singing of the Metro Voices throughout, it represents the importance of the sound of words that Poe utilized in poems like his own “The Bells.”

The Pit and the Pendulum
Here we get another very APP-sounding song in three roughly two-minute parts.  It is a nice blending of progressive rock and pop sensibilities.  Balsamo reminds me of Lenny Zakatek (who sang many an APP hit) a bit on this one. 
The Murders at the Rue Morgue
I couldn’t help but compare this to Iron Maiden’s classic of the same name.  This is a very different beast.  Woolfson’s musical theater rears its head most boldly here.  I was looking forward to the one lead vocal by the composer himself, but instead of his smooth, gentle voice, we get a variety of character voices alternating spoken word.  It is almost comic as he tries to sound like a paper boy with a cracking voice or any number of deep or high voices.  That’s unfortunate, as it is a very cool composition and the choral backing really supports the frantic nature of the subject: Woolfson speaks, “There’s blood upon the ceiling / And a razor on the floor,” and the “Greek” chorus chants, “Murder!  Murder!”  Balsamo’s distinctly American English narration would have been more resonant with a French – or even British – accent. 
Tiny Star
Here we have another sentimental ballad that could have easily been sung by Woolfson for a more distinctive sound.  This is meant to evoke a lullaby that Poe’s mother might have sung to him before her death when he was merely three years old: “I’ll be watching over you / The sandman’s on his way.”
Goodbye to All That

Inspired by the early death (at 24) of Poe’s young bride and cousin, the lyric is not as nuanced as some of Woolfson’s best. It includes lots of “The tit for the tat,” and “Used to look at,” to rhyme with the title refrain. Perhaps that’s why this song utilizes the chorale groups throughout, without a lead vocal.  It would be interesting to hear the original demo of this (with Woolfson’s own vocal), as it sounds like a choral piece – even a bit like a Christmas carol.  There’s a bit of Irish fiddle and chicken picking guitar in it, making it hard to imagine how it connects to the lyric and chorale delivery.  It segues into “Immortal” with a line from the Orson Welles narration on APP’s original Tales, “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”


Another lovely ballad sung by Balsamo, this has a majestic chorus that would be comfortable on a Broadway stage.  If only Woolfson’s work got the attention that Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s has.  The lyric reflects the immortality achieved by Poe through his collected works, with several subtle allusions to his most famous works: “And I will live / Forevermore / If you remember me / I am immortal.”

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